Conflicts, of various sizes and purported purposes, cast a long and dark shadow on the lives of many and on the histories of nations and peoples. Theories of conflict abound – for wars between nations, internal civil conflicts, and terrorist operations – primarily based on national or group leaders convincing followers to take up a fight for some purpose, noble (to advance an idea, a religion, a culture, a form of government) or otherwise (to appropriate). While leaders, on occasion, do profit from conflict, they do so less often than they might ever imagine. Indeed, leaders, depending on institutional constraints, can separate the spoils of war (land, resources) from the dim costs of war.
The men and women who conduct the battles, however, can seldom avoid the costs of war, and so are fully saddled with the loss of life, limb, loved ones, livelihood, and way of life. Nor are the soldiers’ interests fully reflected in the interests of those who make the decision to initiate, continue or to change the course of battle. In his famous letter to his World War I commanding officer, Lt. Siegfried Sassoon of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, wrote:
I believe that the war upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation has now become a war of agression [sic] and conquest. . . . I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops and I can no longer be a party to prolonging these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed. On behalf of those who are suffering now, I make this protest against the deception which is being practised upon them; also I believe it may help to destroy the callous complacency with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share and which they have not enough imagination to realise. July, 1917