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There is a paradox of which the more we advance in time, the more we realise the astonishment of its existence. The paradox is as follows: How did we not put an end to the war despite our access to education? How did we continue to wage war despite the horrors that history teaches? Why, while technology allows us help in our needs, is war still ravaging? Why do some people alienate others despite our means of communication?
The main goal of education, technology and communication is to bring people closer and to stretch our learning beyond our immediate environment. Among the values and principles that shape our reasoning and culture, the history of a country and the world teaches us events leading to war, genocide and mass murder.
War seems to be part of human history and continues today. There is not a day when the news does not cover an international conflict of war and inform us of a number of deaths and injuries.
The number and nature of international conflicts suggest that war is part of human history. The pre-Christian era has known mainly Roman and Antiquity conquests. The crusades later contributing to countless deaths.
Then, in the Middle Ages, we find the wars led by Napoleon, the 100 year war between France and England and other increasingly deadly conflicts.
Nowadays, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Burma, Afghanistan and other countries are ravaged by war. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has counted 350,000 deaths so far. War in Yemen records between 70,000 and 80,000 deaths since March.
War as human nature
War can be defined as a state of competition or hostility between different people or groups. War is definitely a part of history – but is it a part of human nature?
To understand why each war has taken place, it is necessary to analyse the common points among all the listed international conflicts. The reasons that can push a country to go to war are: obtaining natural resources, acquiring new territories, persecution a government towards its own people, perception or reality of defense, imposing a religion or ideology and/or derailed, toxic masculinity.
Even if wars occurred by the reasons cited above, they are not enough to answer why a country is willing to jeopardise its economic situation and its population to achieve its ends. The human, economic and physiological consequences would lead to the belief that war is a choice by default and therefore applied after all other means (diplomatic and political) have been rejected.
One theory is that man is an animal and that war is a genetic and natural expression of man’s primal nature, and that its environment is made for the strongest men to survive and the weakest men to be dominated. Elements of this form of social Darwinism can be found in Hobbes’ Leviathan.
Social Darwinists often point to the fact that chimpanzees regularly invade the territory of other chimpanzees. Given the proximity between humans and monkeys according to social Darwinist theory, this animalistic behaviour reinforces the belief that man only listens to his nature when choosing war.
This theory was the central pillar of the persecution of Jews during the Second World War. In his book, Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler compares Jews to parasites that hinder the development of the world. By claiming that the Jewish people were responsible for the ills of Germany, Hitler created hatred and anger that resulted in a human massacre.
Again, World War II saw Jews, “Gypsies”, disabled people and homosexuals die because of their ethnicity or way of life as their differences were understood as a danger to the nation according to Hitler.
The classification of a population or group of people according to their ethnicity, religion, way of life and sexual orientation is often served as a tool to focus hatred and make a community responsible for the country’s problem. This demonisation policy is often a main source of a particular type of war: The Civil War.
The following example tragically describes how classification of a population can lead to a war. In May 1994, the world discovers the massacre of Tutsis, a minority in Rwanda killed by Hutus. More than 800,000 deaths were recorded.
Originally, Tutsis and Hutus were one people, until the Belgian and German colonisation catalysed Rwandan theories of inequality which eventually favored Tutsis over Hutus.
It goes without saying that Hutus live their condition as an injustice. After decolonisation, Rwandan Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana died in an attack on 6 April 1994. Hutu extremists seized power to kill both Tutsis and Hutus who disagreed with their ideals.
Despite the above, the claim that war comes from human nature contradicts organisations and systems based on positive and moral values like empathy and sharing. Most countries have organised a system of taxes (however inadequate) to finance common needs, a police organ to protect the population, and developed internal trade standards to satisfy many domestic needs.
War as political outcome
So, is war a political choice? This discussion helps us understand more about state choices concerning “national defence”. The repartition of a significant percentage of GDP, the training of soldiers, the production of arms and intelligent services are standard government choice that, in part, reflect the recommendations of policymakers and a number of experts involved in governance.
Among all the reasons leading to international conflicts, wars waged by the power of persuasion and the authority of one man, under the pretext of glory and national honour, can also push a country to go to war. Here are four examples:
- Alexander the Great, who managed to conquer land and founded an empire the size of a continent, making thousands of deaths.
- Genghis Khan, Emperor of the Mongols, began a conquest of Asia, China and the northern borders of Europe.
- Adolf Hitler, through his book and as a deceptive speaker, became responsible for over 60 million deaths.
- Napoleon Bonaparte built an empire with victories in Italy, Egypt, Germany and Austria.
The choice that may lead to an international conflict may also be of a political and protective nature. The power and wealth of a country can be represented as a danger which will push an arms race in order to defend itself. This situation occurred during the Cold War between the United States and the USSR. Each of the two countries deeming it necessary for its security to have superior military means, pushing several states of the globe to modernise its armament – only to remain in a similar, relative position.
The number of wars and their recurrences in history make it almost impossible to know the real reason for a country to go to war – from this perspective, classical realist theories in political science are quite antiquated. Perhaps one should see the situation from another point of view and ask what are the conditions that guarantee peace.
Trade treaties after the Second World War created interdependence and political rapprochement between countries. Arguably, however, what became the European Union has led to further fragmentation in the long-run in countries like Britain.
The globalisation of trade between countries, as well as tourism, multilateral agreements and mutual pacts have enabled countries to acquire peaceful needs, to bring people together and to create a situation where mutual stakes make the choice of conflict dangerous for everyone.
Regarding the theory that war is part of human nature, I believe that, even though anger and aggression are part of human nature, the construction of cities and the organisation of countries, in addition to our everyday behaviour, demonstrate reasoning and morality to some extent. This shows our desire for security and stability in certain circumstances. In other circumstances, war is an irrational clash between different parties of varying military capability and lethal material.
The need to develop international trade is one solution that can defuse tensions between two countries and insulate the war. The European Union, certainly with its faults, can be seen as an example of cooperation between countries that have only been at war in the past.
It is also necessary to see our political representatives consider war as a last resort after having used all available diplomatic channels.