Advanced Essay 4: Something Something War Never Changes

My goals for this paper were to effectively communicate the ideas I have about violence and war into an essay.​ I have a lot of ideas about things, especially this topic so when I write about them I hope that I talk about them well and get my point across. My goals were also to not exceed word count and be better than last time. I still went over word count but less terribly and I don't know about that last part. I'm okay with how the essay turned out. It could have been better, but I only had so much time and space so I guess I'm alright with the result.

Strictly scientifically speaking, there are only two purposes in life: to survive and reproduce (and truly life only wants to survive so it can reproduce, so they can even be grouped as one concept). Philosophers may theorize and others may speculate about higher purposes, but a lot of the basics of biology revolve around those two concepts. Pretty much anything else is either biologically pointless or can be reduced to the basic function of survival. Even many higher functions that we attribute to more advanced or intelligent species (such as humans and chimps and other primates) usually have their roots in survival. War and violence are no exceptions to these rules, as they have remained from a few million years ago to now. We fight and kill for the same reasons anything fights and kills: to survive. And nothing is going to change that.

An extremely old debate between philosophers (with plenty of other people’s opinions thrown in) is whether humans are naturally peaceful or naturally warlike. There are a lot of varying opinions on the matter, with a surprising amount of variety. But whoever is right doesn’t really matter. It’s a moot point as we don’t need to know the truth of it; all we know is history and the present day, and that’s all we need to worry about. It doesn’t matter whether humans are violent or peaceful because we know what has happened in the past. Humans have fought and killed before, but in a different form than today’s wars (excluding the technological differences of course). As John Green says, “For the vast majority of human history, war consisted of raiding. It was about taking stuff from other people's kin group so that your kin group could have that stuff. For 99% of human history, that's how we fought.” This is an effective survival strategy that many animals use. Chimps do it, even some ants, and more modern territorial wars are an extension of this.

Now, when John Green says “for the vast majority of human history”, he means for the vast majority of human history, which is somewhere around a few million years. And up until the last 10,000 or so, humans fought by raiding. But then things changed, and whether wars were the cause or effect of that change is another highly debated topic (there are many of those). As John Green also says, “Cities began as settlements, which, because they were stationary, were targets for raids. And so to deter raiders, cities built walls. But those efforts required coordination, or else coercion, and resources which states are good at.” But after cities and states and countries and all the innovations and progress that came with them, war had to change. John Green continues, “Concentrated urban populations were the basis of civil militias, made up of soldiers who were also citizens. That meant that they were both effective fighting forces and political catalysts. They built civic pride and diminished the power of wealthy warrior elites, who couldn't defeat these new, larger armies.” And so then we come to the modern era, where newer, bigger, more powerful and destructive weapons threaten to destroy the things you want to take from other people. So what do people do?

They create international accords and conventions to constrict warfare so as not to destroy the world or kill too many people, some prime examples being the Hague and Geneva Conventions. The International Committee of the Red Cross defines international humanitarian law as, “International humanitarian law is part of the body of international law that governs relations between States. IHL aims to limit the effects of armed conflicts for humanitarian reasons. It aims to protect persons who are not or are no longer taking part in hostilities, the sick and wounded, prisoners and civilians, and to define the rights and obligations of the parties to a conflict in the conduct of hostilities.” But these international laws are good for peacetime and not much else. Once the actually fighting starts they get thrown out the window. The first time they used poison gas in WWI, they tried to find ways to have it not violate those laws, but soon neither side cared enough. Survival and self preservation instincts are too strong, we won’t let ourselves be beaten because we are abiding unenforceable laws, because they are unenforceable.  The International Committee of the Red Cross says: “The International Committee of the Red Cross is regarded as the “guardian” of the Geneva Conventions and the various other treaties that constitute international humanitarian law. It cannot, however, act as either policeman or judge. These functions belong to governments, the parties to international treaties, who are required to prevent and put an end to violation of IHL. They have also an obligation to punish those responsible of what are known as “grave breaches” of IHL or war crimes.” And those other countries aren’t going enforce the international laws because once the other side violates them they start violating them too.

Humans have tried to maintain a lasting peace time and time again. After each World War there was a “never again” period where people vowed that this sort of thing could never be allowed to occur ever again. But humans aren’t going to stop. World War I was the war to end all wars, and so was World War II. But it probably will never work because fighting for survival is an ingrained instinct in humans, and “survival” is a very loose definition. Anything can be classified as survival, whether it seems like it to someone else or not. The types of wars fought change, from raiding to sieges to poison gas and nuclear bombs, but the reasons stays the same: survival.


Green, John. "War & Human Nature: Crash Course World History 204." YouTube. YouTube, 31 July 2014. Web. 13 Mar. 2017.

Green, John. "War and Civilization: Crash Course World History 205." YouTube. YouTube, 09 Aug. 2014. Web. 13 Mar. 2017.

"Just War Theory." Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. Routledge, n.d. Web.

"War and International Humanitarian Law." ICRC. International Committee of the Red Cross, 29 Oct. 2010. Web. 13 Mar. 2017.