Welcome John Horgan (JohnHorgan.com) and Host Scott Horton (AntiWar.com/Radio)

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

The End Of War

Is war determined by our genetic makeup? Is war an innate part of humans and subsequently of the human condition? Well respected science writer John Horgan says no, and in turning the matter into one of science rather than morality demonstrates that war is more often avoided than engaged in.

Horgan takes the reader through not only his own research, but that of countless others in various fields including anthropology, sociology, and psychology to demonstrate both how some have concluded that war is indeed innate and also to counter their arguments with substantive evidence. He explores the question of nature vs. nurture and examines societal causes of war.

On the latter point, Horgan posits and demonstrates that the very societal causes of war – such as religion, for example – have also been solutions. He cites the Christian crusades for instance as an example of religion as an impetus for war, but also cites examples of Christian pacifism and religious anti-war protests.

Yet what of the nature vs. nurture question? Just how innate is the need for war in humans? Horgan cites long noted studies of chimps by scientists showing that war is in their biological make-up. Since chimps and humans are so close genetically, the natural conclusion is that such a drive toward war is also innate to humans. Horgan, however, convincingly illustrates that studies of chimps have not always taken into account human interference nor have the studies adequately calculated actual aggressive activities between groups of chimps. Horgan cites Jane Goodall, for example, who noted that her own contribution of bananas to the chimps she was observing may have made them more aggressive. Horgan actually demonstrates that not only are chimps less aggressive than is widely assumed, but also provides the reader with another human relative that is far more peaceful: the bonobos. In other words, if the argument is that humans are as aggressive as chimps because the two are genetically so close, then the counter argument is equally true: humans are just as peaceful as bonobos because they are just as equally related to them as to chimps.

War has come to be accepted by society as something that is a necessary part of civilization. Horgan argues that this is not so and that war as part of human history is only roughly 13,000 years old.

What then is the cause of war? How do societies stop engaging in wars? Most importantly, is it possible that wars will become obsolete, as Horgan argues? If so, how will this happen? These questions, Horgan’s research and suggestions make for a well-articulated argument that war can become a relic of a shameful human past, something humans remember and study in wonder, but no longer have to live through.

John Horgan is a long-time senior writer for Scientific American. He has also written for The New York Times, Time, Newsweek, New Scientist, just to name a few. Horgan is also the director of the Center for Science Writings at the Stevens Institute of Technology (http://www.stevens.edu/sit/).

Scott Horton is the host of Antiwar Radio on the Liberty Radio Network and on Pacifica in Los Angeles. He is assistant editor at Antiwar.com. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, investigative journalist Larisa Alexandrovna.

94 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes John Horgan, The End Of War”

BevW March 24th, 2012 at 1:49 pm

John, Welcome back to the Lake.

Scott, Welcome to the Lake and for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

Scott Horton March 24th, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Thank you Bev and the FDL crew.

I’m Scott Horton. Thanks everyone for joining us today, and thank you John Horgan for the great new book The End of War.

Hopefully you’ll put me out of work some time real soon.

Scott Horton March 24th, 2012 at 2:00 pm

What inspired you to write this book?

DWBartoo March 24th, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Thank you, John and Scott, for joining us.


John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 2:03 pm
In response to Scott Horton @ 3

Scott, good to be here, and thanks for hosting this event. I decided to write The End of War because I realized, starting almost a decade ago, that the vast majority of people–all people, liberals and doves as well as conservatives and hawks–are extremely fatalistic about war. Between 80-90 percent of the thousands of people I’ve surveyed think war will never end. It’s a permanent part of the human condition. Fatalists often cite scientific claims in support of their view. I can’t stand it when people believe something that I believe is wrong, so I set out to write the book.

dakine01 March 24th, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Good afternoon John and Scott and welcome to FDL this afternoon.

John, I have not read your book and apologize if you address this in there but how does war as a choice rather than nature imperative match up with the seemingly human specific aspect of bullies? It sure does seem that larger, more powerful individuals bullying weaker/less powerful is a human aspect that also leads directly to how wars are conducted with the powerful seemingly going after weaker countries because they can.

John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 2:04 pm

And Scott, don’t quite your antiwar job quite yet. There’s a lot of work to do.

Scott Horton March 24th, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Perhaps I don’t read enough academic level materiel on such things, but I was surprised to see how many seem to assume so much of human behavior to be genetically determined rather than a matter of choice. Were you surprised to see so many experts convinced that war is in our genes?

John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 2:09 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 6

Good question. In my book, I address organized, lethal group fighting, with the emphasis on lethal. I think humans will always become embroiled in conflicts with each other, because, yes, we are aggressive, competitive, ambitious. I play ice hockey, and my friends tell me that occasionally I play too hard. I’m an aggressive reporter. Capitalism is a tough game, in which bullies often prosper, and so is politics–even antiwar politics! But conflicts that involve killing are different in kind from these other competitions. The vast majority of people don’t like killing, as I point out in my book. Hence the high rates of PTSD even among drone operators, who run no risk to themselves when they kill.

