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David Sable Headshot

Who Wins Wars?

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Who wins wars?

More importantly -- can a war, today, really be won?

In the "old days," war was simple... populations were smaller, weapons were less effective for mass killing... so you fought and killed and then took over the population that remained. Rape and pillage were, of course, part of the deal.

In some instances, the subsuming of the population was a given -- champions fought each other and winner took all.

But lest you think that ancient societies were utopian -- in War Before Civilization, Lawrence H. Keeley, a professor at the University of Illinois, says that "approximately 90 to 95 percent of known societies throughout history engaged in at least occasional warfare, and many fought constantly."

And cruelty was a part of life long before gunpowder, modern warfare and fear of nuclear devastation, as has been evidenced by many archeological findings.

Yet, it seems to me that the biggest difference is the outcome; as I said, in the "old days," we fought: I won, you lost, and for the most part you went away -- integrated forcibly or otherwise into the winning society. Not exactly "quietly into the night," more like kicking and screaming, but nevertheless -- your tribe, territory, civilization ceased to exist as it was and most often re-emerged in parts of the conqueror's society, and then as they got conquered -- on and on and on -- till today, when so much of who we are -- anywhere -- is an amalgam of diverse and often far-afield parts.

In fact, one view of the etymology of the word "war," from the Old Saxon, Old German, Old Frankish (kind of makes the point) is to confuse; to perplex maybe as in regard to what comes out the far end.

In either case, think about war in the last century and think about the outcomes. Europe is now the EU (OK, maybe for a little while longer); Germany is a major economic power in the world and a key ally of the U.S.; Japan is the largest (as of last week) holder of U.S. debt and China and Russia are major trade partners to just about everyone. Hmmmmmmm.

Not a lot of empire subsuming here, is there? In fact, as many people as were killed, as much devastation as there was, the equation of destroy and takeover is no longer an option, unless, of course, one doesn't care at all and goes nuclear, and there are some who seem that crazy.

But at the end of the day, if you look at the conflicts that still rage, they are for the most part civil warlike; that is, between people in the same territory, fighting, each believe in the same thing: religious (I speak to God and you don't); ethnic (you are below me or simply old-fashioned, I'm running my country into the ground so I will take my population's eye off of me and use one of the above to divert their attention while I divert all the money.)

Neil Gaiman, in American Gods, had it right: "There's never been a true war that wasn't fought between two sets of people who were certain they were in the right. The really dangerous people believe they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do. And that is what makes them dangerous."

However, no matter how you look at it, there are no winners anymore. Look at Vietnam. The sheer loss of life on all sides, from the French days on, the money that could have been spent on human needs, the hatred and civil anguish, all wasted, all down the toilet for nothing -- all the fears and predictions came to naught, and today Vietnam is a proud country with a growing future and a great office for me.

Hard to reconcile that with the days of protest and burning draft cards... my own included.

But so it goes, and while it's not clear who wins (even losing isn't clear or maybe it is) as depicted years ago by this famous satire "The Mouse That Roared."

So yes, before the knee-jerkers jerk, people have to defend themselves, people have to protect themselves, and clearly some neighborhoods are more dangerous than others, but as Carl Sandburg said, "Sometime they'll give a war and nobody will come." Would it were so....

The bottom line -- listen:

"War does not determine who is right -- only who is left," said Bertrand Russell.

And, if you have been watching some of the post-apocalyptic movies of the past decade, who is left is not necessarily who you want as a neighbor.

Which leads me to one of the greatest minds of all -- Ben Franklin, who said: "There never was a good war, or a bad peace."

So , no answers -- at least I don't have any -- although sadly I see and read so many who do. All I have are questions, and maybe questions are the best and only place to start...

What's your view?