What if government leaders deliberately started every war fought in recorded history for purely cynical self-serving motives designed to enhance their own political fortunes?

What if these same government leaders disseminated for public consumption bogus “reasons” for their wars, all the while admitting in private their real self-serving motives? What if all of the alleged “reasons” routinely furnished by the experts as the root “cause” of war– the supposed desire for oil, gold, land, or some other scarce resources, money, geopolitical maneuvering, Darwinian “will to power,” furtherance of the national interest, arms races, subliminal aggression, deeply-rooted primate behavior, population pressures, sexual frustration, gender domination, religion, ideology, or whatnot–were simply wrong? What if these same pundits (who routinely engaged in speculation without access to any supporting data) were eclipsed by someone who could inject hard data into the discussion?

What if a skilled historian had devoted his lifetime to combing through the dusty archives and the great libraries in a meticulous effort to track down exactly how leaders managed to create their deceptions? What if that painstaking researcher could rely upon the already existent enormous body of excellent (but narrowly focused) historical scholarship that already deals with a vast number of individual conflicts? What if many of these world-class historians (in their own highly specialized historic fields) gave encouragement to our researcher in his mammoth efforts by verifying the correctness of his novel insights regarding the purely domestic sources of war at play? And what if that diligent scholar could make full use of this valuable information unearthed by his colleagues in order to draw the proper “lessons” and, at long last, craft a definitive explanation for war as a phenomenon? Finally, best of all, what if that researcher could furnish a model (a “road map,” if you will) that would alert citizens in advance that their own leaders were about to embark on yet another phony, useless war? What if, indeed?

I’m Dr. Jonathan M. Kolkey, a UCLA History Ph.D. (1979) who has long been involved in the most ambitious research project ever undertaken to identify the single, root cause of war by examining exactly how and why at pivotal moments political leaders throughout the ages made the decision to involve their own nations in war. As far back as 1973 while still a UCLA graduate student — and studying under world-class scholars Robert Dallek, Bernard Brodie, Robert Jervis, and John S. Galbraith — I decided to devote my academic life to finding as many “case histories” as possible in order to verify my hunch that at bottom the decision for war was invariably based on cynical, calculated domestic political considerations.

Like I said, nobody really knows precisely what causes war – that is, until now. And general explanations for the incidence of war, such as economics, ideology, or religion–while oftentimes constituting an irritant between states– should be viewed as ever-present “background noise,” which under normal circumstances fails to ignite conflicts. For war remains statistically a very infrequent occurrence considering the sheer number of nations involved and the infinite potential points of friction. Hence general ideas regarding war causation always break down when the particular decisions themselves are dissected microscopically.

In contrast, it seems self-evident that each individual conflict resembles a specific criminal act–with its own suspect, motive, and modus operandi. No conscientious police investigator arriving at the murder scene would instantly jump to the conclusion that an elderly butler must have stabbed a wealthy houseguest with a rusty handsaw in the mansion’s downstairs bedroom solely on the basis of, let us say, a description found in some recently published detective novel. In similar fashion, the actual events themselves must be considered.

In reality, historians possess a unique scholarly resource–the priceless laboratory of human experience. For of all the relevant conflicts that can be identified throughout recorded history, approximately 300-or-so struggles stretching back from Greco-Roman times to the present day yield sufficient data regarding the decision making process to permit the diligent researcher to play Sherlock Holmes.

Through careful analysis, these authentic historical cases can furnish enough information to: (1) recreate the intellectual and bureaucratic framework in existence at that crucial moment, (2) identify the key decision-making elite who held the authority to make war, (3) explore the institutional and bureaucratic framework in which each particular decision for war was reached, (4) reconstruct the exact sequence of events that led to the decision for war having been taken, (5) discover the ostensible “reason” being served up for public consumption, and (6) recount what these key decision-making elites admitted privately amongst themselves regarding the real “reason” (the “hidden agenda,” if you will) for their own conflict. Only in this comprehensive manner will scholars be able finally to answer satisfactorily the age-old question: “Why war?”

It has taken me thirty years to compile this data, which the archives and libraries have yielded up in this largely self-funded and self-directed study. I have been able to link all 300 wars together with a single overarching cause that I’m now prepared to reveal. In fact, my conclusions are hardly new. Over the years I have encountered (and eventually received) widespread support and encouragement from hundreds of superb scholars worldwide who have verified my general observations regarding their own specific historical period of study. But nobody, and I cannot stress this fact too strongly, has ever managed (or even though of) cross referencing this enormous mass of information.

