Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Social Change of War

by Andrew Davis


After the smoke clears and the fires are put out, what can you say was the reason for such tragedy? What kind of theories can one come up with to explain wars? Explaining war and what it does to a society is something that has been debated and talked about since the dawn of man. Theories of war come from tremendous amounts of time and research. Thucydides and other historians have tended to take more secular views on war, but what about new theories and what they do for our nation that is always on the brink of some type of war.

With new technological innovations and easier ways to destroy victims, the concept of traditional warfare is debated. New theories and moral controversy has circled philosophers and historians since the times of Herodotus and Thucydides. The first written accounts of warfare did not deal with feelings or morality; it simply referred to the strategic placement of forces and weaponry. In Michael Walzers book on Just and UN just Wars Walzar uses historians and theorist to help create a more realistic point of view where other historians such as Eusebuis and Thucydides fail to do. The new notion of the 20th century theorist has proved to expand the likes of these past historians.


Barbara Tuchman, a world-renowned theorist of war, challenges other theory studies with one of her own. Her theory on warfare comes from mobilization and offensive attacks. Her argument is that when people are put into pressure situations, they tend not to think rationally when conflicts occur. An essay written by Albert Camus, called Neither Victims nor Executioners, did express some of the pressure situations that are now going on in the twentieth century. His essay greatly reflects the theories of Tuchman. This twentieth century essay expresses mobilization and the fear that pressure situations bring to us as a nation. Theories from psychologists such as Freud suggest that “aggression enables survival and that violence is inheriting,” while others such as Alfred Adler suggest that war comes from the interpersonal struggle for social dominance. As I was doing my research, I came across a theory that we discussed in class. Michael Klare’s theory is based highly on competition for wealth as well as security. He argues that through the competition for security, gold, silver and other forms of wealth, people engage in warfare.

Karl Marx’s study on war focuses more on the competition for resources. Marx’s argument is geared more toward land and natural resources. Because the world’s resources are limited, societies feel compelled to acquire as much as is possible. In his book A History Of Warfare John Keegan discusses the dry lands and the lack of Military History that is in them. These examples from his book only exemplify the notion of competition for land and which land rulers want. If asking or bartering fails to work, people may resort to a more direct method (i.e. war) to gain the resources they believe are necessary. Marx’s theory also suggests that due to the demand for resources, people will eventually be subjected to capitalism. Different theories of war teach us, as historians, to look at the society as a whole. Michael Howard, a famous historian, suggests that war is just an extension of society and politics. By this I mean that students of war grow and are instigated by politics and what they think politics can do for them during wartime. In a collection of essays organized by Adam Jones, a historian on Genocide, the politics of the Nazi regime is brought full front. Jones refers to accounts where members of the Nazi regime were just doing what they were told to do from their Government.

My Argument

It is clear there are many theories to explain the cause and social change of a particular war or battle. For example, Michael Howard is his book War In European History says that the character of the society determines wars. In another book written by Howard called The Invention of Peace he begins to address the rationalization of war and how “war has attributed to social change” Different arguments can be made about warfare and what it does to its society, but I argue that it isn’t the society that actually causes the war. The most compelling argument I have found on war theory has been from historian Michael Klare, which focuses on wealth and security. Klare argues that the competition for wealth and security is what drives us to war. There have been many times in history where a monarch or dictator has gone to war “just because.” Maybe they went to war “just because” their forefathers had gone to war in the past. Or perhaps it is because the country is a historically warring people, and this ruler was following the example of past centuries. Athens and Sparta’s century long battle and the Mongols invasion of the Chinese for generations are examples that I think support Klare’s and Walzar’s argument. Walzar’s description of the Peloponnesian war helps us as 20th century theorist to see all angles of what’s being written. By using these few examples, it is easy to see that competition for wealth and security are 2 driving forces that cause a country to go to war.

