Is War Inevitable? Here's What You Think

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 - 11:46 AM

Over the last four months, the Brian Lehrer Show has been asking our guests and you, our listeners, to tell us whether you think war is inevitable. Hundreds of you responded. Thanks! Below are some examples of the responses we got. To read ALL of the responses we got, go here.

And by the way, about 60% of people who responded think war is inevitable while about 40% think it's not. We're still accepting responses, so tell us whether you think war is inevitable. Survey here.  And be sure to tune in on June 13th for the final End of War show live from the Greene Space. 

As I argue in a recent book which is (in part) complementary to John's (The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined), I think that the causes of war -- human avarice, short-sightedness, vengeance, dominance, tribalism, and self-deception -- will always be with us, but that wars may not be (at least, not in the sense of big interstate wars that kill a lot of people -- local skirmishes and small civil wars that blend into turf battles and mafia-like feuds will be with us a lot longer). The more institutionalized the practice (as in human sacrifice or chattel slavery), the easier it is to abolish, and big interstate wars are highly institutionalized, hence the decline we've seen since 1946 could very well continue until the practice no longer exists. --Steven Pinker
War is clearly NOT inevitable, as Paul Chappell explains in his three books. Wars benefit the few at the expense of the many; wars can be avoided by mutual understanding and a willingness to address each others' needs; wars reflect a win-lose mindset, whereas the obvious interdependence of modern life demonstrates that there is no US/THEM; we're all in it together, so we need a win/win approach. Moreover, modern wars always end with negotiated settlements. If we don't have an us vs. them mentality, we can skip the bloodshed and begin with negotiation. Since the majority of people don't benefit from war, we can become the force that advocates negotiation and rejects war. -- Leslee Goodman
The idea that one person would sacrifice his life for another is what keeps war from total obsolescence. The people who benefit from war are glorified by the sacrifice, and the people who do the fighting are ennobled by it. Valor, sacrifice, honor. Now that the USA wages war by remote control, all three values have been removed from the equation, and war is just murder. Now if we Americans can ever get over our craving for violence, war will fade into history. War is not inevitable. -- Steve Fournier
War is inevitable as long as males are in charge of the world. If we ever got majority female governments in all countries we'd be sitting in circles discussing things and empowering each other. -- Carol
NO, war is not inevitable. Carl Von Clausewitz famously said that "war is an extension of foreign policy by other means," which assumes that wars are discrete events that are marginal to the operation of modern states and international norms. However, wars and the monopoly of violence are central to the formation of nation-states after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Indeed, philosophers like Michel Foucault would argue that peace is an extension of war by other means. Mass murder and genocide only appear to be aberrations when Europeans kill their own or terrorists fly an airplane into the World Trade Center, but have been a historic lived reality for much of the world's people. Police brutality, surveillance, and violent control over public space in New York City only appear to be aberrations when reporters witness the eviction of Occupy Wall Street protestors and video is broadcast via YouTube. But for many low-income people of color, violent social control is a built-in part of life in modern America. War is not inevitable. But the way to eliminate war is to fundamentally change the nature of our society. -- John Choe
As long as humans insist on dividing themselves along religious lines and proclaiming vast theological differences -often over tiny disagreements of interpretation- they will feel the need to fight and either impose their will on others or defend against perceived incursions on their freedoms. How can we even dream of the end of war when religions fight among themselves with such violence? -- Nat Benchley
Yes. First stop dehumanizing the enemy. Stop glorifying warriors. Stop the simplistic false narrative of totalizing good vs. evil and that when we kill we're good but when the enemy kills they're evil.Stop imposing conditions for peace talks. Stop assumung we're rational but the enemy is not. Though we like to say war is hell and that we try to avoid war-in reality we make heroes out of warriors thereby glorifying war. All these memorials to soldiers of war lend cache to the narrative that war is a noble endevour-if you're one of us. Perhaps we need memorials to the victims of all these wars-civilians.We need more stories of civilians deaths-and less of "heroes" accomplishments.Stop portraying terrorism as inhuman and terrorists as not worthy of any human consideration. -- Rose-Ellen Caminer


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Comments [22]

Burtnor from Manhattan

On this July 4 as we celebrate the “bombs bursting in air,” I listened to the re-broadcast of the last “End of War” show (at the Greene Space) and read Brian’s Guardian US essay. I love the essay and am very grateful to the BLS for taking on this topic.

