This is an ambitious book. It sets out to find the answers to the most fundamental questions relating to the ‘riddle of war’. Why do people engage in the deadly and destructive activity of fighting? Is it rooted in human nature or is it a late cultural invention? Have people always engaged in fighting or did they start to do so only with the advent of agriculture, the state, and civilization? How were these, and later, major developments in human history affected by war and, in turn, how did they affect war? Under what conditions, if at all, can war be eliminated, and is it declining at present? These questions are not new and have seemingly resisted conclusive answers to the point that both questions and answers appear almost as clichés. In reality, however, they have very rarely been subjected to rigorous comprehensive investigation and, indeed, have largely been regarded as being too ‘big’ for serious scholarly treatment. With war being connected to everything else and everything else being connected to war, explaining war and tracing its development in relation to human development in general almost amount to a theory and history of everything. As so much is relevant to the subject, one is required to read pretty much ‘everything’ and become sufficiently expert in many fields. These are the prerequisites that it has been necessary to meet to produce this book.
Indeed, in pursuing the subject of war the book draws on information and insights from a wide range of scholarly disciplines and branches of knowledge, most notably: animal behavior (ethology), evolutionary theory, evolutionary psychology, anthropology, archaeology, history, historical sociology, and political science. Separated from each other by disciplinary walls, they all too often remain self-contained and oblivious of, if not downright hostile to, the other’s methods, perspectives, and bodies of knowledge.
The book has been nine years in the making, between 1996 and 2005. When I began working on it the Cold War had ended and a New World Order of peace had been proclaimed. I finished the book after the 11 September 2001 attacks in the USA, which foreshadow the possibility of unconventional terror and again make war a topical issue and the subject of wide public interest and concern. Although these events have inevitably left their mark on the book, particularly on its penultimate chapter, the motivation behind the book and its main arguments are independent of them. At the same time, aimed at a comprehensive understanding, this book will, it is hoped, be of some use to anybody to whom world developments—past and present—have made to ponder the puzzle of war.
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