Is War a Replaceable Invention?

During this season of peace on earth and good will toward men, I am pleased to reprint in my “Baby Boomer Insights” category an outstanding article, with his permission, by an excellent writer who wishes to remain anonymous.
Is War a Replaceable Invention?
War is something that, while most people will agree that it is a terrible thing, continues to rage throughout history, fueling conquests, economies, and technological advances. However, as Margaret Mead discusses in her article “Warfare is Only an Invention — Not a Biological Necessity” (1990), war is something that cannot be boiled down to just a fact of life; no matter what humans do to prevent it, it is in their nature to fight and cause wars. Whether or not war is truly human nature or an invention built for the gain of those who start it, is still up for debate.
In Mead’s article, she begins by discussing the differences between the beliefs that war comes either from biological necessity or that it is a social inevitability. This comparison leads to the suggestion of several intermediate viewpoints that lie among the extremes. She ends this discussion by bringing up her idea that, like “universals [such] as marriage and the use of fire are inventions” (Mead, 1990, p. 415), so too is the concept of war. To back this argument, Mead immediately gives an example of the Eskimo culture where, despite the situations and temperament that would give way to war elsewhere, they have never fought with each other on such a grand scale as war. Any conflict that arises among them is kept to the affected parties only, not expanded to the need for one group to fight another. Mead then continues to discuss other cultures where they still participate in war even despite their low-level of civilization and society as a counter to the argument that war comes about as a society develops to a certain level. Next, she brings up how cultures that are not previously familiar to an invention such as war will not participate in that invention, but instead will submit to the aggressor without a fight. This leads to Mead’s final point that war is an invention created, if only for those with a certain personality, to allow those people to gain certain advantages over whomever the enemy might be, whether the advantage be technology, land, money, or power. She says that war is an invention that has only remained because there is yet to be another invention created that improves on what war does so well. Once another tactic is found that can make war obsolete, that tactic will take over and the atrocities of war will become a distant memory.
Mead uses rhetorical techniques such as comparison and syntax to help guide the reader into her angle of vision and fortify her viewpoint. She also creates a strong argument in favor of the idea that war is something that must be a human invention and not simply an element of human nature, but loses strength in her argument that war could one day be replaced, by failing to fully explore some of the long-term effects in favor of war.
To begin, Mead takes advantage of comparison throughout the paper to fortify her position by first discussing examples in favor of her view and then comparing it to an alternate explanation or argument. With this comparison, she is able to lead the reader down a path of logical deduction that ultimately ends up at the main argument of Mead’s paper. Towards the beginning of her article, Mead uses a comparison of the Eskimo to the pygmy peoples of the Andaman Islands. She begins by arguing that war is not innate in humans because despite that “[t]he Eskimo are not a mild and meek people”, they lack “[t]he idea of warfare … passions might rage but there was no war” (Mead, 1990, p. 416). Mead then considers that maybe this example is simply “because the Eskimo have such a low and undeveloped form of social organization” (p. 416). The comparison follows that this is not true since “[t]he Andamans also represent an exceedingly low level of society … But they knew about warfare” (p. 416).
With the rhetorical technique of comparison, Mead appeals to logos and helps strengthen her argument by allowing the readers to deduce her point partially on their own. The appeal to logos is a result of a logical connection between the two sides of the comparison. Mead’s argument is strengthened because she chose two cultures that have a similar social level and temperament. This convinces the reader that there is no reason for war to be innate because the only major apparent difference between the cultures is their location. Her argument is also strengthened due to the fact that as the readers go through the comparison, they are not simply reading the text, but are forced to consider the similarities and differences on their own. Mead leaves a lot of the analysis up to the reader and only presents the information in such a way that proves her point. This builds credibility in her argument and keeps the readers interested as they read through the article.
Second, Mead uses certain syntactical tricks to both keep the readers interested and allow the readers to consider her reasoning from beyond the page. Specifically, the frequent questions scattered throughout the article help engage the reader. These questions are often used in tandem with comparison to achieve a similar effect. When she asks things like “If [warfare] is a form which fits so well, is not this congruence the essential point?” and “If we know that [warfare] is not inevitable, … are we given any hope by that?” (Mead, 1990, p. 417), she opens up her argument for the reader to question. This appeals to pathos by letting the reader’s own emotions affect the reader’s judgement of the text. That appeal is important in the strength of Mead’s argument because it creates an emotional link between her argument and the reader which can make the argument more effective and powerful. She also appeals to logos with this technique through the same consideration of the question by the reader. Since the reader is allowed to question her argument, albeit through guided questions, the reader is able to see the logic in Mead’s points. This ability to consider the logic from the reader’s own point of view, rather than just as arbitrary words on a page, causes the reader to become more accepting to Mead’s argument and more likely to agree with it.
As the reader progresses through Mead’s article, Mead takes her main argument and provides points in such an order that they build on one another and ultimately end with her final, culminating statement that war is merely a human invention. One of these points is that war is not simply a fact of human nature. In “The Decline of War and Conceptions of Human Nature”, Steven Pinker talks about the role of human nature in the causation of warfare (2013). Pinker mentions how specific aspects of human nature such as “dominance”, “revenge”, “empathy”, and “reason” (p. 402) are just the surface of the actual complexity involved in describing it. Similar to how Mead mentions vastly different cultures, like the “gentle, unquarrelsome” Lepchas and the “turbulent and troublesome” Eskimo (1990, p. 415-16), this shows the issue with saying that war is simply an innate part of humans. Two cultures with opposite temperaments and neither has a concept of war. The comparison between these vastly different sides of humans appeals to logos and emphasizes the point that warfare does not simply appear as a part of human nature.
