A seasoned peacebuilder and acclaimed expert on violence explains the five reasons why conflict (rarely) blooms into war and how to interrupt that deadly process
It’s easy to overlook the underlying strategic forces of war, to see it solely as a series of errors, accidents, and emotions gone awry. It’s also easy to forget that war shouldn’t happen—and most of the time it doesn’t. Around the world, there are millions of hostile rivalries, yet only a fraction erupt into violence, a fact too many accounts overlook.
With a counterintuitive approach, Christopher Blattman reminds us that most rivals loathe one another in peace. War is too costly to fight, so enemies almost always find it better to split the pie than spoil it for everyone or struggle over thin slices. In those rare instances when fighting ensues, we should ask: What kept rivals from compromise?
Why We Fight draws on decades of economics, political science, psychology, and real-world interventions to lay out the root causes and remedies for war, showing that violence is not the norm; that there are only five reasons why conflict wins over compromise; and how peacemakers turn the tides through tinkering, not transformation.
From warring states to street gangs, ethnic groups and religious sects to political factions, there are common dynamics to heed and lessons to learn. Along the way, through Blattman’s time studying Medellín, Chicago, Sudan, England, and more, we learn from vainglorious monarchs, dictators, mobs, pilots, football hooligans, ancient peoples, and fanatics.
What of remedies that shift incentives away from violence and get parties back to dealmaking? Societies are surprisingly good at interrupting and ending violence when they want to—even gangs do it. Realistic and optimistic, this is a book that lends new meaning to the adage “Give peace a chance.”