How Warfare Shaped History

How Warfare Shaped History

Warfare has shaped society from its inception. It may not be something many people are comfortable thinking about, but modern society was created by a series of wars. Impact of warfare on human society could be compared to impact of geography, climate, natural resources, economics and ideas.

Even events that had happened hundreds or thousands of years ago still revebrate to this day. Roman expansion brought the Empire into contact – and conflict – with Persia. Those two empires waged a series of wars, last and greatest of which left them both exhausted and vulnerable to expansion of Islam. And Islam expanded almost exclusively through warfare, especially in its first centuries, conquering wast swathes of territory – from Gibraltar to India, from Kazakhstan to Indonesia. Expansion of Islam brought it into contact with many peoples, including Turks – who would proceed to capture Roman Anatolia. This in turn caused Romans to turn to West for help, and this cry for help prompted the Pope to call for the First Crusade. But the Fourth Crusade would sack Constantinople, causing the Roman Empire to fragment – and while Constantinople would be recaptured, fragmentation of the Empire would endure. Eventually, constant infighting would cause Romans to turn to Ottoman Turks as mercenaries, but the Ottomans soon turned against the Empire, capturing its territories one by one. Eventually, they would set their sights on Constantinople.

Ottoman capture of Constantinople and expansion of Islam into central Asia caused the Europeans to turn to sea routes to India. This directly caused the European Age of Exploration, which in turn kicked off European colonialism – first in Americas, and then expanding to Asia, Australia and Africa. Competition for colonies, in turn, was directly responsible for the Seven Years’ War. This war in turn exhausted Britain and France both, causing first the American and then the French Revolution. While French Revolution did not have any immediate consequences, it caused a strenghtening in national feelings and the appearance of modern-day nationalism. This, in turn, caused the unification of Germany and then the Balkan Revolutions, followed by two Balkan Wars. Unified Germany sought colonies, while Britain, France and Russia sought to counter it; newly independent Serbia also sought to expand its influence on Bosnia and Croatia, thus replicating Western European colonialism within the Balkans. Imperialistic ambitions of Germany and Serbia in turn caused the First World War.

World War I itself has cast a long shadow. Misconception that the war had been caused by monarchs has helped spread democracy, but the war itself led to appearance of Communism. This in turn would lead to death of hundreds of millions as Communism waged its campaign of slaughter, and threat of Communism combined with some aspects of the leftist philosophy produced Nazism and Fascism, ideologies which combined the worst aspects of various left-wing ideologies with worst aspects of various right-wing ideologies. And this, in turn, would cause World War II.

World War II likewise throws its shadow over the entire Western society. “Nazi” is the ultimate insult, and Communism – an ideology easily as evil as Nazism – has become acceptable in many circles. Reason for this is, again, solely World War II. Communists had never militarily occupied the privileged Western nations, and Eastern Europe doesn’t matter – so the evils which Communism did there also don’t matter. This, and the status that Soviet Union had as one of Allied nations, had the effect of whitewashing Communism, allowing it to become acceptable in the mainstream. Meanwhile, the incorrect idea that racism was the only aspect of Nazism which led to genocide (in reality, socialist aspects were even more important) has led to the white guilt, globalism, multiculturalism, progressivism and spread of Marxism in the West.

Warfare also created democracy. In ancient Greek cities, it was believed that citizens had an obligation to defend their homes and cities – but this in turn meant that they had a right to vote. With the appearance of industrial revolution, it became possible – and even necessary – to conscript large numbers of people to wage wars. But this also brought an expectation among millions of men that they would have a greater say in their own society. Between this and the need for an educated and physically able populace to provide soldiers, governments were obliged to provide a range of services, from education to unemployment ensurance. And in order to fight wars, strong nation-states with centralized governments and organized bureocracies had to be created. These states also had to provide education – not just so that soldiers could know how to read and write, but also to ensure that national loyalty would trump local loyalties. Democracy, centralized nation-states and appearance of social state were all a result of need to fight and win wars – to draw upon the will of the citizens and resources of the society in order to fight wars that were more intense than ever. Without wars, we would have no nation-state, no social state and no democracy.

This fact is largely ignored today. It is uncomfortable, and at any rate, modern Western societies had been spared the first-hand experiences of open warfare. They had sent soldiers to fight abroad, but most of the population remains untouched by war. As a result, it was – and is – easy to forget how ubiqutous warfare was and still is, how important it is to human development. People living in the West easily assume that sociological development automatically brings peace, and that the world has seen a decline in deaths from war. Peace is seen as a normal state of affairs, while war is seen as something that happens when peace breaks down – an abberation. At best, war is seen in the media, as entertainment and a break with monotone and insecure present. At worst, war – a force that has shaped and changed the course of human history as often and as significantly as any other – is completely ignored. Perhaps it is because of the completely irrational belief that rationally thinking about something automatically means giving it approval – a belief that is easy to notice in certain other areas of historical study.

But reality does not stop being real simply because you don’t like it. In fact, current reality was shaped by war. Many modern societies and states exist only because of war. Many societies through history have disappeared because of war. Some of the best works of art and literature had been inspired by it. Homer’s Illiad, Beethoven’s Eroica, Britten’s War Requiem, Goya’s The Disasters of War, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Picasso’s Guernica… have all been inspired by war. Popular literature, such as comic books, is also very frequently written around war or armed conflict in general. War-themed PC games are exptremely popular, and many sporting events are akin to warfare, with different teams competing for goals – and some even started as actual training for war. Many proverbs and common sayings originated with the military. After the Punic wars, Romans used a sarcastic term fides Punica (“Punic good faith”). Expression “flash in the pan” for something useless originated from the early guns, when gunpowder meant to ignite the charge flared uselessly. Term “campaign” is now used for almost any organized, protracted effort at something, and of course, there is a “war on” everything – drugs, terrorism, hate and so on. Corporations and planners develop campaigns and strategies. Names of places are given after significant battles or leaders, and memorials are raised to people and events of wars. Many memorabilia are kept in families, and old battlefields are still giving up remains of weapons, equipment, uniforms and people.

All of this speaks of the loss and destruction caused by war, but also of its organization. Political organization may have appeared, in part, because of the needs of defense against neighbors. And from its very beginnings, warfare was one of the primary forces shaping society, its development, appearance and function. War caused the appearance of governments, and later also led to their development. In fact, almost everything seen as good in modern society – organized government, social security, education, democracy, law and order, women’s rights, and so on – is a direct consequence of war.

War itself is a thing of extremes – and also of opposites. It has shown us the greatest examples of cruelty, but also of kindness. It requires willingness to kill, but also altruism. War can produce treachery, but also honor and nobility. And these views are not mutually exclusive, or false.

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