Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

When War Is a Force for Human Progress

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

When War Is a Force for Human Progress

Article excerpt


WAR! WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR? THE ROLE OF CONFLICT IN CIVILISATION, FROM PRIMATES TO ROBOTS by Ian Morris (Profile, PS25) UNDER the old rules, laid down after the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, states made laws and made wars -- the one reinforcing the other. Nowadays states make laws to ban the pursuit of war.

In Britain today human rights laws now contend that soldiers on operations must conform to the tenets of the Court of Human Rights and the International Criminal Court. Any roughing-up of combatants is now seen as an abuse of human rights, laid down in a raft of international conventions. This is now being probed in the Al-Sweady enquiry into the conduct of British troops during and after a six-hour gun battle south of Amarah in Iraq in May 2004, during which it is alleged that prisoners were abused and corpses mutilated.

Some human rights lawyers want to go further, and suggest that any order given to a British soldier that is likely to endanger his or her life is illegal.

Britain is currently running down its armed forces and defences so adventures such as those launched by Tony Blair in Iraq in 2003 and Afghanistan in 2001 -- only now coming to an end -- should be unfeasible in the future. We just won't have the means to do them. The head of the British Army, Sir Peter Wall, has spoken of this posture as one of "moral disarmament".

This makes the timing of Ian Morris's book acutely relevant. While Western Europe, Britain and Germany in the lead, may be basing foreign and security policies on no war for the foreseeable future, Morris argues that, looking at the broad sweep of the past 10,000 years, war has led to the improvement, security and prosperity of much of mankind.

War leads to humans organising themselves into ever stronger communities and societies which have delivered better governance, falling homicide rates, less domestic violence and greater riches. The vehicle for this is the state, which he epitomises as Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan. Without Leviathan we would revert to our worse natures. Ruled by the dark elements of the human psyche, we would regress to the mental and physical cannibalism of William Golding's plane-wrecked tribe of pubescent boys in Lord of the Flies. …

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