Monday, February 23, 2009

The Wherefores of Warfare

by Mort Malkin

The Wherefores of Warfare

In the good old days, the purpose of war was plunder. Plain and simple. History tells us it started in Akkadian times, about 2300 BCE, in the Fertile Crescent. Before that, the Sumerian First Cities found that trade was the way to gain wealth. But, trade spread the wealth around among the commercial class, and the king received only a small part of it through taxes. Politics demanded war.

So, Sargon I became the first King by conquest, and his grandson, Naram Sin, expanded Akkadian dominion to become the King of the Four Quarters of the World. Over the next five centuries, war and peace took their turns into the Old Babylonian period. Hammurabi came into power and the First Dynasty of Babylon became established in Mesopotamia. Yes, it was the same Hammurabi who proclaimed his famous Law Code and had it carved in stone, but the Law was not so applicable in the occupied city states of Uruk, Kish, Sippar, Esunna …

Later in that millennium, Greece and Troy found a more personal rationale for war. Paris, son of King Priam of Troy seduced Helen, the wife of King Menalaus of Sparta. The two went off to Troy, and a thousand ships were launched to take her back. Ergo, the Trojan war — all mixed up between the Greek gods & goddesses and Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world.

The next millennium saw intense competition between Greece and Persia. It became conquest for the sake of being Number One. Those upstart Greeks, how dare they start colonies on the Asian mainland & off shore islands, the Persian sphere of influence? In the fourth century BCE, a new reason for war was perceived. Alexander III, from barbarian Macedonia, felt a calling to civilize the rabble of Egypt and Asia in the superior culture of Greece. The skills of war were the means to the end. By the end of the 13 year campaign , Alex the Great became more orientalized than the hordes of the adjacent continents became westernized.

Further West, Rome and Carthage advanced the technologies and strategies of warfare,up to and including elephant cavalry. The conflict between the two powers started over which of them would have suzerainty over the Greek Colonies on Sicily and ended with a battle between the great generals Scipio and Hannibal. It was personal, but it was also political. In Rome, even in the Republic, it was always the Generals who were selected for political office. One could hardly expect to be elected Consul without a string of victories that enlarged the control of Rome.

Just before Chronology Zero and the Reign of the Prince of Peace, Rome changed from Republic to Imperium. Military campaigns went on right through the transition. It was as if warfare were the Law. Territorial expansion continued — the Near East, Northern Europe, Spain and France, England — under the Caesars until the reign of Hadrian. As Caesar, Hadrian actually gave up some of the territories conquered by his predecessor, Trajan. Hadrian sought to improve the Empire — law, literature, art, manners — rather than enlarge it. How unRoman.

The Middle Ages were rife with war, and reasons for war. Most (in)famous were the Crusades. History has it that the Crusades were fought for religious reasons — to reclaim Jerusalem from the heathens. Roman Christianity would conquer the Holy City for the true believers, the likes of Pope Urban II. But, gaining ascendancy over Byzantine Christianity was the understood reason. Power. It is curious that in the First Crusade, Jews and Arabs living together in Jerusalem were considered equal enemies and were killed for who they were. [How times have changed.] Other wars were over national honor, but markets and access to raw materials usually played an equal role. National honor, national interest, and national security have always been roughly synonymous. The Hundred Years War was fought for each and all of the above reasons, with Joan of Arc thrown in for human interest. Though the Hundred Years War lasted only 116 years, it started a tradition of enmity that lasted five centuries between Great Britain and France.

Entering relatively modern times, the 20th century and World War II, Hitler’s reasons for war started with national honor and were soon transformed to becoming king of the four quarters of the world, just like Naram Sin. At the end of the Pacific war, the atomic bomb was used by the US not so much to defeat Japan, a country that was already offering to surrender, as to show Russia that we were Number One and they had better not mess with us. The 21st century seems to have followed the earliest cycle of war — plunder (pillage, loot, booty, spoils… how many words we have). In Vietnam, we were there, not for democracy, but to block Communist dominoes. A less stated reason was to test the capability of Soviet SAM missiles. Completely under the radar of the time was the testing of Agent Orange and Agents White, Blue, and Purple. Neither was the Iraq War fought for democracy. A case may be made for war for oil — Dick Cheney was, after all, an oil baron
during his years as CEO of Halliburton. But his friend, Donald Rumsfeld, was more interested in testing new weapons: B1 bombers, white phosphorus, depleted uranium (U238), cluster bombs, and pilotless planes. Technology was driving warfare.

Recently, in 2006, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) used cluster bombs in Southern Lebanon against Hezbollah. Most recently, in the invasion of Gaza, Israel has been accused by doctors and journalists — a team that can dissect the news — of using inert heavy metal weapons that explode into micro shrapnel (DIME or HMTA explosives) against Hamas. The DIME explosives were developed at the Pentagon to cause intense damage in a small target area, thus limiting collateral damage. But, Murphy found out about the technology and invoked his Law. DIME explosives also cause rhabdomyo-sarcoma (cancer, for short) without waiting. Technology is getting too frisky. It’s time to modernize the Geneva Accords.

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