Warfare and Violence Research Paper

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  1. Introduction
  2. Violence in Prehistoric Warfare
  3. Evolution of Violence and Warfare
  4. Views of Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophers
  5. Crusades and Just Wars
  6. Global Conflicts and the World Wars
  7. Genocides
  8. Internal Conflicts and Terrorism
  9. Conclusion
  10. Bibliography


Warfare is an organized, socially sanctioned armed conflict that takes place between two independent political units, groups, or communities using military force (Malinowski, 1941; Mead, 1940, 1968; Otterbein, 1994). Otterbein (1994) has categorized warfare into three types: (1) internal war and two types of external war, (2) offensive war and (3) defensive war. While internal warfare is between political groups within the same cultural unit or larger aggregates within society, external war is between culturally different units or between the society under study and other societies (Ember & Ember, 1997; Otterbein, 1994). Of the two types of external war, offensive is attacking and defensive is being attacked (Otterbein, 1994).



Violence, a ubiquitous aspect of warfare, is a part of everyday life in modern times. At present, the war on terror that is being waged in Iraq by the U.S. government was a major issue in the 2008 presidential elections as violence continues to take center stage with the rising number of casualties of American soldiers. Terrorist attacks are also at an all-time high. While the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., were still fresh in the minds of the people, the terrorists attacked Mumbai, India, in November 2008 for 4 days, leaving the financial capital of the country debilitated. Violence, however, is not unique to the world of today. It can be traced back to prehistoric times. Osteological and archaeological data about ancient groups from the Americas and Europe point toward this fact. Archaeological data and skeletal remains also show evidence of domestic violence, homicide, ritualized combat, warfare, cannibalism, and human sacrifice (Martin & Frayer, 1997).

Violence in Prehistoric Warfare

Despite lack of concrete evidence, prehistorians believe that violent clashes between different groups were likely since Paleolithic times (Guilaine & Zammit, 2001/2005). According to Leroi-Gourhan (1965), aggression, an integral part of hunting, was essential in prehistoric times as a technique for obtaining food and warfare. Thus, violence, an extension of hunting, was a natural means for survival. Among the few remains that exist of Neanderthal man in the cave of Shanidar in northern Iraq, there appears to have been a high frequency of trauma-related deaths that show a likelihood of aggression (Cunliffe, 2006). Remains found in the Upper Paleolithic cemetery of Gebel Sahaba in Nubia, Egypt, show that at least 50% of those buried died from violence (Cunliffe, 2006). Looking at the aggression shown by the hunting populations of American Indians today, Guilaine and Zammit (2001/2005) surmise that hunting societies of the Upper Paleolithic Age were warring societies.

Burials of the Mesolithic man in Europe show signs of deaths by traumatic injuries, and those found in Bavaria show that heads were severed from the bodies, which could be indicative of either ritual sacrifice or widespread warfare among the hunter-gatherers. Among early farmers of the Neolithic Age from about 6000 BCE, violence and warfare in the form of raids and routs using bows and arrows, along with spears and axes, seem to have intensified as people started competing for resources (Cunliffe, 2006). The reason that warfare was so rampant among the hunter-gatherers and the early farmers is because they enjoyed war and it formed an integral part of their social existence (Clastres, 1997). However, unlike modern warfare, prehistoric warfare had few participants. Adult males, who had no training or strategic war plans, took part in disorganized confrontations with no one leading the warring factions (Guilaine & Zammit, 2001/2005). According to Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), this lack of leadership—an authority to establish social organization— led to constant warfare.

