Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Will There Be War?

Will the future be like the past, an endless succession of wars and transient civilizations? Not necessarily. Most of the past was not like that. Civilization is a recent invention. A civilization with advanced technolgy but still unresolved internal conflicts can be expected to destroy itself, not to endure through further millennia.

Many of Poul Anderson's works project future wars. However, in different timelines, the Time Wardens Period and the Star Masters period seem to have resolved social conflicts and to have ended wars.

High-tech low-population futures are shown in Midsummer Century by James Blish and in October The First Is Too Late by Fred Hoyle. However:

the Birds attack Blish's Rebirth IV civilization;
Hoyle's future society remains peaceful by staying small and avoiding scientific or technological advances - in other words, they give up.

16 comments:

  1. Pre-civilization (before towns, writing, and the State) there weren't the sort of big wars we're accustomed to -- no Somme or Taiping Rebellion or Stalingrad.

    On the other hand, the evidence is that there wasn't any -peace-, either. Violence was usually small-scale (spiced with the occasional massacre of an entire hunter-gatherer band or neolithic village) but it was continuous. Violence was the typical way for an adult male to die, and among the most common for adult females.

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    1. Mr Stirling,
      An important distinction:
      large scale organized wars in history;
      continual, smaller scale violence in prehistory.
      Paul.

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  2. Paul:
    Jerry Pournelle wrote that "On the evidence, peace is a purely theoretical state of affairs whose existence we deduce because there have been intervals between wars." And he titled a series of anthologies about future war *There Will Be War*. He, at least, was in no doubt about the answer to your post title.

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    1. David,
      Yes. Anderson: THERE WILL BE TIME. Pournelle: THERE WILL BE WAR. Me: "Will There Be War?"
      However, peace is practical as well as theoretical since it does exist between wars. On a social level, most of us most of the time conduct our business without resorting to violence. Since WWII, it has been made unthinkable that Germany and France will resolve their differences by waging war. As I sometimes say, we do not fight for the air we breathe although we might fight for the last oxygen cylinder if we were trapped inside a space station. So I am confident of our ability to create conditions that will make wars as redundant as vendettas and blood sacrifices. (Ability, not certainty.)
      Paul.

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  3. It all depends on what you mean by "war".

    Particular -types- of war may become uncommon.

    For example, the massive crunching battles between industrialized nation-states we had in the 20th century -- WW1, WW2, and the almost-WW3 -- required a particular confluence of technological and social factors; the unprecedented productive capacity of the Industrial Revolution, advances in medical science (the Western Front was the first big war in human history where more soldiers died of wounds than of disease), and the social innovation of the nation-state, which gave the depth of commitment and solidarity to a large political unit which had previously only been possible in small ones -- probably because of innovations like printing and universal literacy.

    Note that in WW1, it was the peasant armies that shattered under the strain of industrialized war, while the advanced, urbanized ones fought until utter exhaustion.

    That cycle was broken by nuclear weapons, which made that sort of all-out direct confrontation impossible. Note that nuclear weapons have been used in war precisely once.

    But that hasn't banished war, or other forms of political violence. That would require getting rid of politics.

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    1. Dear Mr. Stirling,

      I think you had Russia in mind as the nation whose peasant armies eventually shattered under the strain of WW I. I think I can give qualified agreement. Yes, Russia was the first major power of that war to collapse. The other belligerents fought on to the bitter end.

      Nuclear weapons has indeed not ended war--it merely took the form of "low intensity" conflicts. Sometimes with great powers backing or propping up clients or proxies which fought the clients/proxies of the other side.

      And of course, terrorism for various causes is all too much in our minds lately. Currently, Islamic based terrorism has been getting the most attention. Ideologues of Muslim terrorism, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, has even adopted Marxist/Leninist tactics and methods for advancing their goal of a world wide caliphate (two steps forward, one step back, etc.).

      Sean

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    2. France too; the French armies mutinied in 1917 and their army was never the same afterwards, and Italian morale was very shaky -- both predominantly peasant countries a century ago. The Germans and the British (and the Dominion forces) were the ones from the most "advanced" countries, and they held on the hardest.

