Of course, it's tempting to close one's eyes to history and instead to speculate about the roots of war in some possible animal instinct. As if, like the tiger, we still had to kill to live or like the robin redbreast to defend a nesting territory. But war, organized war, is not a human instinct. It is a highly planned and cooperative form of theft. And that form of theft began ten-thousand years ago when the harvesters of wheat accumulated a surplus and the nomads rose out of the desert to rob them of what they themselves could not provide. The evidence for that, we saw, in the walled city of Jericho and it's prehistoric tower. That is the beginning of war."
- Jacob Bronowski in "Harvest of Seasons" of "The Ascent of Man"
Some ideas of my own on the quote:
Undoubtedly also the hunter-gatherers who ruled the world for hundreds of thousands of years before the birth of agriculture did have a lot of endemic violence. However, the example of modern hunter-gatherers does show that it was quite certainly performed as rather spontaneous or at least short-lived outbursts of violence. This kind of violence is very different from the real wars that the later agricultural societies did develop.
Jacob Bronowski speaks here of systematic waging of war and not violence in general. After all, theyt are two quite different things. Systematic waging of war just cannot be done before there is a society to run it. Of course, there must some kind of collected wealth waiting somewhere that is worth stealing with the use of collective force.
Jacob Bronowski does not say that there would not have been violence before the advent of agriculture. He does not say that humans would have been less violent in the earlier stages of their development either.
However, one needs to pause to ask here if chimpanzees will train their young for war, indoctrinate them to believe in their own superiority, send them to camps to learn the necessary fighting skills, organize them in units, and systematically plan for attacks beforehand?
The answer is simply; no. Chimpanzees have violence and they have border-clashes. They even have fights involving large groups of individuals. However, they will not wage systematic wars. The violence in which they engage just is never similar planned and organized activity as modern human warfare is.
To me use of violence is always really a show of failure of all others means to further a policy. There is of course endless amount of different reasons for wars, but all too often wars are just stumbled into. The most magnificent example of this as was the First World War. It was a classical example of pure stupidity and incompetence of leaders of nations involved killing millions of people.
The second war in Iraq comes to mind without searching also, when one thinks of wars where the simple ignorance and stupidity of the national leaders has caused intense suffering. Many even passionate and intelligent people fall into the fallacy of thinking wars only in terms of 'good' guys using violence as a means of self-defense.
However, continuing to accept war as a valid tool of international policy will always also give encouragement to new attackers. If, for example, there would be in existence a real and working international court which would judge all wars and punish those who have unnecessarily used organized violence, the eagerness of world-leaders to solve international problems with violence undoubtedly would diminish very soon.
(This piece was completely refurbished on 28th of November, 2012)
Jacob Bronowski is in Facebook at:
"Jacob Bronowski (18 January 1908 – 22 August 1974) was a Polish-Jewish British mathematician, biologist, historian of science, theatre author, poet and inventor. He is best remembered as the presenter and writer of the 1973 BBC television documentary series, The Ascent of Man, and the accompanying book."