Swans Commentary » swans.com June 1, 2009  



The Innate Nature Of War


by Raju Peddada





"I loathe all armies and any kind of violence; yet I am firmly convinced that at present these hateful weapons offer the only effective protection."
—Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
—Edmund Burke (1729-1797)


(Swans - June 1, 2009)   Last week I sat on the fifty-yard line and ingested some passionate war and peace polemics erupting internally amongst the contributors of Swans. I cannot presume to enter the arena with my skimpy armor and offer these erudite armadillos my two cents. However, I did not have to look far for inspiration on my next subject; it was there in front of me, in a vociferous repartee. Why not explore the pathology of war and peace and pacifism, and discuss if either of these concepts have forwarded and affected our cause as cultures, societies, and civilizations of "superior beings." Why do wars break out despite peace treaties? Why are pacifists derided and warriors deified? How do the regional geopolitics deploy these concepts to advance their interests? Let us see if the peace treaties gave us peace or were just preludes to war.

Once again, we must begin where it matters. Since I am not a buyer of the creationist doctrine sold by the Sinai desert religions, like many, I subscribe to the early 20th century physics theory that the universe came into being with a Big Bang, an appellation coined by Fred Hoyle in 1949 for a colliding and dispersal of dense matter at volatile temperatures somewhere out there millions of millennia ago. It all began with violence; violence is the harbinger of change, not only in the cosmos, but here on our blue planet. Creation is a violent activity: An egg is violated by a sperm on the way to life. The comets and meteorites cause extinctions as well as mutations of life; volcanoes spew searing lava, creating land; the sick and the weak are weeded out brutally by nature on the African plains. The rivers violate their banks and leave rich silt for cultivation. Ford killed the horse and buggy business, and Steve Jobs shook up the computing landscape by forcing a new paradigm. It seems nothing gets done without some sort of violence. Nature ordains violence as the agent for change, and we cannot deny the fact that humans also engage in discernible violence to generate something new, or something from something. Life is nothing but a series of chemical combustions that we rationalize as living. Life cannot be sustained on this earth without the violent heat of the sun, with fire being the biggest catalyst for transformation. Can we accept these facts, the inference being that our hubris has attained destructive mass?

Microorganisms, also known as "micro terrors," are always battling against different strains, constantly transmuting our ecology. Ants, the largest biomass on this earth, are the most organized attack bodies ever evolved on our terra firma. Myrmecologists and entomologists call the Saifu ant of the central plains of Africa the most feared living wonder. The marauding Saifu armies are the most studied ant species by the Pentagon for their attack patterns and logistical and organizational synchronization. The whole surface of this earth is a war zone for survival, progress, and evolution. One close look at the Amazon forest floor or for that matter any forest floor will stupefy our senses. The violence, every second, that takes place in that undergrowth of dead leaves and steaming matter with colonies of warring ants, species ambushing one another, and plants fighting for territorial domination is mind-numbing. We are not any different: neither Aristotle nor Clausewitz dared to confront the thought that man is a thinking animal in whom the intellect directs the urge to hunt and the ability to kill.

Paradoxically, in all of the natural violence, peace oozes from this mysterious equilibrium. When the soil is being turned over with subterranean battles between species of microbes, when mutations take place in animals to better adapt to the environment and opponents, and when plants evolve to strangle their competitors, everything is at peace. This intrinsic violence is the hallmark of life, and violence nurturing equilibrium is a reality. With this perspective, it will be interesting to look at the human activity of war and peace. After comprehending nature's fury, this strange dichotomy, though unfathomable and unbelievable, is exactly from where peace springs. So, peace emanating from war is not totally as ludicrous and insane as one might think. And while animals with smaller brains are instinctive, man with the largest brain is a political animal.

This political animal is a species like any other species. It is all about territory. Human wars have been, with few exceptions, all about territory. Most wars have not solved anything, but neither has diplomacy nor peace. To some, war is progress and peace is complacency; however, from the earliest war to the latest, it has been about territory. Here is some history for the disillusioned: The Persians trying for Greek mainland; Alexander in the expansion of Hellenism; warring city states of Athens, Sparta and Troy over lands; Romans and Carthaginians...enough said; Egyptians and Hittites over Kadesh; Palestine and Israel over a small piece of real estate; Pakistan and India over Kashmir; Serbia versus Kosovo; China swallowing Tibet; Kurds against Iraqi claims; and Germany for parts of Europe. It is all about precious territory for their kind and ideologies.

