The Purpose of Warfare
If we desire to avoid insult, we must be able to repel it; if we desire to secure peace, one of the most powerful instruments of our rising power, it must be known, that we are at all times ready for War.
-George Washington’s Annual Address to Congress - December 3rd, 1793
Humans are a social species. Our ancestors evolved alongside other species on a planet with finite resources. There is not enough organic matter, plant or animal, to sustain every creature. Every species competes against other species and amongst themselves for these dwindling resources. Life on this planet has evolved to survive; it had to because there isn’t enough for every living thing to thrive. Life has learned to consume other species, as relying only on gathering nutrition and energy from our organic, non-living matter is limiting. It was a new attack vector for life to thrive, or in business parlance, an untapped market resource ripe for exploitation. Life no longer had to be concerned with only limited access to resources but becoming a resource for other species. Humanity’s ancestors evolved to consume other life.
If we harken back to Chapter 1.3: Life and Evolution, I used NASA’s definition of life as “a self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution.” Darwinian evolution requires species to survive and pass their genes to future generations. It doesn’t matter that some die, only that some live long enough so that the species can produce offspring. Some species produce numerous offspring as often as possible, and even though most die off, some survive to produce even more, quantity over quality, in a sense. Other species have fewer offspring but invest more effort and resources into rearing them, protecting them into adulthood when they can have their own offspring, an inverse of quality over quantity. Humanity’s ancestors evolved along this latter path.
Most species on this planet live independently. Of these independent animal species, they generally search for food and water, find mates, produce offspring, and carry on like this until their eventual deaths. For some animals, however, they also evolved to develop ingrained social hierarchies with those within their own species, with kin and others with common goals. There are less than 3,000 social species on this planet, and humanity is one of them.
With limited resources, few offspring, and strong social collectives, many species are forced to contend with threats to their lives or the resources of the area they happen to occupy. These species can often assess whether fleeing or fighting off the aggressors is the best strategy for survival. Humanity developed along this path, being able to weigh between short-term and long-term survival strategies.
Some social species utilized competitive sexual selection amongst their males. These males are physically larger, stronger, and more aggressive than their female counterparts so that they can compete against each other for the interests of the females. A female would be interested in such a male because the male would provide the strength and aggression needed to protect kin, secure resources, and generally ensure the long-term survival of the social group. As mentioned in Chapter 2.0: On Violence, this is the course humanity took. We see throughout all human cultures that males are disproportionately prone to aggression and physically more capable in that aspect.
Those social species who fight for their resources have evolved to work cooperatively. Their survival was predicated on taking and holding resources. Many of these species also used tools within their environment to compensate for individual weaknesses and increase their effectiveness in applying violence. Humanity, therefore, evolved to be both violent and employ tools for violence.
Where am I going with this talk of evolutionary paths and survival strategies? Simply put, war is an evolutionary inevitability of our species. Organized conflict isn’t the norm of most species, but it is for the rare few creatures on this earth. Homo Sapiens, humanity, is such a species because:
- Resources are finite: our ancestors’ survival required them.
- Struggle for survival is integral to evolution: our ancestors had to adapt.
- Through adaptation over time, collaborative support provided an advantage: our ancestors evolved complex social groups to survive within an inhospitable world.
- Through long-term planning, people can work together to defeat threats and protect the social group: our ancestors learned to organize themselves for conflict against threats.
- Implements of the natural world could offset natural weaknesses: our ancestors employed and developed tools.
- A species with larger and more aggressive males than females evolved to engage in competitive sexual selection: our male ancestors became more aggressive to provide resources and security to earn that selection.
- When a social creature is weak in isolation but strong collectively while also perpetually on the hunt for limited resources, there can be infighting within their species: our ancestors became tribalistic and territorial.
- Because a close-knit social group will view outsiders with suspicion if friction can’t be avoided, then violence can erupt: humanity often resorts to violence in one form or another during disputes.
- Since evolution is the struggle of life despite death, and conflict is full of death, organized conflict evolves over time: to survive, our ancestors developed larger social organizations, adapted their implements of violence, and improved upon their communication in tactics and strategy.
For all these aforementioned points, organized conflict was inevitable for our species. The current political landscape, the technological innovations we have, and the foundation of the human condition - all of it - are based on humanity’s evolved survival methods, of which organized conflict has become a defining factor. But conflict is just that, a factor.
