Saturday, July 12, 2014

Learning All of The Things

My latest attempt at figuring out how things work involves a book called On the Origins of War: And the Preservation of Peace by Donald Kagan.  It's one of the Big Questions that's been nagging at me.  Why does war happen?  Is it preventable?  Is it inevitable, given the essential truths of human nature?  And how do big wars (between nations, ethnic groups, religious groups, etc.) relate to the smaller ones, between individuals or small groups?  Is it basically the same thing on a different scale, or different altogether?

I guess it works like "Ask a stupid question; get a stupid answer".  Ask a horribly complicated question; get a horribly complicated answer.

This book is a brain-twister.  I can usually read in the same room as Ken while he's got the TV on.  In this case, no.  I need 100% of my little grey cells to stay focused on this book, and even without distractions it's a big effort.

The book takes 5 situations as case studies: two ancient wars, two modern wars, and one close call (war threatened but did not break out).  Considering that I know very little about the modern wars (less than I thought I knew, evidently) and nothing at all about the ancient ones, I have to take a run at each scenario from scratch, trying to keep straight all the players, individual and collective, and follow each of their own reasoning, lists of goals and priorities, and about-turns.  I need more RAM, honestly.  Stack overflow.

Here's what makes it so difficult: wars don't start out with only two sides!  Did you know that?  I didn't really think about it until I came upon this book.  You only get clear divisions into Good Guys and Bad Guys (or X vs. Y, if you prefer) after the war has gotten underway.  Before the war, for example, WWI, you have to consider England, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Turkey as six separate teams!  And they have complicated systems of alliances, ententes, etc., which morph from year to year, and then sometimes they don't do what they promised anyway.  OMG.

I'm a little less than halfway through the book so far.  I've covered one of the ancient wars and WWI. I'm going to take a break from it before ploughing in to the next ancient greco-roman scenario.  Good golly.  However, I can tell that it's going to be worth the effort to keep trudging through the pages, even though it's slow going.  I do feel that I'm getting just a tiny bit closer to Understanding All of The Things.


Jenny Woolf said...

I admire you putting in the effort to get to grips with this subject.

DarcKnyt said...

I am confident that, when you do learn All The Things, you'll concisely and precisely offer summation which helps everyone else Learn All The Things. :)

Warped Mind of Ron said...

I stick to books with pictures and books where you need crayons. I'm sure you will come to understand all the things and will go forth and lead us all to peace and understanding!!!

Granny Annie said...

And the ultimate underlying cause will always turn out to be GREED.

Vanessa T said...

You asked, "Is it inevitable, given the essential truths of human nature?" I'm going to go with, "YES!" Man without God is an evil being, and sadly, with God, he - too often - isn't a whole lot better.

You are brave and adventurous in your quest of The Understanding of All Things. I admire that about you!

LL Cool Joe said...

So this is your light summer reading book then? :D