The main idea of this book is that wars are not always bad, but rather often are necessary and benevolent part of human society’s development. Wars could be divided into productive wars, which increase power of state that allow rulers who are always basically bandits to suppress rival gangs, bringing dramatic decrease in violence and turning robbery into stationary prosperous business when people who are being robbed accept robbery as reasonable payment for protection. This situation is contrasted with bad wars when state power decreased or even completely destroyed resulting in substitute of one powerful stationary bandit who cares about future by multitude of roaming bandits who care only about maximizing current loot, destroying in process productive powers of society as whole.
Introduction: Friend to the undertaker: This starts with recollections of Cold war and recognition that violence and violent death consistently decreased over known history. The more detailed look at history led author to conclusion that wars relate to growth of state power: War makes the State and the State makes peace. As illustration author provided Ferguson’s table:
From here comes idea of separating wars into productive and unproductive with the following historical review.
- The Wasteland? War and Peace in Ancient Rome:
This chapter starts with battle between Romans and British tribes at the Craupian Mountain in 83 AD. The Romans won and dealt with losers with usual at the time cruelty. However historic record and archeological data show that level of violence in these areas went down dramatically afterword, while level of trade and prosperity was up. After reviewing a number of similar occurrences using not only historical, but also anthropological data author defines this situation as benevolent influence of stationary bandit who cares about long term rent that could be collected from conquered people. At the end the main question of this book defined as why in some cases it happens, while in many other cases it does not.
- Caging the Beast: The Productive Way of War
This chapter starts with critic of idea of special western way of war as characteristic of prosperous democratic agricultural societies. It states that 3 similar empires of ancient word: Roman, Parthian, and Han all coming into existence through conquest and merge of smaller entities were quite similar in many ways. They were similarly situated geographically in what author calls lucky latitudes: wide area from Atlantic to Pacific with good enough land and climate for extensive agriculture. In military affairs they went through similar technological phases presented in very neat graph:
The main point made is that these agricultural empires successfully suppressed violent ways typical for all small pre-agricultural societies of frequent small-scale confrontations between neighboring tribes. The small encounters were substituted by big battles with consequent cruel suppression sometimes at the level of genocide, eventually bringing peace and prosperity for remaining population.
- The Barbarians Strike Back: The Counterproductive way of war A.D. 1-1415
The next step came with development of big horses and tools to ride those, producing cavalry that made mobile forces much more effective and gave military superiority to barbarians who overtime successfully destroyed all big empires. Author defines it as counterproductive wars. Instead of the stationary bandit – the state that cared about prosperity of rent producers came military superior mobile bandits who cared only about the loot. The final result was break down of big empires into small feudal state mainly self-sufficient, military based on fortifications for defense, heavy armored cavalry for suppression of rent producers leaving on territory under control, and semi-ritualistic knight’s alliances constantly in competition to identify and define allocation of territories. Author defines such wars as counterproductive because they increased overall levels of violence and decreased productivity levels around the world.
- The Five Hundred Years’ War: Europe (Almost) Conquers the World, 1415-1914
This chapter is about European military dominance in the world that author explains by effective use by Westerners of two non-western inventions: guns and ocean going ships and navigation. Despite rather quick acceptance of guns non-European countries never were able to catch up with European development of new military technologies, tactics, and drilling. There is also a very interesting discussion about mingling of commerce and war. Overall the European conquest of the world should be treated as at least somewhat benevolent because it resulted in dramatic decrease in wars and violent deaths. It is also mentioned that parallel to this went dramatic improvement in productivity due to industrial revolution.
- Storm of Steel: The War for Europe, 1914-1980s
This is review of long World War between European powers that lasted from 1914 until 1990 with some intermissions and long phase of Cold War. This long war had not only military, but even more so ideological character putting not only countries, but also people inside countries against each other fighting over selection of the best way to prosperity. One side was looking for prosperity via freedom both political and economic, while other side was looking for unity and top down commanding management of everything. Eventual outcome was semi-working arrangement of welfare state with limited market economies in all developed countries.
- Red in Tooth and Claw: Why the Chimps of Gombe went to War
At this point discussion is moved to biological causes and functions of violence and war starting with discussion differences between war like chimps and peace and sex loving bonobos. Turned out that even bonobos become much less peaceful when they encounter deficiency of resources. However the chapter ends with idea that human brain combined with contemporary technology decreases chances of war due to its suicidal character.
- The Last Best Hope of Earth: American Empire, 1989-?
The final chapter is review of contemporary relatively benign situation when American preeminence suppresses any significant wars around the globe providing for relatively low levels of violence. However author see future threats that could come from raise of China, India, conflict between rich and poor countries, and population groups inside countries. In short our long history of wars and violence is not over yet.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I find concept of productive and unproductive wars interesting and generally sound. However war and violence, while being the ultimate shortcut to achieving goals in resource acquisition and psychological satisfaction, is wider phenomenon than just power play between bigger and smaller or stationary and mobile groups of bandits. As long as shortcut of war works, people would use it to achieve their objectives, but I believe that technology including technology of organization of society on the basis of voluntary exchange rather than violent transfer of resources provides some hope that eventually it will be overcome.