War Isn’t Actually Pointless

warpointlessPeople often say that war is pointless, and it must be admitted that their argument is a good one:

What was gained in Iraq and Afghanistan? Things there are just as bad today as when the Western armies rolled in. And the threat to the West seems no less. To what end were all those people killed, mutilated, and terrorized?

What was the point of all the kingdom-versus-kingdom wars? Borders shifted left; borders shifted right; but the daily lives of the farmers, bakers, and traders mostly went back to normal after all the death.

And so on.

Even in the case of World War II – our best “wild man must be stopped” scenario – the facts don’t actually bear out the effectiveness of war. Yes, I’m very glad that Hitler was stopped (had I been there, I might have undertaken to kill him myself), but in full honesty, we must also admit that while the war stopped Hitler, it also made the world safe for Stalin, who went on to kill more people than Hitler ever did.

And without Stalin and a strong USSR, would Pol Pot have been able to kill a fourth of the population of Cambodia? Would Mao have been able to rack up the greatest death toll in human history… as much as Stalin and Hitler combined?

So, even in our very best scenario, a good argument can be made for war’s pointlessness.

But alas, I am drifting from my title subject, where I maintain that war is not pointless.

The Ruler and the “Poor Slob”

One of the more instructive quotes on war comes from Hermann Göring, a key member of Hitler’s inner circle. Notice the distinction he makes between the people and the leaders.

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 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 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.

Voice or no voice, 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 peace makers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

This explains why we so often see war as pointless: We’re looking at it from the vantage point of the poor slob, not from the vantage point of the ruler.

So, the truth is that war is not pointless… it’s only pointless from the standpoint of the poor slob who has to suffer and die in it.

For the ruler, war has a clear and compelling purpose: it gets rid of competitors.

States fight. That is as accurate as any statement of history that can be found. It was true 6,000 years ago and it is true now. Conflict is part of the core nature of states; they compete like animals over limited territories. Thus, war serves them.

Individuals can fight too, of course, but ask yourself this: Among the 200 or so human beings who live closest to you, how many fistfights have you seen over the last few years?

On the other hand, among the 200 or so states on this planet, several dozen have had wars over the last few years. Doesn’t that say something about the nature of states versus the nature of individuals?

The Other Reason

But it’s not just because of their perpetual competition that war has a purpose for state leaders. They also need it for upholding their legitimacy.

As we mentioned two weeks ago, every state rests on legitimacy: the belief that is it right for the state to take money by force, to punish those who disobey them, and to send children to die in wars.

If people ever stopped believing these things – if they stopped holding them as legitimate – the state itself would fail.

So, the other purpose of war is to uphold the legitimacy of the state.

One way to uphold state legitimacy is simply to work the perennial human weakness, fear. Thus, we have our modern “war on terror,” including this year’s new bogeyman, ISIS. The terror of monsters works for legitimacy, because scary monsters require something equally big and scary to stop them… and that necessary thing is a warfare state.

Interestingly enough, war is especially important for legitimacy just now, since “forever prosperity for all” isn’t working and the less-favored classes remain compliant only because they’re bought off with free food. So, war is one of the few things that still uphold the state’s legitimacy.

Curtailing war would help the economic situation, of course. But that would also remove the bands that tie millions of people to the state for emotional comfort. (See here for an explanation.) So, pulling back on war would probably be a net loss to legitimacy.

This is especially important to the state, because once legitimacy breaks, it’s hard to get it back. Following the Vietnam War, for example, “Team America Always Wins!” stopped selling and didn’t come all the way back for decades. So, with “forever prosperity for all” failing, war remains essential to state legitimacy.


My point in this article is that war tends to be pointless for the average person, but it’s definitely not pointless for their rulers. It is, to quote an old phrase, “the health of the state.”

So, when does war end? I’ll close by letting Albert Einstein answer that question for us:

Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war.

That might be a good topic to discuss with friends and neighbors.

Paul Rosenberg

11 thoughts on “War Isn’t Actually Pointless”

  1. If Hitler would have won, your articles would be in German and Japanese. And oh by the way, you would be writing propaganda if still alive, because free thinkers wound up dead. I don’t think your premise that average people would be affected the same. Your life and mine would be drastically different. Besides if Mao would have lost, would we have seen 40M + murdered by the communist ruler? Or the intellectuals purged from Cambodia by a psyco? Probably not.

