Are Wars Inevitable?
WAR is a depressing feature of the news. Those bulletins of brutality doubtless sicken you. But perhaps they also make you wonder why weapons must be the arbiters of so many disputes. Will men never learn to live in peace?
A remedy for the plague of war seems more elusive than a cure for AIDS. During the 20th century, entire nations have been mobilized for war, millions of men have been thrown into battle, and hundreds of cities have been reduced to rubble. No end to the carnage seems to be in sight. A lucrative arms trade ensures that the world’s armies—and guerrillas—will continue to be grimly effective.
As weapons of war became more deadly, casualty figures skyrocketed. More than half of the 65 million soldiers who fought in World War I were killed or wounded. Some 30 years later, just two atom bombs snuffed out the lives of more than 150,000 Japanese civilians. Since World War II, conflicts have been more localized. Nevertheless, they are lethal, especially for civilians, who now account for 80 percent of the casualties.
Ironically, this wholesale butchery has occurred during an age that has seen unparalleled efforts to outlaw war as a way of resolving disputes between nations. With the recent end of the Cold War, hopes were high that a new, peaceful world order would emerge. However, global peace remains as illusory as ever. Why?
A Biological Necessity?
Some historians and anthropologists claim that wars are inevitable—even necessary—simply because they are part of an evolutionary struggle for survival. Influenced by such thinking, military analyst Friedrich von Bernhardi argued in 1914 that war is fought “in the interest of biological, social and moral progress.” The theory was that war is a way of weeding out weak individuals or nations, while leaving the fittest.
Such an argument would hardly console the millions of war widows and orphans. Apart from being morally repugnant, this thinking ignores the harsh realities of modern warfare. The machine gun is no respecter of the fittest, and the bomb annihilates the strong along with the weak.
Disregarding the sobering lessons of the first world war, Adolf Hitler dreamed of forging a master race through military conquest. In his book Mein Kampf, he wrote: “Mankind has grown great in eternal struggle, and only in eternal peace does it perish. . . . The stronger must dominate and not blend with the weaker.” Rather than uplift mankind, though, Hitler sacrificed millions of lives and devastated a whole continent.
Yet, if war is not a biological necessity, what drives mankind toward self-destruction? What forces bulldoze nations into this “business of barbarians”?* Following is a list of some underlying factors that stymie the best efforts of peacemakers.
Causes of War
Nationalism. Often invoked by politicians and generals, nationalism is one of the most powerful forces in promoting warfare. Many wars have been launched to protect “national interests” or defend “national honor.” When the mentality of my country right or wrong prevails, even naked aggression can be explained as a preemptive strike.
Ethnic animosity. Many regional wars are sparked and then fueled by long-standing hatred between races, tribes, and ethnic groups. The tragic wars in the former Yugoslavia, in Liberia, and in Somalia are recent examples.
Economic and military rivalry. In the outwardly peaceful days before World War I, European powers actually built up huge armies. Germany and Great Britain were locked in a battleship-building competition. Since each major nation that ultimately became involved in the carnage believed that a war would increase its power and bring a windfall of economic benefits, conditions were ripe for conflict.
Religious feuds. Especially when reinforced by racial divisions, religious differences can produce an explosive mixture. Conflicts in Lebanon and Northern Ireland, as well as the wars between India and Pakistan, have been rooted in religious animosity.
An unseen warmonger. The Bible reveals that “the god of this system of things,” Satan the Devil, is now more active than ever before. (2 Corinthians 4:4) Filled with great anger and having only “a short period of time,” he is stirring up conditions, including wars, that worsen the earth’s woeful state.—Revelation 12:12.
These underlying causes of war are not easy to eradicate. Over 2,000 years ago, Plato said that “only the dead have seen the end of war.” Is his bleak assessment a bitter truth we must learn to accept? Or do we have reason to hope that one day there will be a world without war?
It was Napoléon who described war as a “business of barbarians.” Having spent most of his adult life in the military and nearly 20 years as supreme army commander, he experienced firsthand the barbarities of battle.
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Cover: John Singer Sargent’s painting Gassed (detail), Imperial War Museum, London
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Instituto Municipal de Historia, Barcelona