Hobbes, in his famous work Leviathan (1651), noted that human beings adopt means for self-preservation when they perceive danger. As such, Hobbes argued that men have the natural capacity for violence and that war is a social condition that can be averted only when society gives up certain rights to a sovereign who takes over decision making for a long-term good (Cunliffe, 2006). According to Hobbes’s theory, in the absence of discipline, human beings are in a state of animosity where a constant mistrust of others leads to rebellion and conflict (Clastres, 1997; Guilaine & Zammit, 2001/2005). Clastres (1997) perceived this constant need for war as a way for primitive societies to retain their individualism and independence and not bow before a powerful authority figure where power would be centralized. Spencer (1896) contended that military efficiency came before the development of centralized political power.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) believed in the idea of the “noble savage,” asserting that man is gentle in his natural state. He argued that man is led to violence when restrained by social mores (Cunliffe, 2006). The theory of the noble savage is that primitive life was conflict-free and that the peaceful character of man and nature were in harmony with each other (Guilaine & Zammit, 2001/2005). The scientific view believed that primitive life was easy because there was scant population and nature was bounteous. Thomas Malthus (1766–1834) hypothesized that population increases faster than the means of subsistence, and warfare was a means to check population growth, which was later referred to by Julian Steward in the late 20th century as “cultural ecology” (Cunliffe, 2006). Malthus’s theory had a major impact on Charles Darwin (1809–1882) in propounding his theory of natural selection, which was the nucleus of both his On the Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871). Thus, Malthus and Darwin looked at violence and warfare as natural and positive when it led to the survival of the fittest (Cunliffe, 2006).

Evolution of Violence and Warfare

War as an institution was created at some point of time in social evolution even though less complex collective violence did exist prior to that (Mead, 1964; Meyer, 1990). Wilson (1978), in his book On Human Nature, opined that aggression arose in defense of territories where intruders were attacked. Territories defined the control over resources like fruit and water; game and warfare were also an important mechanism to maintain this control (Meyer, 1990). Adding to this, Otterbein (1994) identified 16 theoretical approaches to the anthropology of warfare. The theories currently being advocated were grouped under three components—material causes, efficient causes, and consequences. Material causes included physical environment and social structure; efficient causes included goals of war and military preparation; and consequences comprised effects on social organization, survival value, and origin of state. Theories that are no longer advocated strongly were divided into causes and effects. Causes included innate aggression, frustration-aggression, diffusion, and cultural evolution. Effects included effect on species, ethnocentrism, acculturation, ecological adaptation, and patterns and themes.

Vayda (1961) argued that a community that becomes overpopulated will move into unoccupied areas or take over land of communities that are militarily weak. A major proponent of ecological theories of warfare, Vayda initially looked at warfare as an adaptive mechanism leading to equitable distribution of resources, thus focusing on material causes of war. Later, he looked at purposeful human behavior in its context, which is classified under theories on efficient causes of war. Otterbein (1994) contended that causes of rape, feuding, and internal war were to be found in social structure, and this is a material cause. He pointed out that the efficient causes of war were to be found in the goals of war, and these were usually economic, for example land to obtain land and plunder. Otterbein also examined the third component of the theories of war, consequences or outcomes of war. This included different types of wars, casualties, and changes in territorial demarcations. Later, he came up with a unified theory of feuding and warfare that combined the various theoretical approaches to warfare.

The unified theory tries to bring together the structural and ecological approaches to the causes of war. According to this theory, groups in a region compete for the same resources. This becomes their goal of war. In the case of natural disasters or population growth, people from the areas that have a shortage of resources will attack those with greater resources. Smaller groups that are defeated can form political alliances to become stronger. Thus, social structures merge as a mode of ecological adaptation.

On the other hand, groups that have achieved a high level of military sophistication will try to conquer the weaker groups—both within their region and outside. This therefore reduces competition, expands their territories, and increases their population (Otterbein, 1994).

Examining the evolution of warfare and violence in the northwestern coastal region, including areas between the Pacific Ocean and the coastal ranges of the mountain systems of northwest North America, Maschner (1997) noted that the people of the area had one of the most aggressive forms of organized conflict among hunter-gatherer societies. According to Maschner, the first evidence of conflict in the region dates from at least 3000 BCE, and the injuries were found to be mainly nonlethal. By 200 to 500 CE, a shift in violence and warfare was evidenced by the construction of defensive areas, conglomerations of villages, and a decline in population. By 900 CE, a great increase in the construction of defensive sites was evidenced. Maschner also pointed out that despite a decline in population, the early 19th century saw a rise in conflicts in the area that brought into question the material explanation of warfare and demonstrated that the region had a long history of war.