Conflict helps solve the problem of survival through the tool of violence, but there are other tools. We mentioned this as much in Chapter 2.0: On Violence when we mentioned that violence was becoming less vital as a tool to solve our survival problems. For example, human cooperation is another tool we use to survive. On the one hand, it increased the likelihood of survival when faced with violence through the use of cooperative violence to counter it, meaning organized conflict. On the other hand, cooperation also provided survival solutions through non-violent methods. Within a cooperative group, some could focus on providing security, while others could focus on agriculture and infrastructure development. It allowed a few to protect all within the group while the others could provide for all. Cooperation between groups through exchanging resources necessary for survival could circumvent the need for violence that otherwise would have resulted. But violence has never left our species and is the fundamental crux of humanity in our struggle to survive. We must understand this nature if we wish to control it effectively.
For the remainder of this chapter, we will discuss warfare's historical and contemporary purpose for our species and how it serves as a tool alongside or despite other survival tools. During these discussions on the purpose of warfare, the other survival tools, especially business as a natural evolution of human cooperation, will be compared and contrasted. By the end, you will see that, though the ways and means may differ, the ends are ultimately the same - some aspect of a survival strategy.
But how far back can we go to get evidence of human-on-human conflict? Cave paintings in Spain, dating back to 20,000 BC, show a group of men fighting each other with bows. While the image of men fighting each other doesn’t necessarily mean that the men depicted actually fought or that the men in the painting reflected real people known to the artist, which would make it a fictional event, only that in the mind of the artist we can see that the concept of human conflict was possible.
It would make sense that the earliest forms of war would reflect, in some form, organized hunting. Hunting allowed humans to use their capacity to communicate and coordinate to take down large beasts or flighty prey animals. The cave painting, showing bow-equipped men running or lunging in a somewhat chaotic battle, leaves much to interpretation. It could represent two groups of men staying low to the ground, lunging to avoid being hit by their adversaries, and presenting themselves as smaller targets. Or it could be representative of dashing in and out of a fight in a hit-and-run style of guerrilla combat.
Regardless of what we can interpret about complex human dynamics from a cave painting, we can determine that humans fighting other humans with weapons was probable, even if it was a rare event. Indeed, for the bulk of the 180,000 years of homo sapiens development, our populations were relatively small, with vast stretches of Earth that could be utilized by our ancestors. It would make logical sense that, if it could be avoided, hunter-gatherer tribes would simply move on to new areas than risk fighting.
Naturally, other than resources, as discussed in Chapter 2.0: On Violence, humans would also fight for access to females and as revenge for previous transgressions. Indeed, it is possible that the painting could have been a real event that transpired because one group of men had little to no females left in their group and attacked the other group of men to then abscond with their females. Or it could be that one group stole the kill off of the other group or killed a member of their tribe, and this battle is one of revenge. I bring this up to say that early battles between humans were probably not related to purely defeating other groups of humans to ensure long-term survivability and were more likely short-term emotional responses to slights. Avoiding fighting was still the best form of long-term survival for a group, so unless short-term necessity required it, we wouldn’t see an extensive organized conflict between humans until the environment changed which would necessitate this outlook.
It is possible that the environmental change that compelled humans to engage more often in organized conflict out of necessity was related to a shift from hunter-gathering to other societal structures. Hunter-gatherers would travel where the animals were; they were nomadic and not vested in any particular area other than through their familiarity with the terrain.
- Some groups began tilling the land, planting crops, watering and fighting off pests, and then harvesting and storing the produce. They began to develop a sense of ownership of the land they worked on. Their survival was tied to the land they toiled, and other humans that weren’t part of the tribe were a threat to this bounty the farmers created as it turned the farmers into a target for pillaging.
- Some of these groups began domesticating animals and herding them to pastures. They had to care for them, maintain control of their movements, fight off predators, and were connected to their animals from birth through the milking of their mothers and their eventual slaughter for meat. Their survival was tied to the health and abundance of the herd, and other humans were a threat to the herdsman's prosperity through theft and poaching of their animals.
Robert L. Connell, in his book Of Arms and Men: A History of War, Weapons, and Aggression, postulated that this shift to warfare being more prevalent was because humans started developing a sense of ownership to land and animals in this way; agriculture and husbandry. Because a group of humans’ survival was tied to a thing, they simply couldn’t avoid a fight if that thing was threatened. If you, your mate, your offspring, and your kin’s survival is predicated on crops or a herd, then you and your kin must cooperate in fighting off other humans that threaten it. Organized human conflict, therefore, became more of an inevitability when humans developed a sense of ownership, treating land and animals as property.
