War – William Graham Sumner

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Synopsis:

Written during the era of the Spanish-American War the essay “War” was William Graham Sumner’s endeavor to examine the normative human dispositions which fuse into conflict. As a pioneering intellectual in the field of sociology, Sumner used group social dynamics and frictions as the keystone of his assumptions.

Excerpts:

“If we assume a standpoint in one group we may call that one the ‘we-group’ or the ‘in-group’; then every other group is to us an ‘others-group’ or an ‘out-group.’ The sentiment which prevails inside the ‘we-group,’ between its members, is that of peace and cooperation; the sentiment which prevails inside of a group towards all outsiders is that of hostility and war.

“War arises from the competition of life, not from the struggle for existence. In the struggle for existence a man is wrestling with nature to extort from her the means of subsistence. It is when two men are striving side by side in the struggle for existence, to extort from nature the supplies they need, that they come into rivalry and a collision of interest with each other takes place. This collision may be light and unimportant, if the supplies are large and the number of men small, or it may be harsh and violent, if there are many men striving for a small supply. This collision we call the competition of life.

“We can now see why the sentiments of peace and cooperation inside are complementary to sentiments of hostility outside. It is because any group, in order to be strong against an outside enemy, must be well disciplined, harmonious, and peaceful inside; in other words, because discord inside would cause defeat in battle with another group. Therefore the same conditions which made men warlike against outsiders made them yield to the control of chiefs, submit to discipline, obey law, cultivate peace, and create institutions inside.

“The sentiment of cohesion, internal comradeship, and devotion to the in-group, which carries with it a sense of superiority to any out-group and readiness to defend the interests of the in-group against the out-group, is technically known as ethnocentrism.

“The United States presents us a case quite by itself. We have here a confederated state which is a grand peace-group. It occupies the heart of a continent; therefore there can be no question of balance of power here and no need of war preparations such as now impoverish Europe. The United States is a new country with a sparse population and no strong neighbors. Such a state will be a democracy and a republic, and it will be ‘free’ in almost any sense that its people choose.

*All excerpts have been taken from War and Other Essays, Yale University Press.

War, Politics, and Power – Karl von Clausewitz

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Synopsis:

War, Politics, and Power is an abridgment of the well-known On War by Carl von Clausewitz. It takes from On War the critical abstractions, and presents them in an intellectually satisfying form. Although On War is seminal and without equal War, Politics, and Power offers the writings of Clausewitz in a tolerable way for those that have either never read Clausewitz before, or for those experienced readers that desire a quick reference book.

Excerpts:

“We are, instead, considering all the combined tendencies of the mind and soul toward military activity, and these we may regard as the essence of military genius. We say ‘combined,’ for military genius consists not of a single capacity for war, but rather of a harmonious combination of powers, in which one may predominate but none may be in opposition.

“War is the province of uncertainty; three-fourths of the things upon which action in war is calculated lie hidden in a fog of uncertainty. A fine penetrating intellect is thus required to feel out the truth with instinctive judgment.

“If we take a comprehensive view of the four components of the atmosphere of war – danger, physical effort, uncertainty, and chance – it is readily understood that a great moral and mental force is needed to cope with these baffling elements. We find historians and military chroniclers describing this force as energy, firmness, staunchness, strength of mind and character.

“A great part of the information in war is contradictory, a still greater part is false, and by far the greatest part is somewhat doubtful. This requires that an officer possess a certain power of discrimination, which only knowledge of men and things and good judgment can give. The law of probability must be his guide.

“Everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is difficult. These difficulties accumulate and produce a friction beyond the imagination of those who have not seen war.

*All excerpts have been taken from War, Politics, and Power, Regnery Publishing, Inc.