War once helped build nations, now it destroys them

By Mark Kukis – Organized violence – the term war boils down to – has long been a unifier of peoples. Archaeological evidence shows that nearly half those who lived during the last part of the Stone Age in Nubia, an area along the southern reaches of the Nile River, died violent deaths. Many other tribal societies through the ages have shared this mortality pattern, which suggests large-scale mobilization for killing rather than widespread random violence.

Cooperation, mutual dependence, trust – even in killing others – are building blocks of political order, the foundational elements of states.

The advent of agriculture was a prerequisite to long-term human settlements – cities – of any significant size. It gave rise to larger societies, capable of bigger and more elaborate wars. For the dynasties of ancient China, the empires of Mesopotamia and, centuries later, the kingdoms of Europe, waging war was one of their reasons for being.

Frederick William founded and built Prussia to wage war against its many hostile neighbors. Prussia’s clashes with regional rivals during the 17th and 18th centuries made the nation we know today as Germany.

Across this long history from the Stone Age to the modern era, the basic political formula remained the same. Disparate elements of a society learned to cooperate outside familial structures in order to arm themselves for plunder, defense – or both. They formed hierarchies, bureaucracies and institutions that endured and evolved. For emerging nations, the aftermath of the wars imparted important shared experiences too. Defeat could be even more unifying than victory.

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The last major nation-building war came in 1980, when Iraq under Saddam Hussein attacked Iran following the Iranian Revolution. When Hussein launched a ferocious assault reminiscent of fighting from the First World War, Iran was woefully unprepared. The Iranian revolutionaries drew on religious commitments to help galvanize legions of fighters. Iranian men young and old flung themselves against Iraqi tank attacks, again and again, until Iraq’s advance ground to a halt.

For Iran, it is difficult to overstate the legitimacy this achievement gave the new regime, and the cohesion the war imparted to Iran. Iranian society cohered around grief, fear and a renewed sense of Persian identity in response to Arab invaders, both Sunni and Shiite.

Since the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), wars have tended to be mainly destructive forces for nations. more>

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