Tom Clancy calls John Keegan “the best military historian of our generation.” Keegan’s A History of Warfare came highly recommended by a friend currently working as an operator with Special Forces. Even just in the introduction it is clear why this book is so respected. Keegan has chops.
But he ends his introduction with an unfortunate weakness. He argues that, in the nuclear age, modern man is losing his taste for war. He raises possibility that man may progress past warmaking. This is a wrong way to anticipate the road mankind will travel.
Sometimes wars just don’t make sense. They’re started for dumb reasons or started without a sensible counting of the cost. An example of this would be the War Between the States. Can one really argue that the Northern States were sensible to invade the Southern States to force them back into the union? Or, if you want to give the Northern, post-war justification for the war, that it was waged to end slavery, can you really argue that war was the justified means to end slavery, when it was ended everywhere else in the Christian West apart from war? Can you really say that the cost, the bloodiest war in American history and mass starvation and the undoing of constitutional order, was worth the reward? It’s certainly popular to say nowadays, but the math doesn’t make that much sense.
More wars than not can probably be chalked up to this dumb category, bad reasons and bad counting. If that’s the case, that they aren’t the fruit of sharp rationality, it wouldn’t follow that they’ll go away because of the increased toll on mankind that technology brings to warfare. That kind of argument presumes that stuff is making sense along the way, and that’s just not how man often functions. Man goes crazy in hatred, in lust, in covetousness, and does all sorts of crazy, violent things as a result, including bad warmaking.
Sometimes wars make sense even in the face of dramatic costs. Richard Cameron and his brother declared war against Charles II, even though the cost seemed likely to be their total annihilation and the chance of reward was almost non-existent. It was still the right thing to do because Charles’ men were charged with going throughout Scotland, torturing and murdering Christians unchecked. It could be argued that their war was one of necessity. And, even if there are some who would disagree with that specific analysis, all but pacifists recognize that such wars do take place, wars of necessity.
Why do wars of necessity arise? They arise because man is evil, and gives vent to his evil even with great organization. And quite infrequently are such men stopped through diplomacy. James II wasn’t stopped through diplomacy. He was stopped by the organized violence of the Orangemen. Even if modern man loses his taste for war because of robotic and nuclear threats (ignoring all the men outside the modernized world), some wicked men who just don’t give a damn will organize together to bring great harm on the weak. And strong, violent men will have to rise up and defeat them in war.
War will come to an end. But it will do so not as an effect of man’s sensibilities changing in light of technology. War will come to an end when the righteousness of Christ effects its rule among all the nations, when their swords are beaten to plowshares and all the kings of the earth spend their time bringing treasures into Zion.