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ACCIDENTS AS REASONS FOR WAR, or "casus belli," have never been in short supply throughout history. They have broken the peace with an almost timely precision that seems to be part of the "eternal return" concept that governs our world. The Romans were convinced of that cycle, and they had a philosophical saying for it: Si vis pacem, para bellum/pray for peace, but prepare for war. This also translates as "pray for the best, prepare for the worst."
Because of wars, history very seldom respected the divine plan of harmonious living or the thoughtful intention of humans to live in peace. The Communist dictator Mao Tse-tung distilled this entire philosophy to, "War and peace transform themselves into each other." It looks as though peace is more like a rest between wars—a time for a nation to recover and get ready for another military strike.
History has also proven that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, all ending in bitter conflicts. What goes wrong so often that war is the only viable solution to even non-violent problems? Some of the causes for going to a war are listed below.
The first reason for a war is the inborn fighting instinct. Since men do not want to share absolute control, the same jobs, and individual wealth, it is only natural for them to cross paths and become each others' enemies. This applies on a much larger scale to nations fighting for a better share of a rich land.
Natural accidents can force humans to fight. In prehistoric times, numerous natural disasters seemed to force large tribal populations to migrate to better and safer areas, where they fought wars. Noah's flood probably made the people of the flatlands invade the lands of the mountain people, and the Aryans conquer parts of India. The birth of the Indo-European race was the effect of that war.
The British islands were victims of severe climate deterioration in the twelfth century B.C., when clouds of dust blocked the sun for some twenty years. The scared and hungry islanders crossed into Europe, breeding with the Celtic tribes, until the Romans challenged their vast territories. When Caesar's legions inflicted great defeats upon the Celtic federation, many of its tribes migrated northeast. They ended up battling the Dacians, who lived in the Carpathians and on both sides of the Danube. Today, pockets of population with distinctive Irish features live in Romania as an effect of that Celtic invasion.
A main reason for going to war rests in the world of feast and famine. Trade conflicts over the control of commercial routes, fertile lands, and markets escalate into regular wars. Economic supremacy and possession of geographically restricted natural resources was and still is the most fundamental motivation for any war.
Salt became a most valuable commodity in commerce because of its use in preserving and marinating foods, its dietary and antiseptic value, and because animals needed it. Dacia (the old Romania) became a European economic power because of its numerous salt mines, and the Celts and the Romans were most eager to own them. Eventually, the Romans carried out three long wars against the Dacians to occupy their land of salt. Places like Alsace, Hallstatt, Salzburg, and some twenty towns in Romania were named after their salt mines.
Food wars led the Vikings to carry out wide military expeditions to capture food supplies of the sea and of the land. Entire fishing industries and communities were developed around whale and cod, whose entire bodies were put to a good use. The cod was easier to catch, and its white meat was the richest in proteins and the most likely to be salted and preserved. In fact, salted cod made little Portugal and Holland global maritime powers. Salted cod and salted ham became a currency of the ancient world and early Middle Ages.
The pickle industry grew equally strong, and the word "salad" meant salted food. The French Revolution was ignited by the taxation of salt, considered a food as basic as water. When fields became too salty, vast areas cultivated with grains were replaced with the salt resistant crop of barley.18
Since ancient times, barbarian invasions produced nothing but bloodbaths in civilized countries. Most of the shameless pillagers and merciless killers seemed to come to Europe from Asia via Russia. If those invaders weren't violently plundering other countries, they did not know where to go or how to live. The saying "all roads lead to Rome" was based on the barbarians' thoughts of plundering it.
Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410, which opened the door for other barbarians. They were hungry and poor, while the capital of the world was plentiful and rich. One can imagine the countless accidents and their effects when a city like Rome was looted so many times. All other prosperous cities of civilized Europe shared the same fate. Today, NATO armies are amassed along the Russian borders and the Arabian world for the same ancient reason: to protect Europe from another invasion from the East.
Because an army is an enormous expense for any nation, war is the justification for that army to exist. A good way for an army to earn its pay is by using force to capture another country's treasures. The victors appropriate the enemy's wealth, natural resources, and markets. In fancy words, it is called political and economic colonial extension. In plain English, war is greed enforced by armed actions. Today, strong industrial and civilized nations pour an enormous amount of their tax monies into the military establishment, knowing all too well that their prosperous economy and wealth must be well guarded.
