End of War: John Horgan Says War Can End

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Brian Lehrer Show is launching a new series today called End of War about whether war is inevitable--whether humans can ever stop fighting wars, once and for all.

John Horgan, science journalist, director of the Center for Science Writings at the Stevens Institute of Technology, and author of the new book that inspired the series The End of War, discusses his book and why he thinks that war is NOT inevitable.


John Horgan

Comments [65]

JO from BK

As long as corporations run our government and control the media war will be inevitable, since these corporations profit immensely from perpetual war. The key to ending war and creating a peaceful world is ending corporate rule in the United States, which will likely take a very long time and a lot of coordination -- these guys aren't giving up without a serious fight. But more has happened toward this end in the past year than ever before, so it is possible I think.

Apr. 03 2012 11:08 AM
RA from NYC

Not much if anything has been said about the psychological motivations for war. Killing other human beings tends to be a repulsive act for most people. So if people are willing to participate in war and kill other people as well as risk their own lives it must indicate that something vital is at stake. One way to think about the psychological aspects of this is that the boundary between the nation and the person dissolves so that survival of the self is the same as the survival of the nation. There may be different reasons that this happens. Coincidentally, there is an upcoming conference by the same name "Is War Inevitable" addressing the psychological motivations for war on Saturday Feb. 25th in NYC. You can get more info. by writing to

If we think of religion or economics, etc. as causing war, we are referring to identity and the psychology behind it. The military industrial complex doesn't go to war, people do. There are both conscious and unconscious influences that lead us to war. This conference is unique in that it brings psychoanalysts and social psychologists together on panels to address the macrosocial and the intrapsychic as it relates to war.

Feb. 20 2012 02:56 AM
Charlotte from Sunset Park

There has been research, however, indicating that social instincts of cooperation and empathy are much more primal and basic than has been previously acknowledged, but have been suppressed (in non-nomadic cultures) since agriculture and the history of large-scale war (about 10,000 years). It could be that these previously suppressed instincts *are* already kicking in, in collective, spontaneous, and "selfish" recognition, in order to survive the very real threat of global warfare and annihilation.

Feb. 16 2012 03:15 PM
Ed from Larchmont

Mary at Fatima told the children 'War is a punishment for sin.'

Feb. 15 2012 08:43 AM
Rabbi Seth Adelson from Great Neck

Although some of the comments posted here dismiss religion as a prime source of war, I think that it is worth it to point out that religion also seeks peace. Judaism invokes the theme of peace multiple times during each of the thrice-daily services, with some of the best-known words in the Jewish prayerbook ("Oseh shalom bimromav") expressing our collective desire for peace. By keeping peace on our lips at all times, we constantly remind ourselves of the need to find the "cure" to war.

Feb. 14 2012 12:37 PM
Sebastian Polanco from Newark NJ

Wars are the result of either greed,(exceptionalism),or internal economic pressures. Of course a balanced combination of these two is to be expected.The Spanish -American War and the preemptive wars launched by the USA and Israel in the Middle East are examples of one. The Manchurian war, the re-arming of Germany which ended in WWII are of the second kind. Wars are political tools used to distract from heavy internal social, economic or political problems; the Falkland Islands war, again the Israeli wars, the North Korean production of nuclear weapons and the upcoming war against Iran could be cited as examples of this. Spice-up any of those situations with beliefs such as,(or rather biased definitions of) Democracy, Freedom, or tags such as Pure Race, Chosen People, Infidel or Terrorist. Top it off with average stupidity and ignorance and there you have it. Eliminate all of the above and then there will be peace.

Feb. 14 2012 11:21 AM
Michael from East Village

I've heard very little in this discussion about the most obvious reasons nations fight wars: religion and economics. Countless wars have been fought "in the name of God." Would we have set up Sadam Hussain and ultimately toppled him if Iraq had no oil? Nations that wage war put a lot of people to work and ultimately take control of the people they defeat and profit by it. Perhaps in today's poor economy we might rethink what benefit the last ten years of war have been for the U.S.A. I think one day man will learn not to make war. I don't believe it is inevitable. I only worry that there will still be a world worth living in by the time that day comes.

