WAR, huh! Is it good for anything?



So, this blog is controversial simply because I’m talking about war, and plenty of people don’t like talking about this stuff. However, because war does in fact occur, it is worth exploring. Also, it’s a very political activity. How? You’ll find out by reading!

War. … a term despised by many. But if you ask a simple question: What is war? You’ll probably get a complicated and varied answer. … Probably because it is a complex thing.

Practically speaking, war has a very low likelihood of occurring. If you think how many years humans have been around vs. the number of years spent in war, it’s a pretty small percentage. So, the question may become, what is peace? …

Is peace a break in war, or is war a break in peace?

Muhahahaha! Now you’re thinking all sorts of crazy things.

Think about the state of nature!

It’s useful to first think about how people naturally are aside from things like money, clothes, social status, friends, etc …

If we imagine our uncivilized, uneducated, stripped-down world (previously discussed here) with no language, economic system, or governance, how to people behave? Is there a constant threat from other humans? Maybe. So, from this view, the world is in a constant state of war.

If, on the other hand, you take the view that people can pretty much get along, and conflict happens because of inherent misunderstandings and miscommunications, then you take the position that the world is in a state of peace.

Either way you look at it war does occur. So, by thinking about the state of nature, you can then start some preliminary speculation of why war occurs.


A: There was a prominent philosopher and military officer named Carl von Clausewitz who wrote extensively on war. The book’s name: On War. Dude was from Prussia, and writes with lots of words.

The main takeaway from Clausewitz was his definition of war, and the trinity of forces he used to describe why war occurs. He defined war as “the continuation of policy by other means,” and that, “war is nothing more than a duel on a larger scale.” These are pretty rad definitions, I gotta say. It’s so good in fact that most people use it as a starting point when discussing war.

So … war theoretically only occurs when the policy cannot resolve disputes or differences — similar to a duel.

Also, if you think about it, there are many uncertain factors that come into play during a formal duel — timing (perhaps it was cold out and one person’s trigger stuck), chance (maybe one of the people has the flu), or emotional state of the actors (nervousness and mental fortitude would certainly come into play). Also, why do duels occur in the first place? Probably because of some dispute, an insult, or other high misdemeanor.

This is exactly what war is — because organizations and states can be considered “individuals.” Hence war is nothing more than “individuals” dueling.

QUICK EXAMPLE: If there is one mafia family that wants to sell drugs, and the other does not, then the policies are incompatible. If diplomacy doesn’t lead to concessions or agreements on one or both sides, then alternate means of resolving the matter must occur. Because each organization is effectively acting as one “individual,” dueling is an effective and practical means to settle disputes.

Also, if you are going to play the game of war, then both sides have a higher likelihood of winning if they  1) have legitimate causes and reasons for war, 2) have backing by the organization itself (act towards one unified goal), and 3) chance is on their side.

*By the way, yes, that was the plot of The Godfather. You’re welcome.

But how do you get people to join a military and willfully go out to kill “enemy” combatants? After all, it isn’t likely that one president simply says “WE’RE GOING TO WAR,” and then everybody listens and lines up to kill people — contrary to what some people think. You have to have support from those who would be involved in the war.

There are three forces that drive the phenomena of war.

War, after all, is a phenomena because it is an event where people agree to kill one another en masse — which does not happen every day. * Keep in mind that even though we see war every day in the news does NOT mean that people are predisposed to be at war all the time. Also, the world is large, and war can occur in different places at different times, so just because there are several going on at once does not mean that the events occur all the time.

Lots of reasons and interests drive war. There are geo-political disputes (look at how China wants Taiwan and Tibet back), resource wars (oil, diamonds, natural gas, water, maybe even farmland), civil war (infighting), or revolutions (which differ slightly).

EXTRA FYI INFORMATION: A revolution differs from straight-forward war.

Conventional war is waged with a specified end or goal, and is a “continuation of policy.”

A revolution, by contrast, seeks to change governance structures and authority within the state itself. Literally, a revolution is a full circle. So the implication is that once the revolution is complete, things continue to move (in a circle), but something is different within that political system or state following a successful revolution. So, did the Egyptian revolution change anything? I’m actually not sure.

*Egypt specialists chime in.

The phenomena of WAR:

First, there are three “actors” in all this. There is a decision-making authority (or government), the people in the state, and the military. These actors compose one “side” of a duel. Thus implying there is an opponent.

The “people” provide the emotional backing of the war. This is the passionate component of the war phenomena. “The people,” as a whole, fuel war by providing raw and primordial emotions that drive war. These passions could include the instinct to commit violence, disposition to xenophobia, or other such emotions.

When thinking about this, imagine telling somebody they are wrong bluntly to their face. Also, imagine the person considers themselves an “expert” on what you called them out for. Most people react passionately and, perhaps, violently to insults or defeat. Imagine when a football team looses and anger (or joy) fuels looting, car burning, or some other destructive protest or celebration. There is a social force that exists when “the people” react passionately to threats or challenges. I see this a lot in sports … people get extremely passionate about sports.

