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Theory of War - Essay Example

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The further back in time one goes, the broader the definitions tend to be. Cicero defined war as simply "a contention by force" and Grotius argued quite generally that "war is the state of contending parties, considered as such" (Moseley, The Philosophy of War: np). Thus, early definitions leaned towards a more generalized notion of conflict among groups and parties. The theory of war was refined by Carl von Clausevitz, by implication, when he wrote rather famously that, "war is the continuation of politics by other means" (On War, 1909: np). Politics, being the province of organized states, suggests that war had become limited to state actors to the exclusion of lesser struggles and conflicts. This may be a slight overstatement, but the historical trend has been to define war by reference to states or countries.
John Keegan, a military historian, was a major proponent of the "political-rational theory of war" (Moseley, The Philosophy of War: np). He defined war in a very mechanical and formulaic manner. This definition was based on four basic assumptions. First, war is a relatively orderly endeavor with countries as the combatants. Second, because the combatants are countries rather than non-state or pre-state actors, the participants are easily and readily identifiable. A third feature of war is that there is an identifiable commencement of the war and an identifiable conclusion to the war. The final feature is a significant degree of obedience and deference by subordinates to the demands of superiors. To be sure, by restricting his definition to countries, and by limiting war to conflicts with clearly identifiable beginnings and ends, Keegan excludes a great variety of conflict which might otherwise seem to be war in the common understanding of the concept.
Consequently, it becomes necessary to distinguish a number of conflicts from the definition of war. There are, for instance, stateless hill tribes whom live on the northern border of Thailand. They have been in an almost constant state of conflict with the military government of Myanmar since the end of World War Two. This conflict, however, does not satisfy Keegan's definition because there is only one country fighting a stateless group. There are also conflicts, such as in the former Yugoslavia, which are characterized for political reasons as humanitarian interventions rather than war (Ficarrotta, np). America's occupation of Vietnam was declared a police action rather than a war; and, yet, there were a variety of countries involved. The question, therefore, becomes whether to classify war as an ultimate conflict involving countries or whether to incorporate every possible type of rebellion, skirmish, and uprising. For purposes of this essay, it will be argued that war is primarily concerned with combat between and among countries. A caveat, however, is that where states are torn by substantial and continuous civil strife, such as in the Koreas, the definition of war still holds. In addition, where peoples, because of historical claims or because of legitimate aspirations, initiate conflict for the purposes of obtaining statehood, then the conflict can also rise to the level of war. Conflicts in southern Thailand and East Timor are examples of these types of conflicts.
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Summary

This essay will address the nature of war. More particularly, it will define the concept with reference to leading theorists, it will set forth a set of causal factors which are relevant to the commencement of war, it will discuss some common characteristics of war, and it will demonstrate how war is won…
Theory of War
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