Border disputes are enough reason to start a war in order to restore land to its rightful owners. Border brigandage and sea piracy by a group of armed plunderers were very often cause for regular wars between rival nations. The battles were justified by nationalism and revisionism, which is probably the most important cause for a war.
Nationalistic or political euphoria creates inherited enemies who always want to prove their true identity. Often their conflicts involve sister nations, which take a local war to an international level. A newly created political system or government can be a threat to a neighboring nation, ready to destroy what may set a bad example or instill a disrespectful attitude in a particular region. The war between North Korea and South Korea has gone on since 1952, without a peaceful solution in sight.
However, most reasons for war are accidental and hardly foreseen by the future combatants. The breach of agreements between heads of state and unfulfilled governmental or commercial contracts are formal accidents leading to a military conflict.
The American Revolutionary War against Britain began with a bureaucratic reason triggered by the Stamp Act imposed in 1765 by the Crown upon the new colonies. Basically, no public or business contract could be valid without a British stamp sealing it. Because the Americans considered themselves a nation capable of importing and exporting goods freely, Bostonians dumped a tea shipment into Boston Harbor rather than pay taxes for it. When five British soldiers fired at some 100 revolting American civilians, they began a war between the two nations, "divided by the same language."
Leaders' personal rivalries, their liking or disliking of one another, lead to alliances or military clashes. One of the main purposes of any war against a foreign power is just to change its leaders. This dates back to the animosity between the kings of the Hittites and the pharaohs, to Hitler's dislike of Stalin, to American President George W. Bush's negative feelings toward Saddam Hussein.
There is no doubt that Caesar's long campaign against the federation of the Celtic tribes was driven by his dislike of Vercingetorix/"Warrior King," who, just like his father, defied Roman military expansion into Gaul. After all, the Celts sacked Rome in 390 BC, and Caesar wanted to erase that shameful record from history. Eventually the superior discipline and training of the legionaries subdued the wild and unorganized fighting spirit of the Celts. The defeated Vercingetorix marched in Caesar's triumphant parade in Rome in 46 BC as proof of the final victory. Shortly after that, the Celtic king was murdered in his prison as the last revengeful act of Caesar.
In case of Timur Leng/Lame (1336–1405), who defeated the Golden Horde and conquered most of Asia, he hated Bayazid the Thunderbolt, the victor of Nicopolis against a Christian coalition, for a very personal reason. The sultan had spread the rumor that the savage Timur had small sex organs. Determined to teach a lesson in respect, Timur led his Mongolian armies towards Turkey, and after conquering Baghdad and Damascus, he crushingly defeated Bayazid at Ankara.
Bayazed was taken prisoner and used as a footrest19 for Timur, who was served by the sultan's wives, all topless. Bayazed went insane and died of a stroke, and the highly disturbed Timur died one year later in China. That sudden death of the Mongolian Khan was a lucky accident for the world—it prevented him from destroying the Ottoman Empire and taking the world in a different direction.
A change in the loyalties of a leader can turn him against former allies and vice versa. Stalin and Saddam Hussein are examples of such leaders, whom the United States helped to win wars against dangerous enemies only to be shown ingratitude. After Stalin defeated the Germans, he started the Cold War. After Hussein defeated the Iranians, he turned against the Americans who put him in power.
Because of the above reasons, military actions can instantly replace stalled negotiations, and generals replace ambassadors. In many cases, war occurs to cover the mistakes of diplomats, as well as political or economic failures.
The personal ambition of a powerful military figure like Frederick the Great was enough to lead to international wars. This King of Prussia was determined to transform his small country into the military superpower of Europe. Once Germany united under his command, his hidden ambition was to make Berlin the new Rome and to create one European empire under German rule. Two hundred-fifty years later, Hitler almost fulfilled that military wish of the earlier German rulers.
