War is the cruelest, most ferocious and vicious monster mankind has ever produced. This monster has many faces with many causes. It has been a dark curse that humans have continuously brought on themselves throughout history. The causes of the monster vary from war to war as this monster is constantly evolving, disappearing, and then reappearing in different forms, for different reasons. (Cohen 5) Certain causes of war are universal to all wars and some are very specific to certain, individual wars. Some of the causes of war are hard to see and are very complex. On the other hand, some causes are easy to see as they repeat themselves. By examining the causes of this terrible monster, society can one day avoid its devastating effects.

At this monster’s most primal, the cause is simple, basic human survival. If a people don’t have what is essential to survive, this monster will always appear. A lack of a sufficient clean water, a lack of abundant food sources, and a lack of access to medicine — these are all perfect examples of sufficient causes, as these causes will always produce war. The oldest of wars were fought for these reasons. As there have always been “haves” and “have nots”, this monster has been conjured up time and time again to gain necessities. If your group has these necessities and others don’t, your group arguably would have sufficient cause to use war in order to protect your survival. When enough agree to engage in violence on behalf of their group’s survival, the necessary cause is in place for the birthing of this monster.

Neolithic cave art depicting war


As a monster always does, and war is no exception, it escapes and returns in ever different forms. (Cohen 5) In the study of International Relations, the causes of war are broken up into two categories: ideas (which refer to causes like ethnicity, religion, and ideology) and interests (which refer to causes that are territorial, governmental, and economic). (Goldstein and Pevehouse 113-136) A necessary cause of war is the mobilization of a sufficient number of people willing to fight in it. Without people to fight a war, there is no war. Religion is a particularly powerful cause of war. It is hard to bring parties together when the core values of the two sides don’t align and both hold their values as absolute truth. (Goldstein and Pevehouse 120) This cause can be seen in wars all over the world: Israel/Palestine, Ireland, Iraq, etc. Dehumanizing (a necessary cause of war) is easy when you have a “mandate from god” assuring you of your superiority.

Religious wars

Many times, these religious wars are self-perpetuating. Each act of war fuels the next act which fuels the next. These can only be described as having reciprocal causes, as has been the case in Ireland where a sectarian war between Catholics and Protestants has been going on for hundreds of years; the violence of previous generations fueling the next. (Mitchell 46) (O’Dochartaich 194)For years Britain has supported the Protestant side of this civil war, favoring them with economic, political, and military support. The seeds of hatred, in the case of Ireland, have been cultivated by a third party (Britain) from a distance in what is certainly a remote cause of this particular war by “planting” (providing land previously owned by the Irish) loyal Scots and English on Irish soil to be a buffer zone between themselves and their many enemies. (O’Brien 98-99)

The “Peace Wall” in Belfast, Northern Ireland separates Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods (proximate cause)

The United States plays a similar role in providing a remote cause in the civil war between Sunni and Shi’as in Iraq, supporting the Sunni government’s oppression of the Shi’a population. In fact, The United States acts as the remote cause of wars all over the globe, especially in the Middle East. Many civil wars seem to have a third party or parties acting as remote causes. The civil war that has been raging in Syria is an example of a war with many remote causes. (Erlich 213-235) When for various reasons, numerous governments outside Syria support different sides of their civil war, it causes the monster (war) to become an even more powerful and multi-headed beast.

Economic wars are by far the most nefarious and their motives can sometimes be unclear. The United States specializes in creating (causing) wars for financial gain. In a 1933 speech, decorated war hero Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler talked about his over 33 years long career in the U.S. Marine Corps, “I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.” (Butler) The United States doesn’t just make war to control resources or to subjugate foreign economies. The very act alone of going to war benefits the U.S. economy. (Alic 737) The United States is the largest manufacturer and exporter of weapons. (Brown) Whether the U.S. uses its weapons to destroy foreign countries or sells them to countries around the world to destroy each other, the U.S. economy grows. This creates a massive incentive to solve every international crisis though war. Economic gain is a major contributing factor to war and in many cases has been the sufficient cause.



Most wars that occurred in the 20thcentury have a combination of causes or contributing factors. The U.S. war in Vietnam could be seen as an economic, ideological war (capitalism vs. communism), a territorial war with a proximate cause (North vs. South), a proxy war with remote causes (U.S. vs. U.S.S.R.), and a war for independence, which is a sufficient cause (foreign rule vs. home rule). (Zinn 468-501) All are true. The U.S. war in Vietnam was clearly waged to “police the borders of the possible” for the Vietnamese people in that it intended to deny them control of their own destiny (Cohen 12-20).