But while I applauded Horgan and Kucinish, some of the comments at the NY event and most of those from the Guardian site filled me with dismay. So many people are not only pessimistic about ending war but actively defend its continued usefulness.

Violence is the central obstacle to the progress of human civilization. If we can’t solve it, we can’t move forward. Those who don’t believe we have made progress from barbarism – despite the persistence of slavery, injustice, and venality of all kinds and despite the fact that not all places in the world have progressed at the same rate – should read a bit about life for average and poor people in the middle ages or ancient Rome.

Not all violence is the same, but when violence permeates culture, war is inevitable because it is permissible and it is taught. That is a central premise. We learn to hate and fear, we learn to fight with sticks and guns and bombs, we learn to attack people who are different or threatening. Teach peace and it becomes possible.

Why do we go to war? In no particular order: 1) power and territory, that is, imperialism; 2) economics, that is, access to and profits from resources like water and oil and profits directly from war itself, like weapons and equipment sales; 3) revenge, that is, to avenge a perceived insult or defeat; and 4) social oppression and tyranny.

What justifications are we sold? Lies and propaganda about threats or losses, dehumanization and scapegoating of others, myths of national and personal glory and riches.

It all comes down to whether we believe human beings can learn. I believe it was Dennis Kucinich who said you have to believe in the human capacity for social evolution.

I do. We learned to wage war, and we can unlearn it. We can change how we think and how we act. That is what is so extraordinary about human beings. We can make choices about how to shape our culture. We do not just travel round and round the same course. We are, as Isaiah Berlin pointed out in “The Crooked Timber of Humanity,” perfectible and, despite cultural, nationalist, and tribal allegiances, “we inhabit one common moral world.”

Sooner or later, if we do not blow up the planet, we will have to agree that it cannot include war.

Jul. 04 2012 04:46 PM

Thoughts of war from the 1960's:

Jun. 14 2012 02:13 PM
Thomas McGee from 07701

There may be a day when wars produce no direct causalities. It's possible someday that the political and economic cost of killing people in a foreign country simply becomes too expensive. Wars will then be fought with economic policy or propaganda, like the cold war.
As long as there are people who want what others have there will be war.

Jun. 14 2012 12:57 PM

@anna from new york,

Sorry the disagreement was so unmemorable; I won't hope that our present agreements will buy me any mercies in the future.
(As i remember it, our quarrel was more of a misunderstanding than an actual difference of opinion; but I did think favorably then of your use of "links" to related opinion, also well done in this thread - now I need to look for Kucinich's own explanation for his Syrian "adventures".)
Have a nice day and enjoy World Peace!

DeTaylor, we had some disagreement in the past (I don't remember what it was), but today I am glad to see your comment after my lonely "war" with .....

Jun. 13 2012 01:34 PM
anna from new york

DeTaylor, we had some disagreement in the past (I don't remember what it was), but today I am glad to see your comment after my lonely "war" with .....

Jun. 13 2012 01:13 PM

(BTW: It will be an interesting measure of the value of this discussion to see how long this comment thread extends. My bet is that the last comment will be submitted by 1:17 p.m. this afternoon)

Jun. 13 2012 01:10 PM

From the moment that Congressman Kucinich finished his first delusional disquisition, which seemed to be seconded by the other professional "peace-niks" on the panel, it occurred to me that the whole crew should be shipped off to Homs, Syria, to help reach a non-warlike solution to the apparent troubles there. (or are the reports in the news media merely "testosterone" fantasies that can be banished with a spiritual change in paradigm?) The call screen-er asked "What do you think would happen?" I replied, "They'd be killed." And was informed that the comment was not suitable for the on going discussion.
My apologies.

Jun. 13 2012 01:04 PM
anna from new york

Look at this contribution to peace by our dear congressman:

Jun. 13 2012 12:17 PM

Thanks, Brian. Discussions such as this are a step in the right direction.

