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Stele of Vultures detail 01a.jpg Bayeuxtapestryscene52.jpg
Napoleons retreat from moscow.jpg British Mark I male tank Somme 25 September 1916.jpg
Into the Jaws of Death 23-0455M edit.jpg Castle Romeo.jpg
Clockwise from top left: Ancient Warfare: Stele of the Vultures, c 2500 BC. Medieval Warfare: Battle of Hastings, 1066. Industrial Age Warfare: Battle of the Somme, 1916. Nuclear War: Nuclear weapon test, 1954. Modern warfare: Into the Jaws of Death , 1944. Early Modern Warfare: Retreat from Moscow, 1812.

War is a state of armed conflict between states, governments, societies and informal paramilitary groups, such as mercenaries, insurgents and militias. It is generally characterized by extreme violence, aggression, destruction, and mortality, using regular or irregular military forces. Warfare refers to the common activities and characteristics of types of war, or of wars in general. [1] Total war is warfare that is not restricted to purely legitimate military targets, and can result in massive civilian or other non-combatant suffering and casualties.

State (polity) Organised community living under a system of government; either a sovereign state, constituent state, or federated state

The term state refers to a form of polity that is typically characterised as a centralized organisation. There is no single, undisputed definition of what constitutes a state. A widely-used definition is a state being a polity that, within a given territory, maintains a monopoly on the use of force, but many other widely used definitions exist.

A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, often a state.

Society Social group involved in persistent social interaction

A society is a group of individuals involved in persistent social interaction, or a large social group sharing the same geographical or social territory, typically subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations. Societies are characterized by patterns of relationships between individuals who share a distinctive culture and institutions; a given society may be described as the sum total of such relationships among its constituent of members. In the social sciences, a larger society often exhibits stratification or dominance patterns in subgroups.


The scholarly study of war is sometimes called polemology ( /ˌpɒləˈmɒləi/ POL-ə-MOL-ə-jee), from the Greek polemos, meaning "war", and -logy , meaning "the study of".

War studies, sometimes called polemology, is the multi-disciplinary study of war. The word derives from Ancient Greek πόλεμος + -logy".

Greek language Language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

While some scholars see war as a universal and ancestral aspect of human nature, [2] others argue it is a result of specific socio-cultural, economic, or ecological circumstances. [3]

Human nature is a bundle of characteristics, including ways of thinking, feeling, and acting, which humans are said to have naturally. The term is often regarded as capturing what it is to be human, or the essence of humanity. The term is controversial because it is disputed whether or not such an essence exists. Arguments about human nature have been a mainstay of philosophy for centuries and the concept continues to provoke lively philosophical debate. The concept also continues to play a role in science, with neuroscientists, psychologists and social scientists sometimes claiming that their results have yielded insight into human nature. Human nature is traditionally contrasted with characteristics that vary among humans, such as characteristics associated with specific cultures. Debates about human nature are related to, although not the same as, debates about the comparative importance of genes and environment in development.


Mural of War (1896), by Gari Melchers Gari-Melchers-War-Highsmith.jpeg
Mural of War (1896), by Gari Melchers

The English word war derives from the 11th-century Old English words wyrre and werre, from Old French werre (also guerre as in modern French), in turn from the Frankish *werra, ultimately deriving from the Proto-Germanic *werzō 'mixture, confusion'. The word is related to the Old Saxon werran, Old High German werran, and the German verwirren, meaning “to confuse”, “to perplex”, and “to bring into confusion”. [4]

Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest historical form of the English language, spoken in England and southern and eastern Scotland in the early Middle Ages. It was brought to Great Britain by Anglo-Saxon settlers probably in the mid-5th century, and the first Old English literary works date from the mid-7th century. After the Norman conquest of 1066, English was replaced, for a time, as the language of the upper classes by Anglo-Norman, a relative of French. This is regarded as marking the end of the Old English era, as during this period the English language was heavily influenced by Anglo-Norman, developing into a phase known now as Middle English.

Old French was the language spoken in Northern France from the 8th century to the 14th century. In the 14th century, these dialects came to be collectively known as the langue d'oïl, contrasting with the langue d'oc or Occitan language in the south of France. The mid-14th century is taken as the transitional period to Middle French, the language of the French Renaissance, specifically based on the dialect of the Île-de-France region.

Franks Germanic people

The Franks were a collection of Germanic peoples, whose name was first mentioned in 3rd century Roman sources, associated with tribes on the Lower and Middle Rhine, on the edge of the Roman Empire. Later the term was associated with later Romanized Germanic dynasties within the collapsing Western Roman Empire, who eventually commanded the whole region between the rivers Loire and Rhine. They then imposed power over many other post-Roman kingdoms and Germanic peoples, and still later they were given recognition by the Catholic Church as successors to the old rulers of the Western Roman Empire.

Types of warfare

Asymmetric warfare is war between belligerents whose relative military power differs significantly, or whose strategy or tactics differ significantly. This is typically a war between a standing, professional army and an insurgency or resistance movement militias who often have status of unlawful combatants.

A belligerent is an individual, group, country, or other entity that acts in a hostile manner, such as engaging in combat. Belligerent comes from Latin, literally meaning "one who wages war". Unlike the use of belligerent as an adjective to mean aggressive, its use as a noun does not necessarily imply that a belligerent country is an aggressor.

Biological warfare Use of biological toxins or infectious agents as an act of war

Biological warfare (BW)—also known as germ warfare—is the use of biological toxins or infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi with the intent to kill or incapacitate humans, animals or plants as an act of war. Biological weapons are living organisms or replicating entities that reproduce or replicate within their host victims. Entomological (insect) warfare is also considered a type of biological weapon. This type of warfare is distinct from nuclear warfare and chemical warfare, which together with biological warfare make up NBC, the military initialism for nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare using weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). None of these are considered conventional weapons, which are deployed primarily for their explosive, kinetic, or incendiary potential.


