Why do people go to war?

On the surface leaders might present quite a strong argument for going to war - but what if you delve deeper?

Daoud Kuttab
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This may be an existential question, but why, indeed, do people go to war?

One reason people and nations go to war is to settle a dispute that they are unable to resolve peacefully. The stubbornness exhibited in this case is often based on a lie that is perpetuated and repeated so much that even the party that is lying often starts believing it.


This is particularly the case in the case of an internal or civil war.

People go to war because they lie to themselves that everyone believes their lies, only to be confronted by an opposition that feels the exact opposite.

While war often happens when both parties are lying to themselves and others, often it takes one side’s lie for a war to break.

What if they tell the truth?

If war is therefore the result of a lie, what happens when everyone attempts to tell the truth? First, it is often hard to know where the truth is.

Unless one has free and fair elections, it is often hard to know which side’s opinions are really representing the majority. And elections are a complicated act that require consensus on how to conduct them.

Are they based on national lists or on the one-person one-vote system? Are they about the winner takes it all or do they encourage power sharing?

At present, we seem to have thousands of crazy, war-hungry men and almost no sane persons trying to end these crazy and unnecessary wars.

Daoud Kuttab

And elections are not enough, because they require an enabling environment that allows and encourages debate and discussion that involves the largest number of people reflecting the country’s various groups.

Civil war is a conflict between groups, parties and members that hold differing religious or political views. Religious wars are the worst kind because they bring in the Almighty (as each party sees him) as the arbitrator, but whose words as interpreted by mortals are the absolute, non-negotiable truth.

Individuals with oversized egos

Civil wars reflect the refusal to honestly assess one’s size and are often about individuals with oversized egos who think God is on their side. External parties are most often absent; the fighters are mostly locals, but the suppliers of weapons, as well as financial and political allies are often external.

To stop a war, courageous leaders need to stop lying and tell the truth. This is normally hard, but it is much harder when the truth has cost life and limb, as well as damage and destruction.

To stop a religiously based civil war, a courageous leader needs to stop using God as the ultimate point of reference and accept compromises made by humans.

To stop a war, locals need to resist the temptation to rely on external support and reach out to fellow citizens with the aim of putting an end to the carnage.

War may be meant to settle a dispute, but not all disputes can or should be settled using iron and blood.

Swallow the bitter pill of defeat

A time comes when it is necessary to agree to disagree and move on for the benefit of an entire nation. Sometimes this means having to swallow the bitter pill of defeat or near defeat.

Often it means accepting a compromise that one knows is not fair and does not reflect one’s power or achievements on the ground.

In the Arab region today, it does not look like we are anywhere close to ending the wars that are raging everywhere around us.

Believing that everyone is supporting you or painting the other side as terrorists, as in the case of Syria, will never lead to an end to the war.

Using God and religion to use people for one’s political gains, as is the case of Islamists as well as Zionists, is not a formula for long-term success and peace.

Rejecting power sharing and attempting to take all powers by military means, as in the case of Libya, Egypt and to a certain extent Yemen, is also living a falsehood that cannot be sustained.

An Arab proverb says a crazy person throws a stone in a drinking well and it takes a thousand sane persons to remove it.

At present, we seem to have thousands of crazy, war-hungry men and almost no sane persons trying to end these crazy and unnecessary wars.

This article was first published in the Jordan Times on April 15, 2015.
Daoud Kuttab, an award winning Palestinian journalist who resides in Jerusalem and Amman. Mr. Kuttab is the director general of Community Media Network a media NGO that runs a radio station in Amman (al balad radio 92.4fm) a newsweb site ammannet.net and a TV production operation in Palestine Penmedia (penmedia.ps) which is producing the Palestinian version of Sesame street. You can read his blogs on DaoudKuttab.com and find him on Twitter @DaoudKuttab.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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