Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Will we Ever be Able to End Wars? How the Wise are Confused

One hundred years after the end of the war that was to end all wars, the First World War, we still don't understand what wars are, why we fight wars, why we can't stop fighting them. We are surrounded, it seems, by things we don't understand: why do people fight wars? Why are wars so commmon? Why can't we find a way to stop them? Why people still fall for the most obvious propaganda tricks?

Below, you can find an excerpt from the 1980 book by David Wilkinson, "Deadly Quarrels" that starts with a list of the various theories put forward in modern times to explain how peace could be attained. Still perfectly valid today, the list highlights the confusion pervading the attempts to put an end to war. It reminds the 200+ theories that Demandt reports for the reasons of the fall of the Roman Empire. More than that, it reminds of Paul of Tarsus (Corinthians 1) when he says "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise." And this is war, a foolish thing that keep confounding us.

From "Deadly Quarrels" by David Wilkinson, 1980 (*)

The most common way of contributing to the debate over war causation and peace strategy has been to assert some definite theory, to show how it fits current circumstances, and to deduce immediate practical conclusions. If we follow this public debate, we may expect to be told that war is a consequence, for instance, of wickedness, lawlessness, alienation, aggressive regimes, imperialism, poverty, militarism, anarchy, or weakness. Seldom will any evidence be offered. Instead the writer is likely to present a peace strategy that matches his theory of war causation. We shall therefore learn that we can have:

  • Peace through morality. Peace (local and global) can be brought about by a moral appeal, through world public opinion, to leaders and peoples not to condone or practice violence, aggression, or war, but to shun and to denounce them.
  • Peace through law. Peace can be made by signing international treaties and creating international laws that will regulate conduct and by resorting to international courts to solve disputes.
  • Peace through negotiation. Peace can be maintained by frank discussion of differences, by open diplomacy, by international conferences and assemblies that will air grievances and, through candor and goodwill, arrive at a harmonious consensus.
  • Peace through political reform. Peace can be established by setting up regimes of a nonaggressive type throughout the world: republics rather than monarchies; democratic rather than oligarchic republics; constitutionally limited rather than arbitrary, autocratic regimes.
  • Peace through national liberation. Peace can be instituted only through the worldwide triumph of nationalism. Multinational empires must be dissolved into nation-states; every nation must have its own sovereign, independent government and all its own national territory, but no more.
  • Peace through prosperity. Peace requires the worldwide triumph of an economic order that will produce universal prosperity and thereby remove the incentive to fight. Some consider this order to be one of universal capitalism, or at least of worldwide free trade; others hold it to be some species of socialism, reformist or revolutionary, elitist or democratic.
  • Peace through disarmament. Peace can be established by reducing and eventually eliminating weapons, bases, and armies, by removing the means to make war.
  • Peace through international organization. Peace can be established by creating a world political organization, perhaps even a constitutional world government resembling national governments, to enforce order and promote progress throughout the world.
  • Peace through power. Peace can be maintained by the peaceable accumulation of forces, perhaps overwhelming, perhaps preponderant or balancing or adequate-sufficient to deter, defeat, or punish aggression.

Much current talk on war and peace amounts to no more than high-handed assertions that my chosen theory is right, and all others therefore are evidently wrong.

(*) Wilkinson's "Deadly Quarrels" is a discussion of the studies performed by Lewis Fry Richardson from the 1930s to his death in 1953. Richardson was one of the first researchers who tried to put forward a quantitative theory of war. With my coworkers Gianluca Martelloni and Francesca Di Patti, we are re-examining the statistical patterns of war. We are finding, unfortunately, that Richardosn was basically right: wars are a random phenomenon similar to earthquakes and avalanches -- very hard both to predict and to stop. 


  1. >and thereby remove the incentive to tight

    To fight, that is.

  2. I would have thought the reason for war is a no-brainer: access to resources in an ever-crowded world.

  3. Actually, for the many explanations for war, the simplest are always the best. When the situation arrives in which survival is more likely with force than with compromise, there will be war.
    Unlike Pinker, we can consider all forms of violence, from fist fights to the violence that happens when the legislature is in session and poor people suffer, or the violence which is always explicit in law. Peace through power? Isn't that the rational of mutually assured destruction?
    When the system produces large inequalities, there will be readjustment, and to us it might seem like war or violence. The French and American revolutions were caused by a rising merchant class. World War I, likely over access to resources and the routes of resource exploitation.
    The first fully nuclear war, the "three bomb solution to climate heating" is likely to be soon, and it will be over the increasing struggle for not only resources, but Chinese investment dollars.
    War is not complicated, whether warring tribes or warring nations. However, as social structure incorporates more people, the violence becomes more social and less bloody; it's just good sense to convert corpses to wage slaves.

