In the fervour and turmoil of a changing Western world, the doom-mongers are doing good business. The West’s post-war social democratic consensus, cemented by the end of the Cold War in 1989, is shattering like glass amid the global financial crisis, Islamic terrorism, botched military adventures in the Middle East, and an expansionist, unchecked Russia.
We’re heading for World War Three, suggested the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Brexit could destroy the EU and spark a new European war, warned the former UK prime minister, David Cameron. John McCain and Lindsey Graham are trying to start a Third World War, accused Donald Trump, US president.
But if Trump is worried about someone triggering another global war, he should ask his controversial chief strategist, Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman of the hard-right nationalist news website Breitbart, what he really thinks. Because Bannon, a committed Christian, is convinced the West is in the throes of a crisis that will spark “a very brutal and bloody conflict”: World War Three, in other words.
Bannon, 63, masterminded Trump’s campaign for the presidency and now holds significant power and influence in the White House. He believes firmly that there are huge and fundamental shifts taking place in America and the West more broadly, and that its “Judeo-Christian” value system is at risk of destruction.
He and Trump seem an unlikely pairing. Trump’s sincerity as a conservative has repeatedly been called into question. The president was, after all, once a Democrat. Bannon, however, looks clearly to be a man of conviction and deeply held beliefs. And now he’s not only Trump’s chief strategist, but he has also been given a seat on the National Security Council of the US.
Bannon gave some telling insight into his thinking during an interview with Vanity Fair in summer 2016. Trump is a “blunt instrument for us,” Bannon said. “I don’t know whether he really gets it or not.”
So what is it that Trump doesn’t really get? Bannon said in a 2011 speech to the Liberty Restoration Foundation, a conservative group:
This the fourth great crisis in American history. We had the Revolution, we had the Civil War, we had the Great Depression and World War Two. This is the great fourth turning in American history.
He later added:
I’m actually energised…You’ve all read history books since you were kids. And you all think hey, if I was there during the Civil War, I’d be right in the middle of it. Or if [it] was the Revolution, I would be right there. On World War Two or the Great Depression, all that stuff…I would be there. I’d be in Normandy, I’d do all that. We have that opportunity today…There are so many people who believe in what we believe and understand when you start talking to them, and engaging them, that we’re not cloven-hooved devils. We’re not nativist, homophobic, racist, right. But they understand that we believe in what made this country great, and they believe it too.
In 2014, appearing via videolink at a conference in The Vatican, held by the Human Dignity Institute, Bannon outlined his prophetic warnings of the bigger crisis to come. According to a transcript published by BuzzFeed, he said:
It was many, many years and decades of peace. And I believe we’ve come partly offtrack in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union and we’re starting now in the 21st century, which I believe, strongly, is a crisis both of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism.
And we’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant, to really be able to not just stand with our beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years…we are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism. And this war is, I think, metastasising far quicker than governments can handle it.
Bannon later added that it is a…
…global war, and it is, unfortunately, something that we’re going to have to face, and we’re going to have to face very quickly…there is a major war brewing, a war that’s already global. It’s going global in scale, and today’s technology, today’s media, today’s access to weapons of mass destruction, it’s going to lead to a global conflict that I believe has to be confronted today. Every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is, and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it, will be a day where you will rue that we didn’t act.
He believes the crisis of capitalism is that the economic system is fundamentally rigged in favour of the big banks, which gamble taxpayer money risk-free and enrich themselves while making everybody else worse off, while a spineless political establishment kowtows. He told the audience at The Vatican:
And so I think we are in a crisis of the underpinnings of capitalism, and on top of that we’re now, I believe, at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism.
For his film Generation Zero, about what he believes caused the financial crisis, Bannon interviewed David Kaiser, a historian who has taught at Harvard and is the author of seven books, including No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation into War.
In an article for Time, Kaiser wrote that Bannon is a fan of two amateur historians called Neil Howe and William Strauss, who:
…identified an 80-year cycle in American history, punctuated by great crises that destroyed an old order and created a new one… [he] is very familiar with Strauss and Howe’s theory of crisis, and has been thinking about how to use it to achieve particular goals for quite a while.
…Bannon had clearly thought a long time both about the domestic potential and the foreign policy implications of Strauss and Howe. More than once during our interview, he pointed out that each of the three preceding crises had involved a great war, and those conflicts had increased in scope from the American Revolution through the Civil War to the Second World War. He expected a new and even bigger war as part of the current crisis, and he did not seem at all fazed by the prospect.
I did not agree, and said so. But, knowing that the history of international conflict was my own specialty, he repeatedly pressed me to say we could expect a conflict at least as big as the Second World War in the near or medium term. I refused.
If there is anybody in Washington, DC, pushing for a Third World War, it seems he’s standing right next to the president, whispering into his ear.