In his inimitable style Joseph Mani draws a wonderful analogy of warfare and it's raison d'etre. He has backed his points of view with statistics and in historical perspective. Isaac Gomes, Asso. Editor, Church Citizens' Voice.
We like to think that the hunter-gatherer societies were peaceful paradises and war is a much later phenomenon. As per archeological evidence, though meager, our forager ancestors were a violent lot. One evidence suggests that about 4.5 per cent of deaths among them were caused by human violence. Compare this with the twentieth century which saw the most violent wars and massive genocides, yet deaths due to human violence during the twentieth century was 5 percent. Today the global average of deaths due to war and crime together constitute only 1.5 per cent.
For most of history, there was an iron law of war, “For every two neighbouring countries, it is plausible that they will go to war against each other within one year”. This law of the jungle prevailed in classical Greece, ancient China, medieval Europe and seventeenth century India. The possibility of imminent war was uppermost in the minds of every king, ruler and general. Even during peace times, before the rulers of Athens in 550 BCE took any long-term policy decision they would ask themselves “What if there is going to be a war with Sparta next year”?
Why War Is Meaningless Now
For our ancestors there was an evolutionary benefit from war; the tribe which was more fit and advanced survived and the less fit and the less advanced perished. But today war takes away the fittest of the youth and medical advances prolong the lives of the old and infirm.
Then there was religion. Imagine what would have happened if every religion, from the beginning, from top to bottom, at every opportunity, at every religious convention and pilgrimage place, had consistently and repeatedly exhorted the believers to “Love your enemies, forgive those who do you harm, borders are man-made, accept everyone as your brother”. Unfortunately that did not happen. Such preaching would not have got them loyal followers; you get followers if you can claim that you are superior to ‘them’, that you are the Chosen Ones. Throughout the history of Homo Sapiens each tribe and nation thought themselves to be children of a special god; whatever the religion, its followers claimed that all knowledge and wisdom is contained in their sacred books and that what is contained in other scriptures is useless at best and harmful at worst. In ancient times the Library of Alexandria was the center of learning and scholarship. First the Christians burned a large number of the books in the Library because they were pagan. Then came the Muslim marauders. When asked what to do with the books in the Library, the Caliph said “Destroy all those books which do not agree with the Koran because they are wrong, those that agree with the Koran are redundant anyway, so destroy them also”. It has now become fashionable to say that all religions in their essentials are tolerant and peaceful. Not really. The two most proselytizing religions, Christianity and Islam, are not peaceful and tolerant even in their ‘essentials’. According to the Hadith anyone who leaves Islam is to be put to death (Hadith 17). Christians for centuries murdered heretics and infidels in the name of their God . Why shouldn’t they? Jesus was the most tolerant and compassionate preacher. But even he said “Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king, bring them here and slay them before me.” (Luke 19: 27). These utterances may be few in the Scriptures, but religious institutions and their leaders have used them to incite the faithful to go out and kill the accursed ones and destroy everything of theirs. But today fortunately not many young people are prepared to get themselves killed in the name of their gods. It is true that today there are a few jihadis, they kill a few but they can’t start wars. Mainstream religious leaders do not ask their followers to go out and massacre non-believers and even if they did the followers wouldn’t do it. They have learned what the knights of the crusades realized: The knights went to fight the Muslims because the Pope and their parish priest told them that in killing Muslims they will be serving God; once they reached Jerusalem they found that the Muslim youths who had come to fight the Christians were also told that in killing Christians they will be pleasing God. Today many people prefer to follow the Humanist Manifesto: “A democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. [Humanism] stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and does not accept supernatural views of reality”. So we don’t have many religious wars today.
Another reason why we don’t have major wars is that the cost of war has gone up substantially. In the nuclear age it is more a Mutually Assured Destruction, the winner suffers as much as the loser; at best it is a Pyrrhic victory.
While the cost of war has gone up, the benefits have gone down. Till about the middle of the 20th century, countries conquered other countries, occupied and plundered them. This is no longer the case. Conquests like those of the Romans, Mongols, Ottomans and the British cannot take place now. With few exceptions, states no more invade other states to conquer and swallow them up. This is because during earlier times the winner plundered and looted the wealth of the loser. This was easy because the wealth was in land, gold and cattle and perhaps maidens. But today the wealth is in the minds of people. Bengaluru doesn’t have mines from which silicon can be extracted and carried away to China; what it has is the brains of Silicon Valley-type engineers. That cannot be controlled or taken away.
Then Why Are There Wars Still?
If most of the reasons for wars – evolution, religion and plunder – have disappeared, how is that we still have sporadic wars somewhere all the time?
There may be many explanations why still there are wars today even though the vast majority of people in the world do not want war. I do not know all of them. May be there are still reasons like Nationalism, Revenge or Civil Unrest for wars. Another possible explanation is that war is the result of the ego of a few megalomaniacs. A Xi Jinping, Donald Trump, Kim Jong-Un and the coterie around them with delusions of world domination can start a war. And the rest of the people are misguided or coerced to support them.
War and Technology
Now there is a new factor in waging war. Military blockade has given way to economic and technology blockade. Whether cancelling a few projects worth a few thousand crores will deter Xi Jimping is debatable. Also, TikTok and the other 58 banned Apps had been with us for some time. Against expert opinion, the government was determined to allow Huawei to bid for 5G in India. Now they have all become security risks. Nothing is wrong in that decision. As Konrad Adenauer said, there is nothing to prevent us from becoming wiser and it sends out a message.
Making science and technology subservient to nationalism is nothing new. A few examples:
Two German Nobel Prize winners, Philip Lenard and Johannes Stark, declared that the Theory of Relativity was a Jewish plot to take over the world. In 1931 a booklet was published in Germany titled A Hundred Authors Against Einstein.
Werner Heisenberg, of the Uncertainty Principle fame, was a Nazi sympathizer and led the German atom bomb effort. After the war when he was derided for this, his defense was ‘yes, but my heart wasn’t really in it, I was forced to do it’.
Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity remained a hypothesis until one of its predictions, that light from a distant star would bend as it passes near the sun, was proved observationally by the British astronomer Arthur Eddington during a solar eclipse. It was war time, but Eddington, a devout Quaker, refused to be conscripted. He said, fighting in the war would be “willful disobedience to the divine will”. When that did not work, the nationalistic argument was used; it was pointed out that if Eddington could prove Relativity wrong, it would be a victory for England’s Newton over Germany’s Einstein.
During World War II all countries enlisted scientists to work for the war effort.
Just the other day Trump arm-twisted Gilead to produce the Covid-19 vaccine by year-end; our jingoism did one better; our government told Bharat Biotech to have the vaccine ready by August 15, otherwise scientific heads would roll.
It is not surprising that scientific research is often made to serve nationalist interests. Except a few philanthropists, most of the funding for research comes from governments or, in the case of medicine, from pharma companies. Imagine two situations: The government has one crore rupees to give as research grant. Professor Shirvarker asks the government for one crore to do research on a vaccine which will prevent babies being born with squint eyes; Professor Murvarker asks for one crore to invent a ray that will make every enemy tank grind to a halt. It is more likely that the grant will go to Murvarker. C. V Raman was offered generous government funding if he would spend part of the money on research that would help our armed forces (He refused).
So countries will use the technological leverage for their own interest. Let us hope it does not go to some bizarre extent; otherwise if Turkey is at war with Greece, the Turkish people will be asked to stop using the Pythagoras Theorem!