Studying War

The Twentieth Century was a profoundly weird century.  No.  Seriously.

I was thinking about this as I was exercising.  Currently my exercise video (have to, or I get bored and wander off) is Amazon streaming video, mystery series Foyle’s War mysteries set during WWII.

It’s funny because I never considered WWII history.  History was stuff in the eighteenth century.  WWII was part of my parents’ childhood memories.  (Yes, Portugal was neutral.  But they took in refugees and supplied food to both sides – you would too if you had a much bigger Axis country next door ready to whomp you if you sided with the allies, and, otoh, you were Britain’s oldest alliance and therefore couldn’t turn your back on them.  At any rate, considering what Portugal contributed to the effort in WWI [barefoot, unarmed soldiers.  I was reading a book about WWI and when they described the Germans attacking and the Portuguese stealing the messengers bicycles and pedaling away, I almost lost it.  It was one of those laughing through tears moments.  I grew up with stories of those poor boys sent to die at the pleasure of a government who wanted to look good and be part of the allied force, even though the country was bankrupt.  Some of them returned.  I don’t know if they returned because they stole bicycles and pedaled home and I wouldn’t hold it against them if they had.] ) Portugal had food rationing and whenever our rulers at the time thought they might have upset the axis, people went about taping the windows, in case of raids.

This as well as the regimes blinkered ideas of economics – were they Fascist?  Well… not exactly.  To a certain extent, they ruled as FDR would have unimpaired by the constitution.  But let’s face it that was as close as no separation to national socialism. It was still socialism, crossed with crony capitalism.  Cradle to grave plus your buddies got all the plum financing for public works, etc.  In their defense, they did better than the previous anarchist sympathizers.  In their non-defense, crony capitalism and economic dirigism will only take you so far. – Meant that my parents, one of whom at least was solidly middle class and probably for the time upper middle class (the extended family, at least, was) grew up knowing hunger and also such contrivances as gleaning and walking the rail line for fallen coal pieces, to keep body and soul together.

What I mean is that this was not, truly, in the end, exactly history, but stuff mom and dad had lived through and talked about, plus stuff that movies were made of.  I despaired ever writing a romance because I didn’t know nearly enough about WWII, and that’s when all romances were set.

And the Napoleonic invasions?  Well, grandma had heard of them from her grandma, so it wasn’t exactly history either.

Anyway, now that we’re nearing the anniversary of WWI, I find myself looking back at the twentieth century and thinking it was a very odd time and it has colored the way we think of things like… What causes war and what constitutes acceptable war and what our motives should be in going to war…  In a way it is probably responsible for the “Hate our side first” crowd.

I think the problem was mass media.  Well, not the problem exactly, but what made the twentieth century such a bizarre time.  If that was the case, it is entirely possible that the new media will take us back, instead, to a time where war and conflict and all are seen as what they were to begin with: a striving of tribes in defense or securing of their self interest.

I’m not making much sense, am I?  Blame it on one cup of tea and one diet coke.  Not nearly enough caffeine.

Look, humanity has always more or less been at war.  Yes, I know fantasy books, and some of the history books that resemble fantasy talk about times of peace.  But mostly peace was either localized or known only in the default.  Every religion prayed for peace because what there was, in fact, was war.

I’m not going to moralize about this.  The people who went on about how humans were particularly bad because of this, never apparently really looked at other species, from the starling to the chimp.  We strive because we’re alive, and sometimes that which we strive against is, perforce, our own species.  In a way, it is perhaps part of how we’ve tamed ourselves, because the only way to ultimately stop a really bad behavior of a group is to stop the group.

The oldest burials of our kind are chiefs with their war maces, which were sometimes ornamental (the kings were sometimes children, too) but were indisputably, a sign of power because the mace serves to hit enemies on the head, and if you can hit enough people on the head, there, you have power.  Even what appears to be peaceful agrarian villages were regularly raided by hunter-gatherers, when times got lean.  As for Celts, for all their admirable poetry and other achievements, let’s face it, they were glorified cattle robbers and headhunters.

It’s not a choice whether you’re descended from thieves, raiders and cannibals, only WHICH thieves, raiders and cannibals you are descended from and how successful they were.

Of course, these things changed.  Wars continued, but as we got wealthier as a species, as we changed more areas to be good for our habitation, there started to be pockets of peace.  Even in the middle ages, these pockets might be temporary, as Summer was war time, but there was a chance the army would take another route and your village would be left unraided.  Some lucky places could go generations without being raided.  (Okay, they were normally dirt-poor places, but all the same.)

Grow up in a place where humans have lived long enough and it’s not unusual for a farmer to turn over a box – or a jug, or even an amphora – with his plow and discover within a few coins or a couple of pieces of jewelry.  People had the thing down to a science: hear an army is approaching, bury your treasures where no one will know.  Of course, get killed and no one ever knows and it’s left for centuries or millennia, scars and mute witness to past conflicts.

With the industrial age and the professionalization of armies, we got yet another distancing of the conflict.  Places might be at war more or less continuously, but unless the army came to your region, the war was something you heard about or read about in the newspapers.

And the myth of peace spread.  The idea that peace was the normal condition of mankind.  It also spread a type of mentality in which war and making war was unconditionally bad, and therefore had to be justified with high moral words.

