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20210523 – Emergent Warfare



The main idea of this book is to use the latest anthropological and historical research to demonstrate that war as the method of human interaction most probably goes all the way back to the beginning of humanity, but it is not genetically predefined behavior. Believes, either in genetical inclination to fight based on comparison with chimpanzees or in natural peacefulness of humans, both are not founded on hard proves, but rather on little more than wishful thinking, so authors attempt to present actual state of knowledge without falling into one or another set off believes.


1 Peering into the Abyss
Authors start with definition:” By warfare, we are referring to myriad forms of organized violence, whether they are massed armies on a battlefield, revenge killings between smaller-scale societies, or intervillage raiding related to feuding communities. With this sort of inclusive definition, one not biased toward modern forms of war, we believe researchers are much better equipped to give the topic fuller scrutiny.” After that they define their story as “In the end, this is not simply a story about how, when, and why human warfare emerged, but is also a larger narrative about us, about humanity. In other words, the emergence of warfare is intimately connected to the emergence of human nature.” After that authors briefly review relevant literature and then define specifics of human warfare as complex activity highly dependent on specificity of circumstances when it occurs.  

Authors also clearly specify what they disagree with about warfare – that it is:

1) a relatively recent, modern, or historic phenomenon;

2) a product or byproduct of the political interactions associated with large-scale states or civilizations; and/or

3) a phenomenon largely created by shifts to sedentary or agriculturally lifeways.

Authors also specify their definition of warfare, so they are:

1) recognize the potential for it to have been a significant part of modern human behavior, whether within the past 12,000 years or even earlier; and

2) are open to the possibility that certain forms or facets of emergent warfare may have appeared at different points throughout the evolutionary history of hominin lineages.

They also specifically identify their key argument that both warfare and peacefare are specific modes of behavior, both being optional and used depending on circumstances and believes on which one of these modes would work best for survival. 

2 Dropping into the Rabbit Hole
Here authors once again provide some definitions and refer to literature in regard to human cultures mostly to their variety and flexibility. They also discuss inseparable character of human cultural and biological evolution, which is based on huge role that communications, data collection, processing and intergenerational transfer play in everything human. Author then discuss archeological evidence of human evolution with the first traces of stone tolls going back 2.5 million years and such cultural artifacts as bodies disposal dating to 300,000 years indicating that cultural development occurred even before biological establishment of contemporary type of human species. Authors then review aggression and violence in natural world with special interest to our close relatives: chimps and bonobos. They also review human patterns of organized violence and warfare and conclude that:” Conflict, competition, and violence are integral parts of the natural world, past and present, and we accept the assumption that our earliest hominin ancestors would have been capable of engaging in analogous forms of conflict, aggression, and violence. However, the larger, fundamental question to be addressed revolves around the notion of human emergent warfare and emergent peacefare. And, for us, this coincides with a human ability to perceive, symbolize, and convey intercommunity differences in complex ways. To us, that sort of cognition would be the key to elucidating the timing of emergent warfare and peacefare. In order to address these questions, we have to explore various strands of evidence from the Pleistocene, from fossils to artifacts to genes. But before we do that, we must first turn our attention to how archaeologists and paleoanthropologists actually see violence and warfare in the remote past, beyond the purview of written records.”

3 The Recent, the Ancient, and the Very Ancient Past
In this chapter authors discuss variety of evidence of warfare that could be obtained from archeology. They first review literature and conclude that there is no controversy about recent past, meaning the last 12,000 years – there plenty of evidence that warfare was quite a popular method of interaction between human communities. It is more difficult to look deeper in the past when specialization of humans and their tools was not that developed. However, the stones, bones, and other manifestations such as fortification goes back all the way to Pleistocene. Here is classification of warfare markers:

Authors then review current evidence for each of these markers. They also discuss such forms of violence that could not possibly provide any markers such as structural violence and magical assault.