War can also manifest as a result of ethnic or “racial” disputes.  In the late 1990’s civil war broke out in Kosovo, Serbia. Serbians and ethnic Albanians were locked in a brutal conflict over the territory. Serbian security forces under Slobodan Milosevic soon began “ethnically cleansing” the Albanian civilian population. (Shank 15-17) One of the many causes of this heinous version of the monster can be categorized as a proximate cause. These two groups living in close proximity is a large part of what sparked this war. These ethnic and religious wars are perfect examples of what Jeffery Cohen calls monsters that “dwell at the gates of difference”. (Cohen 7) But these differences are not tangible differences, only perceived ones. To stop the violence in Kosovo, the U.S. had a plan. The same plan it almost always implements…more war. (Nanda 313) Conjuring up a monster to kill a monster. The United States threatened both sides with violence which can be categorized as a remote cause. The U.S. was acting from a distance but was closely tied to the event. Amnesty International would condemn the United States and NATO for their bombing campaign which destroyed the social and economic infrastructure of Serbia, including the bombing of a passenger train and the destruction of a bridge, effectively cutting off the supply of clean water to 90,000 people. The campaign killed thousands of civilians, even destroying the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, fueling serious tension with a nuclear power, which in turn, could have caused the Alpha and Omega of all monsters — nuclear war. (The Guardian) (Shank 15-17)


Nuclear war is a monster that has threatened to destroy life on earth since the mid-1940s. In 1945 the United States dropped two atomic bombs on targets inside Japan. The true cause for these horrible events is still debated to this day. Officially it was to force the surrender of Japan without sacrificing tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of American lives. For America this would seem to be a sufficient cause. Others argue that Japan was already attempting to surrender, and the U.S. dropped the bombs for two contributing purposes: to test the effects of this new type of weapon and to send a message to the world, asserting US total dominance. (UShistory.org) Today there are nine countries who possess nuclear ballistic missiles — enough to destroy the entire world many times over. (Arms Control Association) Any war, big or small, could end up being the cause of the most terrifying monster this world has never seen. Could the realization of a major nuclear war be a kind of mass suicidal desire? (Cohen 16-20) If not, it is crucial we monitor and manage all causes of war or, one day, we will all be this monster’s final victims!

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Annotated Bibliography

Alic, John A. “The Origin and Nature of the US “Military-Industrial Complex”.” Defense Acquisition Research Journal(2017): 737.

The above source briefly explains that the manufacturing of weapons by private corporations in United States has an effect on the U.S. economy and influences foreign policy; important in explaining economic causes for the monster. This article is reliable because it appears in a peer reviewed journal.

Arms Control Association. Nuclear Weapons: Who Has What at a Glance. 20 June 2018. 12 December 2018. <https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat&gt;.

The above source lists which countries have the capability to cause a nuclear war. The Arms Control Association has been providing valuable information regarding international arms for over 40 years.

Brown, Daniel. Weapons sales are on the rise — here are the top 10 countries exporting arms around the world. 16 March 2018. 6 December 2018. <https://www.businessinsider.com/top-countries-exporting-weapons-arms-sales-2018-3&gt;.

The above source provides a list of the top ten weapons producing/exporting nation states in the world. It lists the U.S. as number one which is an important piece of information when tryin to understand more of the economic causes of U.S. wars.

Butler, Major General Smedley. Smedley Butler on Interventionism. 1933. 4 December 2018. <https://fas.org/man/smedley.htm&gt;.

The above source is a primary source and gives the reader yet more clarity in understanding the economic causes of war. “I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street…

Cohen, Jeffrey. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 1996.

The above resource explains the cultural significance of the various forms of the monster. Monster theories two, four, five, and six are referenced in the essay. Mr. Cohen should be considered a scholarly source.

Erlich, Reese. Inside Syria: The Backstory of Their Civil War and What The World Can Expect . Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2016.

Mitchell, George J. Making Peace. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.

Nanda, Ved P. “Legal Implications of NA TO’s Armed Intervention in Kosovo.” International Law Studies75.1 (2016): 313-331.

O’Brien, Maire and Conor Cruise. Ireland: A Concise History. New York: Thames and Hudson Inc, 1995.

O’Dochartaigh, Fionnbarra. Ulster’s White Negroes: From Civil Rights To Insurrection. Edinburgh: AK Press, 1994.

Pevhouse, Joshua Goldstein and Jon. International Relations. New Jersey: Pearson Education, 2014.

Shank, Gregory. “Not Just a War, Just a War – NATO’s Humanitarian Bombing Mission.” Social Justice(1999): 15-17.

The Guardian. Amnesty accuses Nato of war crimes. 7 June 2000. Guardian News. 8 December 2018. < https://www.theguardian.com/world/2000/jun/07/balkans1&gt;.

UShistry.org. The Decision to Drop the Bomb. 2018. Independence Hall Association. 8 December 2018. <http://www.ushistory.org/us/51g.asp&gt;.

Zinn, Howard. A Peoples History of The United States. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2003.

The above source contains a chapter on the Vietnam war and explains the many contributing factors that led to it. Howard Zinn is one of America’s all time great historians and is certainly a scholarly source.