The Deadly Issue

I HAVE chosen to discuss what to me appears the most vital and, as it happens, also the most deadly issue of the day: war as a menace to our immediate future. I speak as an anthropologist of sorts. Now to be an anthropologist really means to be a citizen of the world, past and present. For anthropology, the science of Man, embraces the study of human civilizations within the widest compass, archaic and modern, primitive and developed, exotic and those around our own parish pump. The anthropologist should be able, thus, to draw on the collective experience of mankind. He should be able to perceive the cultural reality of war as it really is, objectively and dispassionately; to see it in its true perspective across the widest distances of time and space.

The denunciations of war have become so frequent, so exaggerated, and yet so sterile of practical results, alas, that it requires some courage to reiterate an indictment of the phenomenon war. Yet truth, especially when it has become stale and therefore unheeded, must be reiterated. Thus, screwing up my courage, I again declare that, in the iight of a dispassionate and unbiased study, war has become since the beginning of this century a destructive anachronism, useless as a tool, unpracticable as a measure of international policy, and at the same time an unmitigated waste of all that is best in our civilization. The last war has in every way undermined our western American and European commonwealth. The next war is likely to go far toward its destruction. And even worse, the threat of an imminent war has become a moral and economic corrosive which is eating into our very flesh and blood politic.

Before proceeding to a survey of ethnographic facts, let us first make clear what we are looking for. What is war? It obviously consists of the use of force, but not all the use of force becomes warfare. When two street urchins are at grips, or when in a spiritual — I mean alcoholic — discussion the use of the crucial argument results in a black eye, this is a use of force, but it is not war. Nor would we class as facts relevant and cognate to our present warfare spasmodic and irregular uses of armed force: border raids, murderous quarrels within the community or small intra-tribal fights involving no policy. We have clearly to distinguish national or tribal warfare from internecine fighting, from fratricidal civil war, and from partisan fights within the same community. In view of these considerations we must define war as an armed contest between two independent political units, by means of organized military forces, in the pursuit of a tribal or national policy. The full justification of this minimum definition of war will become patent in the course of our survey.

There will be, then, three questions which we shall have to keep in mind throughout our analysis of facts.

1. Is war a biological necessity? There is a powerful propaganda at work which attempts to foist on us the conviction that war is an expression of the struggle for existence; that it is due to man’s innate and inevitable pugnacity or aggressiveness; and that as a selective agency war has been, is, and will remain unavoidable as well as beneficent. Is this true?

2. Has war a constructive and cultural value? It is contended by a vast array of authorities that war has been, is, and will remain the principal creative force of statecraft and of invention, of economic efficiency and technical skill. Is this view correct?

3. Has war always been an effective instrument of tribal policy, economic and political? Is it still such an effective means to the end of national aggrandizement?


First of all, then, what is the type of fighting among the lowest primitives? The lowest and simplest peoples claim our attention because they are the nearest living representatives of primitive man. Let us take one example.

The Veddahs of Ceylon, as primitive as any, are certainly no militarists. They have no armed force whatever. They do not live in organized political communities which would have any issues to fight about. To speak about war under such conditions is, in view of our previous considerations, a blatant misuse of the term. Yet can we assume, with some of our sanguine pacifists, that these natives are entirely non-pugnacious? Certainly not! From numerous accounts we know that, whenever a quarrel arises between two families or two individuals, a fight ensues, which may at times develop into a bloody battle with heavy casualties. Exactly the same picture can be drawn of the Orang Kubu of Sumatra, who are at the same time timorous and treacherous, run away when faced with a force superior or equal, but are quite ready with their blowpipe to kill anyone whom they can ambush or attack from behind.

Ruthless, cowardly guerrilla fighting is known among all the lowest Negritos. About the Punans of Borneo we are told that they never fight in any organized manner. They are naturally timid, shifty, never prepared to face their enemies; but they always ‘avenge injuries by stealthy attacks on individuals with their blowpipe and poisoned darts.’ Can we, therefore, class them with the imaginary golden-age pacifists? Certainly not! The Punans occasionally join a war party of some other tribe in order to facilitate the avenging of blood. On such expeditions their capacity for stealthy and treacherous attack, their technique of attacking from behind, is invaluable.