DWBartoo March 24th, 2012 at 2:10 pm

War IS a relatively recent “invention”.

As women “invented” agriculture, men, seeing that there was a communal “surplus” possible, decided that they had to invent “war” as a means of climbing the “political” ladder. Getting control. Having, always, “the other”, the dangerous and covetous “other”, one imagines that “tribal fear” could be relatively easily “stoked”.

Nowadays, wars can easily be started with sumptuous lies … however, it does seem that “war” is losing favor with “the people” as they have finally, after ten thousand years of so, come to realize that THEY pay the cost.

In fact, anti-war sentiment, in this society, American society, is at the highest point that I have seen it in all my sixty-five years.

Do you think, John, that war might, finally, be going out of “style”?


John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 2:12 pm
In response to Scott Horton @ 8

Scott, yes. As you know, I repeatedly describe war as a choice, as something we make happen, rather than something that happens to us. A meta-theme of my book is that science as a whole has succumbed to determinism lately, with some prominent scientists, including Francis Crick and even the great humanist Einstein, declaring that free will is an illusion. This view is unsupported by the evidence, and it can promote passivity and despair.

CTuttle March 24th, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Aloha, John Horgan and Scott Horton…!

John, have you ever looked at the Geographical aspects, in that, Mountainous ‘tribes’ have historically been more warlike than Plains and/or Coastal ‘tribes’…?

momma64 March 24th, 2012 at 2:14 pm

You and George going to do any more Science Saturdays?

Dogma Trainer March 24th, 2012 at 2:15 pm

John, I’m wondering what you think the average individual (who is NOT making the choice to go to war) can/should do to help end war?

sn1789 March 24th, 2012 at 2:15 pm

There is a conceptual gulf between the aggression of primates and the aggression of humans. The same conceptual gulf exists between aggression of small-scale hunting-gathering communities and the large-scale coordinated military actions of class and state societies. Only a semantic hoax bundles chimp aggression, human aggression, hunting/gathering conflict and state-society warfare into one concept called war.

John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 2:16 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 10

DW, there is evidence that, yes, war is going out of style. As I and other authors have pointed out, the last decade was more peaceful–in terms of war-related casualties–than any decade in the previous century. Since the end of WWII, war has undergone a precipitous decline. BUT. The US remains extremely armed and dangerous, and our leaders, from Obama–the peace candidate!–to military officials, some of whom I cite in my book, still favor an immense military to protect us from all the bad guys that they believe will always threaten us. Our hawkish outlook and policies–and the glorification of military exploits, like the killing of Bin Laden–must be challenged if we are to transcend the era of war once and for all.

Peterr March 24th, 2012 at 2:17 pm
In response to John Horgan @ 9

A *hockey* player wrote a book on the end of war?

OK, this is a book I’ve got to get.

Tashkent March 24th, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Thanks very much for your book and insightful comments. I think I heard you interviewed on WNYC. In reading and listening to your comments, I couldn’t help think about another book that was discussed during a FDL Book Salon titled, “None of Us Were Like This Before.” I don’t know if you’ve heard about it or read it. (Just finished it and highly recommend it!) One of the things that struck me about it was how many seasoned military professionals reconsidered their military experiences after they had been exposed to “abusive violence” in combat – in this case, torture. My question is, do you think we’re more likely to find anti-war military allies after we go through military debacles like torture – or the Iraq war in general (or the failing war in Afghanistan)? Thank you for your work.

DWBartoo March 24th, 2012 at 2:20 pm
In response to John Horgan @ 9

It is interesting that you put these things, politics, economic systems, and war, into the context of “games”, John, for that is precisely what they are, games, which people, human beings, “play”, sometimes with deadly intent, and often with deadly and dire consequence.

However, like the games which children play, human beings CAN, if they are so motivated, change the rules of thos e games and even the nature of the games, themselves.

War is NOT inevitable, and economic systems do NOT need to destroy the capacity of the environment’s, or now, the planet’s, capacity to support human life.

Human beings, seem, at the present time, to dare to open their minds and fully engage their humanity AND their imaginations …

In fact, if we fail to do both, then out “tenure” here, on planet Earth, which tenure is NOT guaranteed, will come to a rather miserable end … and sooner rather than much later, one imagines.


John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 2:21 pm
In response to momma64 @ 13

George and I plan to do more chats soon. Stay tuned!
As for lumping many forms of group aggression together, from chimps raids and hunter-gatherer feuds to WWII, I agree that in some sense the term “war” gets awfully expansive. But in my book I accept the claim that these behavior are related. I challenge not the definition of war but the data about chimps raids and Paleolithic fighting. What people must know is that war dates back not millions or even hundreds of thousands of years but only 10,000 years or so. War is a quite recent cultural innovation which culture can help us transcend. It is not the inevitable result of an innate warrior instinct or of our tendency to reproduce faster than our habitats can sustain us.

joelmael March 24th, 2012 at 2:25 pm

You indicate that religion both supports and undermines war making. Do you see our state religion, patriotism, being engaged in undermining war making also?

