In the past century dreadful diseases like diphtheria, leprosy and typhoid were halted; sterile women have been given children; numerous devices have been developed to let handicapped people participate in society. Many of the things we prayed for during ages have been achieved by means of expensive scientific research.

What is hard to understand however is that humans spent even more scientific efforts and even more finances to destroy all those benefits. For each disease we have overcome, we have created weaponry to introduce more and worse. For every feeble child we brought to life in a sophisticated hospital, we killed thousands of children in wars of hysteric madness. A few blind we gave sight and a few paralysed we made walk, but we have willingly crippled millions for reasons no sound reasoning can grasp.

This is more than just an interesting academic enigma, a profound religious mystery, or a rewarding literary subject: It is a matter of everyday survival, and the most urgent question of this century.

People are accustomed to violence for a long time. Throughout history, wars seemed to be natural misfortunes, like plagues, famine or hurricanes. In all civilisations people have been tortured and sacrificed; from the swamps of early Mesopotamia to the manufactories of modern times, humans were chased, deported, abused, starved and destroyed as cattle, and left to die on battle fields or from exhaustion ? all by other humans. The victims were slaves and workers, natives and minorities, children, women and men.

Such massive and recurring aggression between humans begs for justification. Aggressors uphold that their actions are rightful and meaningful, a step towards an improved world, the warding off of evil worse than all the victims sacrificed. But the other party tells the same story the other way around. While it is wrong to accuse all parties equally, it remains surprising that no one ever waged war with motives that were wicked from his own point of view. While each warrior claims to make the world a safer place for his kinsman, the world becomes an ever more dangerous place for everyone as long as wars are fought. While politicians on all sides claim that only a strong army can secure peace, wasted wars proliferate together with arms and armies.

Most generals have declared one time or another that their trade is peace. This is an attractive catchphrase. How could a country ever have too much soldiers and too strong weapons, how can an army ever strike too soon, if the goal is that noble? Peace however is a political trade, and can only be reached by means of diplomacy, openness and international justice, long before war is even considered.

As long as it is widely accepted that starting a war is an effective way to solve difficult problems, despite all historical and statistical proofs of the opposite, leaders will send their citizens into agony whenever they fail to see other solutions. War is not the continuation of politics with other means, as von Clausewitz wrote, but its negation. Once war is the only option left, nothing is assured about the outcome but suffering at all sides. If an army reaches its goal ? they hardly ever do ? it will be submission, occupation or destruction: all precarious situations crying for revenge and new violence whenever circumstances allow.

Sacred submission

Since the first civilizations, humanity has been told by undisputed authorities that it is dangerous to counter this endless procession of self-inflicted misery. Priests told us that we will be saved in the end if we just carry our yoke patiently, and honoured academics upheld the same dogma by decreeing, undisturbed by the absence of supporting scientific data, that our offspring is forever cursed by aggressive genes, branded every critical analysis of our violent behaviour more dangerous than violence itself, and even blamed pacifism for atrocities committed by unchecked totalitarianism.

Sometimes indeed one must be big enough to cede for an undesired fate: we must appreciate the courage of a patient who accepts a fatal disease, or of an officer who surrenders to avoid a useless slaughter. But to preach submission to our own bloody madness is a shocking absurdity.

Harvard professor E.O. Wilson only needed a few examples (one of them that the peaceful Samai of Malaya behead chickens before cooking) to demonstrate once and forever that 'human beings have a marked hereditary predisposition to aggressive behaviour.'2