Thinking about war

War is mostly unthinkable. It's horrific, devastating and often perpetual. Warriors need to feel the irrational urge to kill enemies, retaliate against disgraces and destroy others' prospects for survival. Wars are usually power games that establish which side can be dominant, in control of the others and the ongoing source of subjugation. Wars operate on the premise that a state or tribe can never have too much power, loyalty, honor and control over territory. There's always a need for more which provokes the next build up of readiness, amassing of a strike force and launching of another attack.

In The Shield of Achilles, Philip Bobbitt helps us think about war. He tells us that wars are fights for more than power. They resolve questions of legitimacy by disgracing and invalidating the losing forms of governance. They impose evolutionary pressures which force the participants to revise their strategies, policies and laws. By "thinking like a lawyer" instead of like a warrior, wars can come to an end. The questions of legitimacy do get resolved. Changes get agreed upon by the sides in contention. There are limits to how much additional power seems desirable. The increase of power gets accompanied by added responsibilities, obligations and investments.

As I've reflected on the transition to a "market-state" that Bobbitt characterizes, I'm seeing two divergent trends getting conflated by his approach. One trend follows Bobbitt's defined transition from "thinking like lawyers" to "thinking like economists" This trend fuels increased warfare to serve it's own commercial interests. The other trend makes war obsolete amidst mind-boggling increases in interdependence, social connectivity and fruitful collaborations. This amounts to "thinking like ecologists".

War on foreign soil has always been good for business. The government becomes a reliable, repeat customer with deep pockets. Their previous purchases get destroyed in battle which calls for more purchases. Wars usually escalate onto several fronts which increases the rate of spending. Wars routinely bring economies out of recession through increased employment and public debt. Factories go onto the double shifts to meet the soaring demand. Labor shortages boost wages and reward educational advances. When we "think like economists" we see the equilibrium price rising as supply cannot keep up with demand. Economic self interest pursues increased military spending at all cost. Public spending supports increased production, profitability and privatization of capital investment.

When we "think like ecologists", capital becomes more mobile and accessible. As Bobbitt says, the playing field gets leveled. There is no foreign soil for profitable wars. There's no escaping war doing harm to our own interests, allies, investments and future scenarios. The commercial interests that privatize the payoffs from war are dumping their externalities onto other populations, regions and generations. The consequences of war come home to roost slowly and often imperceptibly. There's no limit to how responsible we can be as co-participants in vast systems of interdependencies. War is a failure to communicate and to learn about others' viewpoints, commitments and subtle interests. War becomes obsolete as collaboration becomes normal.

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