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An Argument for War


Catelyn waited until they had quieted. “My lords,” she said then, “Lord Eddard was your liege, but I shared his bed and bore his children. Do you think I love him any less than you?” Her voice almost broke with her grief, but Catelyn took a long breath and steadied herself. “Robb, if that sword could bring him back, I should never let you sheathe it until Ned stood at my side once more… but he is gone, and hundred Whispering Woods will not change that. Ned is gone, and Daryn Hornwood, and Lord Karstark’s valiant sons, and many other good men besides, and none of them will return to us. Must we have more deaths still?”

You are a woman, my lady,” the Greatjon rumbled in his deep voice. “Women do not understand these things.”

You are the gentle sex,” said Lord Karstark, with the lines of grief fresh on his face. “A man has a need for vengeance.”

Give me Cersei Lannister, Lord Karstark, and you would see how gentle a woman can be,” Catelyn replied. “Perhaps I do not understand tactics and strategy… but I understand futility. We went to war when Lannister armies were ravaging the riverlands, and Ned was a prisoner, falsely accused of treason. We fought to defend ourselves, and to win my lord’s freedom.

Well, the one is done, and the other forever beyond our reach. I will mourn for Ned until the end of my days, but I must think of the living. I want my daughters back, and the queen holdsthem still. If I must trade our four Lannisters for their two Starks, I will call that a bargain and thank the gods. I want you safe, Robb, ruling at Winterfell from your father’s seat. I want you to live your life, to kiss a girl and wed a woman and father a son. I want to write an end to this. I want to go home, my lords, and weep for my husband.”

The hall was very quiet when Catelyn finished speaking.

Peace,” said her uncle Brynden. “Peace is sweet, my lady… but on what terms? It is no good hammering your sword into a plowshare if you must forge it again on the morrow.”

The above dialogue is a good discussion of costs and necessities of warfare. George Martin may (or may not) be a pacifist, yet both sides have a point. But the pro-war side has a better boint.

Catelyn’s point is far from incorrect: swords and fighting will not bring Ned Stark back from the dead, and will not correct the injustice done by the Lannisters. They will only bring more deaths. And these deaths will not be just in combat – they will also be in the fields, of sickness, of famine. Civilians will die just as combatants will. The initial responses – that she does not understand because she is a woman – are basically designed to make pro-war stance look stupid. Yet it is anything but.

It is Brynden Tully who answers her question. “Peace is sweet, my lady… but on what terms? It is no good hammering your sword into a plowshare if you must forge it again on the morrow.”. Not all war is about revenge, retribution, or profit. Sometimes one simply has to fight. Putting up a resistance to a particular course of action means that cost of such action is automatically increased. This in turn makes such an action less likely in the future. This holds true even for actions that may make a war look like a disproportionate retribution. Not resisting an unjust course of action only emboldens the perpetrator into continuing such course of action. And not only will he continue in such a course, but there will be nothing to prevent possible escalation. Therefore, a course of action which is unjust or else endangers one’s own people should be resisted by any means necessary long before armed resistance becomes unavoidable.

It is in nature of those with power to seek more power – power is addictive. Powerful states will seek to increase their influence; rich individuals will seek to enrich themselves. If nobody is willing to stand their ground and say “stop”, the process will continue unabated until vast majority of the world ends up enslaved, one way or another. Saying “stop” may well lead to war. But not doing it may lead to consequences which are far worse than war – and may still fail at preventing the war. In fact, not putting up barricades early enough basically guarantees that the war, when it comes, will be as bad as it possibly can be. Had countries surrounding Germany attacked as soon as Hitler started his land grabs, there may not have been World War II. Had Austria annexed Bosnia straight away, there may not have been World War I. Had American and African societies been technologically advanced and organized enough to resist Western European colonialism, there would have been no Seven Years’ War, Napoleonic Wars, World War I or World War II.

War has also had hidden benefits. Nature of war, a massive, spasmic display of violence, actually serves to reduce casualties. Low-key internal conflicts as experienced in multicultural societies can produce large numbers of casualties, but because the rate of casualty production is low, there is little incentive to take drastic measures to prevent violence. Further, necessities of war had led to humans producing larger, more organized societies. In the Stone Age, a person had 20% probability of dying at the hands of another human being. In 20th century, this probability was below 2% – only 200 million people may have died in wars through 20th century, but considering that 20 billion people have lived during that time period, Stone Age lethality of conflict would have led to 4 billion casualties.

