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20221002 – Why We Fight



The first part of this book investigates the reason for mass violence between people, organized in various structures from small street gangs or massive empires. Then, it combines these reasons into five types:

This first is unchecked interests. The costs of war are the main incentive for peace, but when the people who decide on war aren’t accountable to the others in their group, they can ignore some of the costs and agony of fighting.

The second reason is intangible incentives. There are times when committing violence delivers something valued, like vengeance or status or dominance.

The third way bargains fall apart comes from uncertainty. The fact that you don’t have the same information as your rivals means that attacking is occasionally the best strategy, even if fighting is detrimental.

Fourth is something called a commitment problem. Usually, when your rival grows powerful, your best option is to concede something. But what if you’re warned of your opponent’s rise in advance? You can strike now, while you’re still strong, and avert your decline.

Fifth and finally, our misperceptions interfere with compromise. We are overconfident creatures. We also assume others think like us, value the same things we do, and see the world the same way. And we demonize our enemies and attribute to them the worst motives.

The second part discusses five ways to maintain peace and, in conclusion, proposes ten commandments that should be applied to maintain peace:

  1. Thou Shalt Judge the Easy from the Wicked
  2. Thou Shalt Not Worship Grand Plans and Best Practices
  3. Thou Shalt Not Forget All Policymaking Is Political
  4. Honor Thy Margins
  5. Thou Shalt Find the Path by Exploring Many
  6. Thou Shalt Embrace Failure
  7. Thou Shalt Be Patient
  8. Thou Shalt Set Sensible Goals
  9. Thou Shalt Be Accountable
  10. Find Your Margin



I think the five complex reasons for organized violence are way too much, making a simple process more complicated than it should be. In my opinion, there are only two reasons for violence between human-controlled entities, whether these entities are individuals or empires. These too reasons are:

  1. Intention to change the current situation that is perceived as unsatisfactory into a new condition that is more satisfactory to the initiator of violence
  2. Strong enough belief that the cost of violence would be less than the benefits, whether material or psychological, that could be achieved due to this violence.

Correspondingly, I believe that the only two processes that could lead to peace:

  1. The one and only approach that would always guarantee peace is to be much stronger than the opponent in material ability to inflict damage and convincingly demonstrate the will to use this ability. Such peace would be reliable as long as both factors are in the place
  2. The auxiliary process is to find accommodation with an adversary that would at least temporarily diminish its level of dissatisfaction with the current situation and generate in the adversary the hope that its satisfaction will eventually be achievable. Such peace would be unreliable and should be used only as a temporary tool.

I want to provide two examples, one real and another speculative:

  1. The real one was the Korean war, when after two years of Truman’s failing war conducted against a much weaker enemy, but with the primary objective to avoid escalation, the new Eisenhauer administration quickly achieved peace after announcing the doctrine of mass retaliation.
  2. The speculative one is the current war of Russian aggression against Ukraine. In 1996 USA and Russia guaranteed Ukraine its territorial integrity and peace. In exchange, Ukraine transferred its thousands of nuclear warheads and missiles to Russia. However, starting in 2014, Russia initiated aggression against Ukraine without any meaningful interference from the USA, demonstrating the complete emptiness of USA guarantees. Imagine that back in 2014 USA announced that it had no intention to interfere, removed its guaranties, and, as compensation, transferred a few hundred nuclear warheads to Ukraine. I wonder if anybody would doubt that, in this case, we would not have now the XXth century-style massive war in Europe.

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