The percentages of men killed in war in eight tribal societies, and Europe and the U.S. in the 20th century. (Lawrence H. Keeley, archeologist) War deaths caused by warfare.svg
The percentages of men killed in war in eight tribal societies, and Europe and the U.S. in the 20th century. (Lawrence H. Keeley, archeologist)

The earliest evidence for prehistoric warfare belongs to the Mesolithic cemetery Site 117, which has been determined to be approximately 14,000 years old. About forty-five percent of the skeletons there displayed signs of violent death. [7] Since the rise of the state some 5,000 years ago, [8] military activity has occurred over much of the globe. The advent of gunpowder and the acceleration of technological advances led to modern warfare. According to Conway W. Henderson, "One source claims that 14,500 wars have taken place between 3500 BC and the late 20th century, costing 3.5 billion lives, leaving only 300 years of peace (Beer 1981: 20)." [9] An unfavorable review of this estimate [10] mentions the following regarding one of the proponents of this estimate: "In addition, perhaps feeling that the war casualties figure was improbably high, he changed "approximately 3,640,000,000 human beings have been killed by war or the diseases produced by war" to "approximately 1,240,000,000 human beings...&c."" The lower figure is more plausible, [11] but could also be on the high side, considering that the 100 deadliest acts of mass violence between 480 BC and 2002 AD (wars and other man-made disasters with at least 300,000 and up to 66 million victims) claimed about 455 million human lives in total. [12] Primitive warfare is estimated to have accounted for 15.1 % of deaths and claimed 400 million victims. [13] Added to the aforementioned (and perhaps too high) figure of 1,240 million between 3500 BC and the late 20th century, this would mean a total of 1,640,000,000 people killed by war (including deaths from famine and disease caused by war) throughout the history and pre-history of mankind. For comparison, an estimated 1,680,000,000 people died from infectious diseases in the 20th century. [14] Nuclear warfare breaking out in August 1988, when nuclear arsenals were at peak level, and the aftermath thereof, could have reduced human population from 5,150,000,000 by 1,850,000,000 to 3,300,000,000 within a period of about one year, according to a projection that did not consider "the most severe predictions concerning nuclear winter". [15] This would have been a proportional reduction of the world’s population exceeding the reduction caused in the 14th century by the Black Death, and comparable in proportional terms with the plague’s impact on Europe's population in 1346–53.

Prehistoric warfare refers to war that occurred between societies without recorded history.

Gunpowder explosive most commonly used as propellant in firearms

Gunpowder, also known as black powder to distinguish it from modern smokeless powder, is the earliest known chemical explosive. It consists of a mixture of sulfur (S), charcoal (C), and potassium nitrate (saltpeter, KNO3). The sulfur and charcoal act as fuels while the saltpeter is an oxidizer. Because of its incendiary properties and the amount of heat and gas volume that it generates, gunpowder has been widely used as a propellant in firearms, artillery, rockets, and fireworks, and as a blasting powder in quarrying, mining, and road building.

Nuclear warfare conflict or strategy in which nuclear weaponry is used to inflict damage on an opponent

Nuclear warfare is a military conflict or political strategy in which nuclear weaponry is used to inflict damage on the enemy. Nuclear weapons are weapons of mass destruction; in contrast to conventional warfare, nuclear warfare can produce destruction in a much shorter time and can have a long-lasting radiological warfare result. A major nuclear exchange would have long-term effects, primarily from the fallout released, and could also lead to a "nuclear winter" that could last for decades, centuries, or even millennia after the initial attack. Some analysts dismiss the nuclear winter hypothesis, and calculate that even with nuclear weapon stockpiles at Cold War highs, although there would be billions of casualties, billions more rural people would nevertheless survive. However, others have argued that secondary effects of a nuclear holocaust, such as nuclear famine and societal collapse, would cause almost every human on Earth to starve to death.

In War Before Civilization , Lawrence H. Keeley, a professor at the University of Illinois, says approximately 90–95% of known societies throughout history engaged in at least occasional warfare, [16] and many fought constantly. [17]

Keeley describes several styles of primitive combat such as small raids, large raids, and massacres. All of these forms of warfare were used by primitive societies, a finding supported by other researchers. [18] Keeley explains that early war raids were not well organized, as the participants did not have any formal training. Scarcity of resources meant defensive works were not a cost-effective way to protect the society against enemy raids. [19]

William Rubinstein wrote "Pre-literate societies, even those organised in a relatively advanced way, were renowned for their studied cruelty...'archaeology yields evidence of prehistoric massacres more severe than any recounted in ethnography [i.e., after the coming of the Europeans].'" [20]

Japanese samurai attacking a Mongol ship, 13th century MokoShuraiE-Kotoba IV.jpg
Japanese samurai attacking a Mongol ship, 13th century

In Western Europe, since the late 18th century, more than 150 conflicts and about 600 battles have taken place. [21] During the 20th century, war resulted in a dramatic intensification of the pace of social changes, and was a crucial catalyst for the emergence of the Left as a force to be reckoned with. [22]

According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census (1894), the Indian Wars of the 19th century cost the lives of about 50,000. Custer Massacre At Big Horn, Montana June 25 1876.jpg
According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census (1894), the Indian Wars of the 19th century cost the lives of about 50,000.

In 1947, in view of the rapidly increasingly destructive consequences of modern warfare, and with a particular concern for the consequences and costs of the newly developed atom bomb, Albert Einstein famously stated, "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones." [24]

Mao Zedong urged the socialist camp not to fear nuclear war with the United States since, even if "half of mankind died, the other half would remain while imperialism would be razed to the ground and the whole world would become socialist." [25]

A distinctive feature since 1945 is the absence of wars between major powers--indeed the near absence of any traditional wars between established countries. The major exceptions were the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, the Iran–Iraq War 1980-1988, and the Gulf War of 1990-91. Instead actual fighting has largely been a matter of civil wars and insurgencies. [26]

The Human Security Report 2005 documented a significant decline in the number and severity of armed conflicts since the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s. However, the evidence examined in the 2008 edition of the Center for International Development and Conflict Management's "Peace and Conflict" study indicated the overall decline in conflicts had stalled. [27]


Global deaths in conflicts since the year 1400. Wars-Long-Run-military-civilian-fatalities.png
Global deaths in conflicts since the year 1400.

Military and civilian casualties in recent human history

Disability-adjusted life year for war per 100,000 inhabitants in 2004
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no data
less than 100
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Disability-adjusted life year for war per 100,000 inhabitants in 2004
  no data
  less than 100
  more than 8800

Human history had numerous wars coming and going, but the average number of people dying from war has fluctuated relatively little, being about 1 to 10 people dying per 100,000. However, major wars over shorter periods have resulted in much higher casualty rates, with 100-200 casualties per 100,000 over a few years. While conventional wisdom holds that casualties have increased in recent times due to technological improvements in warfare, this is not generally true. For instance, the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) had about the same number of casualties per capita as World War I, although it was higher during World War II (WWII). That said, overall the number of casualties from war has not significantly increased in recent times. Quite to the contrary, on a global scale the time since WWII has been unusually peaceful. [30]

Largest by death toll

The deadliest war in history, in terms of the cumulative number of deaths since its start, is World War II, from 1939 to 1945, with 60–85 million deaths, followed by the Mongol conquests [31] at up to 60 million. As concerns a belligerent's losses in proportion to its prewar population, the most destructive war in modern history may have been the Paraguayan War (see Paraguayan War casualties). In 2013 war resulted in 31,000 deaths, down from 72,000 deaths in 1990. [32] In 2003, Richard Smalley identified war as the sixth biggest problem (out of ten) facing humanity for the next fifty years. [33] War usually results in significant deterioration of infrastructure and the ecosystem, a decrease in social spending, famine, large-scale emigration from the war zone, and often the mistreatment of prisoners of war or civilians. [34] [35] [36] For instance, of the nine million people who were on the territory of the Byelorussian SSR in 1941, some 1.6 million were killed by the Germans in actions away from battlefields, including about 700,000 prisoners of war, 500,000 Jews, and 320,000 people counted as partisans (the vast majority of whom were unarmed civilians). [37] Another byproduct of some wars is the prevalence of propaganda by some or all parties in the conflict, [38] and increased revenues by weapons manufacturers. [39]

Three of the ten most costly wars, in terms of loss of life, have been waged in the last century. These are the two World Wars, followed by the Second Sino-Japanese War (which is sometimes considered part of World War II, or as overlapping). Most of the others involved China or neighboring peoples. The death toll of World War II, being over 60 million, surpasses all other war-death-tolls. [40]

60.7–84.61939–1945 World War II (see World War II casualties) [41] [42]
6013th century Mongol Conquests (see Mongol invasions and Tatar invasions) [43] [44] [45]
401850–1864 Taiping Rebellion (see Dungan revolt) [46]
391914–1918 World War I (see World War I casualties) [47]
36755–763 An Lushan Rebellion (death toll uncertain) [48]
251616–1662 Qing dynasty conquest of Ming dynasty [40]
201937–1945 Second Sino-Japanese War [49]
201370–1405Conquests of Tamerlane [50] [51]
161862–1877 Dungan revolt [ citation needed ]
5–91917–1922 Russian Civil War and Foreign Intervention [52]

On military personnel

Military personnel subject to combat in war often suffer mental and physical injuries, including depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, disease, injury, and death.

In every war in which American soldiers have fought in, the chances of becoming a psychiatric casualty – of being debilitated for some period of time as a consequence of the stresses of military life – were greater than the chances of being killed by enemy fire.

No More Heroes, Richard Gabriel [21]

During World War II, research conducted by US Army Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall found, on average, 15% to 20% of American riflemen in WWII combat fired at the enemy. [53] In Civil War Collector’s Encyclopedia, F.A. Lord notes that of the 27,574 discarded muskets found on the Gettysburg battlefield, nearly 90% were loaded, with 12,000 loaded more than once and 6,000 loaded 3 to 10 times. These studies suggest most military personnel resist firing their weapons in combat, that – as some theorists argue – human beings have an inherent resistance to killing their fellow human beings. [53] Swank and Marchand’s WWII study found that after sixty days of continuous combat, 98% of all surviving military personnel will become psychiatric casualties. Psychiatric casualties manifest themselves in fatigue cases, confusional states, conversion hysteria, anxiety, obsessional and compulsive states, and character disorders. [53]

One-tenth of mobilised American men were hospitalised for mental disturbances between 1942 and 1945, and after thirty-five days of uninterrupted combat, 98% of them manifested psychiatric disturbances in varying degrees.

14–18: Understanding the Great War, Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau, Annette Becker [21]
The Apotheosis of War (1871) by Vasily Vereshchagin 800px-Apotheosis.jpg
The Apotheosis of War (1871) by Vasily Vereshchagin

Additionally, it has been estimated anywhere from 18% to 54% of Vietnam war veterans suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. [53]

Based on 1860 census figures, 8% of all white American males aged 13 to 43 died in the American Civil War, including about 6% in the North and approximately 18% in the South. [54] The war remains the deadliest conflict in American history, resulting in the deaths of 620,000 military personnel. United States military casualties of war since 1775 have totaled over two million. Of the 60 million European military personnel who were mobilized in World War I, 8 million were killed, 7 million were permanently disabled, and 15 million were seriously injured. [55]

The remains of dead Crow Indians killed and scalped by Sioux c. 1874 DeadCrowIndians1874.jpg
The remains of dead Crow Indians killed and scalped by Sioux c. 1874

During Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, more French military personnel died of typhus than were killed by the Russians. [56] Of the 450,000 soldiers who crossed the Neman on 25 June 1812, less than 40,000 returned. More military personnel were killed from 1500–1914 by typhus than from military action. [57] In addition, if it were not for modern medical advances there would be thousands more dead from disease and infection. For instance, during the Seven Years' War, the Royal Navy reported it conscripted 184,899 sailors, of whom 133,708 died of disease or were 'missing'. [58]

It is estimated that between 1985 and 1994, 378,000 people per year died due to war. [59]

On civilians

Les Grandes Miseres de la guerre depict the destruction unleashed on civilians during the Thirty Years' War. The Hanging by Jacques Callot.jpg
Les Grandes Misères de la guerre depict the destruction unleashed on civilians during the Thirty Years' War.

