Tuesday, November 11, 2003

War: It's not inevitable (NYT)

Is War Our Biological Destiny?
Admittedly, war making will be a hard habit to shake. "There have been very few times in the history of civilization when there hasn't been a war going on somewhere," said Victor Davis Hanson, a military historian and classicist at California State University in Fresno. He cites a brief period between A.D. 100 and A.D. 200 as perhaps the only time of world peace, the result of the Roman Empire's having everyone, fleetingly, in its thrall.

Archaeologists and anthropologists have found evidence of militarism in perhaps 95 percent of the cultures they have examined or unearthed. Time and again groups initially lauded as gentle and peace-loving — the Mayas, the !Kung of the Kalahari, Margaret Mead's Samoans, — eventually were outed as being no less bestial than the rest of us. A few isolated cultures have managed to avoid war for long stretches. The ancient Minoans, for example, who populated Crete and the surrounding Aegean Islands, went 1,500 years battle-free; it didn't hurt that they had a strong navy to deter would-be conquerors.

This article by Natalie Angier is one of the most uplifting I've read in some time. Viewed across the span of our brief history, it seems one can make a convincing case that we're getting more civilized with time. (Considering that some believe our ancestors were a band of rapacious psychotics who ate their cousins, we're arguably MUCH nicer than we were 150,000 years ago.) The race between our civilizing tendencies and the power of our weaponry might be a good focus for large bets -- by anyone not residing on earth!

No comments: