To: J. Harlen, R. Singh, L. Chung
From: W. Brahms

Has war lost its utility as a conflict resolution mechanism in the modern world? Is war obsolete due to the catastrophic effects of global thermonuclear destruction and the structure of modern society itself?

Although all three of you seem to answer this question in the affirmative I take the opposite view of the issues brought up in our discussions and must answer in the negative.

In spite of what you said about the differences in the structure between premodern societies and the modern world, I do not agree that the vulnerabilities arising out of the specialization and interdependence of social units in modern society renders warfare obsolete due to its supposed counter-productivity, that a fundamental change has taken place in the course of history as to affect the necessity of war.

On the contrary, I would argue that given all the complex interdependencies of modern society with all of its vulnerabilities, war and the threat of war, regrettably enough, has an enduring utility. Despite the fact that war is objectively destructive and rarely popular, the potential for mass destruction affords the threat of war its greatest utility than at any other time in history. We must anticipate not only more war and the threat of war between nation states but new forms of war perpetrated by subnational groups such as guerilla insurgencies and terrorists whose aim is internal chaos. Meanwhile, the nuclear threat remains with all the dangers of proliferation.

As for war’s obsolescence being rooted in the structure of modern society itself, some have argued against this by saying that inhibitions on conflict rooted in modern society are offset by other things. One of these is the increase in consumption leaving leadership with less flexibility to meet demands, which sometimes results in conflict for the purpose of acquisition. Another is the mass media which can be exploited by governments for propaganda purposes and by subnational groups to distort and pervert

But I agree with you that the problems, stresses, and economic forces of modernization transcends boundaries resulting in an international community enmeshed in a web of global economic interdependence where countries have common interests. But this does not make war obsolete. Though the industrialized and developing countries are faced with the same pressures of modernization, this does not mean countries will respond the same way. Different societies do not share the same values. This can clearly be seen in those differences between the industrialized countries of the West and the Muslim world of which an extreme example is the former Taliban regime whose values appeared to many to have resulted in a rejection of modernization itself. Although countries can overcome their differences in values and obtain peaceful resolutions, history shows that all too often they resort to coercion and conflict. All things considered, modernization appears to have had a weak effect on the prospects for war.

As for the popular view of history being one of evolutionary progress towards higher values and higher standards of living, we may well be experiencing the same kind of complacency that characterized the golden ages of past civilizations. History has much to say about the decline and fall of great civilizations. Few persons living at the heights of the glory of Greece and the grandeur of Rome envisioned any alternative future not involving further “progress” towards a utopia.

-- William Brahms

William Brahms
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