I’m not saying there was never demonization of the other side before.  Of course there was.  The number of Portuguese Proverbs that say something bad about Spaniards is roughly equal to the number of Portuguese Proverbs that mention Spaniards.  But beneath it, everyone pretty much knew it was your tribe fighting with the other tribe who wanted to take your land or stuff, or you wanted to take theirs.  You didn’t need to think – and didn’t think – the other tribe was terrible ideologically and would destroy the world if they won.  You just knew they would take yours stuff.

World War One was the first war in which the enemy was made a threat to the world, not just to the countries it wishes to invade.  Raped Belgian nuns and all, the war was in the end just a continuation of European nation-state wars, and yet it was blown up to a world conflict.  And from it came World War Two.

To be honest, at the same time, we’d got some strange brain worms, like communism, which was a world threat because it was “universal” in nature.  Not that communism was anything new.  In its scope it was exactly like the invading/expanding Islam of the seventh century: a militant faith, with universal aspirations, which believed conversion at sword point was valid.  But because communism (in a way the opposite of Islam which dressed its political/economic system in ideas of religion and morality) was a religious faith pretending to be an economic and political system, it penetrated in insidious ways, and claimed its prescriptions for how to live were “scientific.”

Which meant they had to be fought as a threatening would-be world-devouring ideology, because they WOULD be that, if they could.  And that muddied things further.

What I mean is that we’ve got to the point of thinking the only thing worth fighting for is ideas.  And then we have people in our own government who think the only moral war is that in which we have no interest whatsoever.  Which is sort of putting things upside down, because if we have nothing to gain or lose, than our behavior is not bound by any rational goals.  How do you “win” when you have nothing to win from this war.  When you establish democracy?  How do you measure democracy?  And how does it affect you?  Does anyone care if we’re creating worse messes for ourselves by arbitrarily quitting wars?

It also creates some very weird ideas of what war IS.  Those who believe that the US are war mongers, for instance, think we could stop wars by simply stopping.  They seem to think that the rest of the world are angels, with full fledged wings.  Terry Pratchett himself – genuflect – got the really odd idea that if a very wealthy place is unprotected, then no one will attack it.  This is somewhat more than insane, because just because we’ve been brain washed into believing only in “War for higher purpose” it doesn’t mean everyone has been and as the world turns into a time to pay the piper for years and wealth squandered trying to create paradise on Earth, any rich country will be a big fat target.

Yes, Ronald Reagan outspent the Soviets and let Capitalism defeat them.  But he didn’t do so by laying down weapons.  On the contrary.

The whole way the historians paint the two world wars as having come from German militarism is putting the cart before the horse.  Germany didn’t get all militaristic and then automagically the war started.  The war started because the expanding German industry and population needed resources and access to a warm sea port.  The militarism, pretty uniforms and arming up was simply a reaction to that.

When we pin our ideas of what war is and one gets to war on the externalization, the “feeling” of it, and the idea that all we need to do to stop war from affecting us is be really peaceful, we are making ourselves what is known in the bad neighborhoods (and the world is always a bad neighborhood) as an easy target.

The Bible can talk of studying war no more, but that’s after a miracle occurs and we’re no longer humans as we know them.  For now, being humans as we are, the best we can hope is that war doesn’t hit our particular neck of the woods.  And that means, particularly if we’re a wealthy land, going well armed and talking tough enough that the bad actors fear us.

Winning hearts and minds is all very well – but that usually – for humans – happens after the body carrying the mind and heart around has been pounded into the ground.  It’s who we are.  We’re a striving species, every man against his brother.  It’s what kept us alive.

Forget that and we’re gone.  The future belongs to those willing to fight for it.

115 thoughts on “Studying War

  1. The worst part of the 19th century was the introduction of the collectivist ideal — Marx, Engels, Lenin, Gramsci etc. Half its allure was that it had never before been attempted on a large scale (it had failed dismally on a micro-level, and the argument was that it needed to be attempted on a grand scale).

    The best part of the 20th century was the fact that collectivism was attempted on a grand scale, and failed everywhere it was attempted, caused untold misery and death, and was exposed and proven to be a false god.

    Sadly, a lot of people haven’t got the message yet. The price of capitalism (which both exults and exacerbates the human spriti) is occasional misery and -war against “the other”. The price of collectivism (which attempts to deny and suppress the human spirit) is universal misery and -war against each other.

      1. Communism is a religion without any divine. It struck me that the communist promises that it will all work out on some fine day when things (everybody) are in line is an all new version of their attack on religion — pie in the sky when you die. They have their asses covered, because they never promise that it will happen in the life time of anyone who can hear.

        1. Several authors I’ve read make it a point that involuntary communism is a failure. It disarms the arguments of those who point to monastic life and groups such as the Shakers as evidence that “communism works.”

          And yes, in modern Communism you have holy scriptures, prophets, the story of a Fall and a Redemption, and a glorious paradise to be granted to the true believers. There is that minor detail about sacrificing other people for the remission of sins, but some modern fellow-travelers even go past that, wishing to dissolve themselves in the power of the Movement. Despite what some Christians proclaim, Satanists are pikers at corruption when compared to proponents of involuntary communism.

          1. Right! God promises paradise. Satan, in his invention of socialism, promises the same thing. One vision is real, the other mere mirage.

          2. There are no involuntary converts to Communism, there are merely those suffering from false consciousness who require reeducation.

