And it might surprise you by taking it.
Well, at last check the grunt warfare thread is starting to lose steam at 484 posts. Come on, guys & gals, don't fall back on me now. Over the top! Over the top!
This blog dabbles in futurism, but it is mainly about Romance. In the Western literary tradition the first Big One started in 1194 BC, and in the pop culture version the pretext was a woman. (Classical Greek sexual politics in a nutshell: gay love affairs can win wars; straight love affairs can start them.) If you took away war and affairs you would pretty much wipe out Western literature. If Bollywood and Hong Kong are anything to go by, nonwestern literature too.
That said, this blog does dabble in futurism, so let me put it in that light: Could there be an end to war?
Let me offer a parallel. For much of the last 5000 years, the condition of most human beings was serfdom or slavery. This was simply a given in the agrarian age. There were exceptions around the margins, but they were exactly that, marginal.
This has ceased to be the case in much of the world since the Industrial Revolution, and is rapidly ceasing to be the case in most of the rest. Outright slavery survives only in the shadows, and serfdom as a way of life will probably be marginalized in this century, barring whatever apocalypse.
Plausibly war, like serfdom and slavery, was characteristic of the agrarian age, and will become marginalized in the post industrial age. You could say this is already the case, Afghanistan a perfect example, the US, Pakistan, and India all more or less fencing around the edges, with Iran and China in the offing.
Once again, though, we have seen this movie before. The same years before World War I that saw all those Next War speculations, grist for the steampunk mill, also had an active international peace movement. For that matter the Great Powers sometimes cooperated militarily on the ground in dealing with troublesome locals, even in the Balkans. A lot of people argued then, also plausibly, that war was obsolete. Unfortunately they were wrong, or at any rate premature.
I am in the school of thought that regards the World Wars as, in some basic grand strategic sense, two rounds of one war, with Versailles the uneasy truce to end all uneasy truces. And in the course of that one great war industrial-age warfare went from 19th century war on steroids to, well, you know what it went to.
It took industrial civilization just that one double round to find out that the assumptions of agrarian civilizations no longer applied. Industrial nations could deliver a dreadful pummelling, and stand up to one for years, but the pummelling they could deliver then was nothing to what they can do to each other now - even aside from nuclear weapons.
Yes, there are anti- anti- anti- this and that, but in the end the bomber either mostly gets through or it doesn't. In the first case you conquer ruins after being reduced to ruins yourself; in the second case you're just burning money to no effect.
And here is the real difference between post industrial war and war in the agrarian age: In the agrarian age - that is to say, most of recorded history, and the age that shaped most of our thinking - war not infrequently paid off, in direct and obvious ways.
Conquerors conquered and thrived, because the basic payoff was landed estates, hard to destroy and easy to avoid destroying. The estate-house might be burned, and its treasures with it, but they weren't the real value of the estate: the land was. The peasants might be slaughtered in large numbers, but the survivors would quickly replenish them. Meanwhile you had the land.
Sometimes agrarian age war went so far that agriculture was ruined and societies collapsed. Legend and later Romance told of the Trojan War. Mute archeology tells of a wave of greater wars that brought down not only Troy, Mycenae, Tiryns, and wise old Nestor's sandy Pylos, but the estates that supported them: Much of Greece was largely depopulated, and the land lay fallow for some 300 years.
But this was not a typical result, and for ruling classes, war quite often worked. It also provided the ultimate Xtreme sport to thin the ranks of excess young male aristocrats (along with expendable peasants). This function accounts for much of war's prominence in lit.
It does not work that way any more. It is not just that smart bombs and roadside bombs vigorously expand on the unsportsmanlike tradition of the gunpowder age, itself a precursor of the industrial age. Even more to the point, the wealth of post industrial society is largely in its targets: U-boats took no prizes to make their captains and crews rich.
This comes through in the last thread, and in fact most of the space warfare threads. Even under operatic assumptions, direct military conquest of a planet, landing troops and occupying it, looks fantastically difficult, much harder than simply wrecking the place. The same goes even more for spacehabs and the like.
War simply does not pay the way it (often) did in the agrarian age, and that could be the end of war as a normal element of power politics. Militaries will gradually morph into something like paramilitary police organizations, no more designed to fight each other than police forces are.
If it makes you feel better, this need not mean the end of fictional war in Romance, where landed aristocracy also still thrives. Both will go on, largely shorn of their grubby underpinnings. Safely in the words and images of Romance is where war belongs.
Let's see how many comments this thread gets!
The image is of a decommissioned and abandoned fortress island in the Netherlands.