War and Civilization: Crash Course World History 205


Hi I’m John Green; this is Crash Course World History, and today, we’re going to talk — for the absolute last time, I promise — about war. Well, it’s not the last time we’re going to talk about war because we’re gonna talk about the 20th century later, pretty much defined by war, but it’s the last time we’re going to talk about war in an abstract way. [John from the past] Mr. Green! Mr. Green! And then we can get to the battles? Because this has been pretty … esoteric. [Present John Green] Oh, me from the past, I remember when I spent 30 minutes with an SAT prep book and emerged with the word “esoteric” in my vocabulary. But fair enough, me from the past. It is a little bit esoteric. You know what else is esoteric? Human existence. Anyway, in the last episode we examined why individuals might want to go to war, and the unspoken assumption in all of that was that war is, you know, on the whole, bad. But is that actually true? I mean, obviously, war is tremendously destructive and it can be very bad for the lives of individual humans, but is it possible that violence and war have had a positive effect on human development? Or at least, some positive effect? [Intro] [Intro] So, as we’ve discussed previously, wars are usually some type of competition for resources. But war can also lead to cooperation. Like, the earliest examples of wars were probably raids, right? And one of the best defenses against a raid is to gather people together in a group. You know, you circle the wagons, you put everybody inside the fort, et cetera. And some archaeologists maintain that human settlements, especially cities, started BEFORE agriculture, and, if that’s true, the likeliest explanation is defense. And then there’s the fact that agriculture itself has some defensive value, especially when you compare it to, like, herding, because herds are a very inviting target for raids. Y’know, you can round up all of the cows and make off with them because they can run, but it’s hard to, like, rustle 20 tons of wheat. Plus, agriculture usually requires larger concentrations of people, which has a defensive value, and, as far as armies go, agriculture provides the resource surpluses that sustain larger groups of warriors. So we’ve often said on Crash Course World History that agriculture and the cities that came with it were like the beginning of civilization, but, in fact, maybe war was the beginning of agriculture. And then there’s the argument that war can be the basis of political leadership. Like, in the ancient world – as in Game of Thrones – successful war leaders build up a retinue of fighters, and in order to keep them happy, the war leaders need to supply a constant flow of booty — not that kind of booty — I mean looting, like the spoils of war. Anyway, this sets up a need for continuous war, because, as your general, the only way I have of paying you is in booty. And we can only get booty if we continue to war. The people who were best at gathering loot became chiefs, and then through conquest, chiefdoms grew into kingdoms. The examples of this process are too numerous to count, and many weren’t recorded, but the rise of the Zulus in Africa provides a really interesting modern analogy. The people who would become the Zulu nation were originally Nguni-speaking agriculturalists and herders organized into numerous small chiefdoms, until the early 1800s. One of their chiefs, Dingiswayo, was able to extend his control over the others by his military strength. And then he would often cement his control over these chiefdoms by replacing their chiefs with someone loyal to him, sometimes through a politically expedient marriage, again like Game of Thrones. Dingiswayo was killed in 1817, and eventually replaced by his military commander Shaka, whose clan name, Zulu, was given to the kingdom. Shaka’s military success allowed him to build up a state, that eventually controlled quite a lot of territory, but he was unable to transition it into a nation-state. So, we’ve seen a bit of the way that war can change the way that humans organize themselves, and that war, or, at least, the threat of attack, also may have played a role in the development of the city states. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. Cities began as settlements, which, because they were stationary, were targets for raids. And so to deter raiders, cities built walls. But those efforts required coordination, or else coercion, and resources which states are good at. Like, Greek city-states built walls to defend against constant threats, mostly from other Greek city-states. Egypt, on the other hand, never developed walled cities because they were relatively free from powerful enemies, other than, like, the Assyrians and the Sea People. And Egypt had fewer internal struggles thanks to the unity provided by the Nile River. So war shaped city-states both physically and politically, but city-states also shaped war, because they changed the way that wars were fought. Concentrated urban populations were the basis of civil militias, made up of soldiers who were also citizens. That meant that they were both effective fighting forces and political catalysts. They built civic pride and diminished the power of wealthy warrior elites, who couldn’t defeat these new, larger armies. The best example of this citizen-militia is probably the Roman legion, which became so successful at fighting and empire-building that we forget that Rome actually started out as a city-state. Thanks, Thought Bubble. Although I believe Rome actually got its start when it was founded by two boys raised by a wolf. But, speaking of Rome, lets talk for a minute about empires. Now, it goes without saying that empires are fairly reliant upon military power. I guess you could also use the dark side of the force, but even Darth Vader needed stormtroopers. But the very nature of an empire is, like, one group of people ruling over many groups of people, and to do that, you generally do need some military power, whether you’re the Persians, or the Romans, or even the Mongols. No, they’re not an exception this time, Stan. But imperial success can backfire when rich empires decide that it’s easier or cheaper to have mercenaries do the fighting for them. And because they aren’t citizen-soldiers, they aren’t loyal to the state. Mercenaries are in it for the loot. And so when you rely upon mercenaries, you need constant war, which can stretch you thin, and also those mercenaries aren’t loyal to you, and this can be a real problem, as the Romans discovered, but also many others. So empires have a ceaseless urge to get bigger, but the bigger they get the more vulnerable they get to both internal problems, like peasant revolts, and external threats, like barbarians. And this may be why we don’t see that many empires any more. They’re expensive and unstable. Putin’s behind me, isn’t he. Putin! Stop building an empire! So, ultimately in