The Australian aborigines are perhaps the best example. They were organized into tribes which were numerous, strong, and were divided by conflicting interests. But they never settled their dissensions by organized fighting. The absence of military organization, of the use of force as a means of tribal policy, is tantamount to a complete absence of tribal warfare. Such fighting as they had was exclusively in the settling of private scores and it took the form of a duel. When there was a need of a tribal settlement on a wider scale, duels or large tournaments with a more or less ceremonial character were organized. Needless to say, a duel or a tournament is not a war.

To sum up the evidence concerning the lowest primitives: we can say that we do not find among them any organized clash of armed forces aiming at the enforcement of a tribal policy. War does not exist among them. On the other hand, pugnacity is as rife as anywhere. They quarrel, they break each other’s heads and give each other black eyes. We can, therefore, have pugnacity and yet no war. The institution of organized military forces is not, on the face of it, correlated with pugnacity.

As to the moral value of their fighting, this obviously cannot lead to any military virtues, since it is mostly carried out by stealth and develops qualities of treachery, cowardice, bloodthirsty but unheroic passions. The moralist, the historian, or the publicist, who would try to establish war as a biological necessity on ethnographic data supplied by the lowest primitives, stultifies his argument from the outset. And remember that if war were the outcome of the biological nature of man, if it were correlated with pugnacity, such correlation should be clearest at the earliest stages of development. Our negative proof is, therefore, conclusive.

At the same time, the pacifist’s appeal to a golden age of docility is equally untenable. The type of modern pacifist, who thinks all can be solved by a mere appeal to human good will, fools himself. Peace cannot be achieved by means of renunciations. Peace is not a negative state: a mere absence of fighting. It is a dynamic condition in which national or tribal differences have to be settled by large-scale readjustments. If we want to prevent war we must replace the part which it plays by a powerful and effective machinery which would take over some of its functions. Such a machinery would entail far-reaching reforms in the individual, in the organization of our modern states, and in our cultural outlook. To-day we are faced with various creeds of pacifism and various methods of it are being advocated.

Pacifism is decidedly on the upgrade in this country. The visitor from Europe is forcibly impressed by the almost dramatic change in public opinion of the United States, a change which I, myself, find in the press and personal contacts, and in the utterances of such statesmen as President Roosevelt, Mr. Hull, and also of the Republican leaders. The difference between public opinion two years ago when I was last in the States and to-day is impressive. Of course it is well to realize that between the expression of an ideal and its effective translation into practical politics there is a long way on which constructive statesmanship and public preparedness for sacrifice will be necessary. I hope the United States is going to take the lead in the work.

I believe that the real road to peace is not through a relapse into fictitious natural pacifism. The real road to peace, in my opinion, lies in the creation of an international super-state for the use of force in the maintenance of peace. In short, we want the international policeman exactly as we cannot do without the ordinary constable. Without him we shall be faced by gangsters, national and international.

When we move from the lowest primitives to a somewhat higher level, we find a bewildering variety in modes of fighting, raiding, and wholesale murder. For here we enter the fantastic world of real savagery, where head-hunting, cannibalism, nocturnal raids in which whole villages are wiped out, give the decisive character to many a neolithic culture. And yet to say that as man develops he becomes more bloodthirsty and cruel would not be quite correct. Side by side with really fierce head-hunters, we find living in the same habitat, fashioned by a similar history, people who are completely peaceful and who practise fighting only as a sport. A good instance of this is the Eskimos of Greenland and the Bering Straits, who live side by side with their fierce and pugnacious neighbors, the Eskimos of Alaska. I shall presently give another example from my own field of study in New Guinea.

Let us examine a case of characteristic organized combativeness associated with head-hunting. My friends, the Kiwai Papuans of Southern New Guinea, practise two types of fighting. On the one hand they indulge, from time to time, in regulated combats within the same village, occasionally associated with severe casualties. This serves as a safety valve to tensions and hostilities within the group, and is, in fact, an adequate expression of regulated pugnacity. It can be clearly seen, however, that this type of fighting has nothing to do with external war as an instrument of tribal policy. It resembles in every way rather a typical football performance of an American college, casualties and all that. There is no trace whatever of its leading to a higher political organization or being the mother of inventions. Occurring as it does within the community, it cannot be an instrument of external adjustment between one tribe and another.

