War: origins

Wed, 29 Jun 1994 13:41:00 PDT

Lane provides some interesting comments on warfare and these lead me to think
a bit about not so much warfare, per se, but a continutal issue of "what is
the definition of ______" which has arisen several times.

Lane writes:

"... identifies it [warfare] as armed conflict between two independent
political units (Davie 1929:46; Malinowski 1941:22; Vayda 1968:86; Wright

Lane goes on to say, correctly:

"However, as anthropologist we have to ask ourselves is this really
what war is in the larger picture. I think not, for it eliminates ..."

and then continues:

" I prefer Ferguson's (1990:26) definition of "an organized, purposeful
group action, directed against another group that may or may not be organized
for similar action, involving the actual or potential application of lethal

but then has doubts about this definition:

"However, we have to ask ourselves does this definition include trade and
economic wars"

but rejects this by saying:

"Trade and economic wars do not have the direct goal of lethalness associated
with them and in cases where sanctions and blockades are utilized against an
opposing force that a group is at war with I would say they are another type
of conflict but not war itself. "

and then asserts:

"Ultimately war is an adaptive response to conditions of real or perceived
stress by a group."

Let me rephrase the first definition:

IF there is warfare THEN there is armed conflict. Stated this way, the
assertation probably is not very problematic. What teh first definition
does is to take a statement in the "If P then Q" and turns it around: "If Q
then P" so as to form an "if, and only if" statement: There is warfare if
and only if there is armed conflict. Lane has noted the deficiency of this
method of definition, namely it attempts to convert a (supposedly) necessary
condition into a sufficiency condition.

THe second definition is of the same nature: IF there is warfare THEN
there is "an organized purposeful...." gets changed
into: There is warfare if and only if there is "an organized purposeful..."

In other words, one attempts to formulate a definition by looking at the
CONSEQUENCES of the property in question and using some of these properties
as the DEFINING property. (This is the problem that arose with various
attempts at trying to define "culture."). What such definitions leave
unstated is: What IS the process or property in question?

Lane's rejection of "trade wars" is slightly different as it involves an
assertaion as what is included in the necessary condition: IF there is
warfare THEN there is lethalness. If it is agreed that this is a necessary
consequence of warfare then "trade wars" are not "warfare."

His last statement is of a different character as it shifts the focus to a
more abstract level of relations and systemic properties, so that "warfare"
becomes a system state.

Of these several approaches to a definition, the last one at least begins to
get away from using CONSEQUENCES as the basis for a definition and begings to
grapple with system properties and relations as an UNDERLYING PROCESS that
LEADS to those consequences. This would seem to be a more fruitful approach.