John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 2:25 pm
In response to Tashkent @ 18

Tashkent, you’re right, veterans often become the most eloquent opponents of war. Think of Sherman saying war is hell. Think of Eisenhower’s military industrial complex speech. JFK’s 1963 peace speech, in which he urged his young audience to reject defeatism and envision, and seek to create, a world without war. My guess–my hope!-is that one of the upsides of Afghanistan and Iraq is that they will produce a generation of potent antiwar veterans.

BevW March 24th, 2012 at 2:26 pm

John Horgan – WNYC Interviews

John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 2:29 pm
In response to Dogma Trainer @ 14

Good question. What can a single person do to oppose war? First and most simply, reject fatalism, the idea that we have always waged war and always will, because that’s just how things are. Ask your friends if they feel this way, and if they do, tell them that this view is wrong, empirically, because it runs counter to a mountain of evidence, and morally, because the belief that the war will never end can become a self-fulfilling prophesy. We need to see ending war as an absolute moral imperative, on a par with ending slavery or fighting against poverty and disease.

DWBartoo March 24th, 2012 at 2:30 pm
In response to John Horgan @ 16

Yes, the main stumbling “block” to forward progress IS the USA, John, and either we, “the people” must insist that the nation change its course, and succeed in that insistence, or others, having NO choice, will have to STOP us.

At which point in time, America and Americans will face what we have happily “exported, for more than a century; that is WAR … we will experience an up-close reality of its “endless” horror.

When I suggest such a thing might happen … here, most people look at me like I am crazy and then they say, “That wouldn’t be fair, it wouldn’t be very nice …”

They are partially correct, it would not be nice.

Since our “leaders” have taken to calling this place, the “Homeland”, and created the National Security State, called for “endless” war and essentially destroyed the Rule of Law, our collective American future, “looking forward”, is rather grim indeed and, if “the people” do not rise to the very real challenge of a political class gone amok with power and wealth, then very unpleasant things will certainly happen here.


Tashkent March 24th, 2012 at 2:32 pm
In response to John Horgan @ 22

Thanks. Yeah, I hear you. Still, I think vets are more inclined to speak out about particular aspects of war that they find objectionable (e.g., torture), but less likely to argue against war in general. Don’t you think that’s the case? I know of Sherman’s book. It’s good, but I like the Phillips “None of Us…” book a bit more. It’s very moving, and covers a lot of ground.

John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 2:34 pm
In response to joelmael @ 21

Let me rephrase your question a bit: Does nationalism lead inevitably to war or at least militarism? That’s what many real politic intellectuals would argue, such as Kagan, whom Obama supposedly finds compelling. (I admit, I’ve become pretty down on Obama recently). Doers that mean we have to abolish nations and create a global government to end war? No, not at all. Nations just need to realize that war and militarism are not in their best interests. They drain resources away from other essential endeavors, such as improving education, health, infrastructure, reducing poverty and injustice. The European Union shows that nationalism is compatible with peaceful relations.

Kevin Gosztola March 24th, 2012 at 2:35 pm

From a scientific view, what do you think about humans wanting to establish laws for war? Do you think this helps prove war is a choice because humans are trying to impose controls or regulations?

Ironcomments March 24th, 2012 at 2:35 pm

War is caused by the manipulation of perception. Religion is a tool in that manipulation. The crusades where not about reconquering the “Holy Land”, it was about controlling trade routes and increasing the revenue for the church. Religion offered then as it does today, the seduction of simplicity and distracted the peasants from their true oppressors.

When someone or population perceives a threat, whether it be real or fabricated, a set of autonomic responses begin and the rational mind is shut down. Fighters train to control these responses just as armies train soldiers so that when the rational mind closes, the training “kicks” in.

Full scale war can end once people realize how they are being manipulated to fight each other by those who can profit from war. Violence however will stay with us because humans do enjoy it to a degree. Sports is the outlet for violence in human society.

John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 2:40 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 28

I’m ambivalent about rules for war, just war theory and so on. They’ve been compared to rules for treating your slaves well. Almost all modern war leaders invoke just war theory to defend their cause. General Sherman said that war is so bad that the just thing to do is to wage it as brutally as possible to end it quickly. In this way he justified his devastation of Atlanta and other civilian population centers in the South. I am, however, sympathetic toward a concept called just policing, which I discuss in my book. It calls for applying police rules to military actions. The first rule is NEVER EVER EVER take actions that result in the deaths of civilians. Also do all you can to capture enemy combatants and bring them to justice. Obama claimed that was the goal of the SEALS who killed Obama. I have my counts, but I appreciate the lip service.

Scott Horton March 24th, 2012 at 2:40 pm
In response to John Horgan @ 11

John, If, as you say in the book, it’s only 2% of us, the psychopaths, or politicians, who like it, how in the world do they have such success in pulling such large numbers of people along with them into disaster?

