Ian Morris’
War! What is it good for?


The thesis is that The European Union may be an exception but it too soon to tell. The Pax Americana (on the sea) may be followed by a peaceful period (on the sea) but it is much too soon to tell.

For this work the author abjures all figures of merit for a government beyond keeping the peace. Some of my objections to his conclusions relate to my feeling that governments need to be limited in various ways. That is not what this book is about.

As I read:

(L 402) William Fry Richardson again—the same Richardson mentioned here.

Skim from 1318 to 1427

(L 1579) I remark here that I find no difficulty in describing the events that Morris describes, which I assume actually took place, without referring to war as good. I even grant the causality chain that Morris describes. I would instead say that war is a bad phase thru which a population has passed to get to a better place — perhaps a distinction without a difference.

Skim from 1990 to 2095

Skim from 2243 to 2530

Skim from 2717 to 2773

Skim from 3010 to 3045

Skim from 3088to 3332

Skim from 3362 to 3762

(L 3907) The book picks up interest for me beginning about L 1800. His different perspective on familiar events is interesting. There are so many perspectives on the French revolution.

(L 4163) I do not see how disease killing natives can be counted against Europeans. Was there some European behavior that might have avoided or ameliorated this, even in hindsight?

(L 4290) I appreciate Morris’ relatively positive perspective on colonialism.

(L 4302) Morris quotes Angell: “The day for progress by force has passed; it will be progress by ideas or not at all.” in 1914. And notes the bad timing. I have remarks here about both Angell and Morris. First there is the suggestion that the old sorts of progress were by force—a notion that Morris supports and that Morris presumes that Angell ascribed to the past. Morris goes on to suggest that Angell was merely too early. Angell might been right in 1914 unless you ascribe world wars I and II as progress. We shall see how Morris deals with those.

(L 4339) “Should we conclude that all these [European] politicians, with all their years of education and experience, were in fact fools, so blinded by irrational fears and hatreds that they could not see where their peoples’ best interests lay?” Morris does not give the information to decide about ‘irrational’. War has subsided for two reasons:

I am concerned that Morris has not yet dealt with these notions. (He deals with MAD extensively latter.)

(L 4441) I find Morris’ description of the Berlin’s perspective on the world in 1910 novel, yet plausible.

(L 4666) Morris quotes Woodrow Wilson: “only peace between equals can last—the guarantees exchanged must neither recognize not imply a difference between big nations and small, between those that are powerful and those that are weak.” This is counter to the message from Morris (so far).

(L 4714) “Four billion dollars of wealth (the equivalent of $53 billion today) evaporated.” No. On October 30 the wealth was the same as on the 28th but our estimate of it had decreased. We felt poorer and proceeded to create wealth more slowly.

(L 4966) Morris suggests that but for the A-bomb WWIII would have been necessary to settle the division over the iron curtain. I have suspected as much; it is an unpopular idea.

(L 5161) Morris speaks of contingent war plans on both sides of the iron curtain including likely responses. Neither side saw an acceptable path. “MAD” was merely the synopsis.

(L 5700) I am not convinced that it was easier to run away 10,000 years ago than 5,000 years ago or today. When we were foragers the ‘unoccupied land’ was unoccupied because there was not sufficient food there. With agriculture the large scale population was greater your reputation might have spread and neighboring clans might be suspicious.

(L 5806) Morris argues that ‘productive war’ is the cause of the other causes that Pinker gives. He tells a good story but I need someone with a bookkeeper’s instincts to decide.

(L 5855) Morris speaks of the madness of Nash. Nash had produced a theorem and no madness could undo that.

(L 5427) “Beijing softened its image still further in 2008 by changing the label to “Peaceful Development”. This, spokesmen explained, was part of an ancient Chinese strategic culture, rooted in Confucianism. Rather than using force to resolve disputes, China had always relied on virtue, showing by its humane example that cooperation would make everyone better-off”

I would judge this to be nearly he opposite of what Morris describes as the world’s dominant progress mode thru the 20’th century. Some historians have noted several ‘conquests of China’ whereafter 100 years China was still China run as before by Chinese. “Conquest?” Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot’s murderous rampages were premeditated. Mao’s were mistakes, admitted later as such.

(L 6728) Toward the end Morris goes high tech and speculative, which is appropriate. He gives a good tech summary of near art. He quote some tech speculators too and critiques their works.

(L 6751) As of this late point Morris has not mentioned what the military calls ‘cyber war’ wherein you find that your missile control computer is playing solitaire just now and cannot be bothered to worry about missiles.

(L 6905) Morris has gone a bit over the top. Granted that something really new is going to happen in the next few decades; it takes more to make a super-organism than some mechanical mind-meld. It has never happened before to a brains. We have yet no theory for how to do that.