Feb. 14 2012 10:53 AM
Mikey from Staten Island

If there was no war, then art and culture would suffer. Think of the great paintings like Guernica, works of literature like "The Iliad", anti-war protest songs and "Platoon," "Saving Private Ryan" and "The Hurt Locker", all made possible by war.

Feb. 13 2012 10:51 PM
Kim Doggett from Manhattan

War is totally antiquated but most Americans can't think past the status quo to realize it. Ruling other countries was once a way to gain economically. Now it is a drain. While we are wasting money on the military China and Europe are building up their infrastructure. Modern competition is in the market place and all military spending weakens the nation in the economic competition. Further, sending our military all over the world is stirring up resentment against us making us less safe not more. Passivism has been a slowly building consciousness and it's not a question of if but when the tipping point comes that a sufficient number of people accept it to end war.

Feb. 13 2012 09:08 PM
Seymour Sherry

" Cain said something to his brother Abel. Then when they happened to be in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him."
(Genesis 4: 8 )

There will always be war because of who we are....humans, with all our frailities.

Feb. 13 2012 08:20 PM
Jeff Park Slope from Brooklyn

WWII did not prevent the Holocaust, that is true. However post WWI, England and the US disarmed and were ill-prepared to stop Germany when it militarized in the 1930s. If they had not disarmed, the war may have been prevented or shorter. Of course Chamberlain first appeased Hitler and this didn't help the effort to stop him. Also the Jews and others were slaughtered, but by 1945 the slaughter was brought to an end. If not ended by the allies, all of Europe would have been under the Nazi heel and Asia under Japan's. But again, surrender would have ended it. How lovely that would have been.

The US has many bases in Europe and Asia, yet the Europeans don't feel threatened and during the Cold War, East Germany was not attacked. The South Koreans rely on our bases for protection as do other nations. US bases protect the countries in which they are located. Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations admit to fears about an Iranian nuclear weapon, fears they don't have about an Israeli bomb. It is not the weapons that are the problem, it is the owner of the weapons.

Feb. 13 2012 06:59 PM
rose-ellen from jackson hts.

We're barking up the wrong tree if we look at women to put an end to war. Women- whether they engage in battles or not-have been cheering the men on as they go into battle and labeling them as heroes when they come back.Dehumanization and totalizing narratives of good vs. evil where we are good and our enemies are evil is what makes war persist.When two gangs are engaged in fighting each other in an inner city, say-it is when outsiders who have no axe to grind but want to put an end to the conflict step up and engage with both gangs in dialogue -that violence ends.War can end if the starting point is to be willing to see the humanity of the enemy.To see their acts and their beliefs and intentions as irrational pure evil and ours as rational and noble leads to glorifying war since it becomes a battle of good vs. evil.Doesn't matter how many men ,women and children get their arms and legs blown off if we believe they're evil or collateral damage and we're good.This "ends justifies the means" self serving narrative that glorifies us and demonizes the enemy has to be replaced before war can end.We have to see the death and destruction we inflict on the enemy with the same horror their acts invoke in us.That is the job of jornalists and unfortunately they have yet to step up to do that.And just like we are seen as more then our evil deeds-the enemy too has to be recognized as more then their evil deeds.The beliefs,rationales and intentions of the enemy have to be engaged with the same we would a street gang.World war 2 did not PREVENT the holocaust and the subsequent deaths of over 150 million people. Perhaps MORE talking,not less would have.

Feb. 13 2012 04:09 PM

Who is Threatening Whom?

45 US Bases Surround Iran

Each star is a US base.

But just to be clear,
Iran is the one that is threatening US.