It may have begun when nomads - pastoralists or possibly advanced hunter-gatherers - having learned to steal from each other, descended on the fertile valleys and oases of the agriculturalists to rob his surpluses. Women and revenge, the traditional motivators, presumably still played a role in these depredations, but it was this new factor, property which provided impetus that had been missing previously… Having suffered at the hands of the interloper, agrarian communities gradually learned to defend themselves. In doing so they discovered that their more efficient economic systems imparted certain advantages in terms of time and available resources to be expended on martial activities.
(Of Arms and Men, 31)
As people could generate their own food, societies could increase in size, and individuals could specialize in particular professions; for example, farmers, carpenters, and warriors. New technologies allowed for more efficient human effort in each profession, which advanced societies by leaps and bounds. Basically, once humans developed beyond simple hunter-gatherers, societies could and did expand and advance at an alarming rate not seen in other species. Before complex philosophical discussions over the nature of our existence on this planet in our earliest years, our species probably viewed conflict amongst humans as a natural occurrence. No more different than the struggles associated with natural disasters, attacks by predators, starvation, and basic human health considerations, like illness and childbirth complications. Things could be emotionally taxing, and we could be fearful of their potential occurrence and prepare for them, but violence alongside these other concerns was just a way of life.
As our species continued to develop and understand the natural world with a little more complexity, as we do now, our ancestors probably started assigning greater significance to warfare as a unique aspect of the human condition. As a unique social activity comparable to agricultural development, bartering, sexual selection, games, and governance. We had to be cognizant of our situations, wary of potential threats, and prepared to respond to those threats before or after they became apparent.
Now, this is pure speculation. Prehistoric humans have only given us evidence of their existence through their bones, tools, and simplistic paintings. They had no way of communicating their perspectives on human conflict to us in the future. We are left with only speculation, deconstructing our history and psychology, and comparing and contrasting humans against other species in order to find a concept for early homo sapiens conflict that is logical and reasonable. But we will leave prehistory to the anthropologists.
War Is My Business is more concerned about our history, and the aspects of our story as a species that are recorded in some fashion. Though homo sapiens have been around for about 180,000 years, we have only had written language for a little more than 5,000. This gives us a window to look back into our various cultures. Each culture has its own perspective on the nature of conflict, which changes over time and with each individual based on their understanding of the natural world. We are concerned about how they viewed human conflict in relation to 1) the society, 2) the political governing body, 3) the individual, and 4) the natural world itself. Knowing how they viewed the environment around them, we can then take those theories, principles, and tenets for warfare from their perspective, translate them for modern times, and then compare, contrast, and apply them to other human endeavors, such as business. Because although our ancestors sometimes viewed warfare as a unique category of human social activity, it is nonetheless a social activity, more similar than different from the others.
Political theorist Michael L. Walzer holds this viewpoint of war being a comparable social activity in his book, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations when he stated:
Here the case is the same as with other human activities (politics and commerce, for example). It's not what people do, the physical motions they go through, that are crucial, but the institutions, practices, conventions, that they make. Hence the social and historical conditions that “modify” war are not to be considered as accidental or external to war itself, for war is a social creation. What is war and what is not war is in fact something that people decide. (Just and Unjust War, 24)
The ways and means of warfare are a special consideration when we determine what is “war” and “business.” But it is those ways and means that we refer to in order to differentiate between these two social activities, and it isn’t necessarily a clean-cut distinction. Arms manufacturers, defense contractors, private military corporations, and mercenaries use the ways and means of both war and business in various capacities. War and business are different in that they use different ways and means, but war and business are the same in that they are social activities that include doctrinal ways of carrying out tasks, organizational structures and hierarchies, training regimes, material needs, leadership and educational development programs, personnel requirements, and facilities to conduct activities. War is more similar to business, as is any social activity, because all human social activities are created by humans and share common fundamental structures. Humans aren’t as complex as we like to think we are, and our “social creations,” as Walzer calls them, follow particular structures familiar to humans.
So, now we look back at our history. We look to military leaders and strategists of the past and present to see how they viewed the nature of warfare in order to learn something about ourselves vicariously through their experiences and perspectives. From here, we see the purpose of warfare from their cultures, time periods, and assessments of their situations that lead them to decide to wage war.