War: What Is it Good For?

War: What Is it Good For?

By David Runciman and Catherine Carr

We talk to the historian Margaret MacMillan about the changing character of war, from the ancient world to the twenty-first century. Do we still understand the risks? Where are the conflicts of the future likely to break out? And how can we reconcile the terrible destructiveness of war with its capacity to bring about positive change? Plus we talk about why war produces so much great art.

Talking Points:

Is the way we commemorate war distancing us from the reality of it? 

Those who have seen war tend to be wary of it.There is complacency in a number of countries that war is something that ‘we’ don’t do anymore.

War is terrible, yet so much of the innovation that we value seems intertwined with it.

For many people WWI exemplifies the futility of war, yet many of the things we value came out of that war, particularly political and institutional change. WWI essentially gave Europe modern welfare states and universal suffrage.The two world wars also led to much greater social equality.There seems to be a deep connection between peace and inequality, and violence and equality. But it might depend on what countries and what wars you look at.

If war is connected to innovation because it is so wasteful you cannot recreate those conditions.

Perhaps we are doing something similar with COVID, but climate change is the true existential crisis.Climate change does not seem to be a unifying crisis.Declaring ‘war’ on an abstraction is dangerous. How do you know when it’s over? Wars on abstractions are wars without limits.

Templates from the past don’t fully apply to the US-China relationship.

There is the nuclear element, which should hypothetically rule out war.There’s also the energy resource conflict question: China has been able to take responsibility for its own energy security.In the long run, it is in the interests of both the US and China to cooperate with each other. The problem is the political factor.

Mentioned in this Episode:

Margaret MacMillan, War: How Conflict Shaped UsGeneral Nick Carter’s interview with Sky NewsWalter Scheidel, The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First CenturyRana Mitter, China’s Good War‘La Grande Illusion’Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried‘Apocalypse Now’

Further Learning: 

Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919Talking Politics History of Ideas: Max Weber on...
Heart UK