Inter-species violence existed since the inception of multicellular life on earth. But the concept of peace through diplomacy, a rational and cognitive creation of humans, came into existence once the foraging groups settled down to farm. The earliest "understandings" existed between various tribes of the regions of Anatolia, Sindh, a northwest region of India and the Nabataean Petra. The peace treaty metabolized much later in the scale of human history. Archaeological evidence in the form of clay tablets in Egyptian hieroglyphs and Akkadian Cuniform script found in the Levant was one of the earliest peace treaties between Egypt and Hittites after the battle of Kadesh.

There have been many peace treaties in the modern era. Well-known examples are the 1815 Treaty of Paris endorsed after Napoleon's capitulation at Waterloo, and the notorious Treaty of Versailles, announcing the conclusion of WWI, which gave ascendance to National Socialism in Germany. Unrest ensued and resulted in the coronation of Hitler, who then made hay by fueling antipathy towards the League of Nations and the Jews, dissolving into WWII. Another famous peace treaty was known as the Peace of Westphalia, from which originated our modern diplomacy involving nations and states. Another mutation of war came to life from this treaty, which was now about the issues of state. Inequitable peace treaties are more destructive to a national psyche than war, as has been proven in history time and again.

Peace is not a natural state for our species. It is actually going against natural laws of competition for territory, the female, wealth or power. However, the peace we attempt to find amongst ourselves is as contradictory and elusive as expecting our waste matter to flow upwards in our intestines rather than going down in the gravitational order. Many peace treaties signed by adversary nations are never consummated because of the bitter taste left in the losing party's mouth. The issues of reassigned borders, future disputes, access and apportioning of resources, debts and reparations, behavior monitoring, and refugee influx and expense are gagging points that leave defeated nations in resentment and seething in rage for that next opportunity to get even. The best example is the Treaty of Versailles that eventually reduced Europe to debris. That is why Westphalia, Versailles, and the Oslo Accords failed. Peace treaties have also been used as a cover to prepare for war. Phillip II of Spain tried his best to lull Queen Elizabeth I into complacency and almost succeeded with his Armada in the 16th century. The same century produced another peaceful ploy by the Spanish conquistador Cortes in decapitating Montezuma's Aztec empire in the name of Christianity.

I love peace -- as an individual I like nothing more than having my peace, my space, and doing my thing, but I also recognize that violence is an intrinsic part of our chemistry. No matter how many peace treaties are signed and no matter how many pacifists stage rallies, wars will continue to metastasize. The Middle East is a region where peaceful overtures of the West are interpreted and inferred as a sign of weakness by some regimes; peace has little hope with this attitude. It is the reason for more troop deployment in Afghanistan and that region while politicians talk peace. Peace and diplomacy always sound great in dialogue, conversation, and photo-ops around glistening oval tables and presidential podiums. It is the pursuit of a mirage, an illusion and a dream that will be ever elusive for humans. Perhaps that is why we try and try, yet so far it has been futile. Anybody remember that famous photo of Clinton presiding over Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin clasping hands at the White House rose garden? Do you remember how many days it took for the hostilities to resume after that warm and fuzzy PR shot?

While peace can be a state of mind, a state that can be attained with whatever means, pacifism is unrealistic and offers no such refuge. Pacifism is not pragmatic. Pacifism is a deflationary ideology that approves violence to stop violence. It advances the condemnation of force except in situations where it is necessary to advance the cause of peace. On the opposite spectrum it promotes the opposition to violence under any circumstance, including defense of self and others. They reject theories of a "just war." There have been great pacifists as the founders of faiths, particularly Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, Buddha, and Jesus. Jesus has been known to be the greatest of the Western pacifists, but one look at the history of his church and followers leads you to believe that he had preached violence and fostered bloodshed. The only rational and overtly simplistic explanation is that what he preached was against the laws of nature. The conversion doctrine also soaked the Mediterranean region with blood of the innocents for centuries, and so it continues today with another faith that goes against the laws of nature.

Many thinkers and intellectuals have claimed that pacifism is the root cause of the annihilation of various indigenous and rare cultures. States or regions with no military protection were colonized from the 14th through the early 20th century by those who had the largest navies: Spain, Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, and Japan. In the modern era, the examples are Tibet, Kuwait, and Burma. Pacifism never took root in ancient Greece; however, rejection of violence between individuals was encouraged. The extent of pacifism displayed in the ancient world was a comic fictional play written by Aristophanes known as Lysistrata, which highlighted Athenian women's antiwar sex strike during the Peloponnesian war of 431-404 BC.

