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War! What Is It Good For?

Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots

By Ian Morris
15-minute read
War! What Is It Good For?: Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots by Ian Morris

War! What Is It Good For? takes a look at the history of conflict and comes to a startling conclusion: while wars are horrible for those who endure them, postbellum societies enjoy the positive consequences of war, namely peace, prosperity and organization.

  • Anyone interested in the history of war and great empires
  • Anyone interested in politics and conflict management
  • Pacifists and war hawks

Ian Morris is a British historian, archaeologist and Stanford professor who has written a number of critically acclaimed books, such as Why the West Rules – For Now and The Measure of Civilization.

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War! What Is It Good For?

Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots

By Ian Morris
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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War! What Is It Good For?: Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots by Ian Morris
Synopsis

War! What Is It Good For? takes a look at the history of conflict and comes to a startling conclusion: while wars are horrible for those who endure them, postbellum societies enjoy the positive consequences of war, namely peace, prosperity and organization.

Key idea 1 of 9

War brings new technological innovations.

Death. Destruction. Desperation. These are among the things that war brings us. How then could anyone consider war to be anything other than pure hell?

It’s easy to look at the bad at the expense of the good. For example, while war has brought incalculable misery to millions of people, it is also deeply connected with innovation.

Indeed, military needs are directly responsible for some of humanity’s most important innovations.

One way to win the upper hand in a war is by gaining a technological advantage. Throughout history, military technological advancements have equated to the end of war, to victory, and to continued innovation, based on the technology first created for wartime purposes.

Practical things, like bronze and iron, are the results of military research. Iron, for example, was invented very early in human history, and in 1200 B.C. technology made it possible to produce iron in larger quantities.

Its mass production and wide distribution resulted not from civilian application, but because it was a better material for weapons and armor than bronze.

What’s more, many basic inventions and ideas underwent further development as a result of war. These ideas, originally developed for other purposes, were propagated and expanded upon as a result of their wartime application.

Gunpowder, for example, was invented by Chinese alchemists and first used only for small fireworks. It was when the military picked it up that new and better recipes were developed.

Competition among warring nations spins off constantly evolving technologies.

For example, when large ships were employed to transport valuable goods, rival nations and pirates developed smaller, quicker ships to rob the traders. This in turn led to the creation of even larger and better armed trading ships, which led to even faster rival ships, and so on.

While technologies made with noble intentions find ignoble applications in war, the opposite holds true as well.

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