the pre-modern world, wars probably unmade as many states and empires as they made. As Ibn Khaldun put it: “Royal authority is a noble and enjoyable position, it comprises all the good things of the world, the pleasures of the body, and the joys of the soul. Therefore, there is, as a rule, great competition for it. It is rarely handed over voluntarily, but may be taken away. Thus, discord ensues. It leads to war and fighting.” In short, war and the state developed simultaneously, and they probably had a reciprocal relationship. And states are good … ish. I mean, if you’re not in the position of being, like, pro-hunter-gatherer, I think that you have to be pro-state. And I’m kind of pro-hunter-gatherer, but I love pizza and the internet, and they can’t have either. But anyway, if wars create power and wealth for states, why don’t we see that many big empire-building wars anymore? I mean, except for you. Well, one answer actually has to do with wealth. So, warfare changed a lot in the early modern era — after about 1500 CE — with the large-scale introduction of gunpowder weapons. This has often been called a military revolution because cannon made cities very vulnerable. Although, in the end, cities proved pretty resourceful in developing fortification techniques to deal with cannons and, you know, we have cities today despite like, really excellent cannons. But anyway, if you’ve ever watched an episode of Pawn Stars, you’ll know that cannons are very expensive. So the age of gunpowder weapons probably led to states getting more power over their subjects, because in order to pay for all of this military technology, they had to modernize their bureaucracies, especially their tax collection systems. So the most successful states were those that could marshal their resources to pay for guns and forts and ships and most importantly, troops, which remain the largest military expenditure. So now we’re beginning to see one of the reasons why Europe would dominate much of the rest of the world after 1500, and would REALLY dominate after 1850. Europe was raking in money from trade, and especially from colonies, which allowed investment in technology and industry that reinforced its military advantages. Essentially, there was a lot of wealth to extract from the colonies; Europe had the cannons to do so; extracting that wealth gave them ever-better cannons. And that, my friends, is why here at Crash Course History we focus more on trade and resources than battles and war. So this rising cost of armies and navies meant that, increasingly, wealth was power. One of the biggest differences between the pre-modern and modern eras was that in the former, a state could accumulate wealth through conquest, while in the latter, trade is the better and safer bet. Especially exploitative, unfair, and unilateral trade with colonies. And then, as trade-reliant states began to eclipse those more reliant on conquest, a funny thing happened. The rich states that had built their wealth on military might began to shy away from expensive wars. And this was particularly true of the states considered liberal democracies. Although to be fair, liberal democracies are also pretty into war. But at least compared to empires and other kinds of states, they seem to be less likely to go to war, he said controversially, causing a big explosion in the comments. Why? Well the most common answer is that democracies are answerable to constituents who are unlikely to go to war, because, y’know, dying is bad. But Athens was like the purest democracy of all time and also remarkably bellicose. Rome had a fair amount of citizen participation, and look how peaceful they were. And then there’s the argument that wars became more expensive. Oh, it’s time for the open letter! But first, let’s see what’s in the secret compartment today. Ohh, it’s an open letter to military spending. Dear military spending, you kind of get a bad rap. Or too good of a rap, depending on your perspective. Here’s the thing, military spending: you’re one of those people who, like, acts like they’ve changed so much, and they’re, like, totally different from what they were last year, but you’re really the same. It’s true that modern armies cost much more than pre-modern ones, but modern economies are also much bigger. In fact, as a percentage of state budgets, military spending has remained relatively stable at between 3% and 5% of GDP, even at the height of the Cold War in the 1950s. You’re cool and all, military spending, but you’re not the reason we have fewer wars. Best wishes, John Green. So I’d argue that it’s not the costs of going to war that has made peace so attractive, it’s the benefits of not going to war. Now, the not killing and not dying benefits of peace are obvious, but good trade relations with other nations also leads to more stuff for everybody, essentially. This is true for cheap T-shirts and sneakers, but it’s also true for like medicine and food. Now that peace is more economically beneficial than war is not exactly a shocking revelation, nor is it particularly new, as John Stewart Mill pointed out. “… Commerce first taught nations to see with good will the wealth and prosperity of one another. Before, the patriot, unless sufficiently advanced in culture to feel the world his country, wished all countries weak, poor, and ill-governed but his own: He now sees in their wealth and progress a direct source of wealth and progress to his own country. It is commerce which is rapidly rendering war obsolete.” Now, you may have noticed that that actually hasn’t happened. And I’m not going to argue that everything has been peaceful and open-world trade since the end of the Napoleonic Wars or that capitalist countries seeing war as bad for business and have given up on it, but compared to earlier times, wars between major powers are much less frequent, a fact that tends to be obscured by the massiveness of the two Great Wars of the 20th century. So, I apologize that this isn’t straightforward military history, because I also enjoy a good glorious battle. But here at Crash Course we want to provide a framework for thinking about war generally, and we want to examine what it says about us as individuals, and as social orders, both good and bad. War may be part of why we have agriculture, and cities, and states, but even centuries ago, John Stewart Mill noticed that it seemed to be outliving its welcome. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is produced here in the Chad and Stacey Emigholz Studio in Indianapolis; it’s made with the help of these nice people, and it exists because of your support at Subbable.com. Subbable is a voluntary subscription service that allows you to support Crash Course directly so that we can keep it free, for everyone, for ever. There are also great perks that you can check out, so thank you to all of our Subbable subscribers, thanks to everyone for watching, and as we say in my hometown, don’t forget to be awesome.

