The Causes of War

Peace and security are arguably the most fundamental pillars of any
nation. It goes without saying that they safeguard the existence and
enjoyment of all human rights, in which case their presence or absence
have a bearing on any country’s wellbeing. Needless to say, the world
has, since time immemorial, seen a fair amount of conflicts among varied
parties including nations, races, religions, and even regions. Of
course, there are variations and changes in the weapons used, numbers,
the magnitude of the wars, as well as the cost of wars among other
factors. For example, in 2008 alone, there were about 9 wars and close
to 130 violent conflicts all over the world. Previously non-violent
conflicts spiraled into violent confrontations in areas such as Yemen
and Kenya. Conflicts were also experienced in other parts of the world
such as Congo, with its mineral resources as the center of the
conflicts. Closer home, there have been conflicts between the United
States and other countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as
Israel and Palestine. Israel has been angling for war against Iran,
which it sees as a threat to its existence and stability. Needless to
say, there are variations as to the triggers of wars in different
regions and times. In fact, rarely is war caused by one element, rather
it emanates from an interplay of different factors and causes. In most
cases, the key cause of war is buried in an avalanche of political
statements, with the real motives (and culprits) being hidden through
oaths of secrecy (Ellsberg, 2013). These oaths are not only in the
military, but also the varied institutions of governance involved in the
planning and execution of the wars. Issues pertaining to national
security are rarely revealed, with whistleblowers being regaled as
traitors and unpatriotic individuals (Ellsberg, 2013). Nevertheless, the
key cause of war is almost always individuals or groups of individuals
that occupy the varied powerful institutions of government and who have
differing ideologies. This underlines the fact that wars are usually a
manifestation of the conflicting ideologies of the conflicting
individuals or groups of individuals.
Causes of war have formed a common subject among numerous scholars
across different disciplines. It has also been examined through films
and documentaries. In the 2003 American documentary film titled “The
Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara” Robert
McNamara examines the varied aspects pertaining to modern warfare. The
film outlines the life of McNamara right from his birth in the course of
World War I into his days in the military, the corporate world and in
public service where he was the Secretary of Defense for President
Kennedy, as well as President Johnson. In essence, he outlines issues
surrounding the Vietnam War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, both of which
mark some of the most remarkable wars or conflicts in the history of the
United States. One of the outstanding remarks that he makes in the film
is that he was serving President Johnson’s requests in an effort to
assist him in carrying out his duties as president in line with his
beliefs pertaining to the people’s interests. While he argues that the
president had a reason for putting the country through the Vietnam War,
he acknowledges that the president did not reveal it. This underlines
the fact that the Vietnam War (and many other wars) was merely the
product of ideologies of individuals in the government, who may have
been driven by varied motives in pursuing such techniques.
This notion is also outlined in the movie “The Most Dangerous Man in
America”, a 2009 documentary that revolves around a former insider of
Pentagon named Daniel Ellsberg. Daniel made the decision to challenge
the imperial presidency that was not answerable to any institution
including the Press, the Congress or even the American people (Hale,
2009). The decision was made in an effort to assist in ending the
Vietnam War. Daniel smuggled confidential documents from the Pentagon,
detailing how five American presidents had persistently been feeding
Americans with lies pertaining to the Vietnam War that had torn America
apart and resulted in the deaths of millions of Vietnamese people (Hale,
2009). While the government of the day made varied efforts to stop
Daniel from releasing the information, he relentlessly pursued the path
of truth revealing how the Vietnam War was fundamentally a product of
Imperial Presidency’s secret deeds.
Scholars have also blamed the occurrence of war on conflicting
ideologies pertaining to the leaders of the warring countries (Mead,
2001). They use the example of the cold war, which they note as a blend
of a religious crusade that favored one ideology over the other and
extremely ruthless power politics that struck out for expansion and
advantage in Europe and the entire world at large. These ideologies were
Communist (espoused by the Soviet Union) and Capitalism (espoused by the
United States and Britain, among other European countries). These two
ideologies are significantly different, with communism promoting the
needs of the state over personal needs and human rights (Sample, 2002).
Capitalism, espoused by the United States, revolved around personal
freedom, and distinguished by representative government, individual
liberty, free institutions, as well as numerous other freedoms that are
absent in communism. The key foundation of conflict between the two
ideologies is not merely their differences, but also their militant and
expansionist nature (McNamara, 1996). Individuals holding the two
beliefs or ideologies held the notion that the alternative ideology
posed a threat to their way of life. In addition, their expansionist
tendencies were fueled by the belief that the world was better off with
their ideology rather than the alternative one (Kremenyuk, 1994). This
blend of aggression and ideological fear implied that the USSR and
America had their foreign policies being affected by the ideologies. In
light of the ideological differences, scholars note that international
conflicts such as the cold war, war on Iraq and even Vietnam War is
usually a product of the national regimes character, rather than any
form of international misunderstanding. They note that the Cold War was
merely a manifestation of the aspirations of Stalin and decisions made
by the varied US presidents to stop the expansion of communism (Vasquez,
2000). While they acknowledge the differing circumstances, the state
that there were variations between the conflicts that cropped up during
the reign of different presidents. This is not merely coincidental,
rather it is a manifestation of the fact that wars are products of
individuals occupying the varied positions in governmental institutions
(Vasquez, 2000).