Most wars have resulted in significant loss of life, along with destruction of infrastructure and resources (which may lead to famine, disease, and death in the civilian population). During the Thirty Years' War in Europe, the population of the Holy Roman Empire was reduced by 15 to 40 percent. [60] [61] Civilians in war zones may also be subject to war atrocities such as genocide, while survivors may suffer the psychological aftereffects of witnessing the destruction of war.

Most estimates of World War II casualties indicate around 60 million people died, 40 million of which were civilians. [62] Deaths in the Soviet Union were around 27 million. [63] Since a high proportion of those killed were young men who had not yet fathered any children, population growth in the postwar Soviet Union was much lower than it otherwise would have been. [64]

On the economy

Once a war has ended, losing nations are sometimes required to pay war reparations to the victorious nations. In certain cases, land is ceded to the victorious nations. For example, the territory of Alsace-Lorraine has been traded between France and Germany on three different occasions.[ citation needed ]

Typically, war becomes intertwined with the economy and many wars are partially or entirely based on economic reasons. Some economists[ who? ] believe war can stimulate a country's economy (high government spending for World War II is often credited with bringing the U.S. out of the Great Depression by most Keynesian economists) but in many cases, such as the wars of Louis XIV, the Franco-Prussian War, and World War I, warfare primarily results in damage to the economy of the countries involved. For example, Russia's involvement in World War I took such a toll on the Russian economy that it almost collapsed and greatly contributed to the start of the Russian Revolution of 1917. [65]

World War II

Ruins of Warsaw's Napoleon Square in the aftermath of World War II Cyprian War.jpg
Ruins of Warsaw's Napoleon Square in the aftermath of World War II

World War II was the most financially costly conflict in history; its belligerents cumulatively spent about a trillion U.S. dollars on the war effort (as adjusted to 1940 prices). [66] [67] The Great Depression of the 1930s ended as nations increased their production of war materials. [68]

By the end of the war, 70% of European industrial infrastructure was destroyed. [69] Property damage in the Soviet Union inflicted by the Axis invasion was estimated at a value of 679 billion rubles. The combined damage consisted of complete or partial destruction of 1,710 cities and towns, 70,000 villages/hamlets, 2,508 church buildings, 31,850 industrial establishments, 40,000 mi (64,374 km) of railroad, 4100 railroad stations, 40,000 hospitals, 84,000 schools, and 43,000 public libraries. [70]

On the arts

War leads to forced migration causing potentially large displacements of population. Among forced migrants there are usually relatively large shares of artists and other types of creative people, causing so the war effects to be particularly harmful for the country’s creative potential in the long-run. [71] War also has a negative effect on an artists’ individual life-cycle output. [72]

In war, cultural institutions, such as libraries, can become "targets in themselves; their elimination was a way to denigrate and demoralize the enemy population." The impact such destruction can have on a society is important because "in an era in which competing ideologies fuel internal and international conflict, the destruction of libraries and other items of cultural significance is neither random nor irrelevant. Preserving the world’s repositories of knowledge is crucial to ensuring that the darkest moments of history do not endlessly repeat themselves." [73]


Entities deliberately contemplating going to war and entities considering whether to end a war may formulate war aims as an evaluation/propaganda tool. War aims may stand as a proxy for national-military resolve. [74]


Fried defines war aims as "the desired territorial, economic, military or other benefits expected following successful conclusion of a war". [75]


Tangible/intangible aims:

Explicit/implicit aims:

Positive/negative aims:

War aims can change in the course of conflict and may eventually morph into "peace conditions" [81] – the minimal conditions under which a state may cease to wage a particular war.

Limiting and stopping

Anti-war rally in Washington, D.C., March 15, 2003 Washington March15 2003-02.jpg
Anti-war rally in Washington, D.C., March 15, 2003

Religious groups have long formally opposed or sought to limit war as in the Second Vatican Council document Gaudiem et Spes: "Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation." [82]

Anti-war movements have existed for every major war in the 20th century, including, most prominently, World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War. In the 21st century, worldwide anti-war movements occurred in response to the United States invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. Protests opposing the War in Afghanistan occurred in Europe, Asia, and the United States. Organizations like Stop the War Coalition, based in the United Kingdom, worked on campaigning against the war. [83]

The Mexican Drug War, with estimated casualties of 40,000 since December 2006, has recently faced fundamental opposition. [84] In 2011, the movement for peace and justice has started a popular middle-class movement against the war. It won the recognition of President Calderon, who began war. [85]

Theories of motivation

The Ottoman campaign for territorial expansion in Europe in 1566 Szigetvar 1566.jpg
The Ottoman campaign for territorial expansion in Europe in 1566

There are many theories about the motivations for war, but no consensus about which are most common. [86] Carl von Clausewitz said, 'Every age has its own kind of war, its own limiting conditions, and its own peculiar preconceptions.' [87]


Dutch psychoanalyst Joost Meerloo held that, "War is often...a mass discharge of accumulated internal rage (where)...the inner fears of mankind are discharged in mass destruction." [88] Thus war can sometimes be a means by which man's own frustration at his inability to master his own self is expressed and temporarily relieved via his unleashing of destructive behavior upon others. In this destructive scenario, these others are made to serve as the scapegoat of unspoken and subconscious frustrations and fears.

Other psychoanalysts such as E.F.M. Durban and John Bowlby have argued human beings are inherently violent. [89] This aggressiveness is fueled by displacement and projection where a person transfers his or her grievances into bias and hatred against other races, religions, nations or ideologies. By this theory, the nation state preserves order in the local society while creating an outlet for aggression through warfare.

