Constant Battles: Why We Fight

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With armed conflict in the Persian Gulf now upon us, Harvard archaeologist Steven LeBlanc takes a long-term view of the nature and roots of war, presenting a controversial thesis: The notion of the "noble savage" living in peace with one another and in harmony with nature is a fantasy. In Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage, LeBlanc contends that warfare and violent conflict have existed throughout human history, and that humans have never lived in ecological balance with nature.

The start of the second major U.S. military action in the Persian Gulf, combined with regular headlines about spiraling environmental destruction, would tempt anyone to conclude that humankind is fast approaching a catastrophic end. But as LeBlanc brilliantly argues, the archaeological record shows that the warfare and ecological destruction we find today fit into patterns of human behavior that have gone on for millions of years.

Constant Battles surveys human history in terms of social organization-from hunter gatherers, to tribal agriculturalists, to more complex societies. LeBlanc takes the reader on his own digs around the world -- from New Guinea to the Southwestern U.S. to Turkey -- to show how he has come to discover warfare everywhere at every time. His own fieldwork combined with his archaeological, ethnographic, and historical research, presents a riveting account of how, throughout human history, people always have outgrown the carrying capacity of their environment, which has led to war.

Ultimately, though, LeBlanc's point of view is reassuring and optimistic. As he explains the roots of warfare in human history, he also demonstrates that warfare today has far less impact than it did in the past. He also argues that, as awareness of these patterns and the advantages of modern technology increase, so does our ability to avoid war in the future.

 

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Reading response for ‘Prehistory of Warfare’ by LeBlanc (2003)
In the study ‘Prehistory of warfare’, (LeBlanc, 2003), Steven points out some of the many misconceptions that exists about prehistoric
Native American culture. The origin of human warfare is of great debate amongst anthropologists. It is widely believed that, due to the availability of plentiful resources, societies who lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers coexisted peacefully and did not have the need to conduct warfare. But it is self-evident that warfare existed in all civilizations who developed methods of recording data like writing and illustrations. It should then be assumed that warfare is endemic to all humans.
Personally, it is hard for me to imagine a time where humans coexisted peacefully. I have always assumed that human history was filled with fear and war, and that everyone thought as I did. Prehistoric cultures like the Anasazi had no record keeping and so their culture is more susceptible to various interpretations. Many of the historians who help shape our understanding of past native cultures are themselves descendants of these people, and thus are often bias in their conclusions. Roger is a great example of this; since his work is directly related to his friends and family, he would be inclined to interpret his findings in a way that would reflect positively on his ancestors. This in turn will probably help him receive better cooperation from the native community, but may end up distorting our understanding of past events. Many native cultures around the world have fell victim of external colonizing powers. This perceived victimization drives them to see themselves as such: victims. This defensive posture increases the sensitivity of the topic. No victim likes to have it pointed out that they were conducting themselves in the same manner as their aggressor.
Another main argument that Steven points out is the correlation in the degree of warfare intensity with the abundance of natural resources and climatic hardship. If we can’t make what we need ourselves, we will risk taking it from someone else. I do believe that warfare is intrinsic to humans as with all other species on earth. Webster dictionary defines warfare as: a struggle between competing entities. All organisms on Earth are indeed involved in some kind of struggle; a struggle for survival and for the propagation of genes. We are in fact takers who are willing to resort to just about anything in order to get what we need. Carnivores get their energy by stealing it from other animals, who robbed their energy from plants, who in turn took their energy in turn from the sun. (Darwin, 1909)
It is certain that population density would also play a role in the degree of warfare within a specific area. Although there are many reasons for a civilisation to conduct such costly affairs, the main driver would have to be food abundance and security. Abundant food resources results in a lower need for warfare. As Stephen suggested, “no-man's lands” between civilisations would stop crowding and insure proper resource distribution (LeBlanc, 2003). “Large prehistoric pueblos that had once housed upwards of a thousand people each”. They find strength in numbers and band together. As population densities increase, land becomes scares, security of shelter and food becomes an issue and groups begin to consider warfare. I would also point out that complexity comes with the development of larger societies. There would be less evidence of warfare because a civilisations warfare output would reflect their overall production capacities. Wikipedia shows the Canadian military spending in correlation to GDP as 1.4%. This would seem like a small number overall and is in accordance with Steven’s conclusion: “In spite of the conflict we see around us, we are doing better, and there is less warfare in the world today than there ever has been”. The Castles and fortifications built in Europe during the dark ages would have demanded a much greater effort and contribution by the local
 

Contents

FINDING WARFARE IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES
xi
WARFARE AND ECOLOGY MYTH AND REALITY
1
WAS THERE EVER AN EDEN?
23
ENTER CONFLICT
55
OUR EARLIEST PAST
77
WARFARE AMONG FORAGERS
100
CONFLICT AND GROWTH AMONG TRIBAL FARMERS
128
COMPLEX SOCIETIES
157
WAR OR PEACE FOR THE FUTURE?
199
NOTES
231
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
245
REFERENCES
247
INDEX
264
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About the author (2004)

Steven A. LeBlanc, an archaeologist at Harvard, is the director of collections at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. He is the author of Prehistoric Warfare in the American Southwest. Katherine E. Register is a writer working in the Boston area.

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