Thursday, May 10, 2012

In defense of war.

 In the words of Elie Wiesel, (Youtube source, July 27, 2009), "war, by definition, with the exception of a just war …is not moral".  Clearly he hates war, but does not always think it is wrong.  He is not alone, many people (Roma, Jews, Gays, Communists - anyone put in Auschwitz) felt that World War II was the best thing that ever happened to Europe.    

The point is that war in and of itself is not evil.  Yes, it can be evil, but it can also be good.

Recently  Professor Edward O. Wilson (of Harvard) wrote an article in Discover Magazine about the inevitability of war.  He claimed it was is a curse built into our DNA and we could never escape it.   He makes this argument in part based on chimpanzees (very warlike).

I am obviously a liberal, and the stereotypical liberal viewpoint is that  war is evil.  But this is one place where I differ from the masses.

Professor Wilson did not go far enough.  His article treated war as a curse or infliction upon humans, that is unfortunately built into our DNA.  That is where he made his mistake.  

It isn't a curse, anymore than death is a curse. 

The choice is not between War and Utopia.  Instead it is between war as one a on population growth and other, far worse limits - such as famine and disease.  Famine and disease tend to kill the senior citizens first, then children, then healthy, child bearing people.  To control overpopulation, it is best to kill the healthy people of child rearing age.  It cures your current problem and the next generation's one.   More importantly, famine and disease are uncontrolled, while we can always decide we have had enough and stop fighting (barring nuclear war).  A conventional, land war is a far better way to cure the root cause of overpopulation.

[Note that air and naval wars are dramatically different.  They involve far less loss of life, instead revolving around loss of equipment.  A nuclear war on the other hand, would be far less controlled, leading to long term problems.]

Land wars are not a curse, it is instead a natural part of a successful culture, just as death is a natural part of all life.  Yes, people suffer in war.  But usually it is far better than the alternative.  Given a choice between a long, drawn out, painful death from famine/disease or a quick death in war, most people would prefer a quick one. 

War is natural - just look at ants, the other truly successful, civilized creature on earth.  Note, Professor Wilson is an eminent myrmecologist and it is his work on ants that helped him develop his view of war.   Ants live in cities, some of them farm  fungi (wikipedia source), some of them take slaves (Source = North Carolina State Univsersity), and some of them clearly go to war (Army ants, etc. See Wilson's many books, The Ants, Sociobiology:  The New Synthesis, Kingdom of Ants, The Leafcutter Ants: Civilization by instinct).

Now I am not advocating war.   I think it is a horrible, just as death is horrible.  But I recognize that death is part of life, and war is part of being a successful species.  If you want to eat, you need to defecate, if you want to live, you must eventually die.  If you want a successful civilization, you need to accept war.  None of those things are fun, but they are natural and necessary.   I would not villainize war anymore than I would villanize death or defecating.  War is the defecation of a successful civilization - not pleasant, but necessary.

(Note, this post contains sections of an editorial letter I sent to Discover Magazine about Professor Wilson's article)

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