DWBartoo March 24th, 2012 at 2:40 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 28

Great comment, Kevin, and most important, from several different directions, on the one hand it legitimizes the notion of war, and on the other it suggests that deeper reflection might devise better “rules” for the larger “game” of life morphing into an appreciation that LIFE is what it is all about, that life matters more than just about ANY game that wee and we humans might seek to devise.


joelmael March 24th, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Since many wars are resource wars,( for example, fighting over oil) will not the looming shortages associated with climate change make war even more difficult to avoid?

greenwarrior March 24th, 2012 at 2:43 pm

welcome john and scott! slow typing here – broken wrist. i’m wondering if you address in your book the issue of some of the mainstream media being owned by the owners of mic?

Tashkent March 24th, 2012 at 2:44 pm
In response to Scott Horton @ 31

Thank you… That’s the question!

cmaukonen March 24th, 2012 at 2:44 pm
In response to joelmael @ 33

Like the more people…the fewer resources…the greater likelihood of war.

John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 2:45 pm
In response to Scott Horton @ 31

Scott, you allude to the finding, which I discuss in my book, that although most soldiers loathe combat and killing, a small percentage, who often have sociopathic tendencies–meaning a profound lack of empathy and remorse–enjoy it. Some scholars have theorized that these sociopaths are responsible for most of the bloodshed of history. Certainly some leaders and war criminals seem to be sociopaths. Bad apples. But both history and the scientific literature suggests war transforms people into bad apples, into monsters, who slaughter innocents, bomb cities, either because they snap or because that is what they think they are supposed to do. The Milgram and Zimbardo experiments on conformity are relevant here. We wage war because we are sheep, not wolves.

greenwarrior March 24th, 2012 at 2:48 pm
In response to John Horgan @ 30

the problem with “policing rules” is the police carrying guns. e.g. the police brutality in minority neighborhoods and with the non-violent occupy movement.

Scott Horton March 24th, 2012 at 2:50 pm

For every bad theory of the causes of war, there are a few bad solutions proposed. Can you take us through some of the worst: e.g. shock collars and world government?

John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 2:51 pm

My next column for Scientific American will address the claim that global warming is going to trigger wars over water. This is a very common complaint among antiwar lefties these days (and I use that phrase fondly, because I’m one myself). Bill McKibben, Lester Brown, Chris Hedges and others claim that if global warming proceeds, we will inevitably start fighting over water and food. I devote a chapter of my book to rebutting this very widespread belief, which is propagated by scholars such as the Harvard archaeologist Steve LeBlanc. (Why are these Harvard profs so into depressing theories of war!) Both anthropological studies and analyses of modern wars show that resource competition is a lousy explanation of war. It has at best partial explanatory power for some wars. The explanation I favor is one that the much-reviled Margaret Mead set forth in her 1940 essay War Is an Invention, Not a Biological Necessity. Mead describes war as a self-perpetuating cultural invention–a meme, in modern parlance–that culture can help us transcend.

Dogma Trainer March 24th, 2012 at 2:52 pm
In response to John Horgan @ 37

Interesting analogy, John. Wolves are predatory by nature, and sheep are prey. If we felt stronger – less threatened – would we be less likely to go to war?

RevBev March 24th, 2012 at 2:56 pm
In response to John Horgan @ 40

That’s certainly encouraging from a worthy source….Who do you see as some of the leaders?

joelmael March 24th, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Is there evidence that the more power women have in a country the less likely it is to make war?

DWBartoo March 24th, 2012 at 2:58 pm
In response to John Horgan @ 37

I think that we ACCEPT the waging of war because we are sheep who wish to remain in “good” standing with the “flock”, John … and consider how long it “takes” to “produce” a good soldier, who will do what he or she is told without assessing whether the “order” is just, right, proper, or humane?

One notes, that the military judge for the Bradley Manning trial, has said that individual soldiers, on the basis of their personal convictions or “beliefs”, do not have the right or authority to second guess whether or not commands which they are given or policies which they are to enforce are legitimate or right … revisiting and making now legitimate the Nuremberg “defense”, apparently.


John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 2:58 pm
In response to Scott Horton @ 39

Yes, in my book I run through lots of what I call pseudo-solutions for war. Those who think war is a biological problem have proposed various biological pseudo-solutions. Brain implants that counter aggression (Yale neurophysiologist Jose Delgado liked this idea, and show he could pacify a bull by zapping its brain with an electrode). Genetic engineering. “Serenics,” drugs that pacify us. (Some people think oxytocin, the “love hormone,” could serve as a serenic.) More sports or mandated dangerous work for young men (Konrad Lorenz and William James favored this). Some people, noting that bonobos have lots of sex and little violence, have proposed that if we make more love, we’ll have less war. Very sixties-ish. But any disregarding the impracticalities, there is no evidence that any of these solution would work. For example, some warlike tribes are very sexy. And there is no evidence that if a society engages in more contact sports, it becomes less warlike.

Scott Horton March 24th, 2012 at 3:01 pm
In response to John Horgan @ 45

You site researchers such as Lewis Fry Richardson as being at a loss to explain war with any one or few theories, for any example has more than a few to counter it. Wars seem to start and be sustained for such wide and varied reasons, and this, you say in the book, shows that we need not have them at all. But do they also show that mankind is at a loss trying to figure out a way to make them stop?