      2. Way back in the nineteen-mumbleties Beloved Spouse & I were enjoying a Friday Night’s revelries (we were young, we were in love, we were something or other) when we ran into an acquaintance who confessed to us that he was having a “bad trip” (not a failure to get off, an adverse reaction to the LSD) … and so he had increased the dosage, and taken other things as well.

        That has remained for us a metaphor for how the Collectivists think.

        Happily, out friend’s story has a positive outcome: years later we happened into him at an event and learned he was active in Narcotics Anonymous. Perhaps we need to encourage a Collectivists Anonymous movement.

        1. “Perhaps we need to encourage a Collectivists Anonymous movement.”

          My experience has been that for those of us who once believed the lie, seeing the light is enough to make us rabid anti-communists. Unless there is a risk of retaliation for heresy (I know of a few rare cases), we need no help in breaking away. The great need is for means and mediums through which to expose people to the doctrines of liberty. Been pondering that for a while, still formulating some ideas. I’d love to hear y’all’s. (Is that how you’d punctuate the possessive?)

          1. One is Human Wave — stories that highlight the ideas and principles. No not sappy moralistic lectures full of platitudes, but tales with real substance on their bones.

        1. Have any of y’all read Ameritopia? Pretty good historical review of attempts to ‘put the right people in charge.’

  2. IIRC — In British tradition it is not history until at least fifty years have passed since it occurred. This allows for the immediate results to be played out, documents to be opened, major individuals to have passed or at least to have moved out of the halls of power and for development of perspective. Accordingly, when we were young WWII had not yet obtained the status of history.

    Aside: with our much longer lives I wonder how long before the time period for something to begin to be seriously studied as history will become seventy-five years?

    1. The current academic Rule of Thumb for US history vs current events is 30 years – one generation, and that is when US governments become available for declassification. 50 years may be a better standard.

      1. I sat on a declassification review board once. Some military documents are scheduled to be declassified in five years, some in ten years, some in 25 years, and some never. Much of that has changed, and now documents that were exempt from declassification are now DOWNGRADED at 50 years, and fully declassified at 75 years. That includes a lot of the stuff I was involved with. Except where it involves sources and methods, I think too much is kept classified. Some of it’s kept classified because it shows US screw-ups we don’t want the rest of the world to know about.

        1. US screw-ups we don’t want the rest of the world to know about.

          Oh, pish-tosh. They already know about LBJ and Jimmy Carter, Noam Chomsky and Rachel Carson. It is keeping Americans from knowing how bad they were that is the concern.

    2. I’d say it’s far past time to make it 75 years, and should go to 100 soon, but it’s unlikely to actually change at all.

  3. May I hijack this thread for just a bit? I’d like to lay another myth to rest — the myth that the “Cold War” was “without casualties”, and thus, not a ‘real’ war. I know better. There are documents out there that recount the deaths of 19,634 people in direct conflict with the Soviet Union, and over 6,000 in conflict with the People’s Republic of China. This excludes the 58,000 killed in the Vietnamese proxy war, the 56,000 killed in the Korean proxy war, and more than 9000 killed elsewhere. It also doesn’t include the more than 23,000 deaths in training accidents, or the 17,000 from “other causes”. We paid a high price, both in blood and treasure, to remain free. Most of current America isn’t aware of that. That really burns me, because I knew eight of those that died in Vietnam, two in Korea, and some thirty or more that died in training accidents. We lost two pilots at an airshow in Britain three months before the squadron they belonged to was to disband. I lost a friend I’d bowled with on Sunday who died the following Monday morning in an aircraft crash. War is hell, even when you’re not actively engaged in combat. A nation that doesn’t understand that, and doesn’t APPRECIATE it, is doomed to eventually collapse.

    1. A friend taught school in Angola. There are still losses suffered by the mines left from that proxy war.

      1. YES. My SIL and her family had to repatriate to Portugal after the “revolutionaries” handed the “colonies” (they weren’t, in administrative ways. But that’s confusing to explain) to Russia and Cuba. All white people were told to leave, all black people were forced to stay. One of my SIL’s friends escaped inside their luggage, because she was black. She was also a medical student who’d just been assigned to work in the fields ala cultural revolution. She eventually finished her degree in Portugal. I don’t know if she ever went back. I lost ALL respect for Reader’s Digest when they reported Samora Machel (the communist puppet leader) was a nurse’s aid because “the Portuguese wouldn’t let a black man be a doctor.” SUCH b*llsh*t.

        1. Yeah, well, there is noting like the ignorance practiced by some very educated people who do not want their world view challenged.

    2. And millions more made miserable by having to watch their every word, even with family. Communism is just one more way to try to control not only lives, but minds.

      I’m not so thrilled by our particular version of democracy, but, darn it, I can’t figure out which country to move to and become a citizen of because it’s so much better!

      And that’s given that because I am a white American (female, but that’s got to be tolerated), educated, and with enough money to be able to take root in a new country. So many of the world’s millions can’t even get the chance to try living here. I am profoundly grateful for the freedom to criticize and complain – and doing my best to be a solid citizen with all the idjits out there, our own native-born idjits.

      Scares the hell out of me sometimes how close we are to the edge.

      1. One of the big problems today is that our “representative democracy” really doesn’t represent the people, but the power structure – I.E., government. We really need to repeal the 17th Amendment. The Tea Party movement is basically a movement to try to return to representative democracy, where the PEOPLE are represented.