While ideology may be the key trigger of war, other causes also
contribute albeit in a significantly less magnitude to the occurrence of
war. These are mainly social-economic considerations of the people in
power in the concerned governments (Sample, 2002). It is worth noting
that, even in the Cold War, the countries were concerned about the
expansion of the alternative belief or ideology, thanks to the fact that
any country’s ideology has a bearing on the manner in which it relates
with other countries (Dodds, 2002). Countries such as Cuba Russia, Iran,
and North Korea among others are significantly reserved as far as doing
business with America is concerned. This may have resulted from their
differences in ideology.
Scholars support this notion through the examination of World War II.
They note that World War II, like any other modern war, was
fundamentally caused by international rivalries that were inseparable
from capitalism, as well as the domination of world resources by the
capitalist class (Sample, 2002). They trace the background of World War
II to the 1930s alliance between Germans, Italians and the Japanese, an
alliance that made expansion efforts at the expense of older colonial
powers and weaker neighbors such as France, Holland and Britain. An
alliance had earlier on been formed between Germany and Italy way before
1914. However, the two countries had been late in developing, in which
case most or all the strategic positions, trade routes and best
territories had been taken up by more powerful alliances or countries
(Mead, 2001). These scholars note that both world wars were directly
connected in the fact that the settlement that was imposed on the states
that had been defeated in World War I was successful in increasing the
antagonism that resulted in World War II (Kremenyuk, 1994). The triple
alliance between Italy, Germany and Austro-Hungarian Empire seemed to
disintegrate with the exit of Italy, which claimed that the promise that
it would keep a large share of the spoils of victory was not kept
(Kremenyuk, 1994). France and its systems of alliances dominated Europe
after the weakening of Germany and Russia. Its alliances with Poland,
Romania and Czechoslovakia were aimed at preventing the revival of
Germany and Russia. The British government deemed it necessary to help
Germany recover so as to offset France’s preponderance in the interest
of its capitalism. However, the entry of Adolf Hitler after Wall Street
crash of 1929 changed this. The crash had led to a massive breakdown in
international payment systems, and the plummeting of trade thanks to the
reduction of production in countries. Dominant capitalists in France,
Britain and the USA were the sole holders of gold, not to mention the
fact that the countries had monopoly in accessing most sources of raw
materials all over the world. This created a division in the world into
countries that had raw materials and gold, and others that did not
possess these things (Sample, 2002). Italy, Japan and Germany did not
have gold and raw materials. In this case, their governing bodies tried
to solve the problems presented by organizing themselves on an
aggressive totalitarian basis, while also making policies that
challenged the dominant group (Dodds, 2002). Germany threatened the
dominance of other powers through trade that did not involve gold, in
which case the use of gold declined considerably. Japan and Germany had
considerable success in Latin America, southern Asia and Southern
Europe. The dominant powers reiterated by boycotting products from the
three countries and giving credits to Southern Europe to eliminate
dependence on Germany. Germany, on the other hand, resorted to armed
force to which Britain and USA responded in the same manner (Sample,
2002). This led to the World War II. This underlines the interplay
between economic factors and ideology in causing war between nations. It
is no wonder then that the Cold War pitted the two ideological blocks,
which were strong remnants of the World War II.
In conclusion, peace and security are some of the most fundamental
pillars in the wellbeing of any nation. The world, nevertheless, has
experienced numerous conflicts and wars pitting different nations
against each other and having differing magnitudes. While there may be
varied causes of these wars, the common denominator in all of them is
the ideology of the leaders controlling the varied governmental
apparatus. This is clearly exhibited in the 2009 documentary “The Most
Dangerous Man in America” and the 2003 movie titled “The Fog of
War”, both of which outline the fact that the reason for war is
usually the behests or aspirations of the leaders or presidents at that
time. This is also tied to the ideologies of the leaders of the warring
nations. Scholars give the example of the Cold War period and note that
the countries with conflicting ideologies were uncomfortable with the
expansion of the alternative ideologies, in which case they engaged in
aggressive strategies to curb their expansion. These strategies were
founded on the belief that the world was better off with their own
ideology, and the notion that the alternative belief was a threat to the
existence of their own ideology. Nevertheless, they also note that
ideology blends with other factors especially economic factors. This is
because the dominance of any ideology or power is founded on economic
prosperity and the ability to sustain itself and gain the support of
other countries.
McNamara, R (1996). In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam.
Random House Digital, Inc.
Hale, M (2009). “Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the
Pentagon Papers, The Untold Story of a War, and the Story of the Man Who
Told It”. New York Times. Retrieved 6th March 2013
Ellsberg, D (2013). Secrecy and National Security Whistleblowing. Daniel
Ellsberg’s Website. Retrieved 6th March 2013 from HYPERLINK
Vasquez, J. A. (2000). What do We Know about War? Lanham MD: Rowman &
Littlefield Publishers
Sample, S. G (2002). “The Outcomes of Military Buildups: Minor States
vs. Major Powers” Journal of Peace Research 39.6
Mead, W. R. (2001). Special Povidence: American Foreign Policy and How
it Changed the World. New York: Alfred A. Knopf
Kremenyuk, V. (1994). The Cold War as Cooperation.” From Rivalry to
Cooperation: Russian and Americans Perspectives on the Post Cold War
Era. New York: HarperCollins
Dodds, S (2002). The Role of Multilateralism and the UN in Post-Cold War
US Foreign Policy.” Diss. Australian National University