Wednesday, 31 August 2022

On War

Okay, folks, the usual disclaimer, caveat, forwarning, foreboding and dictate: The following are the ramblings of a man with a tenuous grasp of reality, on the best of occasions. Thus, consider my musings no more than a man who has an interest in things military and, over the years, has read wide/wild and free on matters of which I have absolutely no practical experience. I am but a simple, 'Armchair Warrior' with an overactive imagination/medication. What follows is opinion and in no way should be construed as expert commentary. Consider your comments and opinions in this light. As for censure regarding my 'scholarship'. I will not hear or brook such a thing. Take from this post, what you will in the spirit of a man renowned for spouting, total and utter, bollocks. Arse.      

It has to be admitted that we are a somewhat contentious species. But we may not be the only species on the planet that actually engages in planned conflict. For instance, several ant species undertake a 'campaign' to attack other ants and destroy the 'citadel' complete/replete with resident/resplendent Queen. Our closest relatives, the pongids, specifically chimpanzees, can be particularly unpleasant. That said, over many centuries, societal pressures have shaped humans into the organised, highly efficient proponents of organised conflicts. This has not always been the case. 

Primitive humans, 12,000 years ago, lived the 'idyllic' life as hunter-gatherers. This was before our ancestors became acquainted with the joys, and fruits, of stock domestication and the cultivation of crops. The human population was low and consequently, a simple hunter-gatherer lifestyle was acceptable without conflict with other human groups practising the same mode of existence. Life within the tribal structure, by necessity dictated by the harsh mistress of survival, was highly stratified. Adult men acted in concert together to hunt prey. The larger the game taken, the better. A large animal provided the necessary protein required to maintain the family structure. Sophisticated hunting strategies focused on herd animals. Herd animals flock together for protection. But primitive hunters could utilise this tendency through tactics designed to exploit an evolutionary loophole. Thus, herding animals to a naturally enclosed area facilitates ambush and subsequent destruction by cooperating, coordinating hunters armed with javelin, spear and club. Such high protein yields were conducive to an explosion in population coupled with the development of means for meat preservation and storage in times of inevitable shortage due to seasonal fluctuations and random/unpredictable privations affecting man and prey in equal/unequal measure.

When the first wandering bands of primitive humans entered mutual violence is lost unto temporal oblivion. Reasons for conflict are also beyond extraction although reasonable scenarios may be pondered with a degree of plausibility and merit. In ecology, there is a concept called, 'Carrying Capacity'. Simply stated, the concept refers to the resources available on a unit area of land that is able to support X individuals of a particular species. In the animal world once this limit is exceeded there is a 'biological adjustment' or in common parlance: there is a degree of dying to account for the degree of disequilibrium; eventually, the adjustment is sufficient, and death, at least due to starvation, returns unto the natural carrying capacity of the environment. This is how nature works in all its feral, majestic glory- are you not in awe?      

In a situation of limited resources, strife between groups would be inevitable. The hunting tools require no modification to inflict destruction on fellow humans. The javelin and bow preclude the need to close with the 'enemy'. Even primitive, stone-age bows would be effective killers up to 50 metres. For close quarter action, stone hand axes, hafted or simply clasped, could be used to inflict disabling 'cerebral haemorrhages' on an adversary. A comment on flint tools: there is a wide misconception that flint is not particularly useful as a cutting implement. Whilst it is true that flint is easily chipped (also a helpful feature), an edge fashioned by a skilled artisan is super sharp. Indeed, in the modern context, shards of flint have been employed in delicate eye surgery. Here endeth the lesson/digression.    

Strife amongst bands of hunter-gathers would be often spontaneous events and risk-averse. The term  'risk averse' needs a little explanation. In our modern world protected by professionally trained soldiers, we have little concept of the mechanics of stone-age, conflict. Anthropological studies over the last century, focussing on 'pre-contact' groups in South-East Asia and the Amazon basin have helped to gain some perspective. Tis hard to tease out generalisations but with my characteristic, breathtaking, all-encompassing arrogance, I will do so. During contact and strife, combat is tentative. Individual warriors are very concerned with their personal safety and don't usually act in a way that we would construe as brave or bold. If the opposing warriors are of about equal 'effectiveness' (needs to be defined) casualties are often low. This is not to say that widespread killing is not an option. If one group is smaller, unprepared for battle and cannot flee, wholesale mayhem and killing are likely. Also, a similar situation can arise if a group is caught unawares and is unable to fight back. Bravery and steadfastness in battle are not something that comes naturally to our species. We have evolved to 'way up' risk in a given survival situation, and running away has always been a highly viable life and consequently evolutionary strategy. A man has to undergo rigorous training and indoctrination to become an effective soldier. Natural self-preservation instincts need to be subsumed into the unnatural, rigid and disciplined society that is a modern army. By modern army, I'm referring to armies that have existed in 'civilised' communities for the past 2,500 years. It is fair to state, that as far as Western civilisation is concerned, the Greek hoplite was the precursor and template for what followed. A template adopted/adapted by the Romans and eventually passed on to the Germanic peoples who succeeded the Romans in the West, post-collapse. I will deal with the rise of the Western way of war, defined by the concept of the set piece battle in my next post in this series of posts on 'the fundamental nature of warfare'.              


  1. well Flax - who could resist, when you call to the flags? Sorry to pull the romantic tooth of cavegentlemen. Most pehistorical tribes all over the planet used to be canibals and just neighbour´s yummie necksteak could cause war action (did´nt even Captain Cook ended up cooked?). Ethics - basicly needed to ban genozide, gaschambers, slavery, animal cruelty etc. - is a pretty young philosophical discipline and fades away immediately any next best occasion, if not maintained and defended. Fourth worldwar will be done with sticks and stones (uuh no - not Albert E. again) - watching the wheel turning back since years so obviously, we better prepare on a disturbing future. Who expected russian tanks vs. german tanks in the Ukraine so soon again?...
    Enjoy NZ, there are worse places to be. Cheers, man.

  2. I do believe that captain Cook was invited to a hungi but was unaware that he was the main course. Dining with cannibals is always risky. I have always found the notion of ethics in war to be a risible concept. The Geneva convention is the
    first casuality when men go to war. My father engaged in 'war crimes' during combat. This was not particularly noteworthy. How can you have humane rules for an activity with a primary aim to kill?

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  4. Hi Flaxon,
    you know, that I finally came to the conclusion, that individual constructivism is the most plausible explanation of that weird thing known as world (or life - meaning the same). So please stop constructing dumblings only - give (at least some of) them the courage to use reason. You may´ve got the news, that a platoon of russian infantery had just conquered a huge ukraine nuclear power plant (identical type like Tchernobyl) and use it as a fortress now, while taken under fire by ukraine artillery with large howitzers, they´ve got from the germans. Toast on good neighborhood. Cheers, man.

  5. Indeed, my friend. Rock on Christian, we are both smart enough to know how this charade plays out- violins playing 'Hallelujah' in/din the background. Makes me wanna burn stuff.