100 thoughts on “War and Civilization: Crash Course World History 205

  1. perhaps war is not abundant and on the same scale as the past as no one desire mutual destruction unless they are entirely insane. post ww2 conflict are normally against less technologically developed regions Vietnam, Africa, middle east, western Europe, south america. technology is fundamental to modern war. no matter how many men you have with rifles and other ordinance they cant beat weapons of mass destruction biological, chemical or nukes. side fighting each other at this point of technological capability is clearly non beneficial. many economic well of countries have not developed nuke and similar level of technology. this is quiet possibly due to lack of knowledge and know-how of the necessary facilities; but even you do build a weapon of mass destruction hear is the hard part; the delivery system. pulse rocket missiles, planes/jets. any delivery system is added effort and required specific knowledge which when put in summation requires a lot specialised mind that frankly most countries do not have all requirement fortunately at present . resource gathering and process is probably a an even greater effort required. and there are 13 wars at present which isn't really that little at all but they are just not being done by two equally powerful power. present war are most advanced nations ganged up against worse off countries. war is a business.

  2. WW1 DID have positive effect… For military geniuses only like Guderian. And the majority of it is negative I mean seriously, (No offense, I'm neutral) Allies blamed Germany instead of Austro-Hungary.

  3. Esoteric
    intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest.

    Hope I saved you some time

  4. single payer war works just fine
    Modern Monetary Theory
    green new deal
    Medicare4all
    Fed job guarantee for the public purpose

  5. Dude, stop pointing at putin, USA is the empire right now! Count their military outposts all over tje world and then count the russian ones. Also check the usa´s military investments; i think it was like 600 billion in 2016? The russians are far away from that. Usa is the empire, everybody else bust wants to survive. Read daniele gansers books!

  6. I wish John would stop the Russia bashing, yet look at the USA-Empire which has mercs fight in wars, and we've been at war for 16+ years now. Russia: not an empire. USA: actively expanding our empire

  7. @ 7.05 – no more wars for empire? Are there not
    lithium mines, copper mines. silver and gold mines in Afghanistan? Say, who owns those mines?