The Italian psychoanalyst Franco Fornari, a follower of Melanie Klein, thought war was the paranoid or projective “elaboration” of mourning. [90] Fornari thought war and violence develop out of our “love need”: our wish to preserve and defend the sacred object to which we are attached, namely our early mother and our fusion with her. For the adult, nations are the sacred objects that generate warfare. Fornari focused upon sacrifice as the essence of war: the astonishing willingness of human beings to die for their country, to give over their bodies to their nation.

Despite Fornari's theory that man's altruistic desire for self-sacrifice for a noble cause is a contributing factor towards war, few wars have originated from a desire for war among the general populace. [91] Far more often the general population has been reluctantly drawn into war by its rulers. One psychological theory that looks at the leaders is advanced by Maurice Walsh. [92] He argues the general populace is more neutral towards war and wars occur when leaders with a psychologically abnormal disregard for human life are placed into power. War is caused by leaders who seek war such as Napoleon and Hitler. Such leaders most often come to power in times of crisis when the populace opts for a decisive leader, who then leads the nation to war.

Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. ... the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

Hermann Göring at the Nuremberg trials, April 18, 1946 [93]


Women and priests retrieve the dead bodies of Swabian soldiers just outside the city gates of Constance after the battle of Schwaderloh. (Luzerner Schilling) Aftermath Battle of Triboltingen.jpg
Women and priests retrieve the dead bodies of Swabian soldiers just outside the city gates of Constance after the battle of Schwaderloh. (Luzerner Schilling)

Several theories concern the evolutionary origins of warfare. There are two main schools: One sees organized warfare as emerging in or after the Mesolithic as a result of complex social organization and greater population density and competition over resources; the other sees human warfare as a more ancient practice derived from common animal tendencies, such as territoriality and sexual competition. [94]

The latter school argues that since warlike behavior patterns are found in many primate species such as chimpanzees, [95] as well as in many ant species, [96] group conflict may be a general feature of animal social behavior. Some proponents of the idea argue that war, while innate, has been intensified greatly by developments of technology and social organization such as weaponry and states. [97]

Psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker argued that war-related behaviors may have been naturally selected in the ancestral environment due to the benefits of victory. [98] [ failed verification ] He also argued that in order to have credible deterrence against other groups (as well as on an individual level), it was important to have a reputation for retaliation, causing humans to develop instincts for revenge as well as for protecting a group's (or an individual's) reputation ("honor").[ citation needed ]

Increasing population and constant warfare among the Maya city-states over resources may have contributed to the eventual collapse of the Maya civilization by AD 900. Reproduction of Bonampak murals (panorama).JPG
Increasing population and constant warfare among the Maya city-states over resources may have contributed to the eventual collapse of the Maya civilization by AD 900.

Crofoot and Wrangham have argued that warfare, if defined as group interactions in which "coalitions attempt to aggressively dominate or kill members of other groups", is a characteristic of most human societies. Those in which it has been lacking "tend to be societies that were politically dominated by their neighbors". [99]

Ashley Montagu strongly denied universalistic instinctual arguments, arguing that social factors and childhood socialization are important in determining the nature and presence of warfare. Thus, he argues, warfare is not a universal human occurrence and appears to have been a historical invention, associated with certain types of human societies. [100] Montagu's argument is supported by ethnographic research conducted in societies where the concept of aggression seems to be entirely absent, e.g. the Chewong and Semai of the Malay peninsula. [101] Bobbi S. Low has observed correlation between warfare and education, noting societies where warfare is commonplace encourage their children to be more aggressive. [102]


Kuwaiti oil wells on fire, during the Gulf War, 1 March 1991 Disabled Iraqi T-54A, T-55, Type 59 or Type 69 tank and burning Kuwaiti oil field.jpg
Kuwaiti oil wells on fire, during the Gulf War, 1 March 1991

War can be seen as a growth of economic competition in a competitive international system. In this view wars begin as a pursuit of markets for natural resources and for wealth. War has also been linked to economic development by economic historians and development economists studying state-building and fiscal capacity. [103] While this theory has been applied to many conflicts, such counter arguments become less valid as the increasing mobility of capital and information level the distributions of wealth worldwide, or when considering that it is relative, not absolute, wealth differences that may fuel wars. There are those on the extreme right of the political spectrum who provide support, fascists in particular, by asserting a natural right of a strong nation to whatever the weak cannot hold by force. [104] [105] Some centrist, capitalist, world leaders, including Presidents of the United States and U.S. Generals, expressed support for an economic view of war.


The Marxist theory of war is quasi-economic in that it states all modern wars are caused by competition for resources and markets between great (imperialist) powers, claiming these wars are a natural result of the free market and class system. Part of the theory is that war will disappear once a world revolution, over-throwing free markets and class systems, has occurred. Marxist philosopher Rosa Luxemburg theorized that imperialism was the result of capitalist countries needing new markets. Expansion of the means of production is only possible if there is a corresponding growth in consumer demand. Since the workers in a capitalist economy would be unable to fill the demand, producers must expand into non-capitalist markets to find consumers for their goods, hence driving imperialism. [106]


Demographic theories can be grouped into two classes, Malthusian and youth bulge theories:


U.S. Marine helicopter on patrol in Somalia as part of the Unified Task Force, 1992 Aerial view of a US helicopter as it flies over a Mogadishu residential area.JPEG
U.S. Marine helicopter on patrol in Somalia as part of the Unified Task Force, 1992

Malthusian theories see expanding population and scarce resources as a source of violent conflict.

