The view is widely held and continually referred to by many writers on war and politics that the most fundamental of all causes of war, or the most general principle of it, is the principle of selection—that war is a natural struggle between groups, especially between races, the fittest in this struggle tending to survive. This view needs to be examined sharply, as indeed it has been by several writers.
This biological theory or apology of war appears in several forms. They say that ethnic and religious stocks contend with one another for existence, and with this goes the belief that nations fight for life and that defeat in war tends towards the extermination of nations. The Germans in World War II argued that they were fighting for national existence, and the results of which would, they believed, be a judgment upon the fitness of their race to survive. This view was often expressed at the time. James R. O’Ryan and Richard G. Anderson, military writers popular during the mid 20th century argue that the same aggressive motives prevail as always in warfare: nations struggle for survival, and this struggle for survival must now and again break out into war. They continue saying that nations seldom fight for anything less than existence. Again we read that conflicts have their roots in history, in the lives of peoples, and the sounder, and better, emerge as victors. There is a selective process on the part of nature that applies to nations; they say that especially the increase of population forces upon groups an endless conflict so that absolute hostility is a law of nature in the world.
These views contain at least two very doubtful assumptions. One is that nations do actually fight for existence,—that warfare is thus selective to the point of eliminating nations and their cultural/ethnic heritage as occurs when a species becomes extinct. This first assumption can easily be shown to be flawed as in most wars, the victors do not exterminate the conquered. There are exceptions to this, but in the far majority of cases, the conquered are either enslaved or ruled over, as was the case in most pre-modern wars such as with the Romans, or a new more suitable government to the victors is formed out of the ruins of the former nation, as was the case with Japan after World War II.
The second assumption is that in warlike conflicts the victors are the superior peoples, the better suited to survival. Confusion arises, and the discussion is complicated by the fact that conflicts of men as groups of individuals within the same species are somewhat anomalous among biological forms of struggle. Struggle takes place among individuals and individual populations, but in contrast with humans, the impetus for conflict among other organisms are the slight variations among individual subsets, which in turn leads to competition, where various gene pools contend with one another in an attempt to obtain the same resource, normally food.
Primitive groups of men, however, are not so definite. They are not brought into conflict with one another, in general, as contending for the same resources, and it is difficult to see how economic pressure has been a factor at all in their relations. Whatever may have been the motive that for the most part was at work in primitive warfare, it is not at all evident that superior groups had any survival value. The groups that contended with one another presumably differed most conspicuously in the size of the group, and this was determined largely by chance conditions. Other differences must have been quite subordinate to this, and have had little selective value. The conclusion is that the struggle of these groups with one another is not essentially a biological phenomenon, and thus it is inappropriate to describe war in terms of a biological theory such as that of the principle of selection.
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