From Nuclear Military Strategy to a World without War: A History and a Proposal

By Roger Hilsman | Go to book overview
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Chapter 17
The Social and Political Functions of War

Why war? Individuals in most species fight one on one for food or territory and males for access to a female. A number of the different ungulates that travel in herds will protect themselves and their young by facing a predator shoulder to shoulder. Some ants seem to fight as colonies against other colonies. And on at least one occasion scientists have seen a pack of chimpanzees attack another pack. But in the millions upon millions of years that life has existed on the planet earth and among the millions and millions of different species that have come and gone, our species, Homo sapiens sapiens, appears to be the only one that institutionalized violence as war. Why?

War is not just casual physical violence between individuals. War is not the use of violence by a sib of Cro-Magnons fighting a sib of Neanderthals over an animal carcass or the use of violence by a band of outlaws robbing a stagecoach. War is violence that is highly organized by whole societies and directed against other societies for political and social ends.

Civil war is much the same. Civil war is not a mob in the streets demonstrating for or against something, even though the mob may use violence. The campus riots in the late 1960s protesting the war in Vietnam did not add up to civil war, even though they were often violent and on at least one occasion resulted in people being killed. The American Civil War, for example, was more like an international war than riots or civil disobedience. A part of the nation, the Southern states, that controlled an expanse of territory, reorganized itself into a separate political entity, the Confederacy, and fought to make its independent existence permanent.

Perhaps the answer to the question, "Why war?" lies somewhere here, in the presence or absence of statehood and government. In the past, political thinkers,

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