The Nature of War – Part 1
There are many reasons not to try to understand war. It’s ugly. It’s inevitable. It doesn’t concern me. It only matters who wins. Let them all kill each other. My country, right or wrong. If the leaders would only be reasonable!
Yet there are good reasons why we should try to understand war. The most important is, if we don’t understand a war, we cannot end it. And, if we don’t understand a war, getting involved with it in any way can have adverse and unexpected consequences.
War in the 21st century is far different from war in the 20th. No longer do we see nations fighting nations for territory or resources. These days, we see governments facing off with para-governmental or non-governmental forces over what sometimes seem trivial issues. Yet the issues over which these forces fight are often far removed from the ones they claim publicly, making post-modern war more difficult to understand than ever.
Here’s an example of the complexity of post-modern war, and of the danger of getting involved without a thorough understanding. In 2001, the Bush administration believed that if the U.S. invaded Iraq and removed Saddam Hussein from power, the country would be spontaneously transformed into a peaceful democracy.* The war would be over in months. However, Iraq was a far more complex society than they anticipated. The doctrine of Spontaneous Democracy failed, and fourteen years later, Iraq is still far from democratic—and far from peaceful.
For me, the most important reason to understand war is because of the suffering of civilians. These days, civilians are regularly targeted. In Iraq, Palestine, and Sri Lanka, noncombatants have died in far greater numbers than combatants. An astounding number of those killed are children.
These are ordinary people who just want to get on with life. Most did not choose war, and many did not support it. These people and their suffering compel me to study war for one purpose: to end it.
This series of posts will explore the unique nature of war in the 21st century. It will examine its common features and explore how it differs from war in the 20th century. And it will briefly examine how an understanding of war help those who wish to end the violence.
*See, for example, The Cultural Contradictions of Democracy: Political Thought since September 11 by John Brenkman, p. 169.