The same natives, however, carry out a deadly type of fighting with distant and strange communities. Such fights consist, almost invariably, of sudden attacks on defenseless villages, usually surprised in sleep. Native tradition tells us that several tribes have been completely exterminated in such raids. The main object of these is headhunting. Head-hunting is a queer, and not on the whole very easily accounted for, example of early collectioneering.

Let us pause once more, and reflect on this type of armed contest. Is it politically constructive? Conquest is never practised among these natives; no higher political units arise out of the fusion of two communities. The fact that incidentally one or two villages are so completely wiped out that whole tribes disappear is certainly not an element of progress. Within the community itself, the military organization of the people is so simple that it cannot and does not lead to the development of political power.

Does this type of fighting lead to military virtues? Based as it is on cunning and treachery, consisting as it does of mere killing of defenseless people, usually in their sleep, it can hardly produce any virtues, Christian or savage. It is a most remarkable thing that, apart from the collecting of heads, no profit accrues from victory. Economically such distinctive raids are as barren as our modern wars have become. These savages cannot loot, because there is no portable or accumulable wealth at this stage, exactly as we at present cannot loot any more, because our wealth has become too cumbersome to steal in large quantities.

What about the biological essence of this type of fighting? The open, intracommunal combats or tournaments can be regarded as organized pugnacity. They obviously are not akin to war. The real external fights of these people, on the other hand, are carried out under the drive of that strange craving for pickled heads, and are certainly not instinctive. However widely we might stretch the term ‘innate tendency’ or ‘instinct,’ — and in modern psychology and physiology we try indeed to restrict the meaning, — the absurdity of speaking about an instinct of head-hunting is patent.

I could give you another example from the same district of New Guinea. The Trobrianders, among whom I have done most of my field work, might be cited as typical pacifists of the neolithic stage. They carry out sporting regulated combats for the display of skill and courage. They know nothing of raiding and fighting on a large scale, and their hostilities never lead either to conquest or to loot, or even to headhunting. Side by side with them, in the neighboring archipelago, there lives a congeries of tribes all of whom are aggressive, addicted to head-hunting, fierce, and extremely combative.

When you compare these two neighbors, you find a most unexpected correlation, or absence thereof. The general idea which we all have is that military efficiency is 100 per cent correlated with high political organization. This is completely controverted by our evidence from eastern New Guinea. The peaceful Trobrianders have developed chieftainship, are organized in enormous political units, and are, in every way, the most advanced natives of the whole area. Their neighbors from Dobu, Fergusson Island, or Goodenough Island, have no political units, are divided into small tribelets, and are in every respect culturally inferior to the Trobrianders. And again, can we say that the Trobrianders, because of their pacifism, are essentially unheroic, unmanly, lacking in the spirit of enterprise and determination? Certainly not! Though they have no war, they have other means of giving play to their spirit of adventure. Year after year they embark in frail canoes on really dangerous expeditions, where they not only brave the hazards of wind and weather, but expose themselves to attack by fierce and cruel neighbors. When attacked they are able to defend themselves, but they are never the aggressors.

I could survey with you organized fighting in the archipelagoes of Indonesia, among the hill tribes of India, in Africa, Polynesia, and America. Everywhere the results would be the same. We should find, first of all, that fierceness and combativeness are not universal. There exist peace-loving and, from the military point of view, ineffective tribes at the stage of polished stone and early metalworking. At the same time fighting, and fierce fighting, is found in many parts of the world. It is carried on for head-hunting, for cannibalistic repasts, in order to procure sacrificial victims, and sometimes for the mere lust of killing. But exactly as we cannot regard head-hunting as an innate instinct, so also cannibalism and direct murder are not instinctive. The characteristics of this stage of fighting are that no fruits of victory can yet be gathered, that there is not the slightest trace of any tribal policy being carried out through the force of arms, and that military virtues are often found in the negative form of cunning, treachery, and capacity for rapid retreat. Finally, there is no visible correlation between political structure and military efficiency. Those who seek for the origins of the state in military aggression are certainly mistaken.