Scott Horton March 24th, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Thanks everyone for all the great questions so far! Keep ‘em coming!

John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 3:03 pm
In response to RevBev @ 42

Leaders of the effort to get beyond war? Well, one person I focus on in my book is the political scientist Gene Sharp, whom I consider to be one of our era’s most important and under appreciated thinkers. For decades Sharp has been churning out works on how nonviolent activism can topple dictators, oppose political and economic injustice and do all the things that military action is supposed to do, except that nonviolent political change usually leads to better outcomes. Sharp’s writing inspired the leaders of the Arab spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. If only Al Qaeda and all other groups fighting for change adopted his principles!

cmaukonen March 24th, 2012 at 3:03 pm
In response to Scott Horton @ 46

Wars seem to start and be sustained for such wide and varied reasons,


greenwarrior March 24th, 2012 at 3:07 pm
In response to Scott Horton @ 47

see mine, as yet unresponded to, at 33 and 37.

John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 3:08 pm
In response to joelmael @ 43

When I started my book, I was looking for magic bullets, and female empowerment looked promising. After all, the vast majority of war combatants are male, about 99% according to Joshua Goldstein. Also in third world countries, especially, female education leads to a cascade of positive social effects, from lower birth rates to greater political and economic stability. But female empowerment–although obviously valuable in its own right–does not necessarily suppress war. After women got the right to vote in the US and Europe, we still had WWII. Conversely, Switzerland, which was the last modern nation in which women gained the right to vote, stopped fighting wars two centuries ago. War is to an extent an independent variable, which can infect any society, poor and rich, democratic or tyrannical, patriarchal or gender-equal. To stop war, we have to stop war.

tuezday March 24th, 2012 at 3:11 pm

With all the media and MIC do to de-humanize our “enemies” how do we as a society re-humanize them? The less enlightened think the people in the ME sit around caves all day devising ways to kill us, if they give them any thought at all. It seems to me the best way to end wars would be to show the people in the U.S. who we are really fighting. People just like us who have aspirations for their children, mow their yards, go to the library, school, the grocery store, update their Facebook pages, etc. How do we do accomplish this?

Scott Horton March 24th, 2012 at 3:11 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 50

The subject of the book is a bit broader than the mic-media nexus. It’s more along the lines of what is natural and what do we believe natural is, does it have to be this way at all.

And yes, as always, who polices the police?

cmaukonen March 24th, 2012 at 3:11 pm
In response to John Horgan @ 51

And Switzerland is the banker….hummm.

John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 3:15 pm
In response to Scott Horton @ 46

Scott, another good question. I admit that, as I research my book, I became overwhelmed at times by the complexity, and paradoxical nature, of war. So many proposed solutions can also exacerbate conflict. Religion, the state, the desire for democracy, capitalism, socialism. War itself can of course bring an end to war. And war is so mutable, and can infect so many societies, regardless of their conditions. What prevents me from despairing is that there are many examples of extremely warlike societies that stop fighting just because they decide collectively to do so. Switzerland and Sweden 200 years ago. My favorite recent example is Costa Rica, which after a horrible civil war in the 1940s disbanded its army, which was usually used by one group of Costa Ricans to crush another, not to defend the nation against outside aggressors. Costa Rica invested those resources in education and infrastructure and health services and tourism, and it now usually tops ranking of the social “happiness” of nations. Among tribal people, the extremely violent Yanomami and Waorani have also learned to stop fighting. There are many proofs out there that war and militarism can be overcome, for those who want to look.

John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 3:17 pm
In response to cmaukonen @ 54

Yeah, Switzerland and Sweden made compromises during WWII, and both have strong militaries for self-defense. But if all nations behaved as they do, there would be no war.

Ludwig March 24th, 2012 at 3:19 pm

War is dead! Long live War!

As we see the definition of war transformed – War on Terror – what do you then mean “End to War”?

joelmael March 24th, 2012 at 3:22 pm
In response to John Horgan @ 51

These anecdotal examples you cite are not satisfying, given the many other factors in play in those cases. Has there been any serious investigation of a possible relation?

John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 3:23 pm
In response to Scott Horton @ 53

Actually the question about media is a good one. The media are another solution-problem. Think of how Fox and even the NY Times beat the drums for the US invasion of Iraq. But modern media can also counter our war-lust by showing us what war looks like in graphic detail. TV depictions of soldiers burning villages helped erode US support for Vietnam, and today we get much more uncensored depictions of our wars abroad. Also, the internet can help us understand other societies and groups better. Finally I’m very encouraged by Wikileaks and other hacker groups that are exposing the machinery of war and repression. You asked who polices the police? Or, more pertinently, those who control the police. Well, in a democratic state, we do, as long as we know what the hell they’re doing. I’d love to see the emergence of a global grass-roots intelligence system run by the people for the people.

Scott Horton March 24th, 2012 at 3:26 pm

John, Must World War II always be the “Good War”?

