Why do wars begin?
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - September 27, 2020 - 12:00am

The rising tensions in the South China Sea between China and an alliance of several nations including the USA, Japan, Australia, Vietnam, Taiwan, UK and other countries has raised the uneasy prospect of the possibility of a war. Most analysts do not believe that war will be intentionally started. But the possibility of an accidental war is quite strong. Fighter planes flying over Taiwan territory are already causing nervousness in many security groups all over the world. China’s recently declared “world warrior” diplomacy contends that it has no intention of backing down anywhere that it is involved in a confrontation.

Why do wars begin? There have been many analyses and theories on this critical question. One of the most interesting theories I ever read was propounded by Professor Thomas Palaima who wrote: “The simple answer is that they never end. Peace is an illusion conjured by a version of the old Roman magic trick: Where they make a desolation they call it peace.”

War is seemingly endless. After every war, we hear that this was a war to end all wars. However, the idea of an endless war as an inevitable condition of life needs to be taken seriously. I remember the 1960s when the Vietnam war was supposedly the final battle against communism in Asia. The United States poured manpower and resources into Vietnam and ended up having to give up Vietnam to the communists. Today Vietnam is a communist state; but, it is an ally of the United States against China which was its ally in that seemingly forgotten war. That is when I stopped believing that ideology is the main cause of war.

Perhaps, the best theory of war is the Thucydides Principle which has been around since Ancient Greece. It says that conflict is inevitable between a superpower and a rising power. That has been the theory for most analysts regarding the conflict between the United States and China.

However, this does not answer the question regarding conflict between China and Taiwan, Japan, India or even Australia.

For A.J.P. Taylor, wars occur when diplomacy fails, so that wars might occur without any party having responsibility for the breakdown in order and the resort to violence.

However, the outbreak of war cannot be explained purely in terms of the strategic need of generals or the desire of politicians or the desire of bankers for profits or the urging of armament makers or the wickedness of rabble rousers. These are all important. The mindset of the people must be ready for war. The United States was not ready to go to war until there was a Pearl Harbor. The British politicians were ready to negotiate with Hitler until Winston Churchill was able to rally the people to fight “on the beaches, on the streets and in the mountains.” Many Islamic groups promise paradise for those who sacrifice themselves in a holy war.

Xi Jinping has completely reversed the story of the South China Sea to suit his need for a “just war” to defend the territories they seized from neighboring countries. Now he talks of other countries trespassing on Chinese territory when these territories were illegally seized by force from neighboring countries.

It is also noticeable that the protagonists in wars have remained fairly the same for a long period of time. Both world wars had Germany on one side with France and Russia on the other side. That may have slightly changed but Russia and Western Europe have been at war with each other since the Napoleonic era. Japan and China have been enemies for centuries. History records that China tried to invade Japan twice in the past. One time it was a typhoon that destroyed the Chinese fleet; but the Japanese called it the “divine wind.” The “divine wind” which the Japanese call kamikaze were two winds or storms that saved Japan from two Chinese fleets which tried to attack Japan in 1274 and 1281.

Histories of wars and heroism tend to become part of a nation’s cultural psyche which leaders can exploit in times of war.

Some wars are exercises in grabbing land pure and simple. The need for territory may be for acquisition of sources of natural resources or for strategic positioning. China has grabbed territories in the South China Sea in order to ensure that it controls maritime traffic on the South China Sea where most of its trade with the rest of the world flows. This type of war goes back to history when the Roman Empire and the Mongol hordes built the biggest land empire the world has ever known. But today, most countries try to justify conflicts in terms of a “just war.”

Then there are wars supposedly fought for religious purposes. Spain colonized so many lands, including the Philippines, in the name of Christianizing the native inhabitants. Today, there are Islamic groups that use religion as the excuse for terrorism.

Military history teaches us that the definition of victory in war is not that simple. American tanks rolled all over Iraq and the whole territory was run by an American appointed Iraqi government. Today, American troops have only a minor presence in Iraq. I think that is a very interesting topic for another column – what does it mean to win a war?

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An invitation for online classes for writers of all ages:

Adult Series on Writing Family Histories, Oct. 17, 2-3:30 p.m.

Young Writers’ Hangout, Oct. 10 & 24, 2-3 p.m. Contact writethingsph@gmail.com 0945.2273216

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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