  8. "War out living its welcome"? That's terrifying idea. I don't like the things like the great wars or nuclear war but the idea of a world where there is no violence, no conflict and no wars it sounds like hell to me. It is like loosing a parent, a part of yourself. I value the culture of war from the Unknown soldier to the Battlefield series. The peace is boring argument in my case would undermine the feeling of horror that i feel towards the pacifist leanings. Living in that kind of world is like being a vegetable. It is being safe and sober but dulled beyond reason sapped of both will do and live and spirit. Humanity of that peace is a slowly rotting carcass. A pustule that oozes mucus and bile. Like i said before I don't crave for destruction or annihilation. But i do respect war, conflict and violence as a part of human and one shouldn't turn away from it. Man just has to learn when to stop.

  9. A state is not required for pizza and internet to exist, it's called Anarcho-Capitalism. Look it up.

  10. I'm much more to the belief that agriculture and animal domestication is what defines civilization and that those two factors in themselves brought mass warfare, slavery, class division, totalitarian hierarchy and mass disease, before that all living things had more autonomy. I'm very pro-hunter/gatherer 🙂

  11. I was a soldier in the army. His first part was dead on.. a real fire fight has a high to it u can never find any where else.. to feel that warrior blood in your veins flowing same as your ancestors

  12. Only a Jew would think war is a good thing. Know why? Because they’re behind almost major war since the 14th century!

  13. "Even Darth Vader needed Stormtroopers." Judging by my only attempt at playing Empire at War, where I lost my entire force early on and won the rest of the battle with just Vader, that's not necessarily true.

  14. Long ago, deep in the primordial mists of time, man, or man's ancestors, first realized that all of us have pink mushy stuff inside of us. And then man realized that if you could get enough of that pink mushy stuff from the inside to the outside, you got that man's women and property. And ever since then, there has been war.

  15. You said ‘fewer wars’, but as I’m watching this video now in 2018, the United States is currently and actively involved in SEVEN (7) wars! I understand this video was made 4 years earlier, but the war in Afghanistan, which is now the United States longest war, has been going on for 17 years! Also, The US conflict with Iraq has been going on since 2003, The war in Syria and Libya in 2011 and both still ongoing, in 2015 we went to war with Yemen as well, then back to Somalia , and now Niger as well. I’d say that’s not ‘fewer’ wars. You said there’d be an explosion in the comments. I think it’s because you knew that the US was currently involved in a bunch of drama but didn’t want to mention it out of delicacy. Whatever the reason, it casts a biased shadow on the truth and propagates the re-direction tactics that the government and media use so skillfully to keep the American public asleep and naive to what’s really going on. And who among us steps up and asks, why the hell is America at war in SEVEN flipping countries at the same damn time and is this really necessary for the safety and security of the American people, or is it a power play to overthrow leaders, position corrupt officials who will cooperate, and control natural resources?!

  16. the combination of running out of finite resources, climate change, and production of products being ever cheaper and decentralized is goin to change the way the game is played yet again, we will then have more to gain from fighting over resources than trading see yall in the water and asteroid wars or im wrong …

  17. Не понимаю этих приколов с Путиным. В стране периферийный компрадорский капитализм под управлением олигархов притворяющихся советскими патриотами/новочерносотенцами. Не смешно, при империи было бы больше порядка и меньше тупости.

  18. "if you're not in the position of pro-hunter-gatherer then you have to be pro-state" so what you're saying is anprims are the only real anarchists?

  19. I think California has somewhat of a direct democracy with our ballot measures allowing people to directly vote on laws. We have a mix of a direct democracy and a democratic republic.

  20. Nukes are the only reason we don't see big wars now. Every one knows that if they push the button they will destroy the target and themselves

  21. lives in the most powerful empire in history, ever keeps pointing the finger at Putin … Also: desperately tries to convince kids war is actually good for you, (see Toxic Sludge is Good For You, by John Stauber.)

    Sometimes Mr. Green, you are really reaching. Dislike.

  22. It seems that "human nature" backed itself into a corner – building a different physical environment that "human nature" itself is not adapted for (stone age animals developing more tools and ways of thinking, increasingly leading to the present age). Our biological and especially psychological evolution has simply not kept up – cannot keep up – with our technological development. In short, "human nature" as usually described is increasingly obsolete. The higher the level of technology gets, the truer this becomes.