Fighting for wealth is something that has been going on ever since the beginning of mankind. Examples in history can be traced from the Incas and Aztecs all the way to the Unionist and confederates. It is in our nature to want more than we have. This argument is one where I think one could place Envy and wealth hand in hand, because in most cases one society is envious of another when it comes to wealth and what they do with their wealth. Another argument I want to enclose relates to Klares argument of wealth and security. When a society desires to go to war they sometimes they fail to look at the big picture of the war itself. People generally tend to concentrate on the killing and how it will benefit them, instead to what lies in the future due to this war as well as what will happen to the loser and whether or not the winner will help reconstruct the losers lives. All these examples are what I think offenses fail to look at. This is think is another prime example for why societies focus on the wealth and what they can get out of it.

Many wars in the past have shown us the important role that security plays in our defense and how we should go about war. Every society rather it be wealthy or poor wants to have some security before going to war, during war and of course after the war. During the American Revolution is was evident that the British military men had gone into places all the way from big cities to tiny villages slaughtering innocent unarmed women and children. The excuse that the British used to slaughter these people was treason. During that time Under the British law most all treason was punishable under death and so that’s what they did, they killed almost everyone. There have been many written historical accounts of UN armed civilian colonist being slaughtered while laying rest in their homes. Again these accounts are prime examples of why security is a big part of war. The argument of security which Klare so gracefully makes with poise and style could also go hand in hand with another argument that he makes, which is that numerous societies impose their views and beliefs on other societies, which in the end leads them to war. These types of wars a lot of times end in terrorist attacks or terrorist invasions. Many terrorist groups pose threat to war either in the ruler that they worship or their God or even some other form of spiritual leader, which they claim that leads them. An example of this could come from the Iraq wars of the early nineties to present day, or even the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.


I could go on for hours comparing Klare and Walzers theories to other theories, trying to prove that one is better or more rational than the other, but that’s not the point. It’s easy for one theorist to explain his or her theory, but it is far more difficult to discount another’s. I have learned that defining theories of warfare and their social orgins are not as simple as one might think. I, as well as any other historians could give you a laundry list of what we think causes wars, and how moral and just they might or might not be, but in the broad spectrum of things, are any of us right? In an article written by Barbara Ehrenreich she talks about the complexity of war and how we can’t just simplify it to one particular account. “But war is to complex and collective an activity to be accounted for by any war like instinct” (Ehrenreich). The intention of my research was set out to find the truth about wars, what actually defines and causes warfare. Now reflecting on my research, I find that there is not any single “truth” of warfare. Originally I thought I knew a lot about war and its social causes, but after reading Clausewitz and Wlazer I was in for a rude awakening.

Like I said earlier, just by listening to my classmates talk and by analyzing other historians' data I have come to the conclusion that we can't simply define the social and moral cause of war. So many factors go into each conflict where people have got to the point where they have written hundreds and thousands of books and yet today we still have questions, today we still seek answers. So I urge every historian to stop trying to figure out everything quantitatively and to keep researching, because as one can see, no matter what argument you might have, another historian, or in my case should I say classmate, is right there itching to prove you wrong.


Blogger Navin Pareek said...

A very well written post, I must say. I too am very interested in this topic, and write on http://PredictWar.blogspot.com. It has a few ideas, and I would love to have your comments on it.


10:13 AM  
Blogger Wesley Gibbs said...

I think that your paper is very well written. I also like the format since it is easy to pick out the different sections. I agree with you on your section about envy and wealth. I also think that they go hand in hand, and that together they have cause many wars.

10:15 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

No offense.
The paper was well written, for a synopsis of views. The only normative statement was toward the end when you said its too complex to pin down the reasons for war. Almost every philosophical topic is that complex. The point is to find a stand you agree with or come up with your own and then defend that position. To say its much too complex to develop a conclusionary thought...You Killed Philosophy! Bastards!

It was well written though.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Also, (sorry)
Your reference to the Iraq war of the 90's is falsely connected with "security" issues or religious/spiritual ideologies. It should have been included under the wealth section (Sadaam attacked Kuwait for its oil reserves).

10:59 AM  
Anonymous Mitch Ullman said...