So far, though we have met organized fighting, sportive combats, head-hunting expeditions and so on, we have not yet met war — that is, we have not met with an institution in which two political groups pit their strength against each other on account of some real issue. Perhaps the first really constructive advantage derived from intertribal war is associated with a social phenomenon which is very important for us in the present argument. I mean the institution of slavery. To the coldblooded, dispassionate, and amoral eye of the anthropologist, slavery is by no means that horrible institution which throws Lady Simon and Miss Katherine Mayo into fits of moral indignation. Slavery is an institution which is as little instinctive or innate as war itself. A few generations ago, serious arguments were advanced by theologians and others that slavery had been ordained by God, implanted by Him in the heart of man, that it was an established law of nature. Similar arguments are now advanced in favor of war.

Slavery, like war, can be shown to have been absent from the earliest stages of humanity, and to have come to fruition at a certain epoch; to have fulfilled a valuable function then, and to have become entirely useless after. When it ceased to pay, theologians discovered that it was immoral. Slavery and war are, moreover, closely intertwined. The first element in the history of cultural development, indeed, which makes war a really effective instrument of tribal policy is precisely slavery. Human material was the first to be effectively looted. At the stage when the producer can only feed his own mouth, slavery is obviously unprofitable. It is no good having a hundred slaves if these hundred slaves can achieve only the feeding of a hundred mouths. As soon as the foodget ti ng industries developed sufficiently to make slaves profitable, wars of slave raiding started. Thus was inaugurated the long epoch in which war becomes economically profitable and politically constructive.

This is not necessarily associated with agriculture. The northwestern tribes of America, perhaps the most primitive slave owners on record, developed fisheries to a high degree of efficiency. In catching and preserving fish, in working metal and certain textiles, slaves became highly useful. Wars on a large scale were carried out for the raiding of slaves. The same condition obtained among some South and Central American Indians of higher culture, where again slavery was an essential element in a highly differentiated society. In Africa there was indigenous slavery in varying degrees of development and with various types of legal status of slaves.

Speaking of Africa, however, we must distinguish between slavery as an indigenous institution and slave wars for export. Africa became disorganized, many of its cultures extinguished, and the life of the whole people darkened, not because of indigenous slavery, but because two higher cultures — Islam and Christianity — opened world-wide markets for slaves and organized fratricidal warfare among the Africans. The study of this type of artificially stimulated war would be very interesting and would, perhaps, demonstrate once more that war, in most of its phases, has been a cultural disease, very often of foreign introduction, rather than a healthy indigenous institution.

Almost at the same time as slavery, another phenomenon becomes culturally possible. I mean wholesale robbery or loot by war. I drew your attention to the fact that in lowest savagery, as well as at the stage of polished stone, effective looting is impossible. When, through more highly developed agriculture, rich sedentary populations came into existence in the fertile plains of southern Asia, in the alluvial valleys of such large rivers as the Ganges, Tigris, Euphrates, or the Nile, these became a useful prey to the nomadic pastoral tribes surrounding them. Under such conditions war with a purpose, war as a profession, makes its appearance on the historical stage. A new technique of fighting arises: open attack and defense, entailing the development of military virtues and discipline. Without making a moral case for robbery on a grand scale, we can say that this type, which the anthropologist can exemplify even nowadays from north Africa, central Asia, and America, has at least a purpose and a meaning.

But really effective warfare is the one which combines loot, slavery, and territorial acquisition — which, in short, establishes permanent instead of temporary exploitation. This is the war of conquest. I have indicated that it is not true to maintain that all statecraft and political organization are due to war. An abundant anthropological material can be produced to explode this hypothesis. But there is no doubt at all that, in many parts of the world, there was an evolutionary stage when conquest was the main factor in political reconstruction and cultural progress. The anthropologist can give conclusive evidence. In West Africa, for example, certain tribes — the Ashanti, the Dahomey, the Yoruba — at one time evolved a stronger and more effective military organization than their neighbors. They were able to conquer a group of surrounding tribes. They founded monarchies, in which culture, social organization, and certain personal qualities of the citizens developed to a much higher degree than elsewhere. Their preparedness for war was associated with the aristocratic constitution of their society. Military qualities — courage, determination, leadership — were characteristic of high rank. Facilities for transport, technical devices, strict discipline, and close organization of semisecret male associations were all connected with warfare. The whole constitution of Ashanti or of Dahomey bears a military imprint. Their history tells us that war has been used to pursue a definite policy of national expansion. Knowledge and use of gold and ivory and bronze, the possibility of accumulating wealth and even of employing it as a means of production, made the fruits of victory economically profitable.