        The only place I would consider moving now is to the Colorado Western Slope, and only because there are several areas over there where you can still get “lost” if things get really, REALLY bad. The truth is, if the government of the US collapses, there won’t be resources – or the desire – to go looking for people like me.

        1. Eric Anthony Rudolph proved that you can get lost in North Carolina even if they are looking for you. The Spouse observes that oddly the liberals have not learned the moral of the story and continue to work to shut fast food down.

          1. Pardon me, please do not take the above to express the approve of blowing up Olympic venues or any place else.

            1. CACS – if I ever decide to start blowing things up, Olympic venues would be the last place I’d start. I’d also give all of you nice people advanced warning… 8^)

              1. And my wife wonders why I’m worried about applying for a job with a security clearance…

                1. Don’t worry too much about it, several of the people I know who I would consider, ‘most likely to start blowing up venues’, have their Twit Card.

        2. Given the history of machine politics I cannot endorse the belief that revoking the 17th Amendment will cure the ills of elected representatives representing the power structure. (Which is not to say I do not support the repeal; I can endorse aspirin even if it is not an effective treatment for “the runs.”) (N.B., given the ownership and influence of the media, repeal might enhance the power of special interests, who always enjoy the ability to focus their energies ((Google “Secretary of State Project”)) to the detriment of the general economy … that is why they are called “special.”)

          Historian Steven Hayward, posting at the Powerline blog this morning, notes this from quote Willie Brown, California’s erstwhile Speaker of the California State Assembly, acknowledging the damages imposed by special interests within the state:

          As reforms go, the pension deal that Sacramento lawmakers reached last week is just a start to correct the mistakes that former lawmakers, including me, have made over the years.

          But for all the talk about how the changes were needed to make the governor’s tax plan more palatable to voters this fall, the fact is that lawmakers bucked the unions for one reason and one reason only: They want to keep their jobs.

          The unions are really bent out of shape because they weren’t allowed in the room during the negotiations, as they usually are. But why should they be in the room?

          The world is changing. Years ago it was the likes of Southern Pacific and other big businesses calling the shots in Sacramento, and we were all highly critical of them.

          These days it’s labor. That’s not the portrayal union leaders like to see in the media, but it’s the truth.

          Real reform would be barring labor leaders from sitting on state pension boards. The boards ought to be made up of money managers who are concerned with how much cash is going in and out of the fund. There is no justification for any trustee on a pension board being more interested in spreading benefits than paying for them.

          1. The boards ought to be made up of money managers who are concerned with how much cash is going in and out of the fund.

            You mean like how the for-profit insurance companies have money managers who are concerned with how much cash is going in and out of the fund?

            The boards ought to be made up of money-managers who are concerned with giving the maximum amount of people the maximum amount of benefit for the maximum amount of time. That’s a harder game to play, but it’s not the game of “keep the money for the money’s sake,” and by all that’s holy, if you’re gonna put people in charge of stuff, you gotta tell them which game they’re playing. (You don’t play WoW the way you play EverQuest, or City of Heroes, or Monopoly.) If they pick the wrong win conditions as their goals… Well.

      2. Democracy is the worst possible form of government…except for every other kind we’ve tried.

        Until the Robot Overlords take over, we’ll have to continue to do it ourselves.

    3. I would quibble that training accidents should not be counted as casualties of the Cold War. Not that this makes their loss any less important, merely that there would have been some level of training despite the Cold War, and that casualties would have occurred anyway. Perhaps not as many, but it would be hard to assign a number to the difference.

      1. We have to train the way we would fight, which is all-weather/all-terrain/joint forces. That means training in some pretty crappy conditions that are not conducive to all the safety rules we train under. Sorry, Wayne, but training accidents – even in BASIC training, are a cost we incurred to be able to defeat the enemy. They should be counted as a part of the cost of war – including the Cold War.

        If you really want to get into tough ground, read about all the blue-on-blue casualties (allied casualties caused by allied warfighting) that have happened in WWII and after. My father was especially bitter about them, as he only marginally survived one such attack in the Ardennes.

        1. I’m not sure that that is different from what I said,unless you’re trying to say that if the Cold War had not existed, we would not have needed to train. All I’m saying is that they are casualties of being ready, which would have to occur regardless, and that with the Cold War, the numbers were probably greater, but would not have gone away without it.

          1. In some way, shape or form we are and always have been at war whether or not we care to recognize it. Usually there is the war that we are presently fighting (cold, lukewarm or hot) and always the ones we need to be prepared to fight. If you are lucky you will be well enough prepared to avoid things going hot. But remember, some enemies don’t care that the odds are stacked against them, so be prepared to fight anyway.

              1. Alternative translations:
                “Peace through superior firepower.”
                “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: For I am the baddest S.O.B. in the valley.”

      2. Regarding the Cold War, I have heard SO many people claim that had we not provided assistance and training to the Afghans for driving off the Soviets, that 9/11 would not have happened. My wife is convinced of this.

        Am I missing something in my belief that the stopping of the Soviets in Afghanistan was highly instrumental in stopping Soviet expansion? And that it is by no means certain that they could have stopped them without our assistance?

        1. Afghanistan helped speed the Soviet demise. Without it, while 9/11 may not have happened(a disputable point), other Swords of Damocles would have fallen, with some of us potentially in a nuclear slag heap.