Pope Urban II in 1095, on the eve of the First Crusade, spoke:

For this land which you now inhabit, shut in on all sides by the sea and the mountain peaks, is too narrow for your large population; it scarcely furnishes food enough for its cultivators. Hence it is that you murder and devour one another, that you wage wars, and that many among you perish in civil strife. Let hatred, therefore, depart from among you; let your quarrels end. Enter upon the road to the Holy Sepulchre; wrest that land from a wicked race, and subject it to yourselves. [107]

This is one of the earliest expressions of what has come to be called the Malthusian theory of war, in which wars are caused by expanding populations and limited resources. Thomas Malthus (1766–1834) wrote that populations always increase until they are limited by war, disease, or famine. [108]

The violent herder–farmer conflicts in Nigeria, Mali, Sudan and other countries in the Sahel region have been exacerbated by land degradation and population growth. [109] [110] [111]

Youth bulge

Median age by country. War reduces life expectancy. A youth bulge is evident for Africa, and to a lesser extent in some countries in West Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and Central America. 2017 world map, median age by country.svg
Median age by country. War reduces life expectancy. A youth bulge is evident for Africa, and to a lesser extent in some countries in West Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and Central America.

According to Heinsohn, who proposed youth bulge theory in its most generalized form, a youth bulge occurs when 30 to 40 percent of the males of a nation belong to the "fighting age" cohorts from 15 to 29 years of age. It will follow periods with total fertility rates as high as 4–8 children per woman with a 15–29-year delay. [112] [113]

Heinsohn saw both past "Christianist" European colonialism and imperialism, as well as today's Islamist civil unrest and terrorism as results of high birth rates producing youth bulges. [114] Among prominent historical events that have been attributed to youth bulges are the role played by the historically large youth cohorts in the rebellion and revolution waves of early modern Europe, including the French Revolution of 1789, [115] and the effect of economic depression upon the largest German youth cohorts ever in explaining the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s. [116] The 1994 Rwandan Genocide has also been analyzed as following a massive youth bulge. [117]

Youth bulge theory has been subjected to statistical analysis by the World Bank, [118] Population Action International, [119] and the Berlin Institute for Population and Development. [120] Youth bulge theories have been criticized as leading to racial, gender and age discrimination. [121]


U.S. soldiers directing artillery on enemy trucks in A Shau Valley, April 1968 LRPs directing artillery.jpg
U.S. soldiers directing artillery on enemy trucks in A Shau Valley, April 1968

Rationalism is an international relations theory or framework. Rationalism (and Neorealism (international relations)) operate under the assumption that states or international actors are rational, seek the best possible outcomes for themselves, and desire to avoid the costs of war. [122] Under one game theory approach, rationalist theories posit all actors can bargain, would be better off if war did not occur, and likewise seek to understand why war nonetheless reoccurs. Under another rationalist game theory without bargaining, the peace war game, optimal strategies can still be found that depend upon number of iterations played. In "Rationalist Explanations for War", James Fearon examined three rationalist explanations for why some countries engage in war:

"Issue indivisibility" occurs when the two parties cannot avoid war by bargaining, because the thing over which they are fighting cannot be shared between them, but only owned entirely by one side or the other.

U.S. Marines direct a concentration of fire at the enemy, Vietnam, 8 May 1968 U.S. Marines in Operation Allen Brook (Vietnam War) 001.jpg
U.S. Marines direct a concentration of fire at the enemy, Vietnam, 8 May 1968

"Information asymmetry with incentives to misrepresent" occurs when two countries have secrets about their individual capabilities, and do not agree on either: who would win a war between them, or the magnitude of state's victory or loss. For instance, Geoffrey Blainey argues that war is a result of miscalculation of strength. He cites historical examples of war and demonstrates, "war is usually the outcome of a diplomatic crisis which cannot be solved because both sides have conflicting estimates of their bargaining power." [123] Thirdly, bargaining may fail due to the states' inability to make credible commitments. [124]

Within the rationalist tradition, some theorists have suggested that individuals engaged in war suffer a normal level of cognitive bias, [125] but are still "as rational as you and me". [126] According to philosopher Iain King, "Most instigators of conflict overrate their chances of success, while most participants underrate their chances of injury...." [127] King asserts that "Most catastrophic military decisions are rooted in GroupThink" which is faulty, but still rational. [128]

The rationalist theory focused around bargaining is currently under debate. The Iraq War proved to be an anomaly that undercuts the validity of applying rationalist theory to some wars. [129]

Political science

The statistical analysis of war was pioneered by Lewis Fry Richardson following World War I. More recent databases of wars and armed conflict have been assembled by the Correlates of War Project, Peter Brecke and the Uppsala Conflict Data Program.[ citation needed ]

The following subsections consider causes of war from system, societal, and individual levels of analysis. This kind of division was first proposed by Kenneth Waltz in Man, the State, and War and has been often used by political scientists since then. [130] :143


There are several different international relations theory schools. Supporters of realism in international relations argue that the motivation of states is the quest for security, and conflicts can arise from the inability to distinguish defense from offense, which is called the security dilemma. [130] :145

Within the realist school as represented by scholars such as Henry Kissinger and Hans Morgenthau, and the neorealist school represented by scholars such as Kenneth Waltz and John Mearsheimer, two main sub-theories are:

  1. Balance of power theory: States have the goal of preventing a single state from becoming a hegemon, and war is the result of the would-be hegemon's persistent attempts at power acquisition. In this view, an international system with more equal distribution of power is more stable, and "movements toward unipolarity are destabilizing." [130] :147 However, evidence has shown power polarity is not actually a major factor in the occurrence of wars. [130] :147–48
  2. Power transition theory: Hegemons impose stabilizing conditions on the world order, but they eventually decline, and war occurs when a declining hegemon is challenged by another rising power or aims to preemptively suppress them. [130] :148 On this view, unlike for balance-of-power theory, wars become more probable when power is more equally distributed. This "power preponderance" hypothesis has empirical support. [130] :148

The two theories are not mutually exclusive and may be used to explain disparate events according to the circumstance. [130] :148