The second actor is the government. And this decision-making authority provides the reasoning for war. Decisions to go to war are usually justified by a mixture of passions from the people, and a continuation of policy. Also, a lot of “isms” justify war (don’t know and isms? Read about them here!).

So now you have reactive passions from the ground up, reasoning for war at top levels, the decision, and the two are linked to the third actor: the military.

We all know the military has guns and stuff, but do you ever actually think about what the military fundamentally does? Well, unless you’re a dictator using the military for your personal protection, they execute the force that was dictated by decision makers (president, Congress … whoever makes that decision). These decisions are also linked to public sentiments.

The military’s purpose is to try and eliminate chance, and over come the probabilities of failure in order to win the war. And to be effective, this includes implementing effective strategies (overarching goals and plans to win the war), and tactics (what happens on the ground to win each battle).

As a side thought: Evaluating the development of military weapons and tactics is very interesting. The goal is ironically to make wars more humane.

Weapons are increasingly meant to incapacitate rather than ensure death. Missiles are meant to target more-specific targets as opposed to messy blanket bombing, and each revolution in military equipment is aimed at 1) providing better protection to those who play in the war game, and 2) minimizing collateral damage.

I know plenty of people don’t see it like that, but I think maybe some of so-called “war profiteers” are ironically trying to save lives during war — and they understand that war is part of the human condition, and that war does, in fact, occur. So, until somebody finds out how to eliminate war (which essentially means eliminating conflict), the best thing to do is to limit the scope of destruction and death as best as possible.

*Nuclear weapons are a whole different ball game, and have their own nitch of study.

EXAMPLE: Remember back to a post-9/11 United States. The country reacted quickly, and perhaps irrationally. But why?

Contrary to what people think, George Bush is not single-handedly responsible for the war — that’s ridiculous and just not how the American system works. Also, high ranking military and government leaders don’t listen blindly to the president. Instead, there were a variety of factors that contributed to the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan post-9/11.

First, the public was confused, scared, angry, and reactive — providing the groundwork for the likelihood of war occurring (in the US anyway).

Second, leaders had loose intelligence that linked the events to 9/11 to Iraq — which turned out to be wrong after the fact. Regardless, there was some link that provided some explanation for the events, and policy isolated that intelligence.

Third, this was “policy by other means.” Prior to 9/11, US policy before had been generally non-hawkish. During the post-Cold War years most interventions (not wars) were aimed at increasing global human rights or preventing genocides (which wasn’t successful). Because the 9/11 attack was a true surprise (except maybe to some in the CIA), it prompted a quick and swift reaction because there was not a diplomatic option. The enemy was stateless, and there were no leaders or representatives to conduct diplomacy with. So, to satisfy public sentiments, provide some sense of justice, and win the metaphorical “duel,” the decision was made to invade the most-likely suspects.

Was the decision hasty? Of course. Was it a bad decision? Probably. But it was a Pearl-Harbor moment that nobody saw coming; and, worse, nobody knew the size or sophistication of the enemy. Hence it was a TRUE surprise attack that provoked a very violent reaction.

Remember that states are considered “individuals,” and war is a duel between the two. In this case, there was only one identifiable side. Because the attacks on 9/11 were “stateless” crimes (no one country was responsible), this prompted plenty of confusion among people and leaders alike. So, hasty decisions were made, and the merits of those decisions will be evaluated as time goes on.


So, what is war good for? Anything?

At best it’s good for resolving disputes. If anybody else can figure out ways to overcome policy differences any other way, you could win a Nobel Peace prize.

The important thing to remember is that war is the result of very large social forces and dynamics. In essence, there is a “perfect storm,” if you will, of public sentiment, decision making, and military finesse required to win a war.

So, if the public looses its emotional investment, or decision makers stop supporting military efforts, then it is likely that the military will not be very effective. This can be seen in the cases of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam — maybe because these situations required more investment and time than initially assumed, and Americans tend to get tired of war after about 10 years.

So, when people say: “Why can’t we just give peace a chance?,” I would say, “that’s very unlikely.” Why? Because you have to overcome people’s interests (what they want), and passions (emotions). And people — even very smart people — still have a part of them that wants to destroy stuff (Freud writes about this in an interesting letter to Albert Einstein).

POSITIVE NOTES: After all this talk about how people have an instinct to destroy stuff, I would like to note some developments in the world that perhaps reduce the probability of war.

First, globalization of businesses I speculate has some impact on limiting the chance of war. Because states now have economic interests intertwined, that may increase the likelihood of states have mutual stakes in one another. Although Vladimir Putin doesn’t care about that.

Second is increases in sophisticated communication. Because people are starting to identify with one another, languages are becoming increasingly unified (English, because they all want to make money in business), I would say there is room to claim that increased communication may reduce the chance of war. Also, world leaders have an open forum at the United Nations, and its been operating since 1945.

Is the United Nations effective? Well, that depends on your definition. Really, it’s an entirely different blog, However, regardless of the effectiveness of the United Nations, at minimum it has served as a forum where leaders can interact, talk, and make interests known in order to reduce the chance of war in the future.

Anyway, hopefully if you read this whole blog, you have a better understanding of war and conflict.