        2. From what I’ve read, our presence on Saudi soil during Desert Shield/Storm was more important, in the sense of driving bin Laden completely against the West, which led him to ally with the Taliban. The Balkan War and Russia’s activities in the Caucasus also played a role. And last I read, the Afghani fighters were losing, or at least not winning, before the US began providing aid.

          1. BUT let’s face it, Bin Laden had OTHER issues. It’s like the “What if someone gave Hitler’s dad a condom?” Well… someone else would have filled the vacancy. It might not have been as bad (I mean, he had some peculiar hangups. OTOH they were NOT unusual) OTOH it might have been worse.

        3. Wayne – 9/11 was the work of Osama bin Laden and his group. They began planning it in Sudan in 1994, and completed the planning, arranged the financing, and selected the individuals to do the dastardly deed after 1995, while being allowed to roam free in Afghanistan. We helped the Afghanis defeat the Russians, but asymmetric warfare was taking a larger toll on them than it has on us. They lost almost 35,000 people in Afghanistan in ten years. We just reached 4000. They also had a HUGE drug problem with their troops there, and many of them took their problems back to the Mother Country with them.

          When the Russians left Afghanistan in 1989, the local government was a communist puppet government created by the Russians. There were a dozen interim governments before the Taliban managed to bring the majority of the country under their rule. Even then, there were parts of Afghanistan that the Taliban didn’t control.

          Osama bin Laden was a Saudi, 19 of 20 of the hijackers on 9/11 were Saudis, and 99% of the financing came from Saudi backers of bin Laden. We are fighting a long, long war against an adversary that hides in shadows and strikes indiscriminately. We have only postponed the final battle, not won it. The Afghanis were just one in a long string of people that allowed bin Laden to operate from their territory. They had very little to do with the actual strike. The two biggest sources of problems with Islam right now are Saudi Arabia (Wahabism, an offshoot of Sunni Islam) and Iran (Shiite Islam). Both branches are arrogant and aggressive, and both believe that they are the ultimate rulers of all mankind. Both need a nuclear enema.

        4. You say that like Soviet expansionism was a bad thing.

          Can’t count the number of times daily I want to say to [plural noun redacted] how sorry I am your side lost the Cold War. Since I’ve no reason to think they understand ironic understatement I quell the urge, but it is a strain, it is a strain.

        5. Thanks, all, for the information.

          However, I should have included a little more info in the first part of my prior comment; that the arguments I was talking about were that it was because we provided money, weapons, and training, that the Taliban was able to rise to power, and enrich bin Laden so that he could bankroll 9/11.

          Of course, I’ve also heard the arguments about our interference being the reason that the fanatics hate us, but I wasn’t addressing that above.

          1. Looking for reasons why fanatics hate is absurd. They are effing fanatics. Q.E.D.

            I blame it on demonic possession. And idi … otherwise fine, decent and upstanding people who seek rational causes for irrational actors.

              1. The empty eyes. It’s not just those fanatics. I think it happens in our species when a child is not… attached properly. Punished too much or too little, or more likely inconsistently and just “throw away”, not valued. I’ve seen eyes like that in elementary school kids. This farming the kids out to strangers, and treating them like tokens to collect while the parents pursue their bliss is going to end in tears.

            1. “some people say they hate us of old/our women unveiled/our slaves and our gold/I wouldn’t know, I’m just holding the fort/since that day they wounded New York.” Leonard Cohen

        6. Bin Laden was a Saudi, not an Afghan. While Afghanistan provided a safe haven for Bin Laden — the Taliban even giving him official recognition — there were other places that Bin Laden might have used as a base. The frightening truth is that the attack on 9/11 was surprisingly low tech on the part of the attackers. What it really required was a group of highly motivated people, a few of whom were willing to commit suicide. (Not all realized that they were going on a suicide mission.) No, it was not our fault — unless you want to say that standing as a beacon of liberty is something we should fail to do. Oh, yeah, and we do export some pretty slutty stuff from Hollywood, but does that warrant death?

  4. Interesting. My folks always approached WWII as being about territory, in this case recapturing it from Germany and Japan, as much as about ideology.

    Prior to WWII, can anyone think of a war that was NOT motivated by the desire for territory, resources, or other forms of wealth? The Aztec flower wars and (maybe) the Taiping Rebellion are the closest that I have heard of. Even in the current period, only collectivism in its various guises and Wahabism/ Salafism come to mind as the only non-territorial or economic war causes.

  5. Kibbitz: In parts of the world the fighting between groups has been going on so long that people still tell tales of what happened ten generations ago. How accurate those tales are? Who knows? They serve to maintain the traditional divisions. Consider Yugoslavia. Even once in this country some of these divisions will still raise their ugly heads. A friend tells the tail of her father, born in the U.S.A., WWII vet, a kind business man, a man well loved in the community. One day a costumer, who had only dealt with her father on first name basis, learned his last name. On hearing her father’s last name, this man informed him that he would never do business with a Croat and left never to return.

    1. That part of the world has been at war with itself since the collapse of Roman rule in the area in 390AD. Even the Romans had trouble with them, but enough hangings and crucifixions kept the lid on – barely. The history of that area, from Greece to Czechoslovakia, from the Austrian border to the Ukraine, has been one of near-constant turmoil. We in the West are just not as well-versed in that history as we are of the western European version.