Liberalism as it relates to international relations emphasizes factors such as trade, and its role in disincentivizing conflict which will damage economic relations. Realists[ who? ] respond that military force may sometimes be at least as effective as trade at achieving economic benefits, especially historically if not as much today. [130] :149 Furthermore, trade relations which result in a high level of dependency may escalate tensions and lead to conflict. [130] :150 Empirical data on the relationship of trade to peace are mixed, and moreover, some evidence suggests countries at war don't necessarily trade less with each other. [130] :150


  • Diversionary theory, also known as the "scapegoat hypothesis", suggests the politically powerful may use war to as a diversion or to rally domestic popular support. [130] :152 This is supported by literature showing out-group hostility enhances in-group bonding, and a significant domestic "rally effect" has been demonstrated when conflicts begin. [130] :152–13 However, studies examining the increased use of force as a function of need for internal political support are more mixed. [130] :152–53 U.S. war-time presidential popularity surveys taken during the presidencies of several recent U.S. leaders have supported diversionary theory. [131]


These theories suggest differences in people's personalities, decision-making, emotions, belief systems, and biases are important in determining whether conflicts get out of hand. [130] :157 For instance, it has been proposed that conflict is modulated by bounded rationality and various cognitive biases, [130] :157 such as prospect theory. [132]


Morning after the Battle of Waterloo, by John Heaviside Clark, 1816 Morgen nach der Schlacht967b.jpg
Morning after the Battle of Waterloo , by John Heaviside Clark, 1816

The morality of war has been the subject of debate for thousands of years. [133]

The two principal aspects of ethics in war, according to the just war theory, are jus ad bellum and Jus in bello . [134]

Jus ad bellum (right to war), dictates which unfriendly acts and circumstances justify a proper authority in declaring war on another nation. There are six main criteria for the declaration of a just war: first, any just war must be declared by a lawful authority; second, it must be a just and righteous cause, with sufficient gravity to merit large-scale violence; third, the just belligerent must have rightful intentions – namely, that they seek to advance good and curtail evil; fourth, a just belligerent must have a reasonable chance of success; fifth, the war must be a last resort; and sixth, the ends being sought must be proportional to means being used. [135] [136]

Jus in bello (right in war), is the set of ethical rules when conducting war. The two main principles are proportionality and discrimination. Proportionality regards how much force is necessary and morally appropriate to the ends being sought and the injustice suffered. [137] The principle of discrimination determines who are the legitimate targets in a war, and specifically makes a separation between combatants, who it is permissible to kill, and non-combatants, who it is not. [137] Failure to follow these rules can result in the loss of legitimacy for the just-war-belligerent. [138]

In besieged Leningrad. "Hitler ordered that Moscow and Leningrad were to be razed to the ground; their inhabitants were to be annihilated or driven out by starvation. These intentions were part of the 'General Plan East'." - The Oxford Companion to World War II. RIAN archive 324 In besieged Leningrad.jpg
In besieged Leningrad. "Hitler ordered that Moscow and Leningrad were to be razed to the ground; their inhabitants were to be annihilated or driven out by starvation. These intentions were part of the 'General Plan East'." – The Oxford Companion to World War II.

The just war theory was foundational in the creation of the United Nations and in International Law's regulations on legitimate war. [133]

Fascism, and the ideals it encompasses, such as Pragmatism, racism, and social Darwinism, hold that violence is good. [140] [141] Pragmatism holds that war and violence can be good if it serves the ends of the people, without regard for universal morality. Racism holds that violence is good so that a master race can be established, or to purge an inferior race from the earth, or both. Social Darwinism asserts that violence is sometimes necessary to weed the unfit from society so civilization can flourish. These are broad archetypes for the general position that the ends justify the means. Lewis Coser, U.S. conflict theorist and sociologist, argued conflict provides a function and a process whereby a succession of new equilibriums are created. Thus, the struggle of opposing forces, rather than being disruptive, may be a means of balancing and maintaining a social structure or society. [142]

See also

General reference

War-related lists

Related Research Articles

Civil war war between organized groups within the same sovereign state or republic

A civil war, also known as an intrastate war in polemology, is a war between organized groups within the same state or country. The aim of one side may be to take control of the country or a region, to achieve independence for a region or to change government policies. The term is a calque of the Latin bellum civile which was used to refer to the various civil wars of the Roman Republic in the 1st century BC.

Peace state of harmony characterized by lack of violent conflict and freedom from fear of violence

Peace is a concept of societal friendship and harmony in the absence of hostility and violence. In a social sense, peace is commonly used to mean a lack of conflict and freedom from fear of violence between individuals or heterogeneous groups. Throughout history leaders have used peacemaking and diplomacy to establish a certain type of behavioral restraint that has resulted in the establishment of regional peace or economic growth through various forms of agreements or peace treaties. Such behavioral restraint has often resulted in the reduction of conflicts, greater economic interactivity, and consequently substantial prosperity. The avoidance of war or violent hostility can be the result of thoughtful active listening and communication that enables greater genuine mutual understanding and therefore compromise. Leaders often benefit tremendously from the prestige of peace talks and treaties that can result in substantially enhanced popularity.

Pacifism opposition to war and violence

Pacifism is opposition to war, militarism, or violence. The word pacifism was coined by the French peace campaigner Émile Arnaud (1864–1921) and adopted by other peace activists at the tenth Universal Peace Congress in Glasgow in 1901. A related term is ahimsa, which is a core philosophy in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. While modern connotations are recent, having been explicated since the 19th century, ancient references abound.

World War I casualties World War I dead and wounded

The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I were about 40 million: estimates range from 15 to 19 million deaths and about 23 million wounded military personnel, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history.

Civilian casualties civilians killed, injured, or imprisoned by non-civilians

Civilian casualties occurs in a general sense, when civilians are killed or injured by non-civilians, mostly law enforcement officers, military personnel, or criminals such as terrorists and bank robbers. Under the law of war, it is referred to civilians who perished or suffered wounds as a result of wartime acts. In both cases, they can be associated with the outcome of any form of action regardless of whether civilians were targeted directly or not.

