The last area we passed up is also the ugliest: war.
Rulers, from their earliest days, fought one another for the control of cities and other useful areas. What they were interested in, really, was two-fold:
- The value they could extract from those places.
- To become the great and powerful one.
Many rulers also found pleasure in subduing others… of killing them and taking their property.
As it happens, a large number of rulers have been what we now call sociopaths. A sociopath is someone who has little or no empathy for others. That is, abusing other people doesn’t make them feel bad. In older times, such people were described as “without conscience.”
It’s a strange and often a hard thing to accept that there are a few human beings (perhaps one person in fifty) who doesn’t feel bad when harming others, but it is a fact, even if terribly sad and unfortunate. And it’s also a fact that sociopaths are drawn to power: They have no problem using force upon others and it pays very well, in both money and status.
In the ancient days, wars were fought mainly by soldiers employed by the ruler. There were very few cases where all the men of a city went out to fight. And it was also the case that after a war, everyone went right back to the way they had been living prior.
During the war, however, people were killed, sometimes more and sometimes less. Their lives were made difficult and dangerous, they often had little or nothing to eat, and they suffered a great deal. Kings, of course, insisted it was all being done for the “freedom” of the people, but win or lose, life nearly always went back to the way it had been.
In Sumer, for example, there were at least 13 major changes of rulership (and many more minor ones) between 6,500 BC and 1,900 BC, but daily life barely changed at all. War, then, was almost always for the benefit or rulers and their associates, not actually for the benefit of the people.
War, during this era, was the endeavor of kings and their paid soldiers; it was almost never something that all the men of the city showed up for. That came much later. It’s also a fact that soldiers were often drugged before going into a major battle. The standard drug of the old era was alcohol, while in the modern era it has been amphetamines.
This lesson includes a number of new terms, which were purposely left undefined. (Though usually italicized.) This was done so the children will learn to stop as they run across new terms, spend the necessary time to gain a proper understanding, and then continuing.
And so I strongly suggest that you take side-paths to examine each of these new words as you come across them. When involved with a time-sensitive type of learning (“We have to finish this chapter this week”), students tend to blow right past new terms, not wanting to be delayed and hoping they’ll figure them out as they go.
In actual fact, students who continue past new terms end up confused a great deal of the time, emerging from their lessons with difficult gaps in their understanding. So, please stop and spend time on each of these terms. And if you’re at all unsure about any of them, please spend time on them yourself before teaching the lesson:
- Raw materials.
- Sickles, and how they were used to harvest grain. Show photos if you don’t have an actual sickle available. If conditions permit, teach the students to use a sickle themselves.
- Standard of value.
- Settlement. (The settlement of a lawsuit.)
- Backing. (For money.)
- Pounds. (English currency.)
- IOU. (An “I owe you” receipt.)
- Principle. (Fundamental idea or assumption.)
- Status. (Recognition of one’s position in relation to someone else’s position.)
The Hamilton passage is from the Report on Public Credit of January 9, 1790. I simplified it a bit, to make the language easier for the students.
On war being important for the ruler rather than the people, I can think of no more direct statement than this one from (war-supporter) Hermann Göring:
Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.
I actually hesitated to include the section on war, because it treads on some modern sensibilities, particularly in the United states, where most things military are presumed to be righteous. Still, facts are what they are, and very few wars can honestly be portrayed as good for non-elite people. Even World War II can’t really be portrayed that way: Certainly it stopped a madman (Adolph Hitler), but it simultaneously made the world safe for another madman, Joseph Stalin… who went on to kill many more people than Hitler did.
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