Is war inevitable? Since war, like murder, has been historically unavoidable, is

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Is war inevitable? Since war, like murder, has been historically unavoidable, is war something to be accepted, anticipated, and dealt with as a fact of human nature? Or is war is becoming less frequent and less destructive globally, suggesting it is more natural to cooperate than fight for self-interest. I distinguish between local ad hoc conflict between individuals (you took my sandwich) and small groups (y'all took our sandwiches), not under consideration here. I am talking about extended, global, fatal combat between states and beliefs. A second question inevitably follows: does the development of military power inhibit war or invite it? I suppose your answer will clarify when war is war and when it is not quite war.

An excellent question! You are right to distinguish individual conflict from war. War seems to involve impersonal collaborative lethal conflict, though sometimes the definition of war is stretched to include a state of affairs when two communities (nation-states, cities, empires, tribes...) have declared war and so there might be a war even if the two or more sides never get around to do any actual killing. In any case, you are correct that war is not merely (though perhaps the word "merely" is not the best to use!) a matter of individual stealing or murder. Insofar as your question is more empirical than philosophical, it seems that one can make a pretty good historical argument that war is virtually inevitable. The latest thinking is that warfare probably came about approximately when we developed agriculture (on the theory that hunters and gatherers may fight as groups, but there was not quite the pressure to protect land in the absence of farms and (with surplus agriculture) you can get cities and have armies and have more motives to attack others or defend yourself. I believe (though I may be off a century or two) that the current, best attested case of when there was probably a war was 12,000BCE (that is, this is the oldest date of when there is evidence of the oldest war). There is a mass grave (cemetery 117) in Egypt in which there are 59 bodies of both genders, all ages, and all with signs of wounds which would probably be fatal. The thesis is that the most likely explanation is a mass attack by a hostile group (and thus this is not a case of individual struggle). So, empirically it seems we have had war for 14,000 years of human history, and this is likely to continue without some kind of radical change. From time to time, we have thought that conditions have changed that would make war less likely (better and better communication, better weapons making war too costly, more trade with would-be enemies) but so far, it seems difficult to be optimistic about the end of war.

However, if you bring in a little philosophy, things might look a bit different. Some philosophies of nature (going back at least to Empedocles in the 5th century BCE) have seen human conflict as stemming from a deep conflict within the natural world itself (Empedocles wrote of the conflict between love and strife). But there are other philosophies of nature and humanity that sees the natural world (and human history) as intended for something better. Certainly, in some of the great world religions there have been claims that we human beings were made to love and care for one another and through radical compassion, we can (perhaps with God's help or grace or luck) live in a world of peace. Check out prophetic visions like Isaiah 65;17-25 (Hebrew Bible / Christian Old Testament). There is also a tradition of cosmopolitanism in philosophy, with ancient roots, but represented today (e.g. by Martha Nuusbaum) that seeks to reduce or eliminate mass violence. Perhaps the greatest modern philosopher to push for this was Kant. Check out his work on history from a cosmopolitan point of view. I believe President Wilson got the idea (ideal?) of there being a League of Nations from reading Kant. OK, the League did not work out, but it seems the UN has been doing better, and perhaps a contemporary cosmopolitan might hope a stronger UN is the answer.

You asked a specific question I have glided over: "Does the development of military power inhibit war or invite it?" I believe sometimes it does one, sometimes the other. It seems likely that having a standing army brought down the Roman Republic and caused a bloody civil war, but it also seems like the USA's military power prevented the cold war with the USSR from going hot (slang for overt, direct violence, as opposed to fighting through proxy parties, etc). You have presented your fascinating question to philosophy panelists, not military generals, so forgive me if I try a more philosophical reply in closing. I suggest that the more a culture cultivates the ideal of a warrior as hero, and perhaps as the culture's greatest hero for, after all, the warrior is prepared to pay the ultimate price for his or her community, then the more likely it is that we will use our warriors (whether in war or black ops). Please don't get me wrong here: I think that the military is and certainly can be an honorable calling / vocation, and there are soldier heroes. But there are also heroic fire fighters, police, doctors and nurses, teachers, scientists, artists, civil rights workers, farmers, miners, cab drivers.... I think that one way we might inhibit the attractiveness of going to war (and there is evidence that many Europeans, including the youth, welcomed the outbreak of what we call world war I) is by seeing the virtues and greatness of a warrior alongside of other great vocations, including the vocation to do philosophy and try to love wisdom.

Sorry the reply is so long, but your question(s) are fascinating and important. I might add one more observation, though this is more about British and American culture rather than global. I believe that so-called "liberals" tend to think war is avoidable and so-called "conservatives" tend to think war is inevitable. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, I suggest. If you think something is inevitable (racism, say) you may be less aggressive in trying to eradicate it. But if you think something can be solved easily, you can wind up living on false hopes and be utterly unprepared to reply to aggression. So perhaps we should aim for a middle path?

Good wishes in further reflection on this...

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