5.7 The Functions of War and the Development of a Functional Substitute


Any discussion such as the above seeking to gain perspective on the causes and effects of war is likely to become more involved with navigating through the baffling currents of popular emotion than with the relevant data themselves. But here let us turn to some more objectively analyzable issues in "What do do with war." Except for the presumed dysgenic effect in the combatant groups themselves which only a substantial replacement of population of the failing by the succeeding group might rectify one could argue that the outcome of war on the whole is likely to favor the more competent culture and thus effect a general advance. For centuries, and particularly in this century, war has become so much more complex and costly that it has shifted the basis of natural selection relatively from dependence on tactical accidents to systematic performance in economic, cutural, and scientific competition. For it is competence in these which makes it possible for a nation to maintain adequate armaments. It is noteworthy, for example, that such advanced countries in science and general organization as Sweden and Switzerland have alone developed such technically adequate nuclear weapon shelters as could save a large fraction of their national populations.

The social scientist naturally wonders whether it would not be possible to stop a war by showing that one can reliably predict before a war actually erupts, what the outcome will be. Then, as happens in areas of the law where professionals can predict accurately, the contestants would be more inclined to "reach a settlement out of court." This has not been seriously considered as yet, because of the immaturity of the social sciences, but countless writers have enjoyed the idea of some limited substitute "game," a David and Goliath duel, for example, or a joust between the members of the opposing governments. That evolution has developed something not unlike this "token war" in _battles between members of the same species_ shows that the idea is not entirely nonsensical. Ethologists tell us that among animals, _particularly the males in the same species_ (so that the species does not lose its males), a hierarchy of "political" power is established by ritual conflicts. These contests by a ritual of threat, visual evaluation of the enemy and advance or retreat (Ardrey, 1966; Kropotkin, 1902; Carr-Saunders, 1936; Lorenz, 1966) stop short of destruction. Unfortunately, the degree of "unrealism" in evolution and in the acceptance of a token surrender also permit animals stupidly to accept quite damaging aggressions (the cuckoo's stealth) if performed without heraldry of battle and by another species.

One may doubt whether with humans one could find a game so complex, and involving so much of the spirit and resources of the group, that it would be accepted as a true "equivalent" in outcome[12]. Moreover, would it also be an acceptable equivalent in terms of discharging the causative frustrated emotionalities? Fortunately, there is a sense in which a kind of mock-war is already available, with the necessary realistic equivalences, in the sheer capacity of nations to maintain deterrent defenses against being overcome in war. These defenses include much of culture, for modern war is no low-browed performance. It requires not only high technological skill but a high general cultural level in all areas for effective defenses to be maintained. And we have already recognized a substantial correlation between cultural advance and success in war itself if war is forced upon the country. Finally, let us not forget that the level of morale is an ingredient that is not only very intangible but also most important. A recent historical instance of the last is seen in the collapse of France in World War II, despite its having greater resources than Germany, through what Shirer (1969) documents as a widespread decay of morale and public morality.

Now the burden of maintenance of military insurance is in every country in competition with the demands of other "burdens" the social degeneration or welfare burden; the cost of crime; unemployment; idle rentiers; civil corruption and poverty; the unnecessary part of the educational burden (through maintaining slow learners and defective teaching methods); the excessive recreational extravagance burden for those who are not happy in their work in civilized life; and so on. In President Eisenhower's farewell address (January 17, 1961) he pointed out: "We annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States corporations." So long as there is no international police force, this is the cost of insurance against being overwhelmed by sudden attack.

So long as the magnitude of these defenses makes the cost to an attacking country an obviously prohibitive one, their maintenance succeeds in indefinitely extending a period of peace. Beyond their immediate pay-off these costs have the valuable function of providing an inter-group selection akin to that in war; for there is constant need to improve morale and mode of life if the group is not to be dangerously weakened by this burden. Furthermore, the challenge of preparedness demands good levels in that "potentiality for survival over a wider span of conditions than actually exist" which has been discussed above (page 88) as a hallmark of a more evolved culture.

While this argument is no mere attempt to make a virtue out of necessity, and recognizes that there may be better substitutes, yet we should be grateful that this necessity functions tolerably well. For one thing, its pressure makes society more alert to reducing _other_ equally undesirable and more avoidable burdens. For example, the inauguration of radically new and effective eugenic steps to reduce the burden of the occupationally incompetent and the mentally inadequate in school learning, which should have been undertaken directly as an idealistic goal by a sensitive public conscience, is at least more likely to come about when nations are severely squeezed by armament insurance and the realities of competition from other nations. The state of "war without war" or what has been called the "war of nerves" thus in fact is capable of performing much of the function of war. If a nation appreciates that a war is lost before it begins, should it break down under its burden of armaments, a badly organized country may seek to rectify its ways. When all is said, the cost of being prepared for war is a more humane source of natural selection than war itself[13]. It was, incidentally, in this sense that the poet Robert Frost, in his visit to Russian intellectuals, gave explicit thanks to this mutual national competition. And anyone familiar with the reactions of American science and education realizes that they too owe much to Sputnik.

