Definitions RE: "war"

Scott Holmes (sholmes@NETCOM.COM)
Mon, 27 Jun 1994 17:15:44 -0700

definition in terms; for two reasons: 1) I am not completely sure what
it is I'm after, yet; and , 2) To elicit the widest range of responses.

Probably the two most important terms left undefined are "civilization"
and "war". I must admit that I am personally encouraged to hear that the
early "fortifications" at Jericho may have had more to do with flood
control than averting concerted attacks by outside groups. 8500 BC is
too early of a date for me to maintain the line of thinking I have been
following. I'll make a stab at trying to establish working definitions:
"civilization", a society of people at least some of whom have specialized
functions (doctors, lawyers & Indian chiefs) and a population threshold
of ??? people. "War", ratified group violence against another society.
I have in mind "extra societal violence" but I recognize that I never stated
as much in previous posts.

Recognizing group violence in pre-agricultural and neanderthal groups
certainly diminishes that validity of my chosen topic title ("The Invention
of War") but it doesn't shoot it out of the water, yet. This does, however,
force the necessity for definition.

Some of the ideas I've received on this topic involve definitions and
causal situations. I haven't yet had time to sort them all out into a
meaningful system. I will touch on a few here, though:

- War as a large scale conflict, usually among intensive agriculture
and industrial societies.

If we settle on this as a definition/description of war, we can no
longer use the term for this inquiry as the steppe people did not
engage in intensive agriculture and the steppe populations remain
critical to my enquiry.

- War requires armies, military leaders and strategists.

This implies that "war" developed from an earlier form of ratified
group violence because the terms "military leaders" and "strategists"
denote specialized functions within a society with learned skills.
So again, we will need a new term as I am seeking the "first war".

- Ritualistic fighting among horticulturalists was mentioned. I am
not sure what to do with this although I can't dismiss it yet. It
does indicate that the societies involved have made a decision that
violence can be justifiably employed to solve problems.

I've also received mention of the role of resources:

- loss through natural disasters that must be made up for;

- anticipation of loss from impending natural disasters (cyclical events);

- and, of course, procurring women.

I have received some statistics as well; "... from 3600 BC - AD 1960;
14,531 large or small wars occurred". This fact prompts me to ask what
distinguished the war counted as the first from any preceding battle, or
is there no real information from before 3600 BC?

I'm encouraged (about using the Internet in this way) by Matthew Hill's
questioning the phrases "inherent capacity for violence" and "violence
become socially ratified". These represent the core concepts upon which
my whole line of reasoning rests. It's my belief that all humans have
"an inherent capacity to do violence" but that the willingness and/or
ability to employ violence varies greatly among individuals (and among
social groups). Fortunately I don't need to use the "I" word (instinct)
to illustrate this as I am in no way describing any particular action.
I am only stating that any individual, given the proper (?) circumstances
can and will commit violence on another individual. It's my opinion that
culture provides the "list" of potential actions and that these are learned.
A "propensity for non-violence" does not negate the existence of the
capacity to do violence, but locates an individual (or culture) somewhere
along the axis of probability.

I had mentioned that the implements of open plains hunting and pastoralism
lend themselves more readily to warfare than do agricultural implements
(Grim Reapers not withstanding). The reply from Steve Arvin on the Military
History list lends further creedence to this thought. I don't believe this
implies "pastoralism => warfare" in and of itself. However, when we
introduce the concept of "us versus them" the probability of conflict
increases a great deal. The differences in the religions of the two
general populations is probably enough to "justify" conflict:
sedentary fat pregnant women versus inscrutable violent gods with a
taste for blood.

I need to add a bit of a disclaimer here, I'm not in a position to
do much in the way of research (outside of Internet resources) as my
alma mater's library system remains "seismically challenged" and I'm
really supposed to be spending my time "earning a living".

----------- There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, ----------------
Scott Holmes <> Informix 4GL Applications
---------------- Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. ------------------------