Category Archives: War

War! What WAS it Good For?


I just finished reading War! What is It Good For?  by Ian Morris.

It is well worth reading.

Morris’ thesis is this:

  1. Government is the primary source of the reduction of violence in societies.
  2. Wars caused societies to merge, thereby increasing the scope, scale, and efficacy of government.
  3. It would have been great if societies had figured out a way to merge without war, but this, unfortunately, has rarely happened.
  4. So, like it or not, war has been the driver of government innovation.
  5. Therefore, wars have been the primary cause of our long-term decline of violence.

Or more fully:

  1. There was a lot of violence in the Stone Age.
  2. Back then, “wars” were just a bunch of back and forth raids that resulted in a lot of violence and not much productivity.
  3. However, then farming came along, which added territorial capture to what had previously been a plundering game.
  4. Once you capture territory, you have to figure out how to govern it in order to extract its resources.
  5. This requires you to figure out how to govern.
  6. When people govern better, violence goes down.
  7. So while wars cause a spike a violence, their long-term impact results in a net reduction of violence.
  8. However, with the advent of nuclear weapons, wars will likely soon become “unproductive” – in the sense that they might destroy humanity rather than lead to better governance. WWI and WWII gave us a taste of where modern war might be heading.
  9. Generally, massive war breaks out when a superpower declines.
  10. The USA will likely decline by 2040-2050. And global warming might also really start causing country collapses by then.
  11. This might cause humanity to destroy itself in a world war.
  12. The best way to avoid this is either to create world government or to turn into robots.
  13. The odds of turning into robots are higher than creating an effective world government during a time of superpower decline.
  14. Or perhaps we’ll muddle through another superpower decline even without a world government or turning into robots. We have survived this long, after all.

Depending on your viewpoints, you might find this historical analysis to be crazy. Or you might find these future predictions to be crazy.

Read the book and judge for yourself.

Personally, I find this historical analysis fairly convincing. As much as I wish it would have been otherwise, war has been the primary vehicle for scaling government, and government has been a boon for humanity.

But I’m surely not an expert so I could be very wrong.

As for the future, who really knows.

But I think we should heed Morris’ cautionary tale.

This Time Might Not Be Different.

The next time a superpower falls, history could well repeat itself, and we could be thrust into global warfare.

All of which surely puts education reform into perspective.

The sound and the furry of over testing will be nothing compared to the sound and the fury of humanity ending.

One last thought: given the above, would it be better or worse for USA to announce that it would never use nuclear weapons?

If you believe that the answer to our problems is maintaining USA dominance until we reach the singularity or create a world government, then you probably want the USA to maintain a credible threat of nuclear war.

If you believe that the USA will decline before we have a world government or reach the singularity, then you might actually view the USA never going to war as the only a way to avoid destroying humanity; as such, you might prefer USA to renounce warfare and simply be peacefully conquered by the world’s next superpower.

On American Warfare

I’m currently a Presidential Leadership Scholar.

Over the past two days, I’ve had the opportunity to hear Robert Gates speak, as well as many thoughtful presidential researchers. All of this has taken place at Mount Vernon, and there has been a focus on George Washington’s presidency.

It’s been quite stimulating, as well as useful to step out of the education bubble.

See below for some reflections on American warfare, of which I’m not an expert.

Also, none of the below should be mistaken as opinions of any of the speakers of the program.

1. George Washington relinquished twice. First, when he gave up being the head of the army after the revolutionary war. Second, when he stepped down after serving his second term as president. At either point, he had the opportunity to make a run for King of the United States of America, but he did not. This is a great contribution to our nation, and perhaps to future education leaders, especially future superintendents.

2. Robert Gates did not call on me during Q&A, but this would have been my question: from LBJ onward, what wars did we fight that we should not have fought; and, were there any wars we should have fought that we did not? My personal answer would have been numerous on the former (Vietnam; our excursions in South America; Iraq; to name a few, and I could go on) and zero on the latter. Rwanda would be the only situation to make me think twice about a war we should have entered but did not. Even there, it’s hard for me to predict what our intervention would have accomplished.

3. Some of my biggest questions around warfare have to do with counterfactual scenarios of just wars. Clearly, in both the Civil War and World War II, the victorious side was also in the moral right. However, this does not mean that war was justified on utilitarian grounds. Perhaps sustained political efforts would have ended slavery in the next few decades without a civil war. Perhaps Hitler’s land grab could have been slowly unwound over time without armed resistance. I don’t know. But I think these scenarios need to be grappled with deeply; and, in the lay media at least, I don’t think they are given enough serious consideration.

4. Here would be my advice to future presidents: when in doubt, don’t go to war; when confident, don’t go to war; when certain, consider the fact that many president have erroneously been certain before.

5. People whose stock is rising on my brilliant strategist list: Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama.

Again, none of this reflects the opinions of those who run or participate in the program.

These are simply my reflections on a few days worth of programming.