Concepts and Definitions of War

LearnFromWar - Even casual inspection of the literature reveals the following, incomplete, list of ‘war’ terms:
limited war and total (or all-out) war, cold war and hot war, local war and world war,
controlled and uncontrolled war, accidental war and premeditated war, conventional and
nuclear war, declared and undeclared war, aggressive or offensive war and defensive war,
general war and proxy war, international war and civil war, tribal and civilized war,
preventive or pre-emptive war, protracted war, absolute war, war of liberation, war of
conquest, war of commerce, war of plunder, revolutionary war, political war, economic war,
social war, imperialist war, guerilla war, psychological war, strategic war, counter-insurgency
war, dynastic war, monarchical war, ritual war, agonistic war, sacred war, instrumental war,
genocidal war.

Much of the complexity stems from the fact that the epithets refer to different aspects of, and
perspectives on, war: e.g. war as condition, techniques of warfare, alleged motives and/or
objectives of war, or assumptions about belligerent behavior and the causes (causative factors,
determinants, conditions, etc. ) of war (cf. Grieves 1977). War is a species in the genus of
violence; more specifically it is collective, direct, manifest, personal, intentional, organized,
institutionalized, instrumental, sanctioned, and sometimes ritualized and regulated, violence.
These distinguishing features and dimensional delineations are not limitative. It should be
perfectly clear, however, that war, or the state of belligerence, is a very special category of
violence (van der Dennen, 1977).

Some of the listed war terms reflect concern for attitudes and behaviour, linked with
assumptions about the cause of war. The term ‘imperialist war’ reflects both an attitude about
the root causes of the war and an assumption about which States are guilty of having caused
it. Also, much of the ‘nature of war’ is found not on the battlefield, but in the hostile
behaviour and attitudes that characterize a state’s foreign policy. Q. Wright (1942; 1965) calls
attention to the discussion of this psychological aspect of war in Hobbes’ ‘Leviathan’, where
the oscillations of war and peace are compared to the weather:

As the nature of foul weather lieth not in a shower or two of rain, but in an inclination
thereto of many days together; so the nature of war consisteth not in actual fighting, but in
the known disposition thereto during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary.
(Hobbes, 1651)

Hobbes’ view raises an interesting question for modern students. Can peace be defined simply
as the absence of war (using ‘war’ in the sense of actual military combat) (Grieves, 1977)
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