    1. Algon, I think the fear you express is exactly what empowers the Hitlers, Tojos, Maos, and Pol Pots of the world making it possible for them to acquire state powers, stay in power and wage war. That, I believe, was the point of The Freeman’s article. There could be no Hitlers, Stalins, Mussolinis, Maos, nor Chiang Kai-sheks (whose Kuomintang murdered only 10 million Chinese citizens as compared to Mao’s 35 million according to R.J. Rummel’s authoritative DEATH BY GOVERNMENT book and website) without the support of their frightened populace. Think about it.

  2. “Yes, I’m very glad that Hitler was stopped (had I been there, I might
    have undertaken to kill him myself), but in full honesty, we must also
    admit that while the war stopped Hitler, it also made the world safe
    for Stalin, who went on to kill more people than Hitler ever did.”
    Hitler? That Hitler, the Roman Catholic that took 30 pieces of silver to stop Communism? That Hitler? To make the world safe for — democracy? Democracy that will inevitably devolve to mob rule? That Hitler?
    And then there was Ike ..
    Aside from Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Nuttinyahoo , et al; do we need to discuss Churchill, the Druid, Lincoln who gave us the first concentration camps, and Washington who commissioned L’Enfant and his successors to give us a Freemasonic mecca in D.C.?
    Does the phrase, we’re all screwed ring a bell? I think the larger and general populace of Terra firma wish to live under the auspices of the Atrahasis, Tablet I, and gladly do so ..
    https://youtu.be/aSLkqOPI0g8 (I further comment here as fooser77) ..

  3. I just want to mention a little booklet that I have entitled: “Why Socialism” by Albert Einstein, Monthly Review Pamphlet Series — Number 1, Reprinted from Vol 1 No 1, May 1949 of Monthly Review, an Independent Socialist Magazine, 333 Sixth Avenue NYC. In the article, he says essentially that “socialism is the ONLY way to equitqably organize societies.”
    Was Einstein so unwise that he couldn’t understand the ultimate goal and outcome of socialism? I would not use him as an example since he so revered the State, the source of all war and conflict.

    1. Einstein certainly made errors, but to say he “revered the state” is incorrect. He said many things against the state. Such as:
      “Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it.”
      Early socialists were sometimes anarchists at heart, with nowhere else to go. Einstein seems clearly to have been one of them. What is clear now, was far less so in 1905.

      1. I wasn’t there, of course, and neither were you, but Ludwig von Mises and Boehm-Bawerk , Karl Menger, and others of the Austrian School laid it out around 1880 that socialism was ultimately totalitarian and economically impossible to achieve. “Mixed societies” that had always existed were not good enough for the socialists. They wanted to go “ll the way.:
        Please don’t make excuses for Einstein. He made a horrible error that showed his ignorance [and lack of qualification to comment intelligently] on economics.

  4. Actually, wars can validate the masculinity of young men. During WWII, I signed up (voluntarily) to prove that I was a man. More recently, George W. Bush had the US Armed forces invade Iraq to prove that he was as (or more) macho than his old man who, in the gulf war, stopped short of invading Iraq. Seems like it’s more an ego thing for those who end up running a political entity.
    There was a simple cartoon that said “peace”. It showed an earth spaceship landing on some planet, and saying to a native, “Take me to your leader”. The native replied, “What’s a leader”?

  5. One of the major problems about war is that there are enough people who love war. I have friends who watch over and over every war movie that came out of Hollywood. They used to send me all sorts of emails about the glories of the military. When I was 12 my uncle at age 20 was killed by a Nazi sniper. I did not call my uncle a hero. The only hero I remember during WWII was Colin Kelly. After the war we heard of a few more hero’s like Audie Murphy. It was different back then. Less adulation But war was encouraged then and now by the State and suckers that we are we desperately try to convince ourselves that whatever war it is it’s just. It makes no sense. But ok if the enemy is climbing in your back window.

  6. Other than what appears, (judging by you attempt to judge him) to be the typical Historical ERRORS about Hitler, this is a logical and well done argument Paul

  7. Pointless? Only if you are really stupid. Our wars against the indigenous people succeeded in opening land and minerals to development of great wealth. A partnership with them would have worked just as well.
    The candyasses wail on about Iraq/Iran, etc. We should have, as Trump suggests, roll over them like we did the Nazis and Japs, then teach them to be civilized. It took about 50 years, which requires long term commitment, but it could be a paying proposition. The oil resources should pay for our trouble and prevent them from using it for foul purposes.

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