Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Peace in our time

I hope this is right:
So why is war less common now than in the first half of the 20th century? The simplest explanation, I would argue, is not Pinker’s multifaceted movement toward Enlightenment values. Instead, it’s now clearer that war doesn’t pay. In the past, most of the value of the potential conquest was in the dirt acquired: mines or cropland. War couldn’t hurt dirt. Conquering California in 1846, for example, did little damage to the place, which turned out to have gold in the ground.

Today, though, most of the asset value of a territory is in the buildings and people above ground, which are very easy to blow to smithereens with modern weapons. And if you don’t raze your enemy’s cities, they provide formidable makeshift fortresses for resistance to your invasion. You can’t win. The expected profit isn’t worth your trouble. You might as well stay home.


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