Elsewhere, even though the “official” rationale for war often features explanations such as the “national interest,” the man on the street in his wisdom sometimes suspects that something is “fishy.” And while his instincts are surely on target, he lacks the concrete knowledge to make the case. Then too, the man on the street makes the mistake of viewing the obviously conspiratorial “Wag-the-Dog” scenario, while accurate in a handful of case histories, as the norm–thereby overlooking the far greater number of case histories where the influence of domestic political pressure on a particular decision for war appears more subtle.

Curiously enough, surprisingly little is known about how, at pivotal moments, political leaders render such momentous decisions. Worse yet, our current level of understanding about war causation remains riddled with speculation based on a scandalous absence of data. In such a dangerous intellectual vacuum, it becomes easy to affix the blame to myriad anthropological, biological, demographic, economic, ethnological, genetic, geopolitical, ideological, medical, political, psychiatric, psychological, religious, sociological, statistical, technological, or zoological factors. Naturally, assorted academic disciplines may offer valuable insights regarding the condition of mankind. But practitioners of these fields must not project their own observations of human behavior onto a foreign realm as they attempt to explain the exact circumstances surrounding the outbreak of any particular war.

Despite the glaring absence of a consensus regarding war causation, many academicians have concocted their own pet theories in order to explain the root cause of war. But all such efforts have been propounded largely in the absence of sufficient evidence. The field urgently needs a general theory of war based, not on speculation, but on an exhaustive examination of the decision making process for all documented wars in every appropriate case.

Meanwhile, on a positive note, a large body of excellent historical scholarship already deals with a vast number of individual conflicts. The challenge is to make full use of this valuable information so as to draw the proper “lessons” and, at long last, craft a definitive explanation for war as a phenomenon.

Incidentally, these 300-odd historical examples share something in common in addition to the fact that each furnishes sufficient evidence with which to reconstruct the decision making process for war. They all reflect a political culture that is surprisingly “modern” in that, regardless of the official designation of its government as a republic, democracy, monarchy, or whatnot, they feature vigorous domestic political competition – thus rendering such historical cases of paramount interest for policy makers today. For these societies permit their citizens to pursue unabashedly their own political self-interest, be it of a personal, family, tribal, or party variety. These societies feature such intense factional strife that this fierce and never-ending competition invariably spills becomes intertwined in any political decision for war. Truly, foreign policy becomes indistinguishable from domestic concerns.

Until modern times such freewheeling political dynamics were almost found exclusively in city-states. Indeed ancient Greco-Roman or Italian Renaissance city-states furnish some of the most instructive examples of this symbiotic connection between foreign and domestic concerns. On occasion, one finds such political dynamics in anomalies such as the Swiss cantons of the late-Middle Ages or the Polish Republic of the early-modern era. However, beginning in the seventeenth century, such dynamics appear around the North Sea (England and The Netherlands) and then spread to eighteenth-century Sweden and, of course, to the fledgling United States of America. The French Revolution of 1789 ushered in a new brand of politics throughout Europe. And since that moment, every nation on Earth has crossed that threshold to embrace “modern” politics – as is the condition today.

In contrast, although on occasion one detects the pressure of competing “court” factions that may help precipitate a war in various “pre-modern” systems (most notably absolute monarchies), oftentimes rulers have the freedom to start wars without consulting anyone else– indeed often on a personal whim. For instance, although absolute French king Louis XIV evidently felt the necessity of placating (in a general sense) the restless French nobility that welcomed periodic wars so as to gain glory for itself and to legitimate its lofty position atop French society, King Louis’ specific decision to begin a round of wars early in his reign may have been, as Bernard Brodie notes, the result of King Louis deciding that the time had arrived for him to begin making a name for himself as a successful warrior monarch.

At any rate, since such political dynamics no longer exist, the decision making process for these pre-modern wars, while doubtless of general interest, has little direct relevance for today’s world. Hence the 300-odd case studies have been selected precisely because they contain important contemporary lessons.

On another front, the classic idea of war as an outgrowth of foreign policy must be superseded by a fresh view of war as primarily, if not exclusively, an extension of state’s domestic politics. In other words, Prussian military philosopher Karl von Clausewitz’s famous nineteenth-century dictum that “War is a continuation of {state} policy by other means” should immediately be revised to read: “War is a continuation of state’s domestic politics conducted by other means.”

Now Clausewitz and other thinkers have viewed war as a natural extension of normal, everyday government business, albeit one where international disputes are settled by state-sanctioned violence, usually (but not exclusively) military-type operations. When Clausewitz, for example, describes was as a continuation of state policy by other means, he notes that the particular ends sought might still remain the same–only the specific tactics employed to achieve these policy goals would differ. Of course, this line of reasoning tends to regard countries as solid objects that more or less randomly collide with one another, somewhat analogous to billiard balls caroming around on a felt-top table.