Views of Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophers

The first Western writer to address the issue of morality in warfare was Thucydides (460–400 BCE) in The Peloponnesian War, which contained the historical account of the war fought between Sparta and Athens in 431 BCE (Reichberg, Syse, & Begby, 2006). In The Peloponnesian War, the Athenians said to the Melians, a colony of Sparta that refused to submit to Athenian rule, that right was an issue only between those who were equals in power, not between the strong and the weak; the strong could do what they wanted while the weak had to suffer (Strassler, 1998). When the Melians questioned how it would be good for them to serve while the Athenians ruled, the Athenians replied that it would save them from worse sufferings, and the Athenians would gain without having to destroy the Melians. The Peloponnesian war finally ended with the defeat of Athens and the establishment of Sparta as the leading military power in Greece (Strassler, 1998).

Plato (427–347 BCE) wrote little about war, but he believed that to have peace, it was important to be prepared for war. He emphasized that the right kind of education must be imparted to the soldiers so that decisions about when to wage war could be prudent and well guided (Reichberg et al., 2006). Subsequently, Aristotle (384–322 BCE) was critical of the organization of Sparta’s political life being geared toward war. According to Aristotle, military power should not be an end in itself but must be a defensive tool to maintain peace. Aristotle berated tyrannies for being more predisposed to violent conflicts than other forms of government and suggested that leaders must be properly trained in statecraft (Barnes, 1984).

In ancient Rome (7th century BCE–1st century CE), decisions to wage wars were taken by priests or fetiales who were essentially responsible for maintaining peace, and a war was considered just if it was carried out in accordance with the religious laws; these were usually in the form of lawsuits (Watson, 1993). Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 BCE) was one of the first thinkers to voice the need for developing a legal and normative structure for war and insisted that war should be undertaken only with the objective of peace (Reichberg et al., 2006).

Crusades and Just Wars

Crusades are holy wars fought for the defense of religion. Reichberg and his colleagues (2006) identify at least seven crusades—or Christian holy wars or medieval wars—that were fought against the Muslims between 1095/1096 and 1274 for the liberation of Jerusalem and the holy sepulcher, which is Christ’s grave. They contend that the crusades failed to uphold Christian virtues and remained at best a mixture of religious ideals and experiences of brutal violence suffered by the people. Similarly, Muslim holy wars are fought under the concept of jihad. Innocent IV, who was the Pope from 1243 to 1254, wrote commentaries on the contemporary papal legislation known as Decretals, which highly influenced Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) in his development of the concept of the just war (Reichberg et al., 2006). In his Decretals, Innocent IV wrote that the Pope could legitimately take steps to recover and defend the holy land that had been taken over by the Muslims, while also protecting all the faithful inhabitants, but mentioned that the property rights of infidels in other jurisdictions must be respected (Innocent IV, 1535/2006). He argued that the holy land was won in a just war by the Roman emperor after Christ’s death, and so it was legitimate for the Pope to take it back from the infidels (Innocent IV, 1535/2006).

Thomas Aquinas wrote that holy wars are to be waged against unbelievers not to convert them to Christianity but to prevent them from obstructing the Christian faith. As for those who had once accepted Christianity and do not believe any more, they should be compelled to keep the faith as they are obligated to do so once they have accepted it by exercising their free will (Aquinas, 1268–1271/1920). The key criteria—princely authority, just cause, and right intention—identified by Aquinas for resorting to armed force in a just war are followed even in today’s world (Reichberg et al., 2006). On warfare and violence, Niccoló Machiavelli (1469–1527) wrote in his book The Prince (1532/1985) that war was just if it was necessary, that arms were pious if there was no hope in anything else, and that the end justified the means.

Global Conflicts and the World Wars

New patterns of violence and warfare around the world can be attributed to European contact with indigenous peoples and Europeans’ territorial expansion as they built their empire across the world and formed colonies (Ferguson & Whitehead, 1992; Rosman & Rubel, 1999). Ferguson and Whitehead (1992) identified three types of responses by the indigenous peoples in the form of warfare as a result of the changes around them: (1) wars of resistance against the state, (2) indigenous peoples enrolled in the armed forces of the states, and (3) war among different factions of the indigenous population as they responded to the changes around them. Before European invasion of the world, the balance of power was maintained among the various groups that took to war. However, since Europeans focused on expanding their rule, power was concentrated in their hands. They also introduced more advanced weapons like guns and had more resources (Rosman & Rubel, 1999).

