The Nature of Modern Wars & Conflicts

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

The nature of modern wars and conflicts is that they generally occur because of a country's nationalism. Explore why war exists and look into the various types of war, apart from nation-states fighting other nation-states. Updated: 04/10/2022

Why War?

Why does war exist? What causes war? This is very much a philosophical question, and it's not my place in this lesson to delve into existential questions on the problems that cause war. The sad reality is that war exists. It has since the dawn of time, and there seems to be no signs of it letting up.

For the purposes of this lesson, our scope is limited to conflicts since 1900. Why have wars broken out over the past 100 years or so? There are many answers. To begin with, nationalism has played a major role. Nationalism has many connotations, but basically it can be thought of as extreme pride in one's nation. Nationalism often causes one particular people group to believe they are superior to others. Nationalism played a major role in both world wars.

For example, Slavic nationalism in the Balkan region helped lead to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which proved to be the 'spark' that ignited World War I. And of course, there was Adolf Hitler's National Socialist Party, with its fanatical belief in the supremacy of the Aryan race. The bottom line is extreme nationalism has been a leading cause of 20th-century conflicts.

War has broken out for other reasons, too. While religion has been a major cause of war throughout world history, its role in 20th-century conflicts has been more limited. Still, elements of religion have worked their way into modern conflicts. The Indo-Pakistani Wars, lasting a half century, had strong religious elements. This conflict pitted Hindu India against Muslim Pakistan. And of course, modern Islamic terrorism is fueled primarily by the terrorist groups' interpretations of Islam. In this sense, we can also think of war as arising from a clash of cultures.

But throughout the twentieth century, more than religion, ideology has been a leading cause of war. Think of the Cold War, the half-century conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. That 'war' was fought over ideology: Soviet communists believed their system was superior (and sought to export it around the world), while capitalist Americans believed their system was superior (and sought to export it around the world). The stark ideological differences between the two superpowers resulted in the Cold War, and periodically erupted into proxy 'hot' wars, like the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Ethnicity has also been a source of conflict. Sometimes this is tied in with religion but not always. Think of the Nazis in World War II. The Nazis believed the German race was superior and sought to wipe out the Jewish race and subjugate Slavic peoples. The Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s were ethnic conflicts, pitting various Eastern European ethnic groups against one another. A term closely associated with ethnic conflict is genocide. Genocide is the systematic destruction of a specific ethnic or racial group. The Holocaust is probably the most famous example of genocide.

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Types of War

Now let's look at a few different types of war. We tend to think of war in terms of nation-states fighting other nation-states, but it's more complex than that. Not all twentieth century conflicts follow the typical model of World War I or World War II.

A civil war, as we know, is a war between competing factions within the boundaries of a nation. For example, in the early twentieth century, the Russian Civil War pitted the Bolshevik government and its Red Army against the anti-Bolshevik forces in Russia. As of the summer of 2014, there is a civil war taking place in the country of Syria.

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