Lawrence H. Keeley’s War Before Civilisation comprehensively demolishes the myth that warfare is a relatively recent phenomenon and that early human societies were peaceful.
Keeley was inspired to write the book after being twice refused funding to investigate fortifications around a number of early Neolithic villages. His third attempt to receive funding was successful when he removed the word fortification from his research proposal and replaced it with the neutral word enclosure. When he and his colleagues thereupon excavated the sites they discovered irrefutable evidence that the fortifications were indeed fortifications. Life in Belgium in 5000 BC was apparently anything but peaceful.
Keeley realised that the prevailing view in archaeological circles that prehistoric humans were peaceful and knew nothing of the horrors of war might be entirely wrong. His subsequent researches, documented in this book, showed conclusively that war was not only ubiquitous in prehistoric societies – it was far more destructive than any modern wars.
Keeley bases his arguments not just on archaeology but also on studies of those primitive societies that have survived into modern times.
The evidence is overwhelming. Your chances of becoming a casualty of war in modern civilised societies are much much less than your chances would have been of being killed in war in prehistoric times, or as a member of surviving primitive cultures.
Pre-modern cultures did not fight large-scale pitched battles but war was more or less continuous, taking the form of ambushes, raids and small-scale skirmishes. The overall death rates in this kind of small-scale war are staggering and horrifying.
One of the really interesting points he makes is that in pre-modern societies intermarriage and trade actually increase the risk of wars between neighbouring tribes.
Keeley argues persuasively that since the Second World War archaeologists and anthropologists have deliberately shut their eyes to the evidence of war in pre-modern societies. This deliberate and willful blindness is of course politically motivated. Scholars in these fields do not want to accept the unpalatable truth that civilised societies might be in general far more peaceful than primitive cultures. That might force them to face the even more unpleasant truth that civilisation really is a good thing.
What makes Keeley’s arguments more compelling is that he had no political axe to grind. He admits that he himself had swallowed the myth of peaceful pre-modern cultures until he found that the evidence simply could not be ignored.
A fascinating book that demonstrates the stranglehold that political correctness exerts on just about every area of science. Highly recommended.