The island of New Ireland, a part of Papua New Guinea, had its first European contact in the 1880s. This was marked by violent conflicts and intense fighting, which was then accelerated by the introduction of guns and iron axes. In 1884, New Ireland became a German colony as part of German New Guinea. Although it started out as a commercial enterprise, the German government soon took administrative control of the region (Rosman & Rubel, 1999). Although weapons were a major factor in the dramatic escalation of violence and warfare in New Ireland from 1880 onward, Rosman and Rubel (1999) suggest the main factor was the imbalance that was caused by the interference of Europeans in the hostility equation between traditional enemies in the area. Prior to European contact, the indigenous communities around the world had traditional enemies and allies maintaining a balance of power in the region, and so no single group was able to seize power or be in an advantageous position for a long period of time. With European contact, the goal of warfare also changed to control of strategic resources in the region (Rosman & Rubel, 1999).

A similar situation can be seen in Somalia, where the population is divided into several small clans. European contact (colonized by Britain, Italy, and France) gave more powers to some clans recognized by the colonial governments and given stipends (Lewis, 1965). This led to the disruption of the balance of power in the region. After Somalia achieved independence in 1960, these clans emerged as political parties, and the balance of power continued to be disturbed with those in high political positions favoring their clansmen while harassing those from other clans (Rosman & Rubel, 1999). Later, during the Cold War, both the United States and the USSR gave large amounts of weaponry to Somalia, further upsetting the stability in the country. Colonialism unleashed long periods of impoverishment, violence, and conflict in diverse places like India, South Africa, Algeria, and Ireland, and at the present time in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Palestine (Sáenz, 1999).

World War I (1914–1918) was a global war that began in July 1914 with Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia. Soon, Britain, France, Belgium, Russia, Serbia, Japan, Italy, and the United States were fighting against Austria-Hungary, Germany, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria. The Great War utilized the powerful weapons that had been invented in the 19th century with heavy gunpowder, artillery, and machine guns; all products of a machine age, these transformed the war into one never seen before—of mass slaughter, death, and carnage, with the dominant cultural image being one of collective ravage and plunder rather than celebration of individual heroism. As the war progressed, aircraft were used strategically to bomb the enemy and destroy vital areas where war arrangements were being made. Aerial bombing had a momentous impact on industrial societies, which were particularly vulnerable (Lawrence, 1997).

By the end of the World War I, the French had lost 1,700,000 men, Germany had lost 2,000,000 men, and the British had lost 1,000,000 (Keegan, 1993). The United States lost 48,000 men in battle and 56,000 from disease (Leuchtenburg, 1958). The war brought about a strong sense of gloom in modern times as thinkers began reflecting on the meaninglessness of modern life and the futility of war, while questioning the possibility of progress that was brought about by the Industrial Revolution. With severe slaughter by machines going out of control and a strong sense of human alienation, World War I turned Europe into a “real charnelhouse” (Lawrence, 1997, p. 58). The war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919. The League of Nations was created as an international organization to prevent future wars. However, it proved to be a failure as World War II began in 1939.

The Treaty of Versailles resulted in Germany losing parts of is territory. In 1935, Germany under the leadership of Adolf Hitler repudiated the Treaty of Versailles and in 1938 annexed Austria. In 1939, Germany and Hungary occupied Czechoslovakia. While Germany began raiding British cities in 1940, Britain retaliated with aerial attacks that lasted for the next 5 years even though these bombings lacked precision (Lawrence, 1997). Massive raids were carried out in German cities, affecting civilians beginning in 1942. In December 1941, the Japanese Navy attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawai’i. There were two waves of aerial attacks launched by Japan that led to severe destruction of U.S. naval battleships and loss of personnel. This led to the United States joining World War II in 1941. World War II, which began in 1939 and ended in 1945, was divided into two military factions, the Allies and the Axis. The Allied countries were the British Empire, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United States of America, China, Poland, and France. The Axis countries were Germany, Italy, and Japan.

World War II ended in the defeat of the Axis powers. The Western countries mercilessly used air power and technology to their benefit, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians by strategic bombing (Lawrence, 1997). The United States dropped atomic bombs developed by their scientists on two Japanese cities, Nagasaki and Hiroshima, in early August 1945 causing complete destruction of the cities and crushing Japan. Surrender by Japan on August 15, 1945, finally ended World War II. After World War II, the United States and the USSR emerged as the two superpowers and the Cold War continued between them until the early 1990s when the USSR was dismantled. The United Nations, an international organization, was established in 1945 to maintain world peace and security.