We could draw almost the same conclusions from the study of East Africa and its past history. There also a number of kingdoms were established by warfare. In the North we have the Hamitic states, of which the Baganda are a good example. In the South we have the recent case of the rise and flowering of the Zulu military empire. In that region, also, we can show that conquest was not merely destructive. It created political groupings and it was associated with military virtues. It served as an effective instrument of national policy.

From another part of the world, the development of the League of Iroquois, of which we know the history, gives the same results. A group of Indian tribes reached a higher level of social organization and of cultural efficiency, very largely through the acquisition of better arms. They used these advantages to effective purpose. They associated with each other and formed a large political unit. They fought their way through into a more fertile and extensive territory, and subjected to themselves a number of other natives. Here also, as in the African military tribes, we find that the technique of combat was, in a way, ennobling, selective, and purposeful. All these people fight face to face — courage, dexterity, better technique, better equipment, carry the day. Efficiency in war depends on moral superiority, personal virtues, and better equipment. War leads to cultural progress. If we switched over to Polynesia and examined the warfare of the Maori, the combats of the Fijians or of the Tongans, we should reach the same conclusion.

Two good examples of the close association at a certain stage between war and cultural advance come again from the New World. The monarchies of Mexico and Peru were both military organizations, very largely oriented toward a national policy of conquest. In both of them a strong army, controlled by a warlike aristocracy who were inspired to conquest by the association of military with national and religious ideals, formed the backbone of the social constitution. Their conquests were used in each case for the formation of a constantly increasing empire which also carried out civilizing functions. The Incas of Peru, notably, transformed the surrounding tribes from savage nomads into sedentary land tillers and herdsmen, who gradually adopted the higher type of civilization.

We have already reached the dawn of history. Looking at the earliest Mediterranean and Oriental empires in the same analytic and sociological manner with which we have discussed the facts of primitive life, we could probably attribute the same importance to war in the early history of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, and Japan. These facts are too well known, however, and too far outside the realm of anthropology to need fuller analysis from a student of primitive cultures. Suffice it to say that on the whole each successive war, each invasion of the rich plains tenanted by a settled land-tilling population, led not merely to destruction but also to reorganization and advancement in culture. And history supplies us with yet another lesson: as soon as the governing class, the aristocracy, loses direct interest in war, as soon as fighting is no longer a test of the personal efficiency and virtue of the ruler, he must give way to others. From conqueror, he becomes material to be conquered. I need only remind you that in Home, as soon as the profession of soldiering passed from the hands of the citizen to those of the hireling, the doom of the Empire was settled.

Were I to invite you rapidly to survey those historical facts of mediæval and modern Europe which followed the downfall of Rome, you might find some really telling confirmations of our anthropological approach. In the Middle Ages, for instance, we have a long period of disorganizing strife which did not contribute toward the advancement of culture. The various fights of factions in the Eastern Empire and on the ruins of the Western; the contests between tribe and tribelet of the invading Teutons; the fighting of bands of robbers, whether noble or not, were productive of nothing else but destruction and vandalism.

Only in the measure as tribal or national unity emerged with centralization in the legal, fiscal, and political sense do we find constructive the wars of Charlemagne and Barbarossa — or, for that matter, of a Tamerlane.

Again, it would be interesting to analyze mediæval warfare in connection with the individual virtues of chivalry and a sense of citizenship. War in European history has at times been eminently a means of religious, national, or idealistic policy. In the Crusades, or in the wars between Spaniards and Moors and the wars between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, we find the expression of definite policies: conquest has an historical meaning. Perhaps the last wars of this type in modern history are those between France and Prussia in 1870—1871 and the Boer War. It would be interesting to reflect how victory in these last two cases did not yield exactly the fruits that were hoped for by imperialists who drove to war and precipitated it. In either case, conquest was annulled by subsequent events. After the Boer War a wise turn of liberal policy in Great Britain restored political power to the conquered minority. In the case of Alsace-Lorraine, the provinces which were taken by force in 1871 were taken back by force in 1919. The final change is naught, and for that the nations had to pay a heavy price in blood and substance — and, worst of all, in good will and moral values.