The stimulus that lives in the residual threat of war has just been discussed largely in economic terms, but that "war without war" which, with some self-pity, has been dubbed the "war of nerves" has more direct psychological effects. What does it do to culture in the intellectual and technical sense? Just as cultural pressure correlates over countries with frequency of being in a war, so over time there is a tendency for war to give at least a temporary fillip to cultural activity, even if it drains from it later. It can be noted, for example, that Dutch painting and Scottish philosophy reached peaks at the times when the countries concerned were in their direst straits from stress of war and the same might be said of English poetry (though not in World War II). A psychologist is inclined to see the cause of this in the contagion of superego demands from the aroused and temporarily dedicated general population to the leisured intelligentsia, as well as to the loosening of accepted traditions and the increased readiness to transcend individual goals ("Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour") absent in the turgid luxury of peace.

That greater progress occurs in _science_ in wartime is well known, and understandable by more direct connections. The progress in flight and atomic physics are classical instances. But it is not merely applied science which benefits; the habit of giving substantial national support for basic science began in several countries with World War II. Nor is this stimulus to technical advance peculiar to our age. Ardrey (1961) argues cogently from the bones of _australopithecas robustus_ in African caves that the first tool of man was a weapon. And Gordon Childe (1950) represents standard archaeological opinion when he points out that the first smelting of copper (4000-3000 B.C.) was for weapons, not for ordinary tools, plates and dishes, or ornaments. Andreski's survey (1954) of history leads him to the conclusion that "At all times weapons were the most advanced gadgets which any civilization has possessed." The breakthrough in mastering nuclear power in our own generation is therefore one more example of the same principle of increased community effort and advance toward basic knowledge in wartime. For Americans it will be of interest that the National Academy of Sciences was created in 1863 in a bill signed by Lincoln with the object of getting help from science at a desperate point in the Civil War (Stevens, 1952).

But perhaps the most positive of all functions of war on the credit side of the ledger is that in the shake-up of the culture under the stresses of war new developments can come into their own, the hope of which would have been indefinitely deferred in times of peace. That war is a dissolver of old habits no longer functional scarcely needs illustration. The way in which World War II delivered millions from totalitarianism to democracy is a large scale instance. In sum, whatever else war may be it is a heightener of efforts to control and understand nature, and a spreader of more successful cultural patterns either by imposition through conquest or through imitation of the victor by the vanquished (as of the Prussian school system by France and other parts of Europe after 1870). Genetically, it could also be, by invasion, one of the most effective means of replacing a less successful by a more successful variant; but, in fact, it only poorly performs this function in modern times in as much as population transplantation comparatively rarely occurs.

If the above explorations of the wider social consequences of war may seem to those of us who hate war to emphasize some features on the credit side, it must suffice to reply that the debits are glaring and need no discussion. After suffering and death, the enormous destructive waste of war is the next most obvious calamity. However, if we define waste as unproductive expenditure, we should sharply distinguish between waste that is inefficiency in respect to clearly understood routine procedures as in poor economic and industrial organization, pointless luxury, excessive welfare burdens, avoidable illness and accident, etc. and waste that is part of trial and error learning. Much of science, e.g., the enormous expenditure of pharmaceutical corporations in research for new drugs, is "waste" of this second type. But much emotional and cultural learning also shares the quality of trial and error learning of being very costly compared to immediately insightful or simple imitative learning. War is also, among other things, a form of blind learning, and the birth of the League of Nations and a demotion of military castes following World War I were, for example, part of the "education before Verdun."

One important feature of inter-group competition, if not of war itself, of which one must never lose sight, is its "training value" for dealing also with natural catastrophe, i.e., survival against nature. The challenging pressures of the non-social, physical universe, are apt to be intermittent or too vague and unfocussed to provoke a "coping" response. Unless groups are kept "on their toes" by the challenges of other groups, they may fall asleep to the point that some quite inexorable demand, from an unusually severe challenge of nature, (which is no regarder of the readiness and maturity level of groups) takes them unawares. The story of the rocks contains many records of such comparatively sudden annihilation, e.g., of Neanderthal man. On the other hand, the social challenges of other groups, though good as "training" are likely to put some emphasis on development of specific warlike skills that are irrelevant to the real problems and challenges of nature. Intensive war selection could lead to prevalence of types like the Huns and the Assyrians. And these, like the over-antlered stag and some over-armored reptiles would prove an evolutionary blind alley.

The aim of a Beyondist morality is to find a substitute for war without losing whatever positive functions it performs. These are, primarily: being a last resort in a repertoire of natural selection methods between groups, and, secondarily, being a releaser of developmental adjustments within groups. As to the first, although one must insist on a substantial correlation between success in war and general cutural success (except for differences in size which can be compensated by wise alliances) there _can_ be better selection methods. With the advance of the social sciences the culturo-genetic levels of competitors, and therefore, the almost certain outcome of warfare between them, should be predictable, and the indicated readjustments necessary in balance of political power, in area, etc., according to merit, may perhaps be peaceably carried out.

However, this calculation may rely on artificial academic standards, and there will sometimes be countries that will justly claim a right to revert from the judgment of the court of "social science" to war[14]. More often it will be mere low rationality that will provoke such rejection of the court verdict. Then all we can say is that war is functioning to bring the residual insanity in man into full leaf, that it may be pruned. In this respect, war is a guarantor of evolution toward higher sanity ensuring that when societies are not advanced enough to maintain steadily the indispensable state of cooperative competition by civilized and effective means, competition will infallibly be maintained by a fall to a lower level. Thus it has been pointed out in history that World War I, not to mention many others, was partly due to an intolerance of the strain of commercial competition. Someday the rebound from this nadir of rationality will generate such self-discipline in men that they will never again need to fall back into war.















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