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Will Humans Ever Stop Fighting Wars? Professor Mark Grimsley Responds

(This week, and next, On Violence and our readers will try to answer the question, “Will humans ever stop fighting wars?” Today’s entry comes from Mark Grimsley, author of Blog Them Out of the Stone Age and a military history professor at the Ohio State University. Feel free to drop us your response in the comment section, on twitter or by email.)

Warfare has a starting point in history, usually placed at the time of the Agricultural Revolution.  It is then not a trans-historical phenomenon and may therefore have an ending point.

Human slavery was once thought of as being a fundamental, timeless, and normal way of organizing labor.  But it disappeared in the 19th century, although admittedly vestiges still remain (an estimated 27 million people are still in some form of unfree labor).  If an end to slavery can happen, so can an end to war. Indeed, in The Remnants of War, political scientist John Mueller argues that conventional states have already abandoned warfare against one another.  Such warfare as remains is principally against (or between) rogue regimes, non-state actors like Al-Qaeda, as well as drug lords, local warlords, terrorists, and various groups of armed thugs.  Not the end of war, to be sure, but evidence that it may be on its way out.

three comments

I like this response, because it is the first one to point out that warfare is not some universal condition. Violence may be, but warfare isn’t.


The way you address those who perpetuate warfare almost makes their acts of violence sound primitive and territorial.


I’d love to hear what Thomas Friedman has to say. In his The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Friedman points out that, so far, no two countries that have a McDonald’s have gone to war with each other (Yugoslavia being a kind of exception, but that was a civil war).

Perhaps as democracy and capitalism spreads, war will decrease, or at least symmetric warfare.

IMHO, as long as lucrative black markets exist because governments outlaw things that they don’t like but their people do, war will continue. I would argue that Mexico’s drug war is a kind of war that will never end as long as governments outlaw stuff.