Nonetheless, it should be quite apparent by now that countries are not uniform entities: Thus the term state policy must be carefully redefined. For it is highly misleading to speak of an all-encompassing national interest serving as the guide to state policy. In actuality, societies remain exceedingly complex organisms featuring a vast collection of men and women, in turn, all seek to maximize their own “highly individuated private interests” that continually demand satisfaction, while invoking the legitimacy of the state (or the nation) to justify their own self-centered actions.

Curiously enough, another modern social science, that of economics, has long since come to grips with the fact that there exists a creature called economic man” (homo economicus)–an individual who rationally and without apology pursues his own best self-interest in the marketplace. Moreover, classical economic theory suggests that when everyone simultaneously pursues his or her own self-interest, the whole community benefits, since the entire system for producing and distributing goods and services will then operates at peak efficiency. Can it be otherwise in the heretofore sacrosanct realm of foreign affairs?

Surely the state’s mystique (coupled with its formidable warmaking capacity), has clouded the perception of exactly where an individual’s own best self-interest lies. One is expected, after all, to sacrifice one’s own life for the state–or for the nation, as the case may be. But who expects an ordinary citizen to sacrifice one’s bank account, one’s home, or all of one’s worldly possessions? The thought is inconceivable. Certainly the sane, level-headed homo economicus never does. And surely human life is infinitely more valuable than mere money or property. So why cannot political theory envision economic man’s counterpart–let him be labeled “international man” (homo internationalis)–who views his own nation’s foreign affairs strictly in terms of his own best self-interest?

But what of the leaders? Do they ever act in accordance with the so-called national interest? Hardly. For although rarely acknowledged openly, rulers and their ilk have engaged in cold, self-serving calculations since the dawn of time. Here too, individual self-interest triumphs over the demands of any alleged national interest. Of course, while many observers trumpet Clausewitz’s national interest-oriented dictum as the ideal in theory, they do admit that in practice (unfortunately, to be sure) there might be instances when unscrupulous leaders do place their own private interests ahead of the nation’s–usually on occasions involving routine foreign policy matters. But it disturbs pundits greatly that government leaders would knowingly do so during wartime–the moment of supreme peril for the community when human life is at stake. Yet even those observers willing to concede some less-than-lofty motives to leaders when handling mundane issues, still retain a curious blind spot on the subject of war. Perhaps the state’s “mystique” intimidates them. Or perhaps they recognize this glaring inconsistency but remain extremely reluctant to delegitimate the state wholesale since there appears nothing suitable with which to replace it.

As noted previously, academic disciplines such as political science, international relations, and even much of history remain at present seriously out of touch with reality because current theory about warfare is based, at best, on erroneous lessons gleaned from a handful of grossly misinterpreted examples and, at worst, on hoary ideas lifted from out-of-date thinkers such a Clausewitz. Such notions must now give way before the advent of a paradigm shift anchored securely in solid historical evidence. There will no doubt be those critics who will disagree with my stark conclusions. But the overwhelming mass of factual material directly linking domestic political pressures with foreign policy decision making is something that cannot be denied and should not be ignored.

Then too, a recognition of the primacy of individual self-interest will necessitate a welcome reinterpretation of longstanding(but flawed) concepts such as national interest, national honor, victory and defeat, nationalism, patriotism, treason, limited war, escalation, balance of power, geopolitics, alliances, military aggression, jingoism, imperialism, neutrality, innocent civilians, military necessity, genocide, terrorism, ideology, inevitable war, preventative war, deterrence, arms race, arms control and disarmament, etc.

All 300-odd wars illustrate how the rulers’ relentless pursuit of domestic political advantage constitutes the basic theme running through all wars. And if the leaders’ ruthless quest for fulfillment of their own self-interest can be identified as the one essential unifying thread connecting all documented wars, then the heretofore elusive single cause of war itself suddenly emerges right before our very eyes.

How else can we banish war from our planet unless we fully understand its root cause. But equally important, in the modern world, government leaders have been granted the authority to wage war on behalf of the entire nation. Until now regarded as a legitimate, if regrettable, instrument of state policy undertaken from time to time to enhance the supposed national interest, war must forevermore be recognized as an absolutely unacceptable activity–an illegitimate use of military force conducted for the regime’s private advantage.

Better yet, only by opening acknowledging the unthinkable–that war is always conducted by rulers pursuing their own self-interest–can citizens everywhere arrive at the point where they will no longer accept “business as usual.” In truth, war represents an act of violence that rulers commit, not just against the officially designated foreign “enemy,” but against their own people as well.

Herein lies the one sure road, indeed the only road, to permanent peace. War will end when, and only when, political leaders fear immediate overthrow at the hands of their own angry citizens for starting needless quarrels (thereby jeopardizing the safety of the entire community) more than they fear military defeat and overthrow at the hands of the foreign “enemy.”