Traditionally, anthropologists were neutral and dispassionate observers of the human condition, not influenced by politics, and therefore kept away from issues like genocide and state-perpetrated terrorism (Scheper-Hughes, 1995). However, recently, genocide has been of interest to certain forensic anthropologists who have made important contributions to the field (Jones, 2006). Anthropologists are now studying areas that were under siege or affected by violence and insurgency rather than just looking at small, stable communities (Hinton, 2002). While studying genocides, anthropologists examine local and cultural dynamics and try to understand factors that lead to such terroristic actions (Jones, 2006).

The term genocide was coined by Raphael Lemkin (1900–1959), a Polish-Jewish jurist and refugee from Nazi-occupied Europe. Genocide involves the deliberate destruction of an ethnic group or nation based on their collective identity (Jones, 2006). The United Nations defines genocide as any act including killing members of a group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of a group, taking measures to bring about the destruction of a group, or preventing births within a group or forcibly transferring children to another group, done with an intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.

Rome’s siege of Carthage toward the end of the Third Punic War (149–46 BCE), where 150,000 Carthaginians out of a population of 200,000 to 400,000 were wiped out, has been regarded as the first genocide (Kiernan, 2004). Later in the 13th century, Mongolian horsemen under the leadership of Genghis Khan invaded vast territories, exterminating entire populations in search of wealth. In France, following the execution of King Louis XVI in 1789, the new revolutionary government in Paris was faced with opposition and revolt in the Vendée with a rise against the government. As a result, all inhabitants of Vendée, including children, were slaughtered by the government; the death toll was estimated to be 150,000 by 1796 when the genocide waned. Another instance of genocide was the one perpetrated by the Zulu kingdom in Africa. Under the leadership of Shaka Zulu, between 1810 and 1828, largescale annihilation of populations was carried out in an attempt at expansion. While Shaka took all the men to increase the strength of his army, he destroyed women, children, and old people, as they were useless to him (Jones, 2006).

Europeans, for over five centuries, have taken genocidal measures in the Americas against the native indigenous population. Jones (2006) describes this as the “most extensive and destructive genocide of all time” (p. 70). The Spanish invasion and occupation of large parts of Latin America in the late 15th century led to the extermination of tens of thousands of native Indians, as the invaders slaughtered men, women, and children alike. Those not killed this way were worked to death in gold mines, reducing the population of a Caribbean island (present-day Dominican Republic and Haiti) from 8 million to 20,000 in 30 years. Soon the Spanish invaders massacred native populations in Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador; a vast majority died as a result of poor working conditions in mines where they were forced to work (Jones, 2006). Besides bringing in diseases that caused a demise in the native Indian population in North America, Europeans began the first genocidal war (the Pequot War, 1636–1637) in present-day Connecticut as an overreaction to a Native American raid, exterminating hundreds of Indians. Several more such wars were to follow in the coming years. The Yuki Indians of California were reduced from an original population of 20,000 to 168 by 1880 (Jones, 2006). In Guatemala, a military coup overthrew the reformist president in 1954 and started military rule. In the 1970s, a guerrilla army rose in revolt against the military regime to which the military reacted with a holocaust that befell the Mayan highlands. Within a span of 6 years, 440 Indian villages were razed and 200,000 Indians tortured and killed. Forensic anthropologists in Guatemala studying exhumed victims in recent years have given significant input in determining that the mass slaughter carried out by the military in Guatemala against the Mayan Indians was indeed genocide (Jones, 2006).

Both the Aborigines of Australia and the inhabitants of Namibia, at the hands of Britain and Germany, respectively, suffered fates similar to that of the Native Americans. The Aboriginal population in Australia was 750,000 when the British colonists first arrived in 1788, and was reduced to 31,000 in 1911 (Jones, 2006). In addition, German colonists almost exterminated the Herero nation in Namibia. German colonists arrived in 1903 and began pushing the native people out of their territories. In 1904, the Hereros rose in revolt against the Germans, killing 120 Germans (Jones, 2006). Another tribal nation, the Namas, also revolted against the Germans. The Germans crushed both the Hereros and the Namas, killing almost half their population. In 2004, 100 years later, the Germans formally acknowledged the genocide and apologized to the people of Namibia, offering development aid after the Hereros filed a suit in the United States for $4 billion in compensation from the German government and German companies who profited from those lands (Jones, 2006).