Necessities of massed warfare had given rise to – especially since 18th century, but process had begun with invention of writing – things such as nationalism, organized state administration, and professionalized armies. Necessities of running administration and militaries gave rise to organized education, law enforcement and other aspects of modern state. It also led to state monopoly on organized violence, and significantly reduced disorganized violence to the point that most people today can live relatively safe lives without either 1) seeking protection from a strongman or a gang or 2) learning how to protect themselves. This Leviathan had not been created by reasoned discussion, but rather by war. Pax Romana was made possible by massive armed conquest and mass genocide, and even after Western Empire’s fall, necessities of state organization and state administration limited significant violence to borders of middle-sized to large polities dotting Europe.

Primitive societies, so often idealized, are in fact filled with strongmen, savages and murderers – because being a strongmen, a savage and a murderer is the only way to ensure existence in such a society. Conquest by more organized societies oftentimes, though not always, improved conditions of live in such societies. The Leviathan would take away freedoms, but would provide safety, stability and “rules of the game”. And this was recognized. Even as Western Roman Empire fell apart, barbarians who settled within its borders did not destroy the society they found, but rather took up its legacy, creating organized states such as Merovingian France and Ostrogothic Kingdoms – former of which only fell into semi-barbaric feudalism due to impact of islamic conquests on the Mediterranean world.

Irony is, then, that globalism and globalisation experienced today may give rise precisely to the strongmen societies and internal conflict that nation-states as well as regional empires had successfully curbed for so long (see also here). Globalisation serves to dissolve all the bonds holding the society together: by mixing populations, it removes the bonds of common origin, common culture and common mentality. By removing borders, it removes the bond of common interest and bond of wariness (or fear) aimed towards “the other” across the border while also increasing the opportunity for conflict. By connecting people over large distances, it does all of things listed. Therefore, opportunities for the conflict significantly increase, but also become better hidden.

It is true that the Leviathan of state did not do its job perfectly. There were aberrations where rule degenerated into tyranny: Germany etc. under Nazi party, Soviet Union, China etc. under Communists. But even there value of state shows itself: such occurences were much rarer in smaller states, especially during the time of city-states. Genocidal ideologies such as Nazism and Communism always arose in globalized and/or imperialist states, or rather as consequence of their death throes: be it Imperial Germany or else Russian Empire. From there, the cancer spread. Ustashi of NDH imported their ideology from abroad, as did Yugoslav Communists. Pavelic was installed by a colonial power, Fascist Italy, while Tito was trained in USSR. Progressive globalism likewise spreads from former colonial powers. Yet within-system demicide killed six times more people than died in warfare between the states through 20th century – and without such warfare, it would have been far worse.

Warfare between the states was, unlike the constant low-key conflicts in primitive and multicultural societies, scary enough to give rise to systems designed to limit violence. These appeared as early as 16th century, with various Holy Leagues designed to resist Ottoman imperial expansion, and then in 19th century with Concert of Europe. After World War II., United States created NATO as well as taking on a role of a global policeman; a role that Britain played through 19th century. In both cases, threat of a major power served to limit conflicts in world – after end of Napoleonic wars in 1815., there was no major conflict between world powers until World War I broke out in 1914. (Crimean War involved major powers but was a strictly localized affair, much like Korean War later). Likewise, end of World War II. in 1945. ushered in an era of relative peace we still enjoy today.

Even possibility of war between states helped in reducing deaths and suffering. Many inventions were only invented – or, if not invented, adapted into widespread use – due to the advantage they would/may have conferred in case of conflict. Modern-day computes – such as laptop this article was written on – started their life as fire-control computers for US battleships. Modern medical care only appeared thanks to efforts of Florence Nightingale – which she started after seeing suffering of soldiers during the Crimean War. Organized health care was done by the Roman army, and was only rediscovered in Europe thanks to the Crusades and the Knights Hospitaller.

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