    1. It is not always true that the simplest explanation is the best. War is an emergent phenomenon of complex systems. "Complex" is not the opposite of "simple" but it is true that complex systems defy simple explanations.

  4. "Now, I believe what we should try to bring about is the general conviction that the first thing you have to abolish is war at all costs, and every other point of view must be of secondary importance" - Albert Einstein

    "You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war." - Albert Einstein

  5. My own high-handed assertion is that most of those nine strategies *can* contribute to peace, and of course many are compatible and thus can be employed together. I'd give the following "usefulness rating" on a scale of 0 to 5 to the nine strategies respectively:
    0 or even -1; Nationalism often leads to strategic rivalry.

    1. Nationalism is another emergent phenomenon, but our data show that the patterns of wars over the past 600 years haven't changed so much -- wars followed the same statistical pattern before and after the rise of nationalism

  6. Humans Are Genetically Predisposed to Kill Each Other

    The rate of lethal violence is 7 times higher than the average for all mammals

    Posted Oct 02, 2016

    "The reasons can be traced back to our primate ancestors, which are exceptionally violent creatures, killing each other at a rate of 2.3% like we do. These data indicate that the incessant repetition throughout recorded history and in prehistoric times of murder and war among all cultures of human beings has its roots in our evolutionary stalk. In part, the reasons for this rampant self-killing appear to relate to our big brains and the conscious awareness and conniving that big brainpower makes possible, but primarily because of two other key aspects of Homo sapiens and other primates: fierce territoriality and living in social groups. Across all mammalian species, conspecific deadly violence is highly correlated with these two factors. A double hit of both factors compounds the violence."

  7. People at the beginning of the XX century felt that war was about to come, but could do nothing to stop it and sleepwalked into it, even in the face of large pacifist parliamentary majorities. It was indeed an emerging phenomenon that escaped the control of governments.

    Today things feel pretty much the same, it is hard not to notice that we are drifting into another large war. We do not know who the contestants will be, but...

  8. Just finished typing my comment, when I read an article about Gorbachev:

    “Most dangerous would be a return to confrontation, the start of a new arms race. They are already talking about a nuclear war as if this is something entirely acceptable. It is being prepared, scenarios are being discussed.”

  9. Will we Ever be Able to End Wars?

    The question IMHO is more philosophical than scientifical, and it's quite hard to answer with a true solution in term of absolute sense, because even mankind is made by all people of one kind: the mankind race, that's also true that it's a fact each human is different from another for temper, education, and experiences of life done in the area of where he/she grew up

    Will mankind ever be able to end wars?

    I suggest to swap the question in another more useful question: will nations of earth be able to end wars?

    Ezezel is my imaginatory alien, he is protagonist of numerous of my SciFi tales, he usually says to the readers that he knows lot of good answers for the future of mankind. For answering at this odd question, it is necessary to break up the initial question in much smaller other questions, simply on using the subsystem logic :-) redoucing the issue in small and easier issues.

    1-will Europe be able to end wars in the incoming future?
    Theoretically the answer is YES, it is only necessary to trasform the UE confederate into a USE a Federate State made by federate nations. Each nation of Europe would give up its military defence and foreign politic. USE should have one military defence with one secretary of state only. Will it enough to avoid the PUNIC WARS II during the incoming future? The answer is NO, because the PUNIC WARS II will detonate for climate change and overpopulation in Africa, unfortunatly it's too late for fixing those problems into short future.

    2-will Africa be able to end wars in the incoming future?
    Theoretically the answer is YES, it is necessary to follow the European path on UE->USE.
    Will african follow the european political path?! The answer is NO.
    Will Africa avoid the PUNIC WARS II during the incoming future? The answer is NO, because the PUNIC WARS II will detonate for climate change and overpopulation in Africa, it's too late for fixing those problems into future.