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    3. Dear Mr. Stirling,

      I forgot about the French Army mutinies of 1917. If they had gotten out of control then France might have collapsed as well.

      I would put some stress as well on how determinedly the Austro-Hungarian armies fought as well. They fought on to the very end, November 1918. And the Austrians inflicted a crushing defeat on Italy at the Battle of Caporetto in 1917. That might have led to Italy also collapsing if the Italians had not managed to stabilize the front.

      If the US had remained neutral and not intervened in the war, it's hard not to think the Central Powers MIGHT have won. Considering how DISMAL the consequences of the Entente victory were, I can't help but wonder if it would have been so bad for the world if the Central Powers had won.

      Sean

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  4. Going back to stuff Poul dealt with, Rome was in a way a "precocious nation-state" -- it had political/social bonds and solidarity characteristic of a city-state, whose citizens identified with it very intensely, but on a wholly new -scale-, previously attained only by polyglot empires. For a while, Italy became something resembling a nation-state in the modern Western sense, and it made Rome invincible. But the very empire it conquered gradually washed away the Republic's initial advantages.

    Rome won the Punic wars despite repeated, crushing defeats -- the Romans lost 50,000 dead in a single day at Cannae in the Second Punic War, probably something like every 10th Roman citizen male -- because it had a large population which identified so intensely with the Roman state that they were prepared to sacrifice without limit for it.

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    1. Mr Stirling,
      All I can say is "Wow!" I never analyzed the issue in that amount of detail before. Such specific conditions make it very difficult to generalize about what can or cannot happen in future. I do think that we can even get rid of politics! - but that certainly is nowhere on the immediate agenda.
      Paul.

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    2. Kaor, Paul!

      I'm not sure I understand. Are you saying "I [don't] think that we can even get rid of politics"? If not, I have to disagree, because "politics" is merely how the public business of any state or society is carried out. It can be conducted wisely or foolishly, corruptly or honestly, violently or peacefully, or in any degree or combination of such qualities. But, there will ALWAYS be politics, IMO.

      Sean

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    3. Sean,
      I DO think we can get rid of politics but of course it depends what we mean by that. I suppose politics as "the public business of a society" will remain but that society need not have conflicting interests expressed through political parties and the kinds of irreconcilable arguments that we are all too familiar with. (IMO.)
      Paul.

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    4. Kaor, Paul!

      We agree to the extent of defining politics "as the public business of a society," which is a start. But I believe that conflict or competition will always remain part of politics as long as human beings are HUMAN. Because humans are different from each other in all kinds of ways and are likely to have different ideas of what is desirable. That is why we have conflict in politics. The trick is to so arrange matters that most of us, most of the time, can bump along not too badly together. Which I believe can best be approximated by means of the limited state (in whatever form) and free enterprise economics (with some reasonable limits of the kind imposed by criminal and tort law).

      Sean

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  5. Political power is both a means, and an end. It can be an end to virtually any means, but human beings are so constructed that they seek power for itself (under any number of cultural guises). In our 'default' state as hunter-gatherers, status/power led to reproductive success. It's like tribal loyalties, part of the package. Human beings are very flexible behaviorally, though, so it can manifest in any number of ways, just as the territorial drive does.

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    1. Mr Stirling,

      I agree about human flexibilty. It is that that gives me optimism about human potential. We CAN build Utopia/the Buddha's Western Paradise on Earth/in the Solar System but it is down to us.

      "No Saviour from on high delivers..."

      Paul.

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    2. Dear Mr. Stirling and Paul,

      I have to agree with Stirling and not with Paul. Combining his remarks with my own comments and I believe we get a good argument for why Utopia will never be possible, absent the Second Coming of Christ.

      Sir Thomas More's word "Utopia" means NO PLACE, meaning we should be skeptical of the "ideal society" we see in that book. And Poul Anderson carefully described what seemed an ideal society in "Eutopia," his "good place," only to shock us at the very end of the story with a horrible abuse institutionalized by that society. Like St. Thomas More, PA was warning us to be skeptical of alleged "good places."

      Sean

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