Feb. 13 2012 03:30 PM

Note how many people's answers are qualified by "as long as," "not unless," "if and only if." I understand the question to be a pretty simple yes/no: Is war inevitable? Some say war is inevitable unless women have more power, or as long as corporations rule the world. Well? Can those conditions be changed, or not?

You may know the slogan "another world is possible." Is it? I believe it is. My answer is a flat no, war is not inevitable.

Feb. 13 2012 03:09 PM
Paula Swafford from Nashville TN

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We can stick our head in the sand and believe no one will sneak up behine us and just cause give a swift kick in our ass just because it is there at knee level. Somebody some where will feel the need to impose their views on others. Do you believe we here on this earth can find Utopia or is there a hidden country called Shangri-La ? buy that and if you are Blonde Blue and dress like a (WASP)just look like you got a little money in these economic challenging time and I'll send you for a walk around 1AM in gang turf lets say NYC Public Housing Project in East New York. And after the walk tell your experiences of how diversity in New York and how we live in a peaceful society The only reason on the surface that New York City appears that we live in peacefully harmony is because of the New York City Police Department that why during the day light we appear that we live in peace and harmony and even then some body some where is getting hurt.I don't know what kind of drug Thomas More and our friend John Horgan been taking for we all us need to take some of that stuff, thrust me we having war right now!

Feb. 13 2012 12:55 PM
Bernard Zwick

War making is based on the idea that might makes right. This concept needs to change in favor of one that embodies the philosphy that the whole world is one family with equal rights to the world's resources which should be shared as equitably as possible. We all need to work together to figure out the best way to preserve our environment for future generations. War is very destructive of our environment and any hopes of leaving a livable world for future generations. I think war can be stopped if enough people demand of their leaders peaceful solutions to conflicts.

Feb. 13 2012 12:25 PM
Jeff Park Slope from Brooklyn

The easiest and quickest way to end war would just be to surrender. We could have surrendered to the Nazis and surrendered to Khruschchev, never ended slavery here and we of course could still choose to surrender to the Islamists.
Many of these respondents write as if the US is the source of the world's wars. It takes two parties to fight wars. If we choose not to fight, that doesn't necessarily result in a positive result. Not if one values freedom generally (as well as liberal values, freedom for women, freedom of worship, etc.).
The Christian religion may have been the cause of European wars, but it was the twentieth century's atheistic ideologies that killed far more people than the earlier European wars (70-100 million). Islam has been at war with the west for much of its existence and with the US since Jefferson had to deal with the Barbary pirates.
Kellog-Briand didn't work about 80 years ago and it won't work if tried again. The best way to avoid war is to prepare for it and I think that most people actually understand this.

Feb. 13 2012 12:16 PM
Vane Lashua from Beacon, NY

There is and never will be "democracy" and war will be inevitable as long as the 99% permit those who depend on war -- the military industrial/technology/economic complex, the "organization", the 1% and those employed by, dependent on and addicted to their network -- to create the anxiety that continues the perceived dependence on it.

If only the MIC were to re-channel "military" into "community". As Robert Hutchins said, "... the issue is not how to produce or even distribute goods, but how to live human lives, not how to strengthen and enrich the nation state, but how to make the world a decent habitation for mankind."

The echoes of socialism in that is probably too high-minded for the mostly conservative MITEC -- who don't recognize that the most socialistic system in the world is the US Defense Industry.

Feb. 13 2012 12:04 PM

Barack Obama has killed more innocent people with unmanned drones than George W. Bush.

Men, women and children.

Feb. 13 2012 11:53 AM

The Truth from Becky-

You never go far enough.

Feb. 13 2012 11:45 AM
Deirdre from Jersey City

War will not end as long as there are people in the world that will train 10-yr-olds to become suicide bombers...

Feb. 13 2012 11:44 AM
Bonn from East Village

Yay. Just left a post (don't see it) that says to interview Chris Hedges, "War is the Force that Gives us Meaning, and voila, you will have him as a guest next week. Thanks!

