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Will Humans Ever Stop Fighting Wars?

(Though many don’t want to believe it, the world is getting safer. There will be an end to war, someday, if the world works towards it. To read the rest of our posts on “The World is Getting Safer”, click here.)

We have a simple, thought-provoking question we’d like to ask our readers today, and for the rest of the week:

Will humans ever stop fighting wars? Why?

Stop for a moment. Go with your gut. What do you think? Write it down if you want.

Then go to this episode of Radiolab. Stop listening at the 4:00 minute mark. (Well, go on and listen to the entire show, and series, if you want, they are wonderful )

For those who didn’t listen, (Shame on you, unless an Army computer system is blocking you, in which case, we understand.) here is a quick synopsis: Radiolab, inspired by science journalist and teacher John Horgan, asked a slew of people in New Jersey, “Will humans ever stop fighting wars?” According to Horgan, who has been asking people this question for over ten years, Americans have become wildly pessimistic about the chance that we will ever stop fighting wars.

This might be the most important question we have ever asked on this blog. It isn’t the answer that matters so much as why you believe humanity will or will not keep fighting wars.

On Thursday and Friday, we will both provide our answers to this question. Next week we hope to post any and all responses we get, including Matty P’s response. Part of our mission at On V is to attack the philosophical questions about war and violence, and this is our latest salvo, building off the success of our last debate about whether progress is inherently violent.

So, if you’d like, answer the question, “Will Humans Ever Stop Fighting Wars?” and please expand with why or why not. Feel free to write anything from 1 to 500 words, and send it to us at info (at) onviolence (dot) (com). Or write your response on your own blog, and send us a link.

We look forward to the responses.

The first attempt at an answer came from Michael C.

Eric C followed up with a different take.

Then came regular contributer Matty P.

Followed by a guest post from Matt Gallagher.

And Professor Mark Grimsley.

And Adam Elkus.

And "More 'Will Humans Ever Stop Fighting Wars?'".

And Dennis Erwin of Pulieu.

And then our Twitter responses.

Facts Behaving Badly: Will Humans Ever Stop Fighting Wars?

And we covered this topic obliquely before in Why I Believe Things Are Getting Better: A Review of Rising Up and Rising Down's Premise and Statistics, Damned Statistics and Terrorism Link Drop.

seven comments

Yeah, hopefully this gets comments, otherwise send us any thoughts at the site’s email.

What about a DHS computer blocking the link? I’m heading out of town for a few days but I’ll write you something over the weekend if that’s not too late.

Yeah, we’re hoping to run responses next week.

Will the DEFL crew was going to get their own email, but yeah that is fine. And I amend the above to mean all government/work computer systems that stifle free speech (though I don’t really believe that).

One of my favorite books about war is Napoleon Chagnon’s The Fierce People, an ethnography about the Yanomamo, a warring tribe in South America. That book, called the Forest People, about a gentle “primitive” society that does not engage in wars fuels debates in anthropological circles about the question of war and its inevitability. Some argue that the Yanomamo became warriors as a result of intrusions into the rainforest and how it influenced resources. I’m not so sure.

I don’t believe that war is rooted in human nature although the Stanford Prison experiment and Milgram’s study on obedience suggest that we all of the capacity to do terrible things.

A part of me believes that war is inevitable because of the fact that resources important for survival are scarce and, in stratified societies, they will continue to become scarcer and only available to the rich and powerful. They then use the poor and middle class to fight their wars to ensure global dominance.

But this simplistic formula makes no sense. Who profits from war? Mostly defense contractors in the case of our current wars while the country and most of its people suffer.

There is an unconscious irrational part of war that I don’t understand and that scares me to death.

I partially agree with Jennifer. In order to eliminate conflict you would first need to eliminate the drivers of conflict, primarily scarcity with ideology playing a supporting role.

In the near and medium term I don’t think these problems are going away. For all you doctrine buffs out there FM 3-0 lays out a pretty convincing case that we’re entering an age of persistent instability (youth bulges, climate change, decreasing resources etc).

In the long term? I don’t know. Most Speculative Fiction writers seem to think that warfare is here to stay, but long term predictions are tricky things. XKCD did a good comic on this: http://dvice.com/assets_c/2011/04/future..

Admittedly, when I considered the question, my initial reaction was “no, humans will never stop fighting wars”. But when I thought about it, I couldn’t see European nations or the United States fighting each other again. I couldn’t see us fighting Russia or China, or them fighting each other, or either of them fighting any European nations or Japan. The global economy has created a condition in which we are all far too dependent upon each other, and the risks are too great. In addition, I don’t believe that making war is human nature. In fact, I think war is quite unnatural. I think societies have grown under conditions which make war unavoidable, but democratization has made such efforts much more difficult. One only needs to look at the lack of international action in places like Rwanda and Darfur to realize that it has become extremely hard for industrialized democratic nations to commit to war. Hopefully, this trend will spread to the developing parts of the world, and society can become more universal and less fragmented. To a certain extent, I believe this is what we have seen in the decades since World War II. If that continues, then war may someday be a thing of the past.