    3-will Asia be able to end wars in the incoming future?
    Theoretically the answer is YES, it is necessary to follow the European path on UE->USE.
    Will asian people follow the european politica path?! The answer is NO.
    Will Africa avoid the WWIII during the incoming future? The answer is UNKNOWN, because only Russia will have the keys to defuse WWIII, simply on selling Siberia in many parts to China, Iran, India, Pakistan+Bangladesh for mitigating climate change damages.

    4-will North America be able to end wars in the incoming future?
    The answer is YES, they have already done in the past, USA is a federal state, and Canada too. There's no reason in the future fort thinking climate change will reverse this peace conditions in north america.

    5-will South America be able to end wars in the incoming future?
    Theoretically the answer is YES, it is necessary to follow the European path on UE->USE.
    Will south America avoid the WWIII during the incoming future? Probably yes, but only if south america will remain neutral during the WWIII and PUNIC WARS II.

    6-will Australia be able to end wars in the incoming future??
    The answer is YES, they have already done in the past, but for future things are different. Australia is near to big nations in overpopulation and climate change damages, so Australia could have many regional or littoral problems to Indonesia.

  10. Why we can 't stop : all wars are fought under the promise of peace and freedom.

  11. All wars are fought under the promise of peace and freedom. As long as be keep believing that, we will continu.

  12. Studies of primitive societies show war at quite a higher rate than from nations ( mostly, one suspects, from the much higher rate of resource use that limits the amount of fighting ). Simply, it is the only way to arbitrate disputes. I lean more towards the "control of resources" theory. You can't wait until both tribes are hungry to go to war. In times of privation you want to already have a surplus. If there are two tribes, and food enough for one and a half, without one tribe the surviving one has enough. Of course, yes, that is simplified. War must be conducted for no good reason, so that your martial powers are honed for when you really need them. It is like brothers fighting among themselves all the time, then being ready to fight the world outside the family. Also, kindly don't forget the simple mating reason. We also fight for the best mating material. Or just go steal it. It doesn't have to be politically correct to be biological.

  13. Deleted by mistake. Reposting...

    Milan Smrž has left a new comment on your post "Will we Ever be Able to End Wars? How the Wise are...":

    There are some credible explanation of peacefull societies, for example Çatal Hüyük in Anatolia or Crete or Mohenjodaro. According this these historical events it seams that long peace periods are possible. It is to mention that described living places were based on societies, which we will today describe as gender balanced and civic.

  14. People, or groups of people, fight over perceived scarcity of something perceived as important. What is seen as important and scarce to one person or group isn't always seen the same way as others. Addicts may fight over drugs, for example, while non addicts won't see the issue as important, though they might find the possibility of being caught in the crossfire as something to fight about. Scarcity of peace, seeing others fighting as a potential threat to their welfare.
    I think we are all fundamentally either attracted or repulsed by things to various degrees, same as the chemicals that we are built from. I don't see anyone doing anything more than that. Looking at things logically is something we are either attracted to doing or not, with many degrees of attraction possible. We find the conclusions of logic either attractive or not. There are some things that most people find very attractive, and if there isn't enough to go around, you have the potential for conflict. We commonly find reproduction attractive, and yet it is easy to start new people growing, but with finite resources it gets to be much harder to satisfy the needs and wants of a growing population. You will have more conflict with more people.

    Isaac Asimov had a metaphor of a house with one bathroom, and considered the house having one or more people. One person has complete freedom to use the bathroom whenever and as long as they want. More and more people means less and less freedom to do that. And more and more potential for conflict about it.
    I don't see war as a difficult mystery, though as I've already noted, the things some people would fight about, I wouldn't, and some things I see as worth fighting for, others don't. And how I would fight can also be different. I'm not interested in fighting to keep this lifestyle based on fossil fuel, for example, and think that planning on imaginary things being found, or imaginary friends helping, looks like a good way to lose everything. I'd like to get out of the potential bloodbath of people addicted to fossil fuels and with blind faith in ways being found to have some semblance of it continue, but in conflict about which of those ways are best. If addicts kill themselves, often by killing each other, demanding things which are very unlikely to happen, more sober people could end up running things, and they might avoid the endless fighting and environmental damage that has gone on with addicts to energy and money and reproduction and mysticism and superstition...



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)