  6. The Aztec “flower wars” were about acquiring captives for slaves and sacrifice – a form of resource and wealth. The Taiping Rebellion was more about getting rid of a weak ruler that gave away too much to “foreigners” – I.E., territory.

    Robert Heinlein, in Starship Troopers, claims all wars are caused by population pressures. Certainly, one of the reasons for the attack on Russia by Germany was “Liebenstraum” – living room. Hitler also thought he had the “moral authority”, as a “master race”, to displace, even destroy, other groups, who were “lesser creatures”. Today, China’s attempt at expansion (Spratleys, Paracels) is driven by the desire to acquire needed resources – in this case, the potential for huge oil deposits under the islands. China’s “one child” policy, and the Chinese desire for male progeny, have created a time bomb of a population where males outnumber females by a significant margin. One of the ways nations have used to “balance” the equation is through war.

    1. That’s why I put the maybe on the Taiping. The books I’ve read about it emphasize the religious aspect (such as it was) over the economic and territorial parts, but knowing that the Qing Dynasty was not Han, among other things, made me suspicious about claims that religion was the driving factor.

    2. Recent revisionist history has argued that Teddy Roosevelt brokered the treaty ending the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War by secretly acting as an agent for the Japanese while pretending to be a neutral arbiter.

      The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War
      James Bradley
      From Booklist
      Bradley’s first books, Flags of Our Fathers (2000) and Flyboys (2003), were sensationally popular World War II combat stories. His new one, about U.S.-Japanese diplomacy in 1905, represents a departure. Asserting a causal connection between diplomatic understandings reached then and war 36 years later, Bradley dramatizes his case with a delegation Theodore Roosevelt dispatched to Japan in the summer of 1905. Led by Secretary of War William Taft and ornamented by the president’s quotable daughter Alice, it sailed while TR hosted the peace conference between victorious Japan and defeated Russia. As he recounts the itinerary of Taft’s cruise, Bradley discusses attitudes of social Darwinism and white superiority that were then prevalent and expressed by TR and Taft. They modified their instincts, Bradley argues, in dealing with nonwhite Japan, and secretly conceded it possession of Korea. This is what Bradley asserts was a prerequisite to Pearl Harbor in 1941, a dubious thesis when the tensions of the 1930s stemmed from general Japanese aggressiveness, not its control of Korea per se. Bradley does fine on 1905 but falters when predicting the future. –Gilbert Taylor [From Amazon listing]

      This is obviously nonsense, of course, as TR’s feat in brokering the Treaty of Portsmouth earned for him the Nobel Peace Prize.

      1. It’s been a bad weekend. Been sick most of it with some kind of stomach bug. My German is pretty gutter-level to begin with, and my spelling is poor. Accept my abject forgiveness.

        1. RE: Lebensraum, no apology needed.
          Ever read Remarque’s “Time to Love, Time to Die”? The German is “Zeit zu Leben . . .” Time to Live, not love. Don’t know if translator made a mistake or publisher wanted to juice up sales.

          Apparently it’s an easy mistake to make.

  7. It is hard for those who live near a Bank
    To doubt the security of their money.
    It is hard for those who live near a Police Station
    To believe in the triumph of violence.

    This was a problem as far back as the nineteenth century when Kipling derided “making mock of uniforms that guard you while you sleep.”

    Because they have not known war, they think it’s a mirage.

    Strikes me as being a very fair thumbnail review of Portugal in WWII. Much is made of the 14th century Treaty of Windsor between Britain and Portugal, the oldest alliance in the world. After early 1943, when Germany was less able to invade Portugal (they were planning to, Operation Isabella) Churchill used the Treaty of Windsor as an excuse to lease all important air and sea bases in the Azores from Portugal, Operation Alacrity, and the Luso-British treaty was signed August 1943. In “Blitzcat,” a very authentic war novel, even if the main character is a cat, a British airman makes his way carefully through hostile Spain after being shot down in France, but once crossing the Portuguese border, he is openly welcomed and directed to a storefront with signs saying, Allied pilots apply here to be repatriated and returned to combat. In early 1943, a German spy ship docked in a harbor in Goa was radioing information on British cargo ships leaving the harbor and getting them sunk. The Portuguese government said, look, we’re neutral, but if you can sink the spy ship we’ll help cover up British involvement. The Brits contacted a club of retired, elderly British ex-military men living in Goa, and pleaded with them to disable the ship. If any of your force get caught or killed, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your action. They did it, and Portuguese and Goa newspapers called it an accident, these Germans don’t know how to run their own ships.

  9. Some of the best “war books” from WWII were written by Douglas Reeman, and mainly deal with the British navy. He’s also written a couple of books about the British Dardanelles invasion in WWI, and the “last raider” of WWI. A couple of his books cover post-war naval activities. His books are well-researched, and if you’re interested in the naval history of that era, add a human element mostly missing from histories. I don’t remember a Portuguese reference in any of his books. He does mention the “aggressive neutrality” of Spain several times.

    1. Thanks for the lead, I became fasinated by the Dardanelles after seeing the movie Gallipoli. Recently I came upon the information that the maps that the British used were woefully inadaquate and that this contributed to their defeat by Ataturk.

      1. Their whole strategy rested on getting up the cliffs and onto the highlands. They never did. The Aussies and New Zealanders died by the hundreds before they were eventually evacuated. I’ve read a couple of other books about that campaign, but I can’t dredge their names to mind at the moment.