The Franco-German War, moreover, has proved how shortsighted and romantic Bismarck’s statesmanship was. How, in trusting to war as the main instrument of his national policy, he overreached himself. Had Bismarck known that his ideology would in the long run produce Adolf Hitler as his spiritual successor, he might have doubted whether Sedan was the greatest victory in human development. Ill

Let us sum up our anthropological survey and briefly present its results.

Speaking in terms of evolution, we find that war is not a permanent institution of mankind. If we define it as an instrument of national policy, as an effective way of obtaining the fruits of victory by means of organized force, war has not always been in existence. The chaotic brawls, the internecine fighting of the lowest savages, have nothing in common with the institution of war. At the second stage, the battles of head-hunters, the raids of cannibals, the capturing of human bodies for sacrifice or repast, are an interesting and queer puzzle for the anthropologist. They show no constructive or creative virtue either for the individual, who at this stage is poltroon rather than hero, or for society. But war, like slavery and prostitution, dominates a whole phase in human history. At this stage it is unquestionably all that is claimed for it. Through constructive conquest it yields politically, culturally, and personally very tangible results.

On what does the positive value of war depend? We shall find an answer to this question in considering again the three points from which we started our analysis.

Is war a biological necessity? As regards the earliest cultures the answer we have found is emphatically negative. To blow a poisoned dart from behind a bush, to murder a woman or a child in her steep, is not pugnacity. Nor is head-hunting, body snatching, or killing for food instinctive or natural. I do not think that we can in any way regard even the wars of ancient Egypt, Peru, or China, the invasions of the Tatars, the crusades or jehads, as expressions of instinctive pugnacity. The idea that war is a biological necessity is quite untenable. But, from the biological point of view, war that is waged by direct impact, where strength is pitted against strength, courage against courage, and skill against skill, is quite compatible with the principle of the survival of the fittest.

Turning to the wars of to-day and to-morrow, can we say that to-day man is pitting his strength, skill, courage, or endurance against man? Certainly not! War has become a contest between machines, industrial enterprise, and financial organization. The hero of the next war, the man who from the air destroys a whole peaceful township in its sleep with poison gas, is not expressing any biological characteristics of his organism, nor showing any moral virtues. In a remarkable way he matches the head-hunter, who surprises in their sleep a village of peaceful neighbors and kills them ruthlessly, without discrimination and without personal feelings. In other words, I claim that to speak about military virtues in modern warfare is a plain falsehood. The mechanical and promiscuous murder from a safe place of vantage of unknown, innocent people — men, women, and children — cannot develop courage in the assassin. It is an act of premeditated, cowardly crime on a gigantic scale. The intelligence is not in the act of war, but in the scientific inventions which have made this collective assassination possible, though they cannot imply on the part of the scientist a moral assent to the criminal action. The future war will not be carried, moreover, by heroic volunteers, but by men conscripted — that is, forced into being assassins, or hired for the purpose.

Give me again the old type of warfare, where man was pitted against man, courage against courage, where intelligence and enterprise still counted, and I shall become as enthusiastic about war as any member of the most military propaganda organization in a Fascist, Nazi, or Communist country. You can praise the virtue of modern warfare only if you blind yourself to its realities. Or you can by verbal jugglery draw conclusions from the vision of past wars, dead now beyond recovery, and by sophistry apply the results to the contemporary mechanical slaughter.

In the second place, can war be regarded as a source of cultural values? Here we find that war is distinctly a dated phenomenon. At the time when fighting is an organized clash of armed forces in pursuit of national policy, it definitely shows certain beneficent influences. Preparedness for war entails the maintenance of a caste of people with full responsibilities and moral as well as intellectual virtues. When this caste disappears, the community ceases to be warlike and efficient. War at the stage of constructive conquest also leads to the maintenance of a high technical efficiency in matters of transport, communication, skill in the manufacture of weapons, which entail general industrial proficiency.

And here again modern warfare has ceased to be a contest of military forces. It is a combat between one nation in arms, reorganized completely for military aims, with another. Noncombatants have ceased to exist. There is no question of an élite developing military virtues such as courage, endurance, and heroism. The incidence of danger in the next war will be so arbitrary, so accidental, that to speak of any selective function of it is incorrect.