History books hardly mention cultural reasons for war, yet, they are very important. Because the Europeans always believed themselves to be superior to Asian and Africans, they felt entitled to conquer and lead "inferior" tribes or nations. Later, in America, the Europeans felt so contemptuous for the natives' civilization that the invaders decided to get rid of them as competition for the same land.
It is not often admitted by historians, but women, and their influence on powerful leaders, were very much the cause of accidents that kindled many wars. Love for a woman led Attila the Hun to attack Rome in 451. Emperor Valentinian III demanded that his sister Honoria marry a senator she disliked. Honoria wrote a letter to Attila, enclosing her ring and begging him to rescue her. Attilla the "Scourge of God" interpreted the ring as an invitation to marry the beautiful and rich Honoria. He detoured his hordes from a pending invasion of Gaul and entered Italy to demand the hand of Honoria. Valentinian refused him, and the furious and humiliated Attila put Rome under siege. Again, another accident changed history. The Eternal City was spared from being reduced to a mountain of rubble when a deadly plague erupted within the walls of capital, scaring the Huns away.
When King Louis VII returned from the very unsuccessful Second Crusade, he returned to his moody queen, Eleonor, who hated the long whiskers he grew during the sacred war. She gave him an ultimatum to shave his face or to face divorce. The king refused, the queen divorced him and married Henry of Anjou, the later king of England. Eleonor demanded her original dowry be returned to her, which was the land of southern France, but the proud and greedy Louis refused. Promptly, the British declared war on France. Three hundred years of military conflicts resulted from the simple accident of a king not shaving his whiskers.
Unforeseen accidents like famine, forced the crusaders who were on their way to the Holy Land to become mercenaries of the Venetian Republic against its rival Constantinople. At that time, the city that would become the second Rome claimed to be the center of Christianity. Yet, it was the 10,000 starving crusaders and not a barbarian invasion that weakened the capital of the Eastern Roman empire. In 1204 a short-lived Latin Empire with a weak military power followed the conquest, paving the road for the Ottoman invasion.
Freak accidents following the assassination of a leader can lead to major military consequences for the rest of the world. The assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo in 1914 triggered WWI. This happened when the driver of the royal couple took a wrong turn, only to face a patriotic Serbian assassin, also accidentally present on that street. Right after the assassination, Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia; Germany declared war on Russia and France; Austria declared war on Russia, and Serbia on Montenegro and Germany. British troops landed in France, which declared war on Belgium. Russia followed France and Britain by declaring war on Turkey. Later, Romania and the United States allied themselves with France against Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The effect of a few deadly bullets shot by a civilian resulted in the deaths of fifty million soldiers and civilians during a four year global war.
An unlike accident (overlooked by history) prevented a new war in 1920 when young king Alexander of Greece got involved in a fight between his beloved dog Frits (please check spelling—Fritz?) and Moritz, a Barbary ape that happened to be on the royal grounds. Moritz bit the handsome king, who was well liked by all the Western powers, and he died of septicemia two weeks later. Constantine, his father who was despised by those same allies, returned to the throne, and Greece lost the endorsement of France and England to fight the Turks. Because of this, the Turks reclaimed their lost territories and declared the modern republic of Turkey. Thus two animals sealed the fate of King Alexander and cost Greece its last chance to win a war.
Certainly, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a convincing terrorist act that caused the neutral Americans to enter WWII. The accident comes into play because, without fighting this war, the United States of America could never have become a world military power in only a few months and remain such ever since. Another terrorist attack on Manhattan's Twin Towers prompted American troops to enter Afghanistan and Iraq to punish the sponsors of terrorist destruction.
Pure nationalism ignited by trivial accidents can be a cause for a war. When in 1969 Honduras lost a soccer game against El Salvador, most of the 300,000 Salvadorian workers in Honduras were expelled and the troops of El Salvador invaded Honduras. Eventually the volatile border matters were settled by the United States, itself beginning a distant and bloody war in Vietnam.