I'm going to have to agree with Rick here, on both counts. I liked the paper, in that it was full of research -and I'm a glutton for research-; however, it only seemed to be saying that there are a lot of different ideas and as such, we should just sort of give up on the whole idea.
Being one of those fellows who likes to nitpick an idea until it is categorized and pigeonholed to the point of absurdity, I'm going to disagree. Just as I think that metaphysics and epistemology are the basis for ethics and therefore the most important endeavor of the human mind, I think that ethics should be the basis for human behavior with the exception of those of us that are incapable of acting as fully capable humans -perhaps I should say person- anyway... yeah. The end.

11:45 AM  
Anonymous Jamie McCall said...

Interesting, but I do have a fundamental disagreement here. Don't get me wrong, the research is great, I'm just one of those horrible people who love to argue. Damn philosophy people.

I'm not so sure that the "technology" of war has evolved so much that the philosophies surrounding wars have changed all that much. Of course, modern technology does make it possible to commit slaughter on a previously unforeseen massive scale, but the question for me is still the same: who can we kill, and who can we not kill? That question, to me, is as old as war itself and continues to apply…even in modern warfare with all of its horrors…

2:43 PM  
Anonymous Wesley Frazier said...

in response to Jamie :

While it may not say directly effect the morality of the world per se ever increasing technology has increased the scale of possible carnage, which drastically can effect peoples veiws on the matter. IE murder vs geneocide. Mutually assured destruction, and the like. These problems are slightly more complex than the, he hit me so I can hit him back, types of problems which serve as the basis of all these things.

8:08 AM  
Anonymous Kim Morrison said...

Very well written paper and great job on the research. The causes of war are numerous and the consequences are not always thought about before hand. Land, envy, wealth, greed, power, security; all reasons why wars have been fought. Possession of land was a big thing. I believe there is still a strip of land, a valley I believe, which is still being fought over somewhere in the Middle East because its position gives its possessor the upper hand strategically. I do agree with Rick about the wars fought during the early 90's; it was over the oil. I also agree with Jamie when he said that technology hasn't really changed the philosophy behind wars. As I pointed out in my paper those philosophies should be altered to acknowledge the new technology that does have a deep impact on the possible outcomes of a war. However, I would like to point out to everyone that just because this is a philosophy class doesn't mean we can't take a non-philosophical viewpoint when writing these papers. I suppose it's easier for those of us who aren't philosophy majors to do so. Good job Andrew.

1:03 PM  
Blogger Adam Johnson said...

I'll (sort of) agree with Jamie that scaling up the destruction doesn't necessarily change the underlying morals and philosophies of war to a huge extent, but I don't think it can be ignored either. Going in the reverse direction and scaling down, conflicts between two parties aren't always classified as wars. So at least some of the time for some people, the scale of the conflict strongly influences normative claims. If you buy that, aren't you sorta forced into buying into the possbility that another set of claims could be made for really really destructive wars?

2:57 PM  
Anonymous jeremy page said...

As everyone else ha said before me, excellent paper (you put me to shame...).
I partially agree with Jamie, while the technology of warfare shouldn't really impact the philosophical dilemmas of war-it does change the practicality of the rules. The real question is, does it really matter?

I'm also going to say that WE HAVE TO have you take a particular position on things because this makes it soooo much easier for our classmates to *attempt* to refute your theories. I kind of felt like you, I can't really bring myself to commit to one singular philosophy-maybe it's because of my staunch realist ways...

4:08 PM  
Anonymous Jason said...

Hey, don't let these guys pigeon-hole philosophy or get you down about not having a position. "Humans can't know the truth about [whatever]" IS a position, and one with a long philosophical tradition. You just have to be careful to distinguish between skepticism (believing that knowledge is unachievable) and just not bothering to pick through the information to reach a conclusion.

Also, just because you know any theories you make might be proved wrong doesn't mean it's not worth theorizing. Evidence-based theories that all your peers are just waiting to jump on has turned out pretty well for scientists.

8:24 PM  

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