John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 3:26 pm
In response to Dogma Trainer @ 41

No, that’s not the way to go, peace through strength, if that’s what you mean. What I envision is something like relations between the US and Canada, or even NY and New Jersey. New Yorkers don’t feel secure from an attack by Jersey-ites. They don’t think about such an attack at all, because it’s inconceivable. That’s what I envision for all international relations.

cmaukonen March 24th, 2012 at 3:27 pm
In response to John Horgan @ 59

Open Intelligence. Totally open and free to anyone anywhere.

John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 3:29 pm
In response to joelmael @ 58

If you want an exhaustive analysis of the role of gender and war, see the book by Gender and War by Joshua Goldstein. He started the book thinking he would prove that male dominance, patriarchy, is a prime cause of war. But by the time he was done, he’d concluded that war leads to patriarchy rather than vice versa, and he gloomily concluded that female empowerment alone cannot end war.

Ludwig March 24th, 2012 at 3:30 pm
In response to John Horgan @ 61

“They don’t think about such an attack at all, because it’s inconceivable” on the part of attackers.

Dearie March 24th, 2012 at 3:31 pm

John, in your various research and thinking and musing, did you come up with an inkling of how We The People can stop Israel and the USA from launching War With Iran? Anything we can do to derail this hostility?

bluedot12 March 24th, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Lately there has been a good deal of talk about Iran. Over the past years, Iran has talked about “wiping” Israel from the earth. Now they are possibly building a bomb. Given the history of the Jewish people, is it not plausible they would feel threatened and would want to take military action before they are attacked and the threat is caried out? And isn’t that the sort of scenario that gets us into war? It is like our 911. All it takes is a catalyst.

Scott Horton March 24th, 2012 at 3:34 pm
In response to bluedot12 @ 66

John, You have quite a bit to say about the work of John Mueller of the University of Chicago about the disparity between the common perception and the actual amount of peace breaking out in the world. Could you elaborate for those on their way to get the book?

John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 3:35 pm
In response to Scott Horton @ 60

Scott, you’re right that WWII is the war that for many people justifies war. I’m not a total pacifist. I do think in some case violence must be used to thwart a greater violence. WWII is a prime example. But the Allies committed massive war crimes against German and Japanese civilians. We also Nicholson Baker’s book Human Smoke for an account of WWII that suggests there might have been a better way. Whether or not you accept that–and I’m not sure I do–we can all surely agree that we never want another such war rot recur, and we must take steps to ensure that it doesn’t. That does NOT mean preparing for another massive war, which is what our current policy calls for. It means creating a world in which no state even contemplates, for a moment, the kind of actions that triggered WWII.

joelmael March 24th, 2012 at 3:36 pm
In response to John Horgan @ 63

Thanks for the reference.

DWBartoo March 24th, 2012 at 3:36 pm
In response to Dearie @ 65

Now THAT is a truly worthwhile and timely question, Dearie, and I hope that John might have some kind of an answer … I know no single (or married) person who is in favor of “that” particular “adventure” …


John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 3:38 pm
In response to Ludwig @ 57

When I talk about the end of war, I mean first and foremost the end of war between states. We’re already on our way, I believe. But then what about civil wars? Terrorism? Large-scale criminal violence, as in Mexico? I predict that as state wars and militarism subside, other forms of large-scale violence will as well, in part because states will have more resources to devote to the problems that provoke non-state violence.

DWBartoo March 24th, 2012 at 3:39 pm
In response to John Horgan @ 68

What is the fundamental moral difference, if there is one, between the use of V2 rockets and the use armed drones to terrorize civilian populations, John.

If any country is behaving in a fashion reminiscent of the Third Reich, then it is the US of A, in my estimation …


stewartm March 24th, 2012 at 3:40 pm

I agree with your thesis, John, that war isn’t a biological destiny. For one thing, even with comparison with other primates and primate aggression, I think we’re biologically and behaviorally much more akin to bonobos than to the more aggressive common chimps.

Caveats are properly in order, and we must discuss evidence to the contrary. Hunter-gatherers who survived late enough to be studied all had neighbors who lived in more derived, more warlike, cultures, and thus had to learn warfare to survive. Most late-surviving hunter-gatherer groups *do* practice warfare. But what about before then? Australian aborigines (more isolated than others) might give a hint, they also practiced intergroup conflict amongst themselves, and there is evidence of smashed bones and cannibalism in prehistory. With the former, however, the mortality rates were on the par of about 1 person per band per 10 years, and there is much in their warfare which is more symbolic than deadly. With the latter, smashed bones might be just signs of cannibalism, which are often carried out on revered kin, not hated enemies.

To sum up, I’m not sure that there was NO intergroup conflict before the Neolithic revolution. However, what did exist I think we could say might be more on par with what we might call “homicide” rather than “war”. I say this because the population density of the pre-Neolithic period was very low–the population of modern France might have been anywhere from 2,000 to 20,000 individuals–which leaves the question of “who exactly are you going to fight?”. I also say this because if war was innate and aggression “natural”, then why would every culture have to prepare their boys and young men for warfare by submitting them into a period of indoctrination involving desensitization and brutalization? We still have that today; today we call that “boot camp”.

