Our ancestors had a different idea of war. Much like their conception of disease, War was something that happened, a natural force, like tides or the phases of the moon, that came along in its due season and ravaged the earth.
And like love, or luck, or the harvest, or wisdom, or really anything that our forebears found irresistible, inexplicable, or overwhelming, War was personified as a God, then worshiped and propitiated (to varying degrees of perceived success) with sacrifice.
Now, I'm no polytheist, and really, I don't believe in God, per se. But I don't not believe in God, either. I'll argue with fundamentalist atheists and throw down with hardcore religionists alike. I have had a series of experiences which have multiple explanations, and I recognize and practice the efficacy of belief in order to get what I want. I don't believe like a fanatic (those days are long gone), nor like the Catholic bored in church at Christmas who believes without it having an impact on their lives or behavior.
All that is to say that I believe that there are psychological states that can only be accessed through ritual and the self-hypnosis of belief, and that these states are occasionally useful in making my life more interesting, more fun, and just plain better. The Gods of old were the way our ancestors did that.
War was one of the biggies. Mars, with his red armor and his bloody sword, figures large in the pantheon, and everyone gave him his due, mostly because the world was perpetually at war. They saw, in Mars, both the destructive aspect of war that we all recognize, the raping and pillaging and razing of the land, and the creative. War was seen as a breaker of stagnancy. Cultures were smashed together like particles in an accelerator, and new things came from their violent marriage. Gene pools were poured into one another with interesting and surprising results. The weak were culled, leaving strong people to rebuild.
This may sound a bit tastelessly rah-rah for some, and anyone's distaste is understandable. As I mentioned at first, we see war today as something primarily negative, and also under our control, like disease. The Four Horsemen (excepting Death, whom we still cannot shove aside, though we might like to) are no longer inevitable tax collectors of the cost of doing business on Planet Earth. War, Famine, Disease, are all seen as eradicable, and entirely under our control.
But are they?
Mars still exists, inside us. There is something inside us that loves a fight, that wants to kill, that demands dominance. There is a chauvinist inside us, a warrior, bloody and exhilarated, that loves the smell of meat and the burning. We are, all of us, capable of enacting the horrors we read about in textbooks and see on television.
So when we speak of war, what are we talking about? If these things exist within us, then how can we hope to eradicate them? We have met the enemy, and he is us.
We can't eradicate war, because we are war. The part of us that is soft and loves comfort and camaraderie is at war with the part of us that loves a good scrap. There's blood lust in us. What do we do?
We learn to be kinder. We can learn to treat others with respect and deference. We can learn love. But until we learn, underneath our civilized exteriors, that we have the capacity for destruction, for heinous acts against our fellow humans, we cannot hope to end war. Because we will see war as something outside ourselves, something that must be eradicated out in the world, and we will go to war with war.
See how that works?