Feb. 13 2012 11:44 AM
BioAnth212 from nyc

I don't know. I'm a woman and have no problem pointing out that Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir both led wars, approved hit squads etc.. Doesn't matter why, if the simple premise you are pushing is that a woman-run world wouldn't be violent. These are two women that led initiatives that were incredibly violent. The idea that a woman-run planet would be less violent is even evolutionarily ridiculous. There are multiple examples of really brutal female violence amongst the chimpanzees at Gombe and Kibale, including female chimps kidnapping, killing and cannibalizing other chimps' babies, and female chimps kidnapping and killing human babies.

I think it's denying the complex nature of aggression to put world violence on one sex.

Feb. 13 2012 11:43 AM

Obama??? Do what????

Ah, ha, ha, ha!!!

Profit has no conscience.

Feb. 13 2012 11:43 AM
Michelle from nyc

War has to do with disconnection from Source.

If you are connected to Source and love yourself, you will not want to harm another person. One's view on war has more to do with how one feels about themselves rather than what's going on around them.

The Dali Lama is an example of this.

Feb. 13 2012 11:42 AM
The Truth from Becky

dboy sometimes you go too far.

Feb. 13 2012 11:41 AM
Bonn from East Village

Yes, read "War is the Force that Gives us Meaning" by Chris Hedges. He would be a good person to interview as a counterargument to your guest. Also, I think it was in "Blink" or another of Gladwell's books, where he points out that the US got a lot of warlike people from Europe who are still living out their genetic predispositions in the south and eastern mountain region. Morphed into Palins. And God is one of the BIG reasons for war because all religious groups feel their god is the only one. Viz., the Crusades, France during Protestant-Catholic massacres, the present-day conflicts. God needs to take a backseat if people want to get along.

Feb. 13 2012 11:41 AM
Chris from Queens

For the caller that said empathy is not inborn: from whence does it come, then? Was empathy gifted to us from on high and had to be nursed since then so that it does not disappear from this earth?

Babies fight, yes. They also grow up.

Feb. 13 2012 11:41 AM
John A.

Any analysis of war that starts with Bush or the US in the last 50 years ignores the fact that the US really IS the world's policeman. Take the US out of the number one position (which I believe Will and should happen, BTW) and the way wars start will change, but they will still start.
As an aside I Wouldn't take poverty off the table. Level the playing field and much of the reason for war goes way down.
Of onair: "Lord of the Flies" is what the Internet is At this moment.

Feb. 13 2012 11:40 AM
Shelli from West Orange

I think if TRUE "Family Values" were adapted culturally, in other words, the elevation of what women bring to society; nurturing, listening and fostering communication,cooperation,concern for the general welfare of the "neighborhood", and other qualities that women embody, we would all be peacemakers and would find that the highest goal. It's time to change our societal tilt from patriarchal (strong father) to matriarchal (wise mother).

Feb. 13 2012 11:39 AM


I would think you to be a huge Obama-lover.

BO has killed more innocent "dark" folks than George W. Bush.

Feb. 13 2012 11:38 AM

The guest briefly touched on woman empowerement and war and it had me going back to the previous conversation on contraception. Was this a tool used by the catholic church to perpetuate some of the wars they've engaged in throughout the centuries.

Feb. 13 2012 11:36 AM
john from middletown

It depends maybe on how you define evolve. We have evolved from not being able to travel over oceans to landing on the moon. We can communicate anywhere on the planet in a matter of seconds. No other species can change like we can. Steven Pinker has made the case that we are a lot less violent.

Feb. 13 2012 11:35 AM
Leo in NYC from NYC

Ugh. The basic premise of this segment is deeply flawed, and the idea that men are inherently violent is sad and offensive to men. Pop-biological essentialist notions about humanity have been shown again and again to be wrong and are usually used to prop up existing biases and assumptions — whether about the inherent savagery of blacks or the inherent stupidity of women. Human culture is simply too powerful a force to be ignored and it's too hard to point at a behavior and say, "aha! that's some vestigial chimp DNA at work." The vast majority of men — of all the men who ever lived and will ever live — have lived in peace; have loved their children and their neighbors and wished harm on no one. Or at least not acted on it. That many other have lived damaged and violent lives — how quick you are to label that a biological inevitability!