        1. Hundreds understates that one. (I’m a displaced Aussie, so I grew up with the ANZAC mythology around Gallipoli). Also, more than once Aussies and Kiwis did manage to get to the heights but the Brit officers (and some of the Oz ones) refused to believe it and they were forced to withdraw for lack of support.

          There’s a reason Australia commemorates war dead on the anniversary of the Gallipoli landing. I think that’s possibly a good thing: the commemoration is tied to a drawn-out, bloody defeat, serving as a permanent reminder of the price that’s paid by soldiers.

          1. In Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Rifles Sgt. Patrick Harper explains:

            There are two kinds of officers, sir: killin’ officers and murderin’ officers. Killin’ officers are poor old buggers that get you killed by mistake. Murderin’ officers are mad, bad, old buggers that get you killed on purpose – for a country, for a religion, maybe even for a flag.

            1. And then there’s the bloody officer that his men love, the officer who hates taking casualties and LOVES inflicting them on the enemy. Patton.

  10. One of the things I never understood about Portugal was why, with fabulously rich overseas territories (Angola, Mozambique, smaller colonies in W. Africa, India, and Asia), was always so poor. Bad leaders? Lack of development? Lack of resources TO develop? Internal problems? I have never found a good history of Portugal. As a stamp collector, I try to read the history of all the countries I collect (all of them through 1990, a few later). Portugal is one of many I’ve missed.

    1. In the sixties and seventies the overseas territories were the ones where industry was developing, etc. Portugal is run on Roman administrative models. Corruption is not a bug, it’s a feature. And the riches were too easy to get at and required almost no work. This destroyed the work ethic in the culture at large. (The sixteenth and seventeenth century were disasters.) I’ll endeavor to find you an history, but they’re all slanted, you know?

  11. There actually are people who don’t “study” war anymore. A small minority, true, but God blesses them. They beat their swords into plowshares regardless of what the majority choose to do. Hitler vowed to stamp them out, Salazar did his best to suppress them. Hitler and the rest are long gone . . .

    “Nisto conhecerão todos que sois meus discípulos, se tiverdes amor uns aos outros.” -John 13:35

    Hard to love someone you’re shooting at. But those who have turned weapons of war to peaceful ends actually love their neighbor. They are from all tribes, but have chosen a different road, a united road. These remain forever.

    “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; For there is a happy end to the man of peace.” -Psalm 37:37

    1. Heinlein had a word about them in Starship Troopers: “Nevertheless, let’s assume that the human race manages to balance birth and death, just right to fit its own planets, and thereby becomes peaceful. What happens?
      “Soon, (about next Wednesday) the Bugs move in, kill off this breed which “ain’ta gonna study war no more” and the universe forgets us.”

      There will ALWAYS be population pressures, mal-distribution of resources, and other reasons, including the simple hatred of all blond, blue-eyed people, or people of whatever religion other than the “right” one, that war cannot be eliminated. The people who forgo war do so because rough individuals like the 101st Airborne stand between them and those that would oppose them.

      1. Certainly WE, human society can never hope to eliminate war, because we are innately selfish. But God can, and has promised to do so. Only God can eliminate hatred and eventually eliminate haters, those who refuse to be peaceful.

  12. German militarism was itself a reaction to the great scourge ofthe 19th Century: Bonapartism. Yes, we get to blame the French (generally the test of any good theory.)

    1. Mmmm, start with Rousseau (extra points), then Napoleon and his predecessors spreading the delightful idea of nationalism/tribalism. Or go back to the Thirty Years’ War, when Brandenburg-Prussia rivaled the Rhine Valley as the place to go if you want to witness mayhem and spreading diseases, all done in the name of deity or monarch, or greed. From the defensive mindset that followed that experience came Frederick the Great, then the debacle that was 1802-1813, and eventually the rising militarism of a successful standing army supported by the manufacturing and transportation revolutions of the 19th century. Although the war for Schleswig-Holstein and the war with Austria were not guaranteed Prussian victories. So we still get to blame the French.

      1. Ah, this is good. One likes to blame the French. Actually not the French, but Napoleon fully deserved the nickname of “the monster.” Yes, he created the modern machinery of state. AND? Just adding fuel to fire.

        1. …and the Prussians invented the military state, and Lenin invented the modern totalitarian state, etc etc ad infinitum.

            1. Frederick the Great would not be happy to hear you slight him like that; nor would his father Friedrich Wilhelm. Napoleon himself admitted that he learned a great deal from Frederick’s example.

              1. No they wouldn’t because they did it in response to Napoleon… Napoleon had an extreme effect on Germany and the little German states of the time. They were hundreds of principalities and free cities. Napoleon gave them the same laws, reduced their princes, and turned them into one country.

        2. So that makes anyone who really likes modern government a Chauvinist to some degree, right?

          1. I like Jefferson’s take on government: The most government that a free society should stand is the minimum necessary to do what it’s tasked to do.

            Only about ten percent of what our modern government does would pass Jefferson’s test. There are thirty-five “enumerated duties” in the US Constitution that belong to Congress or the President. They fail to do about twelve of them, and do a ton of stuff that SHOULD be left to the States. Unfortunately, “there’s nothing so permanent as a temporary government agency”. Actually, that applies to EVERY government agency, which is why we often have thirty-five or more different agencies tasked with “overseeing” the same thing.

