“War! Huh! Yeah! What is it good for?” It’s complicated so let’s talk about it!
A tribe of early humans had two duties in order to survive and progress: they had to provide enough food for themselves, and they must be able to protect themselves from invaders. If a tribe was good at providing food but couldn’t protect themselves, bands of raiders could easily come in and steal the food. The first defenders against invaders were average citizens who took up arms using only their farming tools.
As societies progressed, the ones that survived were the ones that could allocate enough resources to maintain a group of trained soldiers. Having an army of trained soldiers was very useful to a leader to ensure the safety of the people. However, it becomes a slight problem when that leader has a dispute with a foreign leader. War is just an escalated disagreement between two powers in control of armies.
Technically, wars don’t have to be fought with armies. Guerilla warfare is somewhat a combination of soldiers and civilians. Although this type of warfare has been used by underdogs throughout history, it usually doesn’t work out for the smaller power. For the most part, wars occur between armies of conflicted governments.
Wars don’t just happen out of the blue. Both sides of a war will experience loss so there better be a reward that is worth it. The most common call for war is as a violent solution to a competition of resources. Other reasons for war include ideological disagreements or empire expansion.
The most common type of ideological dispute is a religious war. It’s sometimes baffling to think of all the people who have been killed by their brethren in the name of a god who supposedly teaches love for your brethren.
Empire expansion is a little different since the army of the larger power is usually able to completely dominate whatever group they are conquering. Empire expanding wars can also be fought for strategic forts, trading goods, or because the indigenous rise up against the empire.
Regardless of the type or reason for a war, it will always be ended by communication between leaders of conflicted powers. We often praise our ability to meet and speak with our enemies in a civilized way despite the violence preceding it. If only we could do that in place of the violence and not just after it.
It’s important to remember that wars are fought by people. While the first wars were fought by untrained citizens, eventually a standing army became a paid profession. Employed soldiers were trained to be prepared for the worst scenarios. For every death, friend or foe, another human life is extinguished. A mind like yours that can feel and think like yours, gone in an instant. Every soldier has a past and a family and can love and hate, training officers focus the most on those two Basic Functions.
Soldiers are conditioned from their first day of boot camp to their dying breath. They are conditioned to love their fellow soldiers as though they were family, and to hate their enemies as though they were vermin or an infection. The love makes sense: in the heat of a battle, fight or flight is going to kick in and it’s good to have a more powerful drive to keep you from abandoning your brothers (or sisters) in arms. The hate also makes sense: if they see enemy soldiers as human, they might empathize and not want to fight.
Not only are Basic Functions good for training soldiers to believe in the same ideal as their commander, they are good for training the civilians as well. Media and propaganda portray enemies as evil and inhuman while their army stands for truth and justice. It’s all just an advertisement for more bloodshed, wrapped up with a nice bow that we call honor.
In fact, almost every culture throughout our history seems to glorify war and those that participated in it. Perhaps this is because we are inherently violent and praising those who are violent means that we don’t have to be. Perhaps it is because a pacifist would lose any battle to a warrior, and there’s not much glory in losing. After all, history is written by the winners with all their biases. We still see the obsession and glorification of warfare today when you take a look at the video games kids are playing. The honor and prestige of war has seeped into the culture itself.
A trained army is useful when fighting untrained civilians, but against another army a commander’s strategy is needed. Commanders must anticipate enemy movements and send orders to defend against an attack, or successfully attack someone else. It’s a rather impressive mind game that two enemy commanders play, despite the true cost of each commander “losing units.”
As technology advanced, the strategies changed: the phalanx and trench warfare are each a strategy adapted based on the technology available. Many new technologies were funded specifically to give an upper hand in a war. Radar, nuclear fission, rockets, satellites, drones, the Internet, plus many more inventions were all initially made for military purpose.
As I said before, wars don’t just spring up out of the blue. It takes a lot of money to train and ship soldiers with weapons and food to foreign soil. That funding is usually provided by the government giving orders to that army and the government gets the money from taxes, so where does it go? When we follow the money trail of almost every modern war, the businesses that manufacture weapons and goods for warfare always boom during wartime.
Building and selling weapons to our allies was one of the keys to bringing us out of the economic depression before we entered World War II. That same sector of the economy seems to boom with each new war that we fight which begs the question, who is the real winner of these wars?
That brings us back to the original question: “War[…] what is it good for?” It’s helped to establish and destroy empires, it’s inspired new technologies to boost our progress, it’s given you a fun activity for when you just want to unplug in the evening in front of a screen. The real question is not simply what is war good for, the question I pose to you is this: is it worth the cost?