The first truly modern genocide was the Armenian holocaust, where over a million Armenians were killed in Turkey between 1915 and 1923. In April 1915, the Turkish army assaulted Armenians, who were Christians, as opposed to the Turkish, who were Muslims, and who were thus seen as supporters of Russia, Turkey’s enemy in World War I. On April 24, 1915, hundreds of Armenians were imprisoned and later killed, or tortured to death (Jones, 2006). Some Armenians were stripped of their arms and made to work until they died; others were shot in cold blood; 200,000 Armenians were exterminated in this way by July 1915 (Jones, 2006; Mann, 2005).

In Russia, during the Russian Revolution, Lenin’s Bolshevik party, which followed the Marxist socialist ideology, seized power, overthrowing the tsarist regime in 1917, and founded the Soviet Union. Stalin was appointed the general secretary of the Communist party. After Lenin died in 1924, a struggle for power ensued and Stalin successfully became the Soviet leader in 1928. The Bolsheviks hated a class of peasants called the kulaks, as they were seen as slightly better off than the others (a peasant who owned just a cow or hired a helper would be labeled a kulak) (Jones, 2006). The Soviet regime forced the kulaks onto collective farms. Thousands of heads of families were shot and killed; over a million were sent to concentration camps with most of them dying on the way (Jones, 2006). The number of inmates in the concentration camps rose from 212,000 in 1931 to almost a million by 1935; about 2 million kulaks were sent on internal exile to distant corners of Russia (Applebaum, 2004; Werth, 1999). After destroying the kulaks, the regime next started the practice of forced collectivization and grain seizures, resulting in widespread famines in Ukraine, the Volga region, Kazakhstan, and other territories (Jones, 2006). Between 1930 and 1933, 5.7 million people are estimated to have died from famine in the USSR (Jones, 2006). According to Werth (1999), 4 million of these victims were Ukranians.

The Jewish Holocaust, the most well-known genocide, took place between 1941 and 1945; in it, 5 to 6 million Jews were systematically exterminated by the Nazi regime in Germany (Shermer & Grobman, 2002). The Nazi Party was founded by Adolf Hitler and his colleagues, and Hitler, a decorated veteran of the First World War, envisioned German domination over all of Europe. Hitler also had an extreme hatred for Jews, who had allegedly rejected and killed Jesus Christ. Hitler became the chancellor of Germany in January 1933. Once in power, he began a systematic boycott of the Jews in Germany, forcing large numbers of Jews to flee the country. In November 1938, several Jews were killed, and about 30,000 male Jews were rounded up and put in concentration camps, while hundreds of thousands of Jews were confined in ghettos with the intent of genocide (Jones, 2006). In 1941, following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, 1.2 million Jews were rounded up and killed by point-blank rifle fire (Rhodes, 2002). The Germans then came up with the idea of the death camps, in which the victims were killed in gas chambers, thus allowing a distance between the killers and the victims. In Auschwitz, 1.25 million Jews were killed this way (Jones, 2006).

Other known genocides were carried out in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge (1975–1979), in Bosnia and Kosovo (1998–1999), and in Rwanda (1994). In Cambodia, between 1975 and 1978, the ruling party at the time, the Khmer Rouge—composed of communist revolutionaries—carried out a spree of killing all those who were perceived as their enemies in Cambodia. Approximately 1.9 million people, constituting about 24% of the Cambodian population, died during this period (Jones, 2006). The Khmer Rouge imposed forced labor and conducted mass executions and internal purges similar to those in Stalin’s Russia. In 1989, the Serbs, under the leadership of Slobodan Milosevic, started repressive measures in the Albanian-dominated province of Kosovo, throwing thousands of Albanians out of jobs. Kosovo’s Albanians revolted with guerrilla warfare from 1998 through 1999, leading to the killing of about 10,000 ethnic Albanians by Serbs and the mass deportation of about 800,000 Kosovar Albanians to Albania and Macedonia. In February 1992, when Bosnia-Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia, Bosnian Serbs broke free. Wars ensued, with the Bosnian Serbs persecuting the Bosnian Muslims. Muslim men and some women were detained in Serb concentration camps where thousands died in conditions similar to the Nazi concentration camps. In Rwanda, about 1 million Tutsis were killed in 1994 by the Hutu regime within a span of 12 weeks (Jones, 2006).

