Monday, September 8, 2014

War: What is it Good For? by Ian Morris

 This began as an interesting read, detailing the benefits of the art of War as it pertains to the building of civilizations, such as the Roman, Han and Mauryan Empires. However, it fairly rapidly just got far too detailed for me to keep my interest up, so I stalled out about 125 pages in, and never got my momentum back again.

Some interesting excerpts:

"War has produced bigger societies, ruled by stronger governments, which have imposed peace and created the preconditions for prosperity. Ten thousand years ago, there were only about six million people on earth. On average they lived about thirty years and supported themselves on the equivalent of less than two modern American dollars per day."

"The good new is that we humans have proved remarkably good at adapting to our changing environment. We fought countless wars in the past because fighting paid off, but in the twentieth century, as the returns to violence declined, we found ways to solve our problems without bringing on Armageddon."

"Governments and laws bring their own problems, of course. "Formerly we suffered from crimes," Tacitus had one of his characters joke. "Now we suffer from laws." A government strong enough to stamp out wrongdoing...was also a government strong enough to do even greater wrong."

On the subject of the idyllic and peaceful existence of North American tribes before the scourge of the white man arrived on its shores,

"Excavations began at Crow Creek in 1978, and since then evidence for Native American massacres has come thick and fast. The most recent example (as I write) is at Sacred Ridge in Colorado, where a village was burned down around A.D. 800 and at least thirty-five men, women, and children were tortured and killed."

The effects of climate on civilization's rise are also discussed by Morris. He talks about the "Lucky Latitudes" where warmth, water and fertile soil allowed agriculture to develop on a large scale, leading to the rise of cities and societies larger than the nomadic tribes which had gone before. It's also interesting to note that the rise of civilization took place after Earth emerged from a series of Ice Ages, when the climate was conducive to agriculture, and that the Dark Ages took place during a cooling period when crop failures and famines made resources scarce.

There's the process dubbed "caging" by a pair of rival sociologists - when people are trapped by their lifestyle of farming and cannot merely flee to other hunting grounds, as hunter/gatherer societies of the past could. "Caged" people "find themselves forced - regardless of what they may think about the matter - to build larger and more organized societies. Unable to run away from enemies, thei either create a more effective organization so they can fight back or are absorbed into the enemy's more effective organization."

In the "some things never change" department,

"Excavators at Xuanquan, a Han military post office, have found twenty-three thousand undelivered letters, painted on bamboo strips between 111 B.C. and A.D. 107 (many of them complaints about how unreliable the mail was)."

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