As for WWII — the vast majority of soldier who fight in war never fire their weapons. Those who do often miss intentionally, so averse are they to killing. You can tell a teenage boy that his life is expendable and dress him up like a soldier. But it's hard to strip his humanity.

Feb. 13 2012 11:33 AM
John A.

What Luis said.
How about Cleopatra?

Feb. 13 2012 11:33 AM
Amy Heller from Harrington Park, NJ

War is inevitable as long as it is so massively profitable.

Feb. 13 2012 11:32 AM
Robert from NYC

Well we can fix that 2% v 98% by just passing a law that the 2% be put to death immediately and w/o question. If you're for war we will kill you. That's simple, no?

Feb. 13 2012 11:32 AM
Bill Bartosik from Easton, CT

I think that the aggressive impulse is innate; no doubt that is in our genes and will never leave us. But whether war is inevitable is a different question. At some point, humans may devise a means of sidestepping the genetic impulse, or dealing with it in ways other than organized violence. I don't think the process will be easy!

Feb. 13 2012 11:32 AM


Kill 'em... kill 'em ALL!!!

Feb. 13 2012 11:31 AM

Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican (when the moniker was not synonymous with circus clowns), a five-star general, a West Point graduate and a veteran of the most horrific wars of all time, warned us of the Military/Industrial Complex.

Remove the profit - eliminate the scourge.

The same could be said of the current politiKal® process.

... maybe empower more women and fewer testosterone-adled males.

Feb. 13 2012 11:30 AM
Roberta Sutton from The New School

Steven Pinker and Robert Jay Lifton are coming to The New School on March 23 to talk about whether we live in a more or less violent era. This event picks up on their recent discussion in the NYTimes. Pinker's most recent book is The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined and Robert Jay Lifton is author of, most recently, Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir.
RSVP to, visit for more information. Thanks!!

Feb. 13 2012 11:29 AM
Zulu from NJ

War is inevitable for the US and it's people who
Have fought and supported more wars than any other
Country and people's combined in my 47 years on earth. The
Question is why? Compare that would say the
Norwegians,Japanese, Chinese. Stop the darned wars

Feb. 13 2012 11:27 AM
Elizabeth from Manhattan

Is it possible that sports play a role in society as a "war substitute" of sorts? Villages used to battle each other over resources; now they do so symbolically in an arena. Perhaps this indicates an instinctive tendency towards conflict, but also an ability to find healthier outlets for it.

Feb. 13 2012 11:27 AM
Margery Cohen from Red Bank NJ

History is defined in the books we all study in terms of who owns what land. Wars are fought to gain territory. If history was defined through art, think of how different the would would be and how fewer wars would be fought. we need to change how we interpret history.

Feb. 13 2012 11:27 AM
Robert from NYC

War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!

Feb. 13 2012 11:26 AM
Luis from New York City

Does this mean that history does not have women leaders who have waged war?

Feb. 13 2012 11:26 AM

War is a choice. Always.

Feb. 13 2012 11:24 AM
Saskia from NYC

Great! As I wrote this, it actually enters the discussion. Wish I could call in right now.

Feb. 13 2012 11:22 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Yes, war will end when all the world acknowledges Allah as their only god and obeys his laws......or else.

Feb. 13 2012 11:21 AM
Saskia from NYC

Somebody mentioned that we are quite far from a society ruled by women. Why don't we talk about that? Why don't we talk about the stereotypes and in how far they are true? Lookat where the world is at and look at who has been in charge.

Feb. 13 2012 11:19 AM
jmurphy from long island

While I agree that humans are capable of higher thought individually, when we come together as a group we are more prone to mob mentality. And the larger the group, the more ridiculous an idea we seem to be willing to rally behind.

