Wars are arguably an inherent aspect of the human quest for development. Before the World Wars which enveloped the globe, humanity lived in a world where there was seemingly enough land and resources for everyone. However, history shows that this was not the case. Even in the tribal age humans competed with each other for the best hunting grounds and the best agricultural lands. And in order to protect themselves from aggressors – or become the aggressors – humans invested in technological innovation. And thus military technology was born as a means to more efficiently kill each other.
Professor Matthew Yedlin at The University of British Columbia explains the nature and history of warfare and its role in the creation of new technology.
"Wars have been an instrumental factor in human development. Sociologically, it must have originated from the desires and conflicting aspirations of tribes. And then, of course, we have the rise of nation-states, particularly Rome. Rome was really very war-like and certainly wars have helped, if you want to use that word, or motivated the development of different technologies, engineering, basic science. A lot of it unfortunately has been driven through wars, used to dominate another society by taking over their land.
I think the evolution of this can be seen over centuries. One can look at the development of different technological devices, for example, the catapult in the middle ages, then the invention of gunpowder by the Chinese; the use of the bow and arrow – the English used it against in the French in the Middle Ages."
Although World wars had a definitive effect on modern society – both technologically and geopolitically, the inseparable war-like aspect of humanity has been driving progress since the earliest civilizations. What about the military as a social class? Peter Kuznick, Professor of History and Director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University in Washington, D.C., explains the role of the military in our society.
"The military has always been there, involved in all of the wars, in all of the conquests. On one hand, every nation thinks that its military is there to defend its citizens. But the reality is that the military has always been used for aggression, for expansion, for colonization, for conquering, for greed, for getting resources. The focus on military has always existed. The military is often held in high regard. What we have seen most recently is a kind of glorification of the military and a glorification of militarism, and that’s very, very dangerous. Militaries have acted throughout history for their own purposes and their own goals, and they have had to be subdued by civilian forces. Militaries try to get a monopoly of weapons and a certain kind of skills, and they act as an oppressive force against the civil society – and we see that in much of the world today. But the question is – who calls the shots? Who is the dominant force? The military or the civilian population? And this has been an issue throughout history."
Do humanity and war go hand in hand? Does our desire to dominate and control really lie at the heart of the development of human civilization? These are the tough questions we will need to answer as more and more deadly weapons are created, before it’s too late.