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Prof. Einstein served graduate students as a model of prudence in remaining unfashionably true to the grand…
Departmental Colloquium Series
Michael Mann, "Is war rational? Evidence through the ages"
Monday, March 8, 2-3:30pm via Zoom
My current research project analyzes wars through the ages: in the Roman Republic, the histories of China, Japan and Europe, the post-colonial history of Latin America, recent wars in the Middle East, and wars fought by the United States. I focus here on decisions to make war. Though the weapons and organization of war have changed enormously through time, decision-making processes have not. In virtually all cases, the decisions were/are made by very small groups of rulers, sometimes by one person, not by the mass or the representatives of the people. I ask whether wars are rational, as the dominant Realist school in Political Science theory asserts. Rationality can be of means – carefully-considered, calculative decision-making – or ends – whether the goal of war was likely to be attained. I conclude that though some wars can be considered rational in one or both of these senses, these cases were predominantly imperial wars of aggression launched by a much stronger power against a weaker one – and in these cases it is less clear why the weaker power fights. But most war decisions are influenced by rulers’ characters, emotions, ideologies, domestic politics, and the negative side of Durkheimian solidarity (the inability to appreciate the motivations and capabilities of the alien), and because militarism becomes baked into the culture and institutions of states having had past victories. I give examples of irrational war-making, like the post-1945 wars of the United States, but will also point to general tendencies -- most rulers who initiate wars lose them, and the vast majority of states in history have disappeared through war. Irrationality rules!