Feb. 13 2012 11:16 AM

Hey, ED!!!


Feb. 13 2012 11:16 AM
Jon from Manhattan

To the caller citing Cormac McCarthy: Great reference to Blood Meridian!

Feb. 13 2012 11:16 AM
Nancy from Harlem

It was always my feeling that as long as men have lots of testosterone, war is inevitable. Would love to be convinced otherwise.

Feb. 13 2012 11:15 AM
The Truth from Becky

War will exist as long a man does.

Feb. 13 2012 11:15 AM
bernard from bronx

War is the result of the will to power on a national level, and the will to power is the essential truth of the human experience.

Feb. 13 2012 11:14 AM
JT from LI

If humans were rational the we could see the end of war. Just look at the republicans trying to use military buildup and power to get votes. It's a way to gain and keep power so it's here to stay.

Feb. 13 2012 11:12 AM

War will endure as long as there is profit to made from it.

BOMB Iran!!!

Feb. 13 2012 11:11 AM
mick from Manhattan

Don't confuse war with conflict or even violence between individuals or non-governmental groups, like gangs. There will always be crime. Greed causes crime, but the ability of criminals to command the governmental power that produces war...Tens of thousands or millions of causalities, forceful change of national boundaries, only happens when the criminals have control over a state's resources. An underlying ideology capable of conferring control on criminals, such as religion or its cognates like monarchism, fascism and Stalinist-Maoist communism, are required to provide the kind of false legitimacy that allows the takeover of the state apparatus.

That very confusion was the Butch administrations great mistake in 2001, when he conferred the status "Warrior" to a gang of mass-murdering, psychopathic, religious criminals. That did more for recruitment into similar gangs than anything before his misguided ("Weapons of mass destruction?") invasion of Iraq.

Feb. 13 2012 10:31 AM
John A.

I believe war is inevitable given what I've seen of the human condition. There are just so many emotions to deal with and when naturally expressed emotions have to at times become hostility.
I feel its possible if everyone could be "born 40". That's the time when I, at least, felt I could discard hate within myself. Maybe 1,000 years of fast tracked evolution could accomplish this change - not until.

Feb. 13 2012 10:12 AM
mick from Manhattan

Even a casual look at world history shows that prior to the 20th Century the greatest cause of war was religious conflict. The most destructive war in European history, the 30 Years War, was just one of them. The long history of the conflict between Islam and Christianity, Islam and Hinduism are two other examples of current conflicts that threaten war. The fact that most of Europe has pretty much moved past organized religion is one of the best indication that war there is becoming obsolete. That said, there will always be conflict between groups and conflict between nation states will have war as an option ("War is politics by other means."). The great hope for the future is that secular democratic states very seldom go to war against each other. So as the world moves toward more democratic states in which civilian government controls the military the threat and actuality of war will greatly decline.

Feb. 13 2012 10:05 AM
Helen from manhattan

I think that no matter what, people will always want to exert power over others. Whether or not this manifests as war or not, I'm not sure, but I do believe there will always be a power stubble no matter what.

Feb. 13 2012 09:51 AM
carl, queens n.y.

war is unnecessary and can easily be avoided... when the leaders of countries declare war on each other, nobody show up... then we can reallocate the trillions spent on bullets to kill each other, to mankinds common enimies like poverty, ignorance, disease and mother nature when she wakes up on the wrong side of the bed... p.s.maybe ''sachmo's'' ''what a wonderful world'', would have some validity

Feb. 13 2012 09:38 AM

Ed is right. as long as some people think they can force others to obey their myths there will be war
Also as long as there is greed there will be war.

Feb. 13 2012 08:54 AM
Ed from Larchmont

As long as there is massive immorality, like abortion in our country, there will be war. Only a return to God and decency can lead to peace.

Feb. 13 2012 06:05 AM

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