Modern pacifism sprang up with Protestant reformation that gave birth to new Christian sects like the Quakers, Amish, and Mennonites. Tolstoy and Gandhi were mutually admiring pacifists. Bertrand Russell, a proponent of "relative pacifism," offered that "the urgency of defeating Hitler was a unique circumstance where war was not the worst of the possible evils." H.G. Wells jested after the armistice ending WWII that "the British had suffered more from the war than they would have from submission to Germany." The Greek Orthodox Church leans on pacifism -- in Lebanon they refused to take up arms against Islam, instead supporting dialogue. The result is a neighborhood-by-neighborhood murder of Christians by the Islamists. From a 100% Christian Lebanon two generations ago, to barely 50% today, murders and exodus continue.

Empirical evidence suggests that peace never results from weakness or pacifism, it results from strength. Defense is a natural law, which many call offense. For many species in the animal world, defense is major part of their living apparatus. The forms of defense come in multifarious iterations: appearance, shells, quills, fangs, canines, poison, claws, hair, constriction, and muscle. When we become pacifists, we render ourselves defenseless in the face of danger -- we are going against natural survival instincts that are intrinsic to any living organism. Humans, being creatures with large brains, create ideologies that counter natural laws, resulting in failure and self-destruction.

Jainism is the purest form of pacifism against any sort of violence, even against the tiniest of organisms. All pacifists should become vegetarians if they hate violence. Why this double standard? Why the violence against animals that haven't done you any harm? Oh, is it that you are a superior form of life over those poor lobsters, snails, cows, sheep, chickens, etc., that you can roast, boil, and dice them? How can you be a pacifist and indulge in violating the right to life of other animals? It sounds like clear hypocrisy. If that is the case, then let us, the Europeans and Americans, be superior to those who cannot run a coop, let alone run a nation and threaten our way of life.

It will be hard to find anyone that does not dread or abhor war. War unequivocally equates with misery. We humans are not consciously, rationally, or even cognitively warmongers, but we are warriors: innately, intrinsically, and instinctively protecting our status quo, space, broods, and ideologies, better than nihilism. All our worthless deliberations, discussions, and debates have not transformed us into "higher beings." We are still those animals with war as an extension of ourselves.

"All civilizations owe their origins to the warrior."
—John Keegan (1934 - )

"Political animal is a warmaking animal."
—Carl Von Clausewitz (1780-1831) [Note: I would extend that and say that all animals are war making animals.]

Historian John Keegan offers that "history lessons remind us that the states, in which we live, their institutions, even their laws, have come to us through conflict, often of the most bloodthirsty sort." Professor of Philosophy Jan Narveson discusses that "pacifism is a self-contradictory doctrine." He also offers that "any rational persuasion is a good but often inadequate method of discouraging an aggressor." Narveson ultimately claims that "Force becomes indispensable, as a necessary means to prevent deprivation of our liberties."

As I get older, I long for that innocence and simplicity that was abundant in my boyhood. I yearn to disappear and live with tribal Indians of the Amazon jungle, subsisting on and being enveloped in nature's bounty, as an escape from this abhorrent military-industrial miasma. I desperately love the flawed concept of peace to succeed, for my own selfish reasons; but alas that is not our destiny. At the same time, I don't have to make a case for war -- the cases already exist out there in full ferment: North Korea, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. And I wonder what reasoning and rationalizing the pacifists would resort to in dealing with a future Ataturk, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Hitler, or Hussein. War and pacifism is a two-edged sword as the instrument for our annihilation.

I have always admired the intentions of pacifism and peace activism, environmental idealism, and amnesty, but in my jaded and cynical perspective all these issues fall by the wayside in front of survival issues as pressed and presented by our geopolitics. We are just floating debris in the vast ocean of uncertainty that we ourselves created. Despite all our unresolved posturing, one thing I can say with certitude and conviction is this: When the barbarians come knocking on that door, the concept of negotiation will vaporize in nanoseconds in favor of survival instincts, and I know exactly what I will do -- what I have done all along. Be realistic, instead of idealistic.


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About the Author

Raju Peddada is an industrial designer running an eponymous brand, purveyor of ultra luxury furnishings of his own design (see peddada.com). He is also a freelance correspondent/writer for several publications, specializing in commentary, essay, and opinions on architecture, design, photography, books, fashion, society, and culture. Peddada was born in Tallapudi, a small southern town in south India. He's lived in New Delhi and Bombay before migrating to the West Indies and eventually settling in Chicago, Illinois, where he worked in corporate America until he chose to set up his own designing firm. He lives with his family in Des Plaines.



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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published June 1, 2009