Charles Darwin Has Much to Teach Us About War

U.S. military intervention in Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein led to the creation of ISIS. Military intervention in Libya and the overthrow of Gaddafi led to chaos and the spread of ISIS to the region. U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan, which initially dislocated the Taliban, has enabled the return of the Taliban to dominance. Why is this? Partly because the U.S. does not understand the ecology of war. The U.S. sees war as a great simplifier, but events prove that war usually generates complexity and chaos. The U.S. also thinks in the short-term, rarely considering the long-term impacts of military action. These are lessons I attempted to grapple with in this article on Charles Darwin’s ideas about the state of nature and its complexity when it experiences hammer blows of change. This complexity is something that U.S. politicians rarely discuss when they talk about war. The rhetoric of people like Trump, Cruz, and Clinton promotes a bigger, stronger, more aggressive and more violent military. Juvenile thinking about war leads to quagmires and disaster, a price America seems willing to pay as long as war remains far from its shores. But for how much longer? How long before the hammer blows of war ripple across the face of nature to disrupt democracy in America? Indeed, these ripples are already striking home, strengthening militarism in the USA and silencing serious talk of pursuing less violent courses in the world.

Bracing Views

Charles Darwin Charles Darwin

W.J. Astore.  Also at Huff Post.

America’s thinking about military action is impoverished. The U.S. military speaks of precision munitions and surgical strikes, suggesting a process that is controllable and predictable. Experts cite Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz for his axiom that war is a continuation of political discourse with the admixture of violent means. Here, military action is normalized as an extreme form of politics, suggesting again a measure of controllability and predictability.

But what if war is almost entirely imprecise and unpredictable? What if military action and its impacts are often wildly out of line with what the “experts” anticipate? In fact, this is precisely what military history shows, time and time again, to include recent U.S. military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

U.S. military action essentially acts like hammer blows that upset the state of nature within the complex ecologies of societies like…

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