The Six Year Old Child Principle of War and International Relations

Yet more for the RPG Blog Carnival on War. Yesterday, we discussed who might be backing a war, but not why they were backing it. Today I’m going to fix that.

To understand most of the causes of war, you must understand one fact: Countries, kingdoms and the various other entities of governance will, as a unit, behave very similarly to six year old children in a playground. This is known as the Six Year Old Child Principle of International Relations. So what sorts of factors cause hostilities between both children and countries?

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  • I want!” Just as six year old children will get into squabbles over whose turn it is on the swing or who gets to use the good shovel rather than the stinky broken one, countries will fight over their resources. Granted, having enough food to feed the populace or materials to support industry is a bit more important than having a bucket instead of a sieve, but the principle is the same.
  • They’re WRONG!” Children have a very strong idea of what constitutes justice, and will make a point of trying to enforce it, particularly when it gives them an excuse to one-up the kid at the next hole. But at least arguing over the proper way of doing foursquare or having a problem with someone else’s not-so-secret club is pretty bloodless. Wars based on “They’re wrong!”, whether it’s dealing with oppressors being oppressive or heathens being heathenly, tend to be very long and very bloody, particularly if the people being liberated from the oppressors or saved from the heathens do not agree that this was necessary or even a good idea; as a result, popular support may be easy to get in the beginning, but it’s hard to keep.
  • “Don’t mess with my buddy!” It’s one thing when all you’re dealing with is two kids bickering. Now imagine this. Kid A shoves Kid B. If it’s deliberate, it’s well-disguised; it might just have been a stumble. But B’s angry, and rather obviously hits Kid A back. A’s older sister, C, gets involved at this point, and moves in to shove B away from A. But B’s friend D steps in against C. Somewhere in this shoving, someone grabs a toy from Kid E to use as a weapon (or gets shoved into E’s sand castle, or something), and E comes in swinging to right this wrong. Meanwhile, F, who fancies himself the playground monitor, goes after B (or maybe C; it depends on who whines more cleverly) for breaking the peace. By the time the teacher gets there, half the population of the sandbox is at each other’s throats. The same story goes with countries; national obligations and secret alliances can turn a simple squabble between two countries into a massive war. (Just look at World War I; situation looking familiar?)
  • “He did it first!” Just about anything is justified on the playground if someone else started it, and countries aren’t any different. How many wars have been justified by someone else making the first attack? Or missile placements by where someone else put theirs? Or economic sanctions because… well, you get the idea.
  • “His is bigger!” Children will manage to find the most improbable reasons to complain; give a couple of kids each a piece of cake, and they’ll squabble over whose is bigger, has more frosting, and stays intact longer. If one of a child’s friends is hanging out with that other kid more, it’s practically grounds for a feud. Countries are like this as well. Seem to be favoring one, and its rival will be on your case almost immediately; extend an olive branch to a country that serves as a rival to one of your allies, and the ally wants nothing to do with you at best and revenge at worst.

And who says any given problem has to have an easily understandable cause? There might be multiples, and the only way to get the countries off each other’s backs is to resolve all of them. Or it’s one cause that looks like another; there’s nothing quite as frustrating as trying to fill a country’s need for a resource only to discover that their fight was about a recent insult to one of their allies, and all you’ve done is made the war effort less costly.

But remember the six year old children; in the end, they can tell you most of what you need to know about how the bickering powers work.

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