4 The Ice Age World
Authors begin this chapter by expanding the very notion of warfare:” Our journey continues, and hopefully by now we have convinced our readers to consider a few key points about warfare. The first is a full appreciation of all of its cultural facets. Warfare, broadly defined, is not simply organized violence, it is not restricted to large-scale social groups, it is not restricted to young males, it does not result solely in direct physical trauma to bodies, and it is not a recent phenomenon. People in many different societies participate in various aspects of warfare, separated by vast differences in attitudes, perceptions, and cultural logics about violence. We have seen that warfare is not restricted to those eras of humanity where we had written records, with archaeological clues suggesting a deeper antiquity.” Then they look at early social organization and paleoanthropological record, noting that there is plenty of research and evidence of violence, but little clear evidence of its organized collective character. Authors also provide timeline of development:

5 Insights from Genomic Research
In this chapter authors discuss individual violent behavior and conclude that there is no clear genetic determinant of such behavior. They specifically discuss MAOA deficiency, but still conclude that any link to violent behavior is far from being deterministic:” Given the uncertainties and the complexities involved in shaping behavior, we can safely say at the moment that there is simply no conclusive evidence for a specific gene or hormone which will make someone more aggressive.”

6 The Onset of Human Variability and Emergent Warfare
Author’s approach in this chapter is to look for evidence of components of complex human behavior that is required to support warfare activities. They look at cooperation during hunting, development of language, kingship recognition and development of the group identity. Finally, they provide timetable for emergence of relevant behaviors:

7 The Durability of Peace
This chapter is somewhat unusual because authors here move from discussion of warfare to discussion of peaceware – human abilities to resolve conflict and accommodate each other peacefully. First, they look at conflict mitigation in the Animal world and then at much more complicated human peacemaking. Obviously, humans as the most sociable and flexible animals do a lot of this and authors’ main point is that both warfare and peacefare are just tools in human tool kit generally used pragmatically on “as needed” basis according to circumstances with neither one being absolutely dominant. 

8 There and Back Again

Here authors summarize all this in the following way:” The present evidence suggests that warfare, in various cultural forms, has fairly deep roots, deeper than a general shift in subsistence patterns from more mobile, foraging lifeways to more sedentary and agricultural ones. After all, warfare encompasses a very wide range of cultural behaviors, views, values, and practices, and is not restricted to categories of societies. It is a human phenomenon, and one need not live in a settled, agricultural society to be capable of organizing with fellow community members to perform violence. But, recognizing a deeper antiquity for the “invention” of warfare, or of its various bits, does not mean we are biologically hardwired to fight, that we are forever doomed to live in a world where war will always be of constant significance. As sobering as the reality might be when considering deeper origins of warfare, the narrative tells but one small part of the story of becoming human.”

After that they discuss significance of understanding of emerging warfare and emerging peacefare and different approaches to understanding of historical evidence from “Hawkish Doves to Dovish Hawks”. They conclude:” What makes us human is the power to transcend our genes, our evolutionary history, and our recent past. Not only can we transcend them, but we are capable of fathoming the ability to even do so. Tracing the origins of these distinctive human abilities is at the heart of anthropological research and will prove to be an infinitely fascinating field of study for many years to come. We did not become human because of war, and we did not evolve to make war. Through human evolution, we became capable of conceiving of and engaging in both warmaking and peacemaking.”


Unlike great many books about such hot button issues as war and humanity authors managed to keep in check their ideological inclination and provide quite honest review of relevant archeological and anthropological evidence. I think that any attempt to find causes of war or peace in inherent human nature bound to fail because either one is just a tool used to achieve desired parameters of life, which is used as needed according to circumstances, personality of decision makers, and psychological conditioning of decision executors. The only thing strongly connecting human nature and warmaking is human ability effectively communicate, plan, and synchronize actions of many individuals, without which no warmaking would be possible. The circumstances pretty much define cost/benefit analysis that prompts decision makers, that is individuals at the top of society’s hierarchy direct their effort to warmaking or peacemaking or anything in between. One can easily find multitude of examples when such calculation was incorrect and initiator of a war was defeated, but one could not find any example of war initiated without strong believe that whatever outcome occur it would be better than outcome of non-action. I’d like use two quite extreme examples: one is uprising in Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 when the amazing outcome was higher percentage of survivors among fighters vs. non fighters. Sure, numbers are something like 98% dead for fighters vs. 100% for non-combatants, but it is still advantage. Another example on much larger scale is non-occurring of World War III, that I think was direct result of invention of nuclear weapons that led to situation when no decision maker from Stalin at the top to low level officer on duty at nuclear site could estimate potential outcome of nuclear war as preferred choice. In both cases cost/benefit analysis was decisive for decision initiate or not coordinated violence – war. 

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