This long essay is part one of a longer work written for an academic audience, but which might have value for others interested in military history and the root causes of war. The works cited in the essay can be provided, if there is interest.

Ruins of the Charleston, S.C., railroad station, 1865.



What factors can make an individual or a nation decide to go to war?


“What is the force that compels a man to risk his life day after day, to endure the constant tension, the fear of death…the steady loss of his friends? What can possess a rational man to make him act so irrationally?” (McPherson, page 5) What force, indeed, can compel men to put their lives at risk? The question seems to have an endless list of answers. “This is experience lived at its most intense, this is issues of justice and injustice at their most stark. This is politics at its most vivid. This is life at its most extreme.” (Unidentified speaker, Reporting America at War, Part 1)

There are four general categories of factors into which motives for going to war might be assigned, be they individual or national: economic, political, conquest (military expansion) and humanitarian. Breaking down the factors for war into four categories is a generality used for purposes of discussion. Each of the four have various secondary reasons; ‘military expansion’, for example, might involve a pre-emptive attack to forestall an attack. Such was one of the justifications for  the Iraqi War. ‘Economic’ might mean trade or tariffs, or it could mean an attempt to grab needed natural resources, the primary factor behind the Japanese decision to attack the United States. Then there could be a secondary factor, like finally creating the veneer of humanitarianism with the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, which was nothing more than “tightening up the economic and political and military ties with China” (Sevareid, Japan Invades China- Crisis in the Far East) and was, in reality, “a propaganda gimmick”. (Professor Akira Iriye, Japan Invades China: Crisis in the Far East)