War: Origin, Part II

Thu, 30 Jun 1994 10:25:37 EDT

Given the responses I've seen I'd like to continue my discussion of warfare.
It is probably apparent to some of you by now that these are more then just
idle ramblings, rather they stem from a article I'm working on discussing the
impact of war and militarism among the Maya. I've been working on this for
about a year now on and off and I believe its time to get some other thoughts -
so here goes.

Okay, to modify yesterdays definition of warfare we could define it as a short
term adaptive response by a society to conditions of real or perceived stress
that consists of organized, pruposeful group action, directed against another
group that may or may not be organized for similar action, involving the actual
or potential application of lethal force. I'm still not completely comfortable
with this but it will do for the moment.

The next question we have to ask is what are the variables involved that leads
to a group to choose warfare. First of course any biological, social, or psyco
hological stress, real or perceived, sets up the conditions that may result in
a group choosing war as an adaptive response. But the same conditions may res
ult in two different groups choosing different responses to these conditions.
Why does one group choose to make war and another chose to say intensify agricu
lture. Can we talk about variables that increase the chances of a group choosi
ng warfare. I believe we can but again the variables are multi-factoral and li
kely differ from group to group.

Wright (1942:37) proposed a warlike character for some groups that make them mo
re likely to choose warfare as an adaptive response in times of stress. Factor
s associated with this warlike character include: the marginality of the physic
al environment (Carneiro 1978, 1970; Ferguson 1984; Price 1984; Webster 1977, 1
975; Wright 1942); lack of natural barriers resulting in increased and varied
extra group contacts (Carneiro 1970:737; Chagnon 1968:113; Webster 1975:466;
Wright 1942:37); existence at the periphery of established complex societies (W
right 1942:46); bilateral descent patterns which tend to increase intra-group c
ontacts; differential access to wealth, power and prestige (Ferquson 1984:17; P
rice 1984:215); and new technological innovations in weaponry that five one gro
up an advantage over another (Wright 1942:46). Additionaly, and perhaps ultima
tely a warlike character is linked to cultural complexity and socio-political o
rganization. Social complexity decreases the number of intimate contacts withi
n a society while increasing contacts with individuals who while from the same
group are unknown to the individual producing a degree of social and psychologi
cal stress in the daily life of the members of the group. At the same time, it
increases a societies potential to make more numerous, better organized and lar
ger wars (Davie 1929:63; Hassig 1992:165; Malinoski 1941:24; Webster 1975:469;
Wright 1942;40). A warlike character, therefore, occurs in groups which are ha
bitually subjected to stressful situations. Wright (1942) hypothesizes that th

Wright (1942) hypothesizes that theses stresses must not be to severe. Stresse
smust occur at a moderate level, otherwise the group is so concerned with day t
o day survival that they don't have the energy to devote to war. War therefore
is likely choosen by a group which is undergoing moderate amounts of stress fro
m a variety of sources at a time when one or more of these stresses reaches a
level that a shortage or threat to the fabric of society is perceived.

The number and type of extra group contacts is critical here as well I believe.
If a group is undergoing stress for what ever reasons and they are in constant
contact with groups that are defined as "different" then one potential outlet f
or that stress is to take "it out on" or take what is needed from the other.
War is encouraged further when the stressed group has technological or organiza
tional advances that provide a society with an advantage in warfare.

In the Old World one of the types of groups that was impacted by numerous of th
ese variables of course is pastoralists. Give those same pastoralists an anima
l that they can ride and of course it just increases a number of those variable
s further. Though I wouldn't say that pastoralist are always destined to fight
wars just that they undergo a variety of factors that increase their potential
to do so.

To be honest I'm not sure I like Wright's idea of a warlike character, though I
do feel that there are variables that increase a group's potential to choose wa
rfare as an adaptive response. Some of my arguements are almost circular thoug
h and that worries me. I see it as a complex multifactoral response complete w
ith both positive and negative feedback into the system. A group is likely to
choose war as a response to stress because it has in the past and in doing so h
as been successful in eleviating that stress. Here we make the next jump that
I mentioned in my first post which is the development of militarism in a societ
y. The impact of militarism though I'll leave for another day.