AirTalk for April 15, 2015

War! What is it good for? Has war had a positive or negative impact on human history?

"War! What is it good For? Conflict and the progress of civilization from primates to robots" (April 2014) is Ian Morris' new book. Ian Morris is a professor of classics and history at Stanford University.

The lyrics to the popular Motown song "War!" aren't very ambiguous when it comes to what it's good for. Absolutely nothing. But historian and archaeologist Ian Morris would like to politely disagree.

In his new book, "War! What is it good for? Conflict and the progress of civilization from primates to robots," Morris lays out his arguments about why the deadly, messy business of war has actually been a good thing for human society. By studying history from the Stone Age through modern technology, Morris makes the case that, over the long run, war has made humanity safer and richer.

By fighting wars, stronger societies have absorbed weaker societies and installed governments that had a vested interest in keeping the peace. Essentially, war made governments and governments made peace.

In addition to making people safer and doubling the global lifespan, war has also made societies richer, writes Morris. Peaceful societies, made stronger by war, provide the foundations for economic prosperity and growth.

War may have helped human society get to where it is today but where will it take us in the future? As scientific and technological innovations continue to advance (hello robot soldiers!) will the next global war be too devastating to recover from? Will we ever be able to have a future without war?
 

Guest: 

Ian Morris, professor of classics and history at Stanford University and author of "War! What is it good for? Conflict and the progress of civilization from primates to robots" (April 2014)

 


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