Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Learning War

Why would anyone entertain the idea of going to war if they didn’t have to do so?

Consider: a tad beyond ¾ of a century ago, soldiers of the Imperial Japanese army opened the first identifiable warfighting front of what would eventually become World War II. At the time (1931), few U.S. “foreign affairs specialists” other than State Department desk officers could name the countries that fell under even partial occupation.

As is the case for crude oil today for the United States, Japan’s motivation for war in the 1930s was economic – how to fuel its growing need for vital raw materials that were scarce (phosphate, oil, iron ore, copper and rubber ) or that were effectively non-existent. Only in coal was Japan self-sufficient – and even that could not be counted on forever.

Today, and as the world moves further into the 21st century, the many tomorrows of the century will see a steady decline in the availability of mineral and other resources that world economies need to keep going. And, as happened in the early 1930s, countries will be tempted more and more to seize what they deem is their “fair share” – or even more than their share.

Some countries will not be inclined to war for resources. Costa Rica, for example, has no army to send. Article 9 of the American-dictated post-World War II Japanese constitution forbids the Japanese government from using warfare as an instrument of the nation’s foreign policy.
And although there have been trial balloons about revising or even eliminating Article 9 altogether, there seems to be continuing reluctance to do so.

This suggests that warfare per se is a learned behavior. As a people, prior to the 7th century CE, arguably the most feared warriors in Asia were from Tibet. Moreover, the two countries that produced a formally recognized warrior class were Japan (samurai) and India (kshatriya). Perhaps the nearest European equivalent were the condottiere, but these were mercenaries.

The point of these musings? What is learned and practiced in one generation can be unlearned. The Japanese seem to be holding the line against war; Tibetans took some three centuries to abandon war. The U.S., however, would seem not to have taken even the first step away from war.

Consider: the first words that the U.S. negotiator says when sitting down to negotiate with an antagonist is “nothing is off the table” – code for military action.


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