Why War is Good, or War, Progress and Civivilization
Is There Such a Thing as a Good War?
This article discusses why war and not peace is the driving force behind human civilization, and how war has led to the development of almost all technology and knowledge.
In fact, when we consider human history we find that all of humanity's social and technological progress has been motivated by war, and the need to gain advantage over one's enemies. Viewed in that context, war is not necessarily bad. In fact, it may at the very least be a necessary evil.
War and Human Civilization
We are taught that war is bad, that it it is wasteful of human life and resources, that it spreads destruction and misery. All these things are true: war is to be avoided. It is immoral. It is evil. It inflicts suffering on the innocent, and destroys untold lives, causes the fall of civlilzations and debases the human spirit. But ... war is also essential to human civilization.
The very thing that threatens to destroy civilization is what drives civilization to improve its technology and social development. It is a sad fact that from the art of killing other humans, we have derived most of the tools and social organization that make up our societies.
The connection between war and the advancement of learning was noted even in ancient times. The ancient Greek writer Aristophanes stated:
"Yet, certainly, the wise learn many things from their enemies; for caution preserves all things. From a friend you could not learn this, but your foe immediately obliges you to learn it . For example, the states have learned from enemies, and not from friends, to build lofty walls, and to possess ships of war. And this lesson preserves children, house, and possessions."
Technological Progress and War
There is much truth embedded in this simple statement: cities learn how to build walls from their enemies.They learn because of war.
Now of course we no longer build walls around cities, but this is because the art of war has made walls obsolete.In other words, the science of war has led to seige engines, counter seige engines, explosives, artillery, airplanes, which have made walls and fortifications useless.
But the truth is still there: cities learned to build walls to protect themselves against attackers. To build walls, the people learned to quarry rock, they developed masonry, they developed the social organization to organize and command groups of people to get the rocks, shape them, and erect them. In so doing, cities learned geometry, mathematics, architecture and so on.
And the attackers, those who would breach the walls learned from their enemies too: they learned to build seige engines, and learned the principles of ballistics, of mathematics. They learned how to lay seige to impregnable fortresses by surrounding them and starving them into submission, and in so doing they learned how to keep large armies in the field around the cities and how to supply them with provisions for a long campaign.
To attack a city, people learned how to organize and move large numbers of men and camp followers. They developed logistics: wagons to move food end equipment, social organizations to draft soldiers, institutions such as the army to train them, chain of command, communication systems, maps, and so on.
How Wars and Aggression Drive Human Progress
War and Technology
War Drives Technolgical Advancement
And this pattern continues to the present day. Our present civilization reaps the bitter fruits of a thousand wars, most long forgotten, that have been the true mother of invention.
Our commercial aircraft can fly through crowded skies because of radar, which was developed during world war 2 to defend against Nazi air raids (a modern wall, if you will). And we have microwave ovens thanks to military research to improve radar designs. In fact we have commercial jet aircraft because of the work in world war 2 to develop jet fighters and bombers. The technology was later adapted to civilian use. The fast connections between continents made possible by jet powered passenger planes have changed our world. We could hardly imagine a world where it still took weeks to travel from San Francisco to China. And we can honestly say that the free exchange of people between countries made possible by regular air routes has gone a long way to making the world one and developing understanding and exchanges between countries and different cultures. But all this is built on a foundation of war; we simply would not have had the jet engine without it.
We have nuclear power plants because of the advancements made in nuclear energy during the Manhattan project and the race to produce the first atomic bomb. The age of computers began in the 1940s with the efforts to build code breaking machines, and developed through the cold war and today as competing nations strove to to make computers smaller and faster to handle the requirements of missile guidance systems and advanced fighter aircraft.
Even the internet, the invention which perhaps most defines our modern age, was built on the foundations of a military system designed to provide a distributed, and therefore difficult to destroy, communication system which would allow government entities to continue to communicate in the event of nuclear war.
The D Day landings required amazing feats of engineering and design: millions of workers built the landing craft, the tanks, the ships and ammunition, spurring the development of new industrial techniques and scientific advances in the fields of weather and tide prediction, engineering (everything from floating docks to undersea pipelines had to be invented from scratch).
War Is a Harsh But Good Teacher
Would we have had all of these things without war, or would we be even more advanced? It is difficult to say with certainty because war has been so pervasive in human history that it is not possible to conduct a double blind study and compare an unwarlike civilization to ours. However, the fact that most technological advancement has happened as a result of war or during arms races in preparation for war suggests that war is indeed a teacher to humankind.
Despite its title the intent of this article is not to glorify war or argue that it is morally good. It is however useful, and we need to understand its role in shaping and advancing human civilization if we are ever going to find a way out of this paradigm and learn to progress and advance though peace and cooperation. But unless we can face the reality of our nature and recognize the bones that form the scaffolding and foundation of our society, we will never be free of war and will forever be the unhappy students of this harsh teacher.
© 2009 Robert P