  23. America is an empire. We rule the entire world economically via the Petrodollar and swift.. well we used to… We are a failing empire now. That is why they want to go to war with Iran, Syria, and Venezuela

  24. I always enjoy it when people I like but don't know like other people I like but don't know, but seeing John Green from the Past wearing a Night Vale shirt makes me especially happy because it's not as mainstream as Assassin's Creed or Doctor Who or Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones.

  25. Dude…empires basically only ended if you choose not to define the European colonial empires as empires…for some reason. Like, you’re basically saying the British Empire…wasn’t an empire, nor is the contemporary US Empire.

  26. ‘War can lead to cooperating’, hmmm; which is more important, cooperation or competition?

    Two groups must cooperate before they compete. In another way, groups must cooperate to fight; if they don’t, then it’s just a chase.

  27. As much as I hate how much of an asshat Dawkins is on other topics, his foundational work on memeology throws a wrinkle in the notion that evolution doesn't play a role in cultures.

    At its most basic level a meme is information transmitted through non-genetic means. They are subject to evolution in the form of adaptation during transmission, extinction if ill suited to an environment, competition with other ideas, and so on. But the length of a "generation" for a meme is significantly shorter than almost any biological organism. The time between when I first hear an idea and when I repeat it can be mere seconds.

    Memes also possess an ability to do something analogous to sexual reproduction on a scale no biological being could compete with. They can exchange material with between zero and dozens of other ideas allowing them to rapidly adopt the best traits for a given environment.

    While evolution may operate too slowly when applied to biology for it to impact humans, it's still significantly impacting us today.

  28. von Clausewitz said that war was politics by other means. Individuals rob and murder – groups of individuals forming political bodies make war. Not all individuals are thieves and murderers and not all political bodies are war like. The problem for the non-war like peoples is that if a group that was war like came along – the non-war like peoples better be prepared for them – or they would have a problem.

    An ancient saying goes something like "if you want peace – be prepared for war" because if you were not able to defend yourself – someone would attack you. On the frontiers of civilization – individuals must be prepared to protect themselves against people who are thieves and murderers. Once you have more organization – you can create units that are there to protect you – such as police or militaries.

    Civilizations surrounded by less organized peoples tend to expand at those peoples expense until they run into a political entity that can resist them. While they can have treaties to sort things out between them – wars are often part of the process of sorting things out.

    Larger political entities have a mixture of war like and non-war like peoples so their politics is somewhat complicated. Having a very strong political ruler simplifies that some what but as this ruler is there by the will and force he can bring to bear – he is more likely to be war like than non-war like. Political entities that do not have very small leadership groups – tend to be less focused and their politics more diverse. Thus, the rise of democracies has reduced the number of wars because the average people who will bear the brunt of the war have a larger say in whether or not there will be one. Mostly, democracies find another way to sort things out.

    There are however very large numbers of people in the world still who are ruled by very small power groups – and these political entities can and do bring about wars when they take it upon themselves to act aggressively. A common reasoning of the war like leadership of these political entities is that the non-war like people won't do anything because they are to weak willed. Sometimes they are right about that – other times they are not. Still other times, while they initially resist, the political will of the non-war like entities fails and the war like entities out last them. This was what the Japanese thought they would accomplish when they attacked the Americans in WWII – and failed – and what the North Vietnamese were counting on when they fought to bring totalitarian rule to South East Asia – and they succeeded.

    There's nothing new or unknown about any of this. It is a mark of the abysmal education and foolishness of people that this is even a topic of discussion. Of course … most of the categories these videos fall into are like that.
    .

  29. So essentially war is the theory of Everything…. Well in terms of the social structures that we have created. Btw this is by far the best series in the whole crash course world history.

  30. The fact that wealth is more efficiently built through trade rather than Conquest I think it's been true for a very long time even during the first and second World War. Nate Nations go to war with each other primarily because men think with their penises rather than with their minds and they make decisions based on cell will and self-image rather than on what is best for their countries.

    The reason Wars have become less common on a large scale in my opinion is because of nuclear weapons providing mutually assured destruction. The fear of nuclear Holocaust keeps everyone calm.

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