Ride of the Second Horseman: The Birth and Death of War

Paperback | October 1, 1997

byRobert L. OConnell

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"Accurst be he that first invented war," wrote Christopher Marlowe--a declaration that most of us would take as a literary, not literal, construction. But in this sweeping overview of the rise of civilization, Robert O'Connell finds that war is indeed an invention--an institution that arosedue to very specific historical circumstances, an institution that now verges on extinction. In Ride of the Second Horseman, O'Connell probes the distant human past to show how and why war arose. He begins with a definition that distinguishes between war and mere feuding: war involves group rather than individual issues, political or economic goals, and direction by some governmentalstructure, carried out with the intention of lasting results. With this definition, he finds that ants are the only other creatures that conduct it--battling other colonies for territory and slaves. But ants, unlike humans, are driven by their genes; in humans, changes in our culture and subsistencepatterns, not our genetic hardware, brought the rise of organized warfare. O'Connell draws on anthropology and archeology to locate the rise of war sometime after the human transition from nomadic hunting and gathering to agriculture, when society split between farmers and pastoralists. Around 5500BC, these pastoralists initiated the birth of war with raids on Middle Eastern agricultural settlements. The farmers responded by ringing their villages with walls, setting off a process of further social development, intensified combat, and ultimately the rise of complex urban societies dependentupon warfare to help stabilize what amounted to highly volatile population structures, beset by frequent bouts of famine and epidemic disease. In times of overpopulation, the armies either conquered new lands or self-destructed, leaving fewer mouths to feed. In times of underpopulation, slaves weretaken to provide labor. O'Connell explores the histories of the civilizations of ancient Sumeria, Egypt, Assyria, China, and the New World, showing how war came to each and how it adapted to varying circumstances. On the other hand, societies based on trade employed war much more selectively andpragmatically. Thus, Minoan Crete, long protected from marauding pastoralists, developed a wealthy mercantile society marked by unmilitaristic attitudes, equality between men and women, and a relative absence of class distinctions. In Assyria, by contrast, war came to be an end in itself, in aculture dominated by male warriors. Despite the violence in the world today, O'Connell finds reason for hope. The industrial revolution broke the old patterns of subsistence: war no longer serves the demographic purpose it once did. Fascinating and provocative, Ride of the Second Horseman offers a far-reaching tour of human historythat suggests the age-old cycle of war may now be near its end.

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From Our Editors

Intelligence analyst Robert L. O'Connell probes the distant human past to show how and why war arose, concluding that it is an invention--an institution that formed due to very specific historical circumstances. Fascinating and provocative, RIDE OF THE SECOND HORSEMAN offers a far-reaching tour of human history that suggests the ages-o...

From the Publisher

"Accurst be he that first invented war," wrote Christopher Marlowe--a declaration that most of us would take as a literary, not literal, construction. But in this sweeping overview of the rise of civilization, Robert O'Connell finds that war is indeed an invention--an institution that arosedue to very specific historical circumstances,...

Robert L. O'Connell is a senior intelligence analyst with the National Ground Intelligence Center, and a contributing editor of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History. His previous publications include Of Arms and Men and Sacred Vessels. He lives in Ivy, Virginia.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 9.09 × 5.98 × 0.98 inPublished:October 1, 1997Publisher:Oxford University Press

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195119207

ISBN - 13:9780195119206

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From Our Editors

Intelligence analyst Robert L. O'Connell probes the distant human past to show how and why war arose, concluding that it is an invention--an institution that formed due to very specific historical circumstances. Fascinating and provocative, RIDE OF THE SECOND HORSEMAN offers a far-reaching tour of human history that suggests the ages-old cycles of war may be ending.

Editorial Reviews

"This highly fascinating study of the origins of war weaves biological, psychological, anthropological, and archeological discoveries into an original history of organized fighting. The author finds the central pillar of war in the rise of agricultural communities with their accumulting landsand wealth that invited marauders and ultimately invasions of huge armies and empire builders. At the end changes in demography, economic organization, and weaponry eliminated much of the rationale and taste for war. The long passage from prehistoric raids of horsemen to nuclear war is, inO'Connell's hands, an intriguing and enlightening venture."--Norman A. Graebner, Professor of History and Public Affairs, University of Virginia