It might be still asked: Does this not mean, however, that courage, endurance, and heroism have merely become collective instead of individual? The answer is certainly in the negative. A completely passive, non-selective, accidental exposure to danger cannot develop the virtues of military type in the collectivity any more than in the individual.

The results of a future war on a large, modern community would be as selective as that eruption of Mount Pelee which destroyed the chief city of Martinique, or a gigantic earthquake which wipes out an entire district. We know that such experiences do not develop citizenship, but lead to outbreaks of criminal looting and destruction. We know also that they shatter the morale without any compensating results. And would anyone in his senses engineer earthquakes on a large scale, volcanic eruptions, or floods in order to experiment in the possibility of discovering here and there symptoms of human greatness, stoicism, or Christian devotion? No sooner the question is asked than its futility becomes clear.

Sociologically, again, the preparedness for war, far from being functionally profitable, is merely destructive. Education in Fascist Italy or Hitler’s Germany shows what a complete militarization of a people can bring about. There is little time left for teaching or moral development in the schools of Germany and Italy. Children are made into good patriots — that is to say, into suitable material for gun fodder. As regards finance and industrial organization, the apprehension in which we live of the next war introduces a permanent source of dislocation and conflict. The economic motive in trade, industry, and finance works at present inevitably toward internationalization. The political motive of preparedness for the next war drives each state to a strictly self-contained national policy. I believe that to this conflict can be ascribed more than half of the effective causes in unemployment, disorganization, and national poverty. I also believe that the world organized, or rather disorganized, for the future war is moving inevitably toward economic catastrophe.


Let us now pass to the third point in our discussion — from the sociological point of view perhaps the most important. At one stage war becomes an effective instrument of national policy. This is associated with such institutions as slavery, loot, and conquest, without which war cannot remain entirely profitable. As we have seen, neither the internecine brawls of lowest savagery nor the exotic combats of head-hunting and cannibalism can claim to be wars. Only when effective conquest is possible, and its maintenance becomes a source of constructive activities on the part of conquered and conquerors alike, is war really culturally and politically valuable.

From this point of view, can presentday war be an instrument of national policy? Obviously not! The last war was not carried out between two welldefined political units. It was waged between two entirely nonsensical and politically incongruous agglomerates: Portuguese, Chinese, and British versus Germans, Turks, and Bulgarians. The Treaty of Versailles is an example of a denial of any constructive war aims. Only in so far as it is not correlated with any victory, only in the Covenant of the League of Nations, has any element of statesmanship been embodied in it. Its economic provisions have ruined victors and vanquished alike. Politically it has led to predatory shifts of territory. True, it has set free a few nations, but it has enslaved others.

And here again, in the only positive and constructive results of the last war, we can learn one thing: that conquest has, in modern conditions, ceased to be a practical proposition. The only points which the sociologist can lay to the credit of the last war are in the liberation of Poland, of Southern Ireland, of the Czechs and the Slovaks, the national independence given to Lithuanians, Finlanders, Latvians, and Esthonians. Thus, by undoing some past conquests, it contributed to a certain extent to a sounder constitution of Europe. At the same time it is obvious that, in the liberating of subject nationalities, legitimate boundaries have not been kept. The peace treaties have created the minority problem, which is perhaps the most dangerous element in the constitution of modern Europe.

We have reached a stage of evolution when war has ceased once more to be a culturally constructive force. It has also ceased to be an instrument of effective national policy. It is my considered opinion, as a student of human culture, that the only alternative for us is to abolish war and organize for peace or perish. A cynic might say that no argument can break through our modern political incompetence and intellectual dishonesties. He might maintain that it is useless to accumulate evidence as to the utterly destructive character of any military preparations and wars of the future. I personally believe that a clear recognition of facts must sooner or later create that strong and united national will toward peace in every nation, and across national boundaries, which is the only power to save us. The anthropologist, side by side with the historian and the student of international law, must contribute his quota toward the formation of that will.

I have tried to prove to you that war is not, and never has been, a biological necessity; that the cultural value of war is not universal, but limited to a well-defined period in human development; that at present war has become merely destructive and demoralizing, the most cruel and imbecile expression of the dominance of the machine over man. If I have succeeded in this, I have acquitted myself of my appointed task.

  1. Delivered at the Phi Beta Kappa exercises of the Harvard Tercentenary. — EDITOR