          2. Anyone who really likes modern government is a nut case, a tyrant wannabee, a fool and a crook. So yes, Chauvinist fits.

  13. You didn’t mention the rape and genocide. Ancestors of every single person alive did really horrible things, partly so that their descendants would be the ones existing in the future, and partly for other reasons. (If it were possible to inherit guilt, there would be no meaning to the term innocent, as we would all inherit a capital level list of offenses.)

    I think there is a factor beyond media in the oddness of things in the 20th century, in America. I think the media depictions of violence and the inhumanity of warfare would not have been near as disturbing to, especially frontier and settler, populations in the late eighteenth, early nineteenth centuries.

    After the Indian tribes were crushed, confined to reservations, and stopped raiding outsiders, people started to lose institutional memories of such. So there is a chunk of time where we sat around without having to think about dealing with any particular population as a lasting generational threat.

  14. Too many people long for peace because they fail to understand the true dynamic. In a free society, peace is lack of conflict. However, in a totalitarian society, peace is lack of opposition. Those are wildly different paradigms.

    1. Ah, yes. The belief that slavery = peace. Not far removed from the notion that death = peace.

      1. You left out “Peace = submission.”

        Which IS true, within its limited expression. Tautological, of course, but there are reasons they stopped teaching logic in schools.

        1. Solitudinum Faciunt Pacem Appellunt

          (I think I’ve misspelled at least two of these, but I’ve loaned out my copy of A Desert Called Peace, and either the OS or the browser is doing something I don’t like.)

          1. Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.

            From Agricola by Tacitus…to make a desert (wasteland) and call it peace…

            You just gave me YET one more reason I need to teach myself Latin someday. On the way to finding it I also found:

            Mark where his carnage and his conquests cease!
            He makes a solitude, and calls it — peace.
            Lord Byron, Bride of Abydos (1813), Canto 2, stanza 20.

            1. CACS — I’ve been trying to teach myself Latin for years. it’s hard on your own. Another reason I wish you lived closer. We could set study times and keep each other on task…

              1. If I lived closer you might find me more of a distraction — or a severe disappointment. Really, I look better in print. Now, please, go work on writing your books. (Well, this is the best I can do towards keeping you on task.)

            2. Auferre, trucidare, rapere,
              to steal, to slaughter, to pillage
              falsis nominibus imperium;
              I can’t do the grammar off the top of my head, but it looks like something about ‘lies’ and the ‘names of empire’
              atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.
              and while where they make a desert, they call it peace.
              solitudinem faciunt
              they make a desert
              pacem appellant
              they call it peace

  15. Your site is loading super-slow for me right now (probably something on my end, since yours isn’t the only site chugging) and I’ve forgotten by now what I was going to say on the actual topic but –

    Foyle’s War: awesome, isn’t it? I’ve only seen the first two or three episodes so far, but I started watching it about a week ago. Gut-wrenching.

  16. The problem with the peaceniks is that they can never understand that the only way they will have peace by holding hands and singing Kumbaya, is when the guy on their left is insulted by them offering to hold hands, and causes their head to explode with a bullet. Thus he has peace, and so does the peacenik.

    “Dead men make peaceful companions.”

  17. You may hate me for this, but if you want a really interesting, nontraditional look at the history of the 20th Century, and how the seeds of its ruinous harvest were planted centuries ago, you should try a blogger I’ve quoted here several times who goes by the name of Mencius Moldbug. His blog is Unqualified Reservations, at .

    Moldbug is a computer programmer by trade and a historian by avocation, dedicated to looking for anomalies in history and the belief systems which drive it. He is an absolute master of the “Hey, wait a minute…” school of metaphor. You may agree with him or you may not but you will learn things you did not know before and they will make you think. (He often refers to his blog as “the red pill,” along with several other unsavory names.) And because he is a real, if not degreed, historian, he always provides you with the names of his sources and his reasoning for finding them probative, along with any reasons that they might not be so probative as all that.

    For instance, here is an essay which starts as a missive to the excellent science fiction writer Charlie Strauss and turns into a rather lengthy examination of why the story of the American Revolution which is taught in schools – both American and English is, merely from logical examination, complete nonsense, and quotes reliable historical documents to show that our logical conclusion that it is in fact complete nonsense is completely accurate.

    Here is a somewhat lengthy quote which illustrates how he approaches such problems:

    However, the Tory theory [as to how to deal with the American colonists’ rebellion] is disproved indirectly, because the Tories tried to fight a war and failed. One of the two must be right, so the Whig theory [that England should have been more conciliatory toward the rebels] is proven – indirectly. A very typical piece of Whig logic.

    There is only one problem. Suppose I am a civil engineer and I send a letter to Caltrans, warning them that serious design flaws in the new Bay Bridge will cause it to collapse. If they hire me, I will fix it for them. They ignore my letter. The bridge collapses. This makes me a prophet, or at least a “whistleblower.”

    On the other hand, suppose an acetylene torch with my fingerprints on it is found around the base of the bridge. This puts the matter in a different light, n’est ce pas?

    And so, for the failure of the Tories to suppress the American Revolution to be regarded as evidence for the Whig theory of conciliation, it sure would be nice to know that the reason that the Tories failed isn’t that the Whigs prevented them from succeeding.

    He may outrage you, but he will make you think.

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