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. 


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)