Internal Conflicts and Terrorism

Internal conflicts are violent, armed clashes that are a result of domestic political disputes including power struggles, ethnic conflicts, secessionist movements, and revolutions; they range from guerrilla warfare and terrorist attacks to civil wars and genocide (Brown, 1996). Brown (1996) identified five reasons internal conflicts are important: (1) They are widespread, (2) they cause extreme suffering, (3) they usually involve neighboring countries, (4) they weaken the stability of the region, and (5) they might draw the attention of international organizations and countries farther away as their nationals might be in the affected regions. The international community is now taking an increasing interest, and efforts are on to handle these issues as they take on international dimensions. Reviewing the scholarly literature on internal conflicts, Brown identified four different clusters of factors that were responsible for causing internal conflicts: structural, political, economic/ social, and cultural/perceptual. Structural factors include weak states, intrastate security concerns, and ethnic geography; political factors include discriminatory political institutions, exclusionary national ideologies, intergroup politics, and elite politics; economic/social factors include economic problems, discriminatory economic systems, and modernization; and cultural/perceptual factors include patterns of cultural discrimination and problematic group histories.

An example of the political factors can be seen in India, a political entity that was artificially created as a result of British colonialism, and as such, the different parts of India are constantly trying to secede. This has been accentuated by the perception that while the interests of some groups of the population are catered to by the central government, certain ethnic groups and states that are further away from the center resent the neglect shown to them over the years, resulting in the mushrooming of armed insurgent groups (Barua, 2006). Spear (1996) has suggested that availability of weapons has not only been a proximate and permissive factor in armed internal conflicts, but also a way to maintain and intensify these revolts. Around the world, internal conflicts have also begun between the government and insurgent or rebel groups (see Barua, 2006; Brown, 1996).

Terrorism drew the word’s attention on September 11, 2001, when Al Qaeda attacked the twin towers in NewYork City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. On November 26, 2008, terrorism raised its ugly head once again, drawing the world’s attention when Mumbai, the financial capital of India, was in the grip of terrorists for 4 days, resulting in the deaths of 188 people, including 22 foreigners. This technique of inflicting mass killing both in the United States and in other countries poses an urgent need for the international community to quell this threat.


Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers professed that being prepared for war is the way to ensure peace. However, with Al Qaeda carrying out its holy war in terror attacks around the world, the war is already on. The United States, under the presidency of George W. Bush, started the “war on terror,” attacking Iraq and Afghanistan in an attempt to wipe out terrorists (although terrorists generally do not indulge in “conventional” war on the battlefield, making it extremely difficult to contest them). After two world wars, the United States was engaged in a Cold War with the USSR until the Soviet Union was dismantled in the early 1990s. In this millennium, the United States is invested in a war against terrorism.

An examination of the anthropology of warfare suggests that the current violence and warfare in the form of internal conflicts and global terrorism can be classified under all three clusters of theories as categorized by Otterbein (1994): material causes, efficient causes, and consequences. Material causes include physical environment and social structure. In this case, the rebel groups and terrorists are attacking the physical environment in an attempt to dismantle the current social structure against which they have grievances. Efficient causes include goals of war and military preparation. Here, the rebel groups and terrorists are trained militarily in the use of firearms and sophisticated bombs, with their goals of war being to have their demands met; draw attention to their issues; and, in the case of jihad, convert people into believing in their religious ideals. Consequences include effects on social organization, survival value, and origin of state. Dissatisfied with the current social organization and afraid of losing their ethnic identities, several secessionist groups around the world are demanding their own separate states or countries.

Otterbein’s (1994) unified theory of war, where structural and ecological approaches reconcile, suggests that it is time for a new kind of ecological adaptation, in which the established social structures that are present in the form of nations combine and achieve the highest possible level of military sophistication and make the defeat of terrorism a universal goal. The United States is already showing support to India and talking with Pakistan to end the reign of terror. The day may not be far off when the forces that are creating havoc around the world will be quelled as a result of the ecological adaptation of the affected nations.


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