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War: The Mother Of Us All

What is war good for?  Absolutely nothing, says the Edwin Star song.

Increasing numbers of historians and archaeologists beg to differ, according to this NYT report. War may be the mother of civilization, it now appears.

[Ancient societies] were shaped by human choice as people sought new forms of cooperation and new institutions for the more complex societies that were developing. Trade was one of these cooperative institutions for consolidating larger-scale groups; warfare was the other. Warfare may not usually be thought of as a form of cooperation, but organized hostilities between chiefdoms require that within each chiefdom people subordinate their individual self-interest to that of the group.

Violence, it seems, is just one form of human cooperation, and one that can unite people as much as it can destroy communities.  The dynamics don’t seem to change around the world.  China, the Middle East, Mexico and Peru: war was the mother of us all.

This was a thought that occurred to me more than twenty years ago visiting the ruins of Troy (pictured above).  Nine cities were built on this site in ancient times; pretty much all of them were destroyed in war.  War shapes civilization and civilization shapes war.

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  • Anthony

    “War is the health of the state” I read somewhere; the implication being state prosperity as well as human cooperation (within state) improves – an artificial community of interest (war/violence) supplanting perhaps a genuine community of interest (human development/responsible and respectable societal order).

    By the way, we lost 31 U.S. soliders 8-6-11 in Afghanistan (Afghan allies lost 8).

  • Anthony

    Correction, 30 U.S. soliders killed in Afghanistan 8-6-11.

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