But I wonder why you think warfare is going out of fashion. Violence still produces results, the powerful realize that being loved is not necessary, but being feared is. If you believe that war (as Jacob Brownoski said) is nothing more than organized theft, as long as we have an economic system that justifies and indeed lauds a legalized form of theft and inequality I don’t see how you can banish war.


John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 3:44 pm
In response to Dearie @ 65

I think we can start with an analysis of the situation. Why do we and Israel fear Iran? Because they may be building a nuke to attack us. Why are they doing that, if they are? Because of course they fear us and Israel, and we actually HAVE nukes. It’s an absurd situation (a classic example of fear of war leading to war, which I talk about in my book) of the kind that led us into our disastrous adventure in Iraq. Obama is not the warmongering fool that Bush was, but I would like him to show more imagination and courage in his dealings with our festering conflicts in the Middle East. I would like him, instead of talking about true necessity of war and militarism, as he did when accepting his Nobel Peace Prize!–to help spell out a plan, a vision, for a world without war. I’m sorry to be so vague, but hell, that’s what we pay him and Hillary and all the other folks in DC for, right?

cmaukonen March 24th, 2012 at 3:48 pm
In response to John Horgan @ 74

“Fearing war he has let loose war. For he who hits first, if he hits hard enough, need not hit again.”

Bad misquote, I’ll admit.

Dearie March 24th, 2012 at 3:49 pm

I agree that Obama has been a weak ‘leader’, But I disagree that War in Iraq was about anything but Dick Cheney’s desire to get at their oil. People wrote, signed petitions, marched, screamed…..to no avail. I fear Israel more than I fear Iran at this point. And I’m reaching the point where I think you could get better help and answers in how to end war by asking a 5th grade class to come up with ideas. :)~

John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 3:49 pm
In response to stewartm @ 73

Why am I hopeful that we may be on the verge of a world without war? Well, first of all there is the recent decline of war, which I mention above, and which Pinker has delineated in detail. There is also the spread of democracy over the last century, from about 10 percent of humanity in 1900 to more than 60 percent today. Democracies, although they certainly fight non-democracies, rarely if ever fight each other. There is the spread of media, which exposes the horrors of war as never before. And there is, not coincidentally, a decline in the sort of glorification of war that leading intellectuals as well as politicians like Teddy Roosevelt routinely engaged in a century ago, in which war was seen as intrinsically good, the ultimate sport. Fatalists now see war as a necessary evil, not as something groovy. That’s progress.

stewartm March 24th, 2012 at 3:50 pm
In response to John Horgan @ 74

Why do we and Israel fear Iran? Because they may be building a nuke to attack us.

Does the US fear a nuclear Iran? I don’t think so. The US could destroy the Iranians even with nukes and it’s doubtful Iran has any retaliatory capacity against the US proper.

Does Israel fear a nuclear Iran? Maybe, Iran might reasonably develop a capacity to hit Israel, but maybe not as much as they pretend. Even in the worst case, Israel would still have military superiority over Iran.

Then why all the fuss? A nuclear Iran makes it too costly for any US-Israel intervention/invasion of Iran to occur, it sets the stakes too high, and thus limits the “freedom of action” and “options” (as diplomats would say) open to both powers in the region. This is more about reducing the Israeli/US capacity for *offensive actions* in the region rather than worries about defense.


BevW March 24th, 2012 at 3:53 pm

As we come to the end of this Book Salon discussion,

John, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and ending war.

Scott, Thank you very much for joining us here at the Lake and for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

John’s website and book (EndOfWar)

Scott’s website (AntiWar.com/Radio)

Thanks all, Have a great weekend.

Tomorrow – Katherine Porter / Broke: How Debt Bankrupts the Middle Class; Hosted by Masaccio

If you want to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

cmaukonen March 24th, 2012 at 3:54 pm
In response to BevW @ 79

Tomorrows sounds very interesting.

Scott Horton March 24th, 2012 at 3:56 pm
In response to bluedot12 @ 66

Thank you very much Bev for having me. And thank you very much John for this hopeful and important book as well as your time today.


Dearie March 24th, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Thanks John and Scott. I’d like to do another hour or two on the topic of ending war. Myabe one or the other of you will host-a-post!

DWBartoo March 24th, 2012 at 3:57 pm
In response to John Horgan @ 74

We think we pay the political class to do such thinks, John, but such expectations as that, leaving it essentially in the hands of the elite, has not worked out very well.

Consider that most Americans do not know the history which America has with Iran, for example what we did to them in 1953, to Mossedegh, and then after reinstalling the Shah’s father the CIA set up Savak … and so on and so forth.

Do you imagine that our political class will ever acknowledge all of the things done in the name of “the people”, your name and my name since the “good war”?

Why, our history classes never teach children or young adults very much of the truth … and our myths, our bloody myths preclude a President, if he or she wants to be re-erected from appearing “weak” on “defense” … which is, of course, actually offense and the building of empire …

Is there anything, beyond what you are doing right now, educating understanding, that can make a genuine difference … in time to avoid a world wise conflagration, which a substantial war with Iran would likely “evolve” into?