Pinker continues by stating that “[t]he actual outbreak of war thus depends on many psychological processes lining up in the right way … which are distributed in social networks connecting many other individuals” (2013, p. 403). While there are some innate processes that lead to war, the act itself is not a part of human nature. War must be something that if “a people have an idea of going to war … they will sometimes go to war” (Mead, p. 416). If war were simply an innate part of human nature, it would not require so much forethought to its beginning. Humans do not simply start a war for no reason. They must have a reason, something to gain, and others that agree with their conquest in order to fully achieve warfare; therefore the act of war must be an invention of humans.  The complexity of human nature that is shown through this argument appeals to the reader’s logos and builds credibility that human nature cannot simply be boiled down to elements such whether or not warfare is a part. This strengthens the point and makes this part of Mead’s argument more effective.
However, Mead fails to fully support her argument that war is a replaceable invention and misses the idea that maybe there is no replacement for war. There is the possibility that war is the only effective way to achieve certain long-term results. In Robin May Schott’s article, “Just War and the Problem of Evil”, she discusses some aspects of war that in the long-term prove to be constructive. One point that she makes is that “[wars] provide an occasion for the production of new interpretive systems” (Schott, 2008, p. 122). One of these new interpretations Schott mentions is that “human beings now have a greater technological capacity to realize catastrophe—with the atomic bomb and gassing, for example” (p. 123). Without the occurrences of both world wars, humans will have taken longer, if ever, to understand the catastrophic impacts of these weapons, much less how to improve them or harness the technology for good. This greater understanding of the effects of these weapons effectively counters Mead’s argument of the possibility that humans can “invent forms of behavior that make war obsolete” (1990, p. 418). Without the use of those weapons in war, it is unlikely that their destructive power could have been fully understood. Jeffrey Kovac also discusses the connection between technology and war in “Science, Ethics and War”, saying “war has often been a stimulus for advances in science and engineering” (2013, p. 449). War is an event that forces humans to rapidly understand the effects and uses of certain tools, whether it be for good or bad. Both Schott and Kovac show how this understanding is not something that can necessarily be gained through years of peaceful research, but rather is accelerated and attained by the act of warfare. Often, this effect is caused by trying to end a war. Mead skips over the long-term benefits that war can have over human development, specifically technological advancements in the case of these articles. She seemingly only cares about the negatives to war, making her argument somewhat one-sided in saying it can be replaced. This omission of information creates a hole in her argument that can weaken the point that war is a replaceable invention.
While Mead is able to effectively show that war is in fact an invention of humans, there is no evidence yet that the long-term benefits war provides can one day be replaced by any other invention. War causes advances to happen that otherwise may not yet exist in the modern day. It seems to be an invention that in the process of committing many atrocities for only the shallow gain of some organization, inadvertently lends itself to make people think in new, different ways in order to end said war. Without the catalyst that war provides, humans may not have advanced to the point they are today. War seems to be necessary to make humans try and create a better world for the future.

Annotated References
Mead. M (1990). Warfare is only an invention — not a biological necessity. In D. Hunt, The Dolphin Reader (2nd ed.) (pp. 415-421). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Mead looks at various cultures across the world and analyzes how they view or participate in war. Using these examples, she compares them to one another to try and discover if warfare is only an invention by humans or if it is the nature of humans to go to war. She also discusses whether or not war will end and what it may take to get humans to leave behind this supposed invention called war.
Pinker, S. (2013). The decline of war and conceptions of human nature.  International Studies Review, 15(3), 400-405.
This article discusses the current trend of the decline of war and how that relates to a realistic conception of human nature. Pinker mentions historical correlations with the current decline of wars, the various components within the concept of human nature and how those components work together. He then takes these points and discusses multiple events throughout history that has led people to find other options that are better suited to their current situations than simply going to war, thus showing past declines in the number of wars fought. Used to show the complexity of human nature and how it cannot simply be boiled down to sole aspects such as warfare. There is much more that happens to cause something like that than innate instinct.
Schott, R. M. (2008). Just war and the problem of evil. Hypatia, 23(2), 122-140.
A discussion of what the idea of “just war” means and what it takes to legitimize a war. Using examples from history, such as Auschwitz in World War II, Schott talks about how each side in a war in their own view may not think that they are evil. This leads to a discussion of what the concept and perception of evil entails. Schott also talks about the positives that have come out of past wars such as an improved sense of what may lead to crisis, what can make a war justifiable, and what is not worth going to war over. This was used to show the effects war has on technological advancement and how it causes humans to see the effects of certain new technologies faster and differently than what sole research can provide.
Kovac, J. (2013). Science, ethics and war: A pacifist’s perspective. Science & Engineering Ethics, 19(2), 449-460.
Kovac looks at the ethics of war from a pacifistic perspective. This entails the ethics behind scientific research in times of war and what such research may lead into. Three views are taken into account in this argument, including realism, just war, and pacifism. He also talks about whether or not scientists working to advance technology specifically for warfare is ethical because of the almost inevitable killing of innocent people. This is used briefly to support the notion that war is a basis for many technological advancements throughout history.
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