Just war theory is a doctrine, also referred to as a tradition, of military ethics studied by military leaders, theologians, ethicists and policy makers. The purpose of the doctrine is to ensure war is morally justifiable through a series of criteria, all of which must be met for a war to be considered just. The criteria are split into two groups: "right to go to war" and "right conduct in war" . The first concerns the morality of going to war, and the second the moral conduct within war. Recently there have been calls for the inclusion of a third category of just war theory—jus post bellum—dealing with the morality of post-war settlement and reconstruction.

Proxy war conflict between two actors where none of them directly engages the other

A proxy war is an armed conflict between two states or non-state actors which act on the instigation or on behalf of other parties that are not directly involved in the hostilities. In order for a conflict to be considered a proxy war, there must be a direct, long-term relationship between external actors and the belligerents involved. The aforementioned relationship usually takes the form of funding, military training, arms, or other forms of material assistance which assist a belligerent party in sustaining its war effort.

An insurgency is a rebellion against authority when those taking part in the rebellion are not recognized as belligerents. An insurgency can be fought via counter-insurgency warfare, and may also be opposed by measures to protect the population, and by political and economic actions of various kinds and propaganda aimed at undermining the insurgents' claims against the incumbent regime. As a concept, insurgency's nature is ambiguous.

International humanitarian law (IHL), also referred to as the laws of armed conflict, is the law that regulates the conduct of war. It is a branch of international law which seeks to limit the effects of armed conflict by protecting persons who are not participating in hostilities, and by restricting and regulating the means and methods of warfare available to combatants.

Peace and conflict studies social science field that identifies and analyses violent and nonviolent behaviours as well as the structural mechanisms attending conflicts with a view towards understanding those processes which lead to a more desirable human condition

Peace and conflict studies is a social science field that identifies and analyzes violent and nonviolent behaviours as well as the structural mechanisms attending conflicts, with a view towards understanding those processes which lead to a more desirable human condition. A variation on this, peace studies (irenology), is an interdisciplinary effort aiming at the prevention, de-escalation, and solution of conflicts by peaceful means, thereby seeking "victory" for all parties involved in the conflict. This is in contrast to military studies, which has as its aim on the efficient attainment of victory in conflicts, primarily by violent means to the satisfaction of one or more, but not all, parties involved. Disciplines involved may include philosophy, political science, geography, economics, psychology, sociology, international relations, history, anthropology, religious studies, and gender studies, as well as a variety of others. Relevant sub-disciplines of such fields, such as peace economics, may be regarded as belonging to peace and conflict studies also.

Interventionism is a policy of non-defensive (proactive) activity undertaken by a nation-state, or other geo-political jurisdiction of a lesser or greater nature, to manipulate an economy and/or society. The most common applications of the term are for economic interventionism, and foreign interventionism.

In 1994 Guatemala's Commission for Historical Clarification - La Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico (CEH) - was created as a response to the thousands of atrocities and human rights violations committed during the decades long civil war that began in 1962 and ended in the late 1990s with United Nations-facilitated peace accords. The commission operated under a two year mandate, from 1997 to 1999, and employed three commissioners: one Guatemalan man, one male non-national, and one Mayan woman. The mandate of the commission was not to judge but to clarify the past with "objectivity, equity and impartiality."

Peacebuilding intervention that is designed to prevent the start or resumption of violent conflict

Peacebuilding is an activity that aims to resolve injustice in nonviolent ways and to transform the cultural & structural conditions that generate deadly or destructive conflict. It revolves around developing constructive personal, group, and political relationships across ethnic, religious, class, national, and racial boundaries. This process includes violence prevention; conflict management, resolution, or transformation; and post-conflict reconciliation or trauma healing, i.e., before, during, and after any given case of violence.

Wartime sexual violence

Wartime sexual violence is rape or other forms of sexual violence committed by combatants during armed conflict, war, or military occupation often as spoils of war; but sometimes, particularly in ethnic conflict, the phenomenon has broader sociological motives. Wartime sexual violence may also include gang rape and rape with objects. It is distinguished from sexual harassment, sexual assaults, and rape committed amongst troops in military service. It also covers the situation where girls and women are forced into prostitution or sexual slavery by an occupying power.

Effects of war

Post war effects are widely spread and can be long term or short term. Soldiers experience war differently than civilians, although either suffer in times of war, and women and children suffer unspeakable atrocities in particular. In the past decade, up to two million of those killed in armed conflicts were children. The widespread trauma caused by these atrocities and suffering of the civilian population is another legacy of these conflicts, the following creates extensive emotional and psychological stress. Present-day internal wars generally take a larger toll on civilians than state wars. This is due to the increasing trend where combatants have made targeting civilians a strategic objective. A state conflict is an armed conflict that occurs with the use of armed force between two parties, of which one is the government of a state. "The three problems posed by intra‐state conflict are the willingness of UN members, particularly the strongest member, to intervene; the structural ability of the UN to respond; and whether the traditional principles of peacekeeping should be applied to intra‐state conflict". Effects of war also include mass destruction of cities and have long lasting effects on a country's economy. Armed conflict have important indirect negative consequences on, infrastructure, public health provision, and social order. These indirect consequences are often overlooked and underappreciated.

In armed conflicts, the civilian casualty ratio is the ratio of civilian casualties to combatant casualties, or total casualties. The measurement can apply either to casualties inflicted by or to a particular belligerent, casualties inflicted in one aspect or arena of a conflict or to casualties in the conflict as a whole. Casualties usually refer to both dead and injured. In some calculations, deaths resulting from famine and epidemics are included.

Political violence is violence perpetrated by people or governments to achieve political goals. It can describe violence used by a state against other states (war) or against non-state actors. It can also describe politically-motivated violence by non-state actors against a state or against other non-state actors. Non-action on the part of a government can also be characterized as a form of political violence, such as refusing to alleviate famine or otherwise denying resources to politically identifiable groups within their territory.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to war:


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