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Sociologists and social anthropologists

Conflicts are an inevitable part of human history and while its core essence will never change, the causes and the means to express differences of opinion, or to advance a strategic objective change over time. The latter is interesting because it presents the most danger- armed conflict whether raised for principles or ideals or used against oppression inevitably bring chaos, destruction and death. And yet on one level, armed conflict or warfare brings about necessary change even as it is almost always brings tragedy.

It helps to illuminate many aspects of society, of internal disagreements, conflicts of interest and philosophy, discord among individuals, sub-cultures, races, groups and even greed and ambition. The human condition is never more revealed in all its internal workings, its flaws, imperfections and even its courage in the face of war. There is much debate among sociologists and social anthropologists as to when the first conflict or war occurred and what caused it.

But what is more significant to note is that the majority of humanity- about approximately 90-95% of all known societies or social groups have engaged in at least an occasional war and that many (and are still are) fought constantly. But warfare has definitely changed since the last century (Keegan, 1994). Comparisons between modern warfare (or future warfare, should it happen) and warfare before the 21st century are usually made on the point of technology. Already, historians are differentiating periods where technological advancement made the difference in the way wars were played out and their eventual outcomes.

In this context, the two World Wars and to a certain extent, up to the Vietnam War, could be considered “obsolete” in terms of the way wars have been recently fought as demonstrated in the Invasion of Iraq, the war in Lebanon or the war in Afghanistan. But for the sake of historical timelines and for a clearer understanding on how technology has differentiated wars from their predecessors, we will take the last century, the 19th century as a point of comparison.

The era saw wars that were already classified as industrial wars in the sense that not only was this in the middle of the Industrial revolution, but that it was a time that signaled the beginning of modernity (Keegan, 2004). Politically and socially, the emergence of nation-states allowed the build-up of enormous resources which were not only used towards industrialization but inevitably towards warfare when it became necessary to do so.

Powerful countries and nations with vast overseas interests created impressive navies and enormous armies which they were able to conscript and transport through vast distances where wars were fought through the era’s newly built roads or by means of new and faster transportation, either by land or sea (Keegan, 2004). The use of these new industrial machines and inventions complemented with new forms of communication changed the ways were planned and eventually fought.

Even as they would seem antiquated by today’s standards, much of what is essentially being used today were first conceptualized and used back in those days; on land, there was the emergence of the tank and of armored vehicles; in the seas, there were the first submarines and the first air-craft carriers; overhead, planes that could travel the longest distances carrying payloads (Keegan, 2004). It has been said, that the way wars were fought had been ultimately changed when the United States dropped the nuclear bomb in Japan.

While it hasn’t been used since, the invention, manufacture and proliferation of nuclear weapons since Hiroshima and Nagasaki has fundamentally altered the concept of warfare and introducing an element of caution that is obviously observed even among nation-states hungry for armed conflict. It has been a miracle since Hiroshima and Nagasaki that the trigger for the release of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) which Russia first tested in the 50s or of a submarine-based nuclear missile (SLBM) which were a vast improvement over the ICBMs was never ever pushed.

Throughout the Cold War which actually saw the role of these weapons as merely tactical guarantees against projected conflicts, there is the emergence of a war that still remains to be fought, but which is already real in the minds and imaginations of people who foresee it as what the war of the 21st century would be like. Even with the end of the cold war, fears still persist even as a new pattern of warfare has emerged which some analysts have described as “extreme tribalism” (Ronfelt, 2006).

This has been evidence in “riots in many nations protesting cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, Sunni-Shiite warring in Iraq, the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan”, tribalizing forces which point to the possibility that even in the modern age, societies can crumble and fall into conflict and inevitably using modern weaponry as well as old tactics and mechanisms (Ronfelt, 2006). The United Nations for its part defines “major wars” as military conflicts inflicting 1,000 battlefield deaths per year (GS, 2007).

By the middle of the 60s there were 10 of these under way; with the advent of the new millennium, things didn’t get any better with the year 2005 experiencing 8 major wars complemented with dozens of conflicts in varying degrees of severity (GS, 2007). Echoing the description of analysts, ethnic, or religious animosities as well as ideological fervor point to extreme tribalism, rather than territorial dispute or expansion as the cause.

In this regard, it is important to note that compared to the wars of the previous century where most of the casualties were those directly involved in the war, the casualties of the wars of this age are the civilians (Ferguson, 2007). During World War I, civilians made up fewer than 5 percent of all casualties as compared to the 75 percent or more of those killed or wounded in wars today who are actually non-combatants (GS, 2007). Even the geographical face of warfare has changed with most of today’s wars being fought in Africa on issues which compared to the causes of the wars of the 20th century, may seem petty and completely insignificant.

Yet this insignificance is insidious and more dangerous than the full-scale wars of the previous century. Smaller or described operationally as low intensity conflicts and usually within regional borders (such as Africa or the Middle-East) size is not exactly proportional to the carnage and damage that it causes. The use of conventional weapons is common, thanks in part to the strict watch of countries over the proliferation of more destructive forms. Warfare techniques are asymmetric and there is much use of intelligence through state of the art technology.

Still, the damage when compared to the damage inflicted by wars in the previous century is more long lasting and impactful (Ferguson, 2007). Entire economies, cultures and societies are devastated with no relief in sight; people become refugees and fall victim to the war first and later to the famine and disease which are the natural outcomes of conflicts that become inevitably prolonged. Still, the specter of a doomsday war still persists and even as humanity expects and prays that it will never happen, the best defense is still preparation and anticipation.

Today, should a large scale war be fought, the most distinctive differences with wars of the previous century will emerge; “traditional principles of war may have to be reassessed in light of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD)” (Air University, 1995). ; the use of TMD or theater missile defenses against threats possessing such weapons; the preservation of the unity of command as today’s wars will also be classified as information wars, becomes crucial to victory (Air University, 1995).


Air University, 1995 “Overview: Introduction to the” Battlefield of the Future” (online) Available at http://www. airpower. maxwell. af. mil/airchronicles/battle/bftoc. html Ferguson, N. 2007, “The War of the World”, Penguin Books, New York GlobalSecurity. org 2007, “ The World At War”, (online) Available at http://www. globalsecurity. org/military/world/war/index. html Keegan, J. 1994, “A History of Warfare”, Vintage Press Ronfelt, D. 2006, “Today’s wars are less about ideas than extreme tribalism”, (online) Available at

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