ON THE ORIGINS OF WAR: In His Own Words
Kagan, Donald, Humanities
Our study of the episodes examined here suggests some general observations about the origins of wars and the preservation of peace. The first is that in a world of sovereign states a contest among them over the distribution of power is the normal condition and that such contests often lead to war. Another observation is that the reasons for seeking more power are often not merely the search for security or material advantage. Among them are demands for greater prestige, respect, deference, in short, honor. Since such demands involve judgments even more subjective than those about material advantage, they are still harder to satisfy. Other reasons emerge from fear often unclear and intangible, not always of immediate threats but also of more distant ones, against which reassurance may not be possible, The persistence of such thinking in a wide variety of states and systems over the space of millennia suggests the unwelcome conclusion that war is probably part of the human condition and likely to be with us for some time yet.
Most thinking and writing about the subject, however, has assumed tacitly that peace is the natural state of relations among states, that war is an aberration that can be escaped by improving the character of the decision makers, by the evolution of society away from bellicose traditions and institutions, and by avoiding entangling or provocative actions. The suggested solutions since the eighteenth century chiefly have been the education of peoples and their leaders to produce an understanding that war is not only terrible but also wicked, irrational, and unprofitable. Assuming that people go to war chiefly for some rational purpose, usually to gain some material advantage, this approach counts on education to produce a more correct rational understanding of the interests of those involved. …