Thank you for joining us, John, btw, and Scott as well.


John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 3:57 pm
In response to Scott Horton @ 67

Mueller, who’s actually at Ohio State, started predicting the decline and possible end of war back in the late 1980s, when such an idea seemed ludicrous. He may be even more optimistic than I am. He has a kind of updated version of Margaret Mead’s view of war as an independent variable, something that perpetuates itself apart from other conditions. He thinks war will eventually fade away just because we’re sick of it, after the industrial-scale slaughters of the 20th century, and the growing recognition that, except for a few profiteers, war makes no economic sense. He’s assuming a lot of rationality on the part of leaders and citizens, but, incredibly, his optimism seems to be born out by recent events. Now if we can just get our government to start reducing its massive military and get rid of all its nukes, we can focus on eliminating what Mueller calls the “remnants of war,” terrorism, gang violence and insurgencies. Mueller, like Gene Sharp, is one of my favorite war thinkers.

John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Thanks to you all, great questions. If you’re not satisfied with my answers, please read my book, and if you’re still dissatisfied, let me know why and I’ll try my best to answer you. Peace!

Scott Horton March 24th, 2012 at 3:59 pm
In response to John Horgan @ 84

Mine too. I was amazed to learn in Overblown just how many wars have been ending lately. A very enlightening take.

Thanks again John.

John Horgan March 24th, 2012 at 4:00 pm
In response to Scott Horton @ 86

And thanks to you too Scott, terrific questions. Hope to cross tracks with you again.

sadlyyes March 24th, 2012 at 6:04 pm

War is a Racket…always has been

shekissesfrogs March 24th, 2012 at 7:34 pm
In response to John Horgan @ 48

Sharp’s writing inspired the leaders of the Arab spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. If only Al Qaeda and all other groups fighting for change adopted his principles!

This theory has been very insulting to Arabs.
Some of them put up a webpage about it. 2nd comment has a reference to @3arabawy from twitter, one of the most influential labor union organizers in Egypt. I followed him during the that time. Anyway, follow the links. It’s highly amusing.

I’d like to know where the evidence for it comes from. Gene Sharp might have needed a boost for his book sales.

Also, Maybe someone should head to Saudi Arabia, Chechny, and Iraq to deliver some of Gene Sharp’s translated books and train the Salafist Jihadists in his methods, preferably it would be Gene Sharp himself. /s

2nd comment, I wonder if the author studied any of the mythology or jungian archetypes corresponding to “apocalypse psychology” that infects abrahamic religions especially?

John Horgan March 25th, 2012 at 7:59 am
In response to shekissesfrogs @ 89

Sharp was just one of many influences on Arab Spring activists, of course. But his influence was significant enough for the NY Times to write a page-one story about it. He did not promote this idea himself. That’s not his style.
See http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/17/world/middleeast/17sharp.html?_r=1&ref=genesharp
As for our tendency to indulge in apocalyptic thinking, whether religious or secular, I have indeed investigated the literature on that–for my book Rational Mysticism, for example–but it seemed like too much of a digression for The End of War.

Ludwig March 25th, 2012 at 8:52 am
In response to shekissesfrogs @ 89

Fascinating and confirming:

gene sharp is a proxy for CIA/USA imperialism who teaches how to topple leaders that USA do not like, including CHAVES! Yes, his “methods” are used by anti-Chaves “opposition” with USA money to boot, as usual. His book is ONLY works with USA imperialist backing, and even then – not always. To see the great results of his book “success” – look at Georgia, where police is beating opposition several years after the “rose revolution”.

Sharp has NOTHING to do with Gandhi and MLK who fought against imperialism and racism. Sharp is a lackey of USA imperialism under “non-violent” mask. Beware!

Listen to this interview with Ed Herman (Chomsky’s coauthor) regarding Pinker: Are we becoming more civilized?
Something is being manufactured here.

Ludwig March 25th, 2012 at 8:59 am

“Apocalypse psychology” is now instrumental to “ending war”.

juliania March 25th, 2012 at 10:06 am

As a late Sunday morning lurker, let me add my belated thanks to guests, comments and subject. I appreciate Mr. Horton’s comment:

“… Horgan posits and demonstrates that the very societal causes of war – such as religion, for example – have also been solutions. He cites the Christian crusades for instance as an example of religion as an impetus for war, but also cites examples of Christian pacifism and religious anti-war protests.”

I have been reflecting upon the proper considerations of a trinitarian God (which Muslims apparently have found hard to understand) as being the aspect of divinity which mankind ought to emulate as being in the image of God. That’s how the emphasis upon societal relationships of a loving and peaceful nature ought to be understood, in my view, as evidenced in Genesis at the very beginning and underlined in the first part of John’s Gospel. If we are made in the image of that complex divinity, we are made for peace not war.

Ludwig March 25th, 2012 at 10:32 am
In response to juliania @ 93

“If we are made in the image of that complex divinity” …

Aye, there’s a rub.

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