Book review: War: What Is It Good For? by Ian Morris | Prospect MagazineGoodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read. What Is It Good For? Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Other editions.
Book TV: Ian Morris, "War! What Is It Good For?"
War! What Is It Good For?: Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots
Surprising as it sounds, war has made humanity safer and richer. In War! What Is It Good For? Stone Age people lived in small, feuding societies and stood a one-in-ten or even one-in-five chance of dying violently. In the twentieth century, by contrast—despite two world wars, Hiroshima, and the Holocaust—fewer than one person in a hundred died violently. The explanation: War, and war alone, has created bigger, more complex societies, ruled by governments that have stamped out internal violence.
Everyone knows that the purpose of war is to bring peace by ending deadly quarrels in one way or another. In his new book, Ian Morris explores the different ways in which this has been achieved across the millennia, drawing examples from the pre-prehistory of primate studies to the headlines of , by way of archaeology his profession and plain historiography his passion. My own belief is that nuclear weapons, and they alone, prevented a third world war during the Cold War years. Before there were greedy military industries, bellicose professional soldiers or evil politicians to provoke periodic wars, there was instead the perpetual war of all against all. Many anthropologists have been reluctant to recognise the obvious—that tribespeople are warriors who like to keep in practice even when resources are not scarce.
The role of conflict in civilisation, from primates to robots
Even before I had opened this book, I wanted to hate it. According to Ian Morris war is not merely a necessary evil, it is actively good for us. Mankind, he argues, is incapable of resolving conflicts peacefully: we have only evolved complex civilisations thanks to organised violence, and we only live in harmony because of the threat of a big stick. To prove this thesis, he has called on an impressive variety of sources from military history, archaeology, anthropology and evolutionary biology to map out how war has affected us at every stage of our development. Man has always been a selfish, brutal species.
W ar is good for absolutely nothing; it means "destruction of innocent lives" and "tears to thousands of mothers' eyes" — so go the lyrics of the classic pop hit. Ian Morris does not agree. War is essential to history, he argues in his new book. Only through warfare has humanity been able to come together in larger societies and thus to enjoy security and riches. It is largely thanks to the wars of the past that our modern lives are 20 times safer than those of our stone age ancestors. This proposition is not as startling or paradoxical as it might at first seem, especially as by "war" Morris means conquest or nation-building.