Jun. 13 2012 12:05 PM
anna from new york

Michael, Congressman Kicinich is a demagogue. Yes, there were many people who opposed to our involvement in Germany - most of the were paid ... by the Nazis.
If I understand it correctly (I couldn't listened to his nonsense nfor long), he blames America for ... everything. Did he mention his friends... Assad for example?
And yes, Michael, war isn't avoidable and more often than not demagogues contribute to wars the most.

Jun. 13 2012 12:03 PM
Michael from New Jersy

I am a combat veteran and know first hand how horrible war is. However I wonder how congressman Kucinich would have responded to Hitler's wars in Europe. Would he have just said that it is not our problem? I wish we could abolish war but as long as we have in the world power hungry dictators in some places in the world, or religious fanatics with power who want to kill members of other religions, there will be war.

Jun. 13 2012 11:57 AM
anna from new york

"Read the lyrics to "The Universal Soldier" by Buffy St Marie."
Cynthia, is it OK if I know history and am familiar with the concept "human nature." Do I still have to read "lyrics" and memorize the fashionable sound bites?

Jun. 13 2012 11:55 AM
anna from new york

Ah, these were Guardian's readers - the combined IQ is 1. I think I am ready to leave New York and embrace the first non-"liberal" religious person I meet for a simple reason that he/she understands the concept of "human nature" and much more.

Jun. 13 2012 11:53 AM
Cynthia from Brooklyn NY

Read the lyrics to "The Universal Soldier" by Buffy St Marie.
That says it all.

Jun. 13 2012 11:52 AM
anna from new york

Now, "Professor" is babbling. What a country where even academics are absolute and perfect morons.

Jun. 13 2012 11:48 AM
Frank DeGregorie from Manhattan

What's wrong with continuing this series in a some form? It can only help in the process of ending war. Think of the possibilities that will evolve.

Frank DeGregorie

Jun. 13 2012 11:41 AM
anna from new york

How there can be peace when some individuals have such contempt toward others.
I didn't hear the author. But the rest functions on insulting level. Couldn't you, Brian, find some intelligent and decent human beings?

Jun. 13 2012 11:39 AM
Barbara, NY, NY from New York, New York

One intractable cause of war is disputes over land. For many areas, this goes much deeper than learning peace and non-violence. And where ethnic and religious differences are connected with land, it becomes harder, if not impossible, to abolish war: former Yugoslavia, where ethnic and historical differences were and, alas, still are connected with particular pieces of land (and in fact the differences are not really ethnic: they're all Slavs, though of different religions, so the term 'ethnic cleansing' for that area was really a misnomer); Israel-Palestine; Sudan-south Sudan. And on and on. Ethnic and religious diversity is not always a cause of war (e.g., the US, where the ethnic diversity is not connected with specific regions or pieces of land, although native Americans might feel differently about that), but when these differences are attached to land, peace becomes exponentially more difficult. And countries that have essentially renounced war -- Switzerland, the Scandinavian countries -- are quite homogeneous ethnically.

Jun. 13 2012 11:34 AM
anna from new york

I've scanned a couple of comments. Their level is terrifying.
Not a single author is familiar with such concepts as "HUMAN NATURE" and "HISTORY:" It's men, it's religion, it's ...
Genuinely and truly illiterate society.

Jun. 13 2012 11:29 AM
anna from new york

Yes, American "liberal" ladies, the problem is that women are not in charge. Never heard about such concept as "human nature?" Of course not. Never heard about many charming "ladies" such as die Kommandantinnen? Of course not.
Do you actually know anything? Are you sure that idiotic lives of babbling about hugging is worth living?
Isn't about time to get some real education? And some decency?

Jun. 13 2012 11:25 AM
anna from new york

Bravo, Congressman Kucinich, you used the word "peace" almost as many times as Stalin. Yes, all we need now is to plaster this country with "Miru Mir." The previous plastering cost many, many, many human lives, but we can beat this record. Bravo, again.
This what idiotic American "liberals" like - slogans, more slogans, and even more slogans

Jun. 13 2012 11:20 AM
Amy Higer from Maplewood, NJ

Where are the women?? Women are affected by
modern wars even more than men , and their
voices are too often absent, as policy makers
and as civilians. Sad to see your panel on this
exclude women's perspectives.

Jun. 13 2012 10:57 AM

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