from Travels With Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski: the reasons given to go to war

The Great Ruler, occupied with the conquest of the world, goes about it somewhat like an avid but still methodical collector. He says to himself: I already have the Ionians, I have the Carians and the Lydians. Who’s missing? I lack the Tracinians, I lack the Getae, I lack the Scythians. And instantly the desire to possess those still beyond his grasp begins to burn in his heart. Whereas they, still free and independent, do not yet comprehend that by attracting the attention of the Great Ruler, they have caused a sentence to be passed upon themselves. Nor that the rest is merely a matter of time. Because rarely is such a sentence carried out with reckless and irresponsible impetuosity. Usually in these situations, the King of Kings resembles a skulking predator, who already has his prey in his ken and waits patiently for the propitious moment.

In the realm of human affairs, admittedly, one also needs a pretext. It is important to give it the rank of a universal imperative or of a divine commandment. The range of choices is not great: either it is that we must defend ourselves, or that we have an obligation to help others, or that we are fulfilling heaven’s will. The optimal pretext would link all three of these motives. The attackers should appear in the glory of the anointed, in the role of those who have found favor in his chosen god’s eye.

translated from the Polish by Klara Glowczewska

from Travels With Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski: the cause of war

Of course, the map of the world which Herodotus has before him, or which he imagines, differs from the one confronting us today. His world is much smaller than ours. Its center consists  of the mountainous and (at the time) forested lands around the Aegean Sea. Those lying on the western shore constitute Greece; those on the eastern, Persia. And so right away we hit upon the heart of the matter–Herodotus is born, grows up, and just as he starts to figure out everything around him, one of his very first observations is that the world is sundered, split into East and West, and that these halves are in a state of dissension, conflict, war.

The question that immediately suggests itself to him, as well as to any thinking human being, is “Why should this be so?” And it is this very question that informs the foreword of Herodotus’s masterpiece: Here are presented the results of the enquiry carried out by Herodotus of Halicarnassus, . . .in particular, the cause of the hostilities.

Precisely. We can see that this question, oft repeated since the dawn of history, has vexed humankind for thousands of years now: Why do peoples wage war against one another? What are the origins of wars? What do people hope to accomplish when they start a war? What drives them? What do they think? What is their goal? An unending litany of questions! Herodotus dedicates his life, diligently, tirelessly, to finding the answers. But from among the many issues, some quite general and abstract, he selects the most concrete to investigate, the events that took place before his very eyes or of which memories were still fresh and alive or, even if slightly faded, still very much available. In others words, he concentrates his attention and his inquiries on the following subject: Why does Greece (that is Europe) wage war with Persia (that is with Asia)? Why do these two worlds–the West (Europe) and the East (Asia)–fight against each other, and do so to the death? Was it always thus? Will it always be thus?

translated from the Polish by Klara Glowczewska