A Currier and Ives lithograph depicts the battle of Gettysburg

War may be hell, but it has actually made humanity safer and more prosperous, according to Stanford University history professor Ian Morris. He joins us to talk about his latest book, “War! What is Good For…Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots.” Morris’ other books include “Why the West Rules – For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal about the Future.” Later in the hour, we’ll check in with filmmaker Ken Burns about his new documentary on President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and its contemporary relevance.

Ian Morris, author and professor of classics and history at Stanford University
Ken Burns, award-winning filmmaker and historian whose films "The Address," "The Civil War" and "Baseball"

  • Guest


  • thucy

    “War may be hell, but it has actually made humanity safer and more prosperous, according to Stanford University history professor Ian Morris.”

    Given all the mining required since (at least) the Minoan Period to make the weapons of war, and consequent environmental damage, and considering how much less safe we are and less prosperous we will be due to global warming, I’d suggest Professor Morris’ theory takes too narrow a view of “prosperity” and “safety”.

    How does Morris fit into his theory the trillion-dollar price tag that Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz affixed to our Iraq debacle? How does he fit the vast economic cost to the countries who did the bulk of the fighting in WWII – those within the Soviet system who never fully recovered?

    I’m guessing Morris never served. I know a Viet vet exposed to Agent Orange who’s battling cancer (again) on the taxpayer’s dime. He and I both take a dim view of Morris’ theory.

    I believe Anne Frank would also take issue with Morris. But she isn’t here to say it, because war did not make HER world “safer and more prosperous.”

  • Lance

    If War creates safety and progress, one would expect African countries to be in a far better position than they’re currently in.

    • Guest

      This guest seems like a Neoconservative: Happy to go to war, completely out of touch and vaguely fascistic.

  • thucy

    Prof. Morris claims the cold war era was “scary but safe.”
    From whose perspective? The “little wars of cold war peace” in Korea, Vietnam, Latin America were scary and lethal for the civilian victims and the soldiers forced to fight them.

  • Ben Rawner

    What about Korea in a stalemate? How is North Korea better off?

    • Guest

      Inside NK it is a one-sided conflict, the power structure versus the common man, which does not lead to progress.

      • Kurt thialfad

        sounds like our system.

    • Kurt thialfad

      The landmines in the DMZ. That’s what isolates N.Korea.

  • thucy

    nice rejoinder from Krasny with Nelson Mandela reference. Morris is interesting but he needs to be questioned. He keeps responding to serious arguments with “well, THAT case is different” or “THAT case doesn’t apply because the larger picture…”
    In the REAL larger picture, we’re but a speck in cosmic history, so, yeah, wartime casualties (human and animal and flora) are irrelevant.

  • Patrick

    Ian…. As a fellow former European, ( US citizen but originally from Ireland) I LOVE the pragmatic and accessible way that you speak about history. Big week last week in the history of Ireland and England as they built bridges and took steps to meaningful friendship as a result of the first invitation by UK to the Irish president to visit for a FOUR day state visit. UNPRECEDENTED and very genuine. 1000 years of conflict seems close to being over, between 2 nations that really are more alike than different.
    I am also a huge fan of Rousseau and LOVE so thank you to both yourself and Michael for delving back into the Hobbes VS Rousseau debate…. I have a fresh reminder for my college going boys to be conscious of THEIR choices about what they believe about the nature of man. I think we as adults really should be encouraging our young people to reflect on what their beliefs and orientation are.

    • Kurt thialfad

      Do you still have your Irish citizenship?

      • Patrick


        • Kurt thialfad

          Ok, Pat. i don’t get it. In order to be naturalized, you took the oath of allegiance whereby you “…absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity
          to any … state … which
          I have heretofore been a subject or citizen …”.

          Isn’t that perjury, on your part?

        • jurgispilis

          who cares about talk “building bridges” and other crap from an admitted liar and perjurer.

    • Skip Conrad

      You got to renounce that foreign allegiance. where’s your brains, stupid paddy.

      or should I say – where’s your english language skills.

  • johnqeniac

    I like the comment by the knucklehead guest – ‘We (the U.S.) do a much better job at this’ (than the Brits did – although the guy seems to be a Brit).

    Iraq he said, was done much better – that is, as an unjustified war criminal invasion and occupation of a country that had not attacked us and posed no threat whatsoever and that resulted in half a million civilians – you know, children, women, men) killed with their brains smeared over the streets of Baghdad, Faluja, etc.) millions of refugees, a country in ruins, total destabilization of the middle east, a florid blossuming of al qaeda…. wonderfully done… totally gives me a hard-on reminiscing about it. wonderful….wonderful

    It’s a hilariously illuminating comment about the joys of being a masturbating historian, sitting in his barcalounger and contemplating history with his glass of sherry.


    greg slater

    • thucy

      Morris reminds me of Donald Kagan and Victor Davis Hanson – great at the minutiae of political history with a particular focus on the ancient world, but otherwise totally missing the point.
      How anyone could read Thucydides as an argument for pre-emptive war is baffling.

  • ES Trader

    The professor is pointing out the Big Picture for humanity and not individuals or groups; criticism of his observations misses the point

  • baumgrenze

    Climate change is a zero sum game.

    War in all its aspects (preparation and readiness, execution, and
    recovery) uses energy and contributes to climate change.

    We need a clearer picture of what we must give up to engage in
    this clearly otherwise unproductive activity.

  • Arthur Marquez

    More propaganda, supporting the status-quo. The statists will always want us to believe the STATE knows best. Quite Orwellian, I would say. The colleges of today trumpet the perspective of their benefactors. Humanity has made progress. But, despite conflict and, occasionally learning from conflict. But, as this headline suggests, (it is necessary)? I think not. Years ago, I fell in love with Ken Burns’ excellent presentations. But, clearly, critical thinking is not one of his attributes. PBS…… follow the money. History professor Ian Morris, doubtful, has taken a perspective of viewing history with any depth. I’ve not read his work. However, easy to locate examples of innovation based on duress. Shall we assume the duress of war spurs more innovation? More evidence of the STATE needing more support for its existence, as it plants the ‘seeds’ of innovation via conflict. One only needs to look at the history of the dust bowl, in the USA, and see how more damage, than aid, governments have wrought.

  • Chuck

    Please spell the name of the book correctly on this web page

  • Kurt thialfad

    We use war to cull the herd. We harness technology to expand our population, and when the numbers becomes excessive, we use war to cull the herd. As we approach 8 billion, the stress can be clearly felt.

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