Sociological Perspectives on War

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Discussion on War in a Sociological Perspective

What is War?

As far as we know, war has always been part of human history. War occurred from time to time, in one form or another, even throughout our prehistory. What is war? Sociologically speaking, war is “organized, armed conflict among the peoples of various societies” (Macionis). Differed from gusty conflicts, war is well-planned and well-prepared, referring to the extension of a serious of disputes, if not one. From Sunzi’s The Art of War to Bernard Brodie’s The Absolute Weapon, human’s efforts on the war strategy study never waned. War is also characterized by means of arms. Ever since war’s advent, technology has become its counterpart, pushing each other to the very verge of human annihilation. But most importantly, war is a social construction, which happens among various societies holding different cultural traits, such as languages, norms, values, and beliefs (or specifically, religions).

What Causes War?

Early social Darwinists suggested that war among men was merely a special case of the universal law which guaranteed “the survival of the fittest”. This kind of explanations could lead human to nothing but racism and nationalism, which later became Hitler’s justice of genocide. Close study of animal world revealed that, “struggle for existence” was only carried by members of different species; successful groups were those that could live with cooperation and mutual aid (Bramson & Goethals). Marx, however, saw war as a result of economic causes, particularly imperialism. Durkheim, who appreciated the great power of cohesion in society, implied nationalism highly differentiating modern societies contributes to the outbreak of war (Bramson & Goethals).

A more systematic analyse had been done by Quincy Wright written in his book A Study of War. Based on Wright’s work (1987), Macionis stated, perceived threats, social problems, political objectives, moral objectives and the absence of alternatives, are the five factors that lead men to war (Macionis).

During cold war, perceived threads between USA and USSR were so stressful that human’s doomsday seemed like just “tomorrow”. But after USSR’s dramatic decomposition, threads subsided and the odd of warfare between these two nations highly decreased (Macionis).

After China’s invasion of Vietnam in mid-1979, the relations between these two countries deteriorated seriously despite of the intimate fellowship established for a couple decades. Some analysts suggested the major reasons leading to this war are: social problems and political objective. After China stepped out of Cultural Revolution, this nation was still in deep confusion and unstable situation. Deng Xiaoping retook communist regime but did not gain full control of People's Liberation Army (PLA) from his opponents. The nation was at high risk of social chaos and martial rebellions. In Feb 1979, along with the Vietnamese occupations of some disputed islands in South China Sea, Deng waged this war for the regain of social solidarity and complete control of PLA.

Moral objectives, likely, values of “good or evil”, always give good reasons for the politicians to consider war. For instance, during 1860 to 1865, the Civil War of America, a brutal and bloody conflict, leaving the South defeated at a cost of more than half a million lives, was considered a justice to the evil of slavery.

It may sound absurd that United Nations, peacekeeper of the world, has been perpetually engaged in war to fulfil its function - to prevent war. This embarrassing situation could be contributed to the absence of alternatives due to UN’s incompetence of resolving tensions among self-interested societies (Macionis).

That is, “war is rooted in social dynamics on both national and international levels” (Macionis). To study and analyze war, we must realize that war was not born with human nature but it’s a result of social interactions. To prevent war, we should...
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