Racism has been a strong reason for one nation to go to war against another nation. The idea has always been a convenient springboard for aggressive actions against rival neighbors of a different skin color or even among a divided nation by the same criteria. Assyrian, Egyptian and Jewish history is full of wars intended to preserve a certain race of people and eliminate others. One unlikely war in the seventeenth century was started by the Cossacks, who under the leadership of Bogdan Khmelnitskii, revolted against the Jewish leaseholders imposed by Poland in the Ukraine. Actually, Khmelinskii was a rich Cossack whose wife was kidnapped and his son killed by a Polish landlord. That was enough reason for him to start a revolution against the foreign occupiers. The local peasants' revolt turned into an anti-Semitic uprising and snowballed into a successful war against Poland. The triumphant Cossacks liberated most of the Ukraine including Kiev and raided the Polish kingdom.
Racism was also strong in the land of the free, the United States of America, triggering the Civil War between the industrialized North and the conservative slavery system of the South. The accidental effect of this monumental war was the forced integration of all races and religions on equal terms in the eyes of the law. Ultimately, it brought prosperous peace for the entire American nation.
Thomas Malthus (1776–1834) was an English economist and philosopher who believed that the human population multiplies in a geometrical progression, while the earth's food and other resources increase in arithmetical progression. To avoid the obvious accidents of mismatched progressions, he came up with a list of how to avoid "a struggle for existence." One way to do this was to keep the birth rate in check. War was another solution. Hitler opted for both and used them as reasons to justify war.
Hitler's determination to carry out a racial war was based on an ideology pioneered by Stewart Houston Chamberlain (1855–1927) a race theorist who believed that "the whole future of Europe—that is—of world civilization—is in Germany's hands," because the Germanic people created "all present culture and civilization." His racist ideas were inspired by his father-in-law, composer Richard Wagner. In his turn, Chamberlain inspired Alfred Rosenberg, who was the leading ideologist of the Nazi movement. The movement's accidental effect was starting WWII.
Another excuse to order an army to fight a war is the much touted "national security and survival," which brought the Nazis to the gates of Moscow; the Americans to Seoul, Hanoi, and Baghdad; and the Russians and Americans to Kabul.
During the Vietnam conflict, when Americans fought the spread of Communism, black soldiers believed they fought the Vietnamese soldiers for the whites' gains. Actually, only twelve percent of American casualties were black GIs, which was about their ration to the population. However, they perceived it as a racial punishment, which was one of the reasons for the civil rights movement and the end of the 10,000-day war.
A war can be conventional when it is declared at a set time, or unconventional when it starts without warning. War is declared by a lawful government, which justifies its belligerent intentions as a preventative measure for its national survival. Unconventional war has been renamed over and over as a "police action," "to pacify a land," "to clear a territory," "to protect a territory," etc., but it is better defined as an invasion without clearly marked front lines. It is meant to surprise and panic the adversary, catching them off guard. Because of its chaotic military actions, it triggers multiple chains of accidents, which change the concept of a just war into an unjust war, and vice versa.
Even a just war for a good cause can have the wrong timing, wrong allies, wrong strategy, and wrong leaders. It can extend onto the wrong fronts, or one front can generate additional unwanted wars. These and other factors can change it into an unjust war. Any country or nation can find itself part of an "axis of evil" if that coalition is losing the war. It is historically accepted that only the victors are decreed to have been waging a just war.
The basic instinct behind going to war is revenge, which is a retaliatory action against an enemy who must be harmed for his insults. Retaliatory military actions must be conducted in order to make that enemy behave respectfully and to eventually subdue him.
The Effectological formula for War is:
Revenge × Economic Gains ÷ Accidents
In any analysis, war remains a violent clash of forces, with the bottom line being to disarm and bring the enemy to its knees, one flag replacing another flag. For sure, war is the opposite of pacifism. Regardless of the reasons, a conquest by an army means to control the wealth, natural resources, and markets of the defeated. In brief, war is another way of achieving a profit from the enemy's wealth. Admittedly or not, changes on the map of the world are the effects of wars, and civilizations were born in the killing fields.
From the Effectological point of view, no matter what the stated reason for a war, there is an accidental purpose: a transfer of power and wealth accomplished through the use of force. Predictably, the effects of that accident generate more accidents than there were in the first place. This results in a vicious circle of "punish wrong with wrong," when the victors proved to be worse than the defeated enemy. "Might is right" was always a reason for new wars.