Victor Davis Hanson notes that “conflict will remain the familiar father of us all—as long as human nature stays constant and unchanging over time and across space and cultures.” This statement seems apt. Yet throughout history some have actively embraced the idea of war as father of all, rather than viewing it as a sad fact of the human condition in desperate need of remedy.
It was the pre-Socratic mystic, Heraclitus, who originally said that “war is the father of all and the king of all” (see John Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy, p. 136). Martin Heidegger, the twentieth century philosopher, and in his lifetime a proactive member of the Nazi party, had read Heraclitus’ word “all” as not simply a sociological observation as Davis Hanson does, but in the sense of fundamental being. In other words, Heidegger believed that Heraclitus described war as governing absolutely everything (see Gregory Fried, Heidegger's Polemos: From Being to Politics, p. 30).
Where did the active embracing of the idea of war as “law” ultimately lead? Richard Gelding notes that the philosopher Karl Popper had discerned an “elitism” inherent in the fragments of Heraclitus, and that Popper ‘”saw in Hitler the grim results of this elitism” (Remembering Heraclitus, p. 110). In a 1942 speech Adolf Hitler proclaimed that Heraclitus’ concept of war in the context of a world in which the stronger overcomes the weaker, amounted to “an iron law of logic” (Hitler and the Germans, p. 141).
The realities of warfare and violence form part of human relationships, national conflicts and the present state of physical nature. But the upholding of what might be termed a spirit of violence as a virtuous “truth”, as something to be embraced by human beings, is a deception that only ends in total catastrophe, as we know from the history of the twentieth century. In the final analysis, it comes down to who or what we allow to be father and king of us all.
David Hulme and Daniel Tompsett
Despite the early 21st century’s worldwide economic disruption, the 2010 report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) puts annual worldwide military expenditure at $1.63 trillion—up more than 50 percent since 2000.
In a world that yearns for disarmament and peace, warfare has become a globalized problem. The defense industry is a key element in the equation, answering the demands of military establishments and various governments that need jobs creation and the growth of defense-related exports to further domestic prosperity.
This raises fundamental moral questions, though not for the first time. Following World War II, American general Omar Bradley summarized the moral deficit that had emerged after that conflict. In 1948 he said, “The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.”
Despite Bradley’s perceptive analysis, a wartime colleague, U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953–61), oversaw the phenomenal postwar growth and development of the American military-industrial complex. Yet when it came time to step down from office, he made a speech in which he warned about the dangers inherent in the relentless pursuit of supremacy by military-industrial means. He said, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
Today the military-industrial complex is far more powerful and influential than Eisenhower could have imagined. SIPRI calculates the U.S. share of 2010 armaments purchases at 43 percent of the world’s total. China comes a distant second at an estimated 7.3 percent! The reason usually given is that the United States has obligations worldwide, whereas other nations do not. And while there have been ups and downs in spending and development over the past several decades, the future of the industry now seems to depend on five factors. According to military and defense analyst Richard Bitzinger, they are the hierarchical nature of the global arms industry, defense spending, the global arms market, the globalization of armaments production, and the emerging information technologies–based revolution in military affairs.
Read more in the series Global Problems, Global Solutions.