Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Rhythm of War

I have had the good fortune to correspond with three British authors, one of whom (Terence Parker) has just published a fascinating study of the causes of war The Rhythm of War. Mr. Parker had a long career in the British Army, after which he joined the Ministry of Defence. During his stint as an administrator at Imperial College (London), he began the research into the causes of war which culminated in this concise 70-page book.

The starting point of Mr. Parker's investigations is the "long cycle" of human events developed by Kondratieff, a theory of economic vigor and decline which I have covered previously. Kondratieff proposed that a "long cycle" of rising prosperity, stagnation and then bust/decline occurs approximately every 60 years. (Mr. Parker uses the more precise length of 53 years.)

What makes this exploration so unique is Parker's overlay of the Kondratieff economic cycle with similar "long waves" of sociological change and violence/aggression. He parses wars into three categories which are self-explanatory: wars of domination, creed and self-righteousness.

To cite two examples: World War I was a war of self-righteousness, caused by a tangle of alliances and the belief that "we are in the right." World War II, on the other hand, was clearly a war of domination. Rather interestingly (at least to me), Mr. Parker obserevs that most wars occur at the end of long periods of prosperity.

One wellspring for this observation is what he terms "the human cycle" in which the population of a nation goes through alternating periods of individualism and nationalism that can be roughly divided into three stages: self and nation, self and groups, self alone. As evidence of such a cycle, he includes a chart of births, suicides and labor strikes which uncannily align in peaks and valleys.

Turning to human psychology, Parker then considers the psychology of human nature-- the constantly interacting mix of domination, membership and individualism--and relates it to a cycle which can be applied to a nation as a whole: self-assertion, self-righteousness, disillusionment and realization.

When these cycles of human nature and activity are combined, we can then see how the multiple causes of war strengthen and decline. War thus becomes more likely in certain stretches of time, and less likely in others.

Given that we are clearly in the end stages of a period of prosperity, then it is no surprise to find ourselves at war. Insight into the immense complexity of human life and history is rare, and I think Mr. Parker has done an admirable job of cutting through the complexity to fundamental conditions which make war more or less likely. His book, a mere 70 pages, can be read and studied in a hour or two. I recommend it. It can be purchased via his website (PayPal for us Yanks) should you be interested in doing so: The Rhythm of War.

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