Talk of love and brotherhood is about to begin in earnest as Christians the world over commemorate a gentle soul born in a manger and famous for uttering such lines as “just as you did for the least of these, you did for me” and “if someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also.” These are powerful words with pretty clear meanings.
Yet, many a battle has been started and fought by those who profess to follow these teachings. Plenty of other wars are fought by followers of other gentle faiths, whose prophets and leaders and books of wisdom offer similar, clear admonishments to love one another.
We almost all seem to agree that peace is best, that love is good. Yet …
A July 2011 article in History Today posted by Kathryn Hadley notes that research shows that “between 1870 and 2001, the frequency of wars between states increased steadily by 2% a year on average.”
According to Professors Mark Harrison from the University of Warwick and Nikolaus Wolf from Humboldt University Harrison this increase can be explained in part by the proliferation of borders. In other words, the number of countries has almost quadrupled since 1870, giving us more countries to fight each other and more borders to fight about.
The article also points out that there is no tendency for richer or poorer countries to fight more, but rather that the readiness to engage in war is spread uniformly across the global income distribution even though “increased prosperity and democracy should have lessened the incentives for rulers to go to war.”
Mark Harrison concluded that ‘the very things that should make politicians less likely to want war – productivity growth, democracy, and trading opportunities – have also made war cheaper. We have more wars, not because we want them, but because we can.”
Because we can. How can an entire species profess to love the concept of peace, and yet continue to fight more as time goes on? It looks like we do merely because we have more things to fight over and more things to fight with.