Saturday, July 2, 2016

Meanderings about war

I'm slowly wending my way through Rick Atkinson's trilogy and am half way through The Day of Battle.  The philosophy of why we fight interests me more at present.  Fighting great wars couldn't have occurred during our 185,000 years as hunter-gatherers, but once we created villages they got much larger than the H-G tribal battles.   With cities they got larger still.  But the option to fight to protect (or acquire) territory probably developed during the 185,000 years as H-G's, and no edict saying "we won't do that any longer" will mean much.  Peaces such as the Pax Romana and the Cold War are merely interregnums between wars.  Rousseau's Nobel Savage who lived at peace with nature and his fellow man was a fiction.  The pacifist walks into a tough neighborhood and when confronted by muggers says "I don't want any trouble."  Good luck with that argument.

Then too when I was 16 in 1951 I tried to enlist in the Marine Corps.  I was accepted but the pulled me off the bus destined for MCRD and told me to come back when I was 17; which I did.  Looking back I often wonder what impelled me to do that.   Not everyone does that, but in history we see that enormous numbers of young men do -- more than enough usually to fight all the wars of history . . . unless we assume that a majority were drafted or forced by royal laws to fight, but that isn't my assumption.  There has been in history a liking for battle, a willingness to fight.  Old men gathered around will often ask each other about their military experience.  Those who don't have any will be embarrassed to admit it. 

So how likely is Nietzsche's "last man"?  Those "last men" clustered in cities want to be without guns and have the police and other tax-supported authorities and leaders take care of them from the cradle to the grave.  But out beyond the cities are plenty left who will still enlist when there is the likelihood of war.  If this willingness to fight is in our genes, put there during our 185,000 years as hunter-gatherers and further fostered during our wars in villages and cities and, in modern times, on larger tapestries, can anything be done about it, and more especially should anything be done?   If we can anticipate mere wars then we probably don't want to do anything about them, but as happened during the Cold War and the threat of nuclear war, we pull back and put our weapons away, confused by the choice between protecting (or enhancing) our territory and annihilation.

Many current movies show mankind being wiped out by zombies (the "last men" hungry?) or apocalyptic events -- very pessimistic.  But other movies show us moving out to other planets.  I think the latter while not eliminating our willingness to fight will give us plenty to do in order to survive.  We may one day (30,000 years from now as Isaac Asimov hypothesizes in his Foundation series) be living on millions of planets.  Asimov doesn't see that as an end to war.  There are still wars between planets and political wars between powerful leaders, but if we need a beneficent robot to guide is into a more peaceful future we may be out of luck.  Terminator movies have convinced most of us that machines are not to be trusted.

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