From time immemorial, great thinkers and philosophers have been trying to uncover the mainsprings of action in the human mind. Their investigations have led them to explore its inmost recesses to find out what moves it and inspires it to action, whether human nature is divine or demoniac, whether man is essentially peaceful or conflict-loving etc.
Barring a few optimists, almost all of them have reached the conclusion that war rather than peace is the natural state of man. Speaking of Hobbes, the greatest political thinker England has produced, Burke has said “A meditation on the conduct of political societies made old Hobbes imagine that war was the state of nature.”
Defoe considers the art of war to be “the highest perfection of human knowledge.” In The Prince Machiavelli has observed, “War should be the only study of a prince.
He should consider peace only as a breathing time which gives him leisure to contrive and furnishes ability to execute military plans.”
A preference for war is a natural instinct in man. He is a child of conflict—torn all his life between opposing sentiments, passions and forces, battling against a hostile world to protect and maintain his social identity and economic stability. No wonder he is conflict-loves by nature. He began his life on this earth as a hunter, out to kill in search of food.
Gradually the drive of hunger was augmented by similar other drives like territorial dominance, sex, revenge etc., and all these in combination or singly gave rise to hostility when smooth realization of the aim or aims was obstructed Thus we see that war was just one step ahead of the hunt.
Reading Machiavelli one may fall into the error that war was the favorite sport of princes at which they could play because their subjects were not wise enough- But that view would have been totally opposed to reality. At that time it was the princes who harnessed a natural instinct in their subjects to sub serve the aim of achieving personal glory.
Now the forever have been replaced by popular governments ever on the alert to go’ war for defending national honour or interests, whatever may be at stake. There is nothing to match a war to knit the people of a country close’- as a nation or to induce mass-hysteria among them.
We can have some idea of the extent of man’s preoccupation with war from the fact that in less than six thousand years of recorded history he has fought more than 14,500 major and minor wars. Out of 185 known generations, only ten have enjoyed undisturbed peace. And if he still retails his preference for war, it is not for lack of deterrents.
Over the centuries, the mechanism of war has been greatly enlarged, so that it is today something vastly different from what it was once. But the growing ferocity and horror of the battlefield has only whetted man’s lust for blood arc fire.
Each new instrument of destruction he has acquired has produced in him feelings of exultation rather than that fear which could have weaned him from the path of violence. The invention of gunpowder could not frighten him. Likewise poison gases could not stop wars.
And science has evolved even more diabolical engines of destruction and thus multiplied the power of war-makers.
Whenever some new and more dreadful weapon was invented, it was claimed that its destructive power would strike terror into the hearts of men and force the nations of the world to abjure war. Such hopes have been expressed time and again, e.g., immediately after the world had witnessed the death and destruction wrought in Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the first ever use of atomic weapons in a war.
At that time Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Britain—a man who knew more about war and peace than any other man “looked forward with great confidence to the potentiality of universal destruction.” Similarly, when the hydrogen bomb had been exploded, it was hoped that the new terror would compel men to outlaw war.
But such hopes were never fulfilled. Nor are they going to be fulfilled as long as human nature remains what it is. Ever after the destructive capability of nuclear weapons had been demonstrates there have been no less than fifty big or small conflicts in the world.
That war is a permanent condition of mankind may not have been as clear—say fifty years ago, as it is today. When only one type of war, viz., and the hot war was in vogue, the intervals between wars were utilized as breathers for contriving new strategy.
In the present-day world, particularly after World War II, the phenomenon of war has assumed various aspects, i.e., hot wars, not-so-hot wars, cold wars, propaganda wars etc. so that once war breaks out between two countries, and they are constantly at it. As a French strategist has said, “There is no longer such a thing as war and peace; just different levels of confrontation.”
Every time men have gone to war, it was proclaimed that it would be a war to end all wars. The allies in the Second World War had also declared that after the final destruction of Nazi tyranny, all nations of the world must abandon the use of force, and strike towards a peace which would afford to all of them the means of dwelling in safety within their boundaries.
But like similar pronouncements before it, this declaration too has remained a pious hope. The United Nations has not been able “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”. The dream of world peace remains unrealized because man’s protestations of peace are not sincere.
It is a measure of man’s natural preference for the arbitrate of arms that today “there are more military men acting as political leaders than at any time in the twentieth century”.
It would, however, be wrong to conclude from the foregoing that the sole reason for war being the permanent conditions of mankind is man’s natural preference for force. The choice is not only instinctive but also logical. When all has been said and done, war remains the most functional and definitive way of settling international disputes.
Once hostilities break out, a fight to the finish is the best way of bringing them to close. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial than harmful if the Arabs and the Jews in West Asia, the Greeks and the Turks in Cyprus, the Indians and Pakistanis in South Asia and the communist and others in South east Asia could be allowed to fight it out to the finish with their own resources?
There is no doubt that war is a horrible thing—particularly today when it almost invariably means total war aimed at not only the destruction of the rival military force but also the destruction of the enemy’s economy. No humane man can applaud the cruelties of war but as long as nation-States exist, they will not be able to renounce it if they have to preserve their national honour and freedom.
It is horrible and repellent but inevitable till the dream of a world order has been realized, and if and when that ideal state has been achieved, it remains a moot point whether men will not even then occasionally go to war just for the heck of it.