But even if it were, it would tell us very little about war, why it is fought and when, with whom and over what. To attempt to explain war by appeal to an innate pugnacity would be like explaining Egyptian, Gothic, and Mayan architecture by citing the physical properties of stone; or like explaining the industrial revolution by invoking an inventive tendency in the human mind. A culturological interpretation of war will, however, tell us something of significance. Wars are fought between societies,  between sociocultural systems, between tribes and nations. It is the culture of any given situation that determines whether warfare shall be engaged in or not, and if so how, with whom and for what. In some cultural settings, warfare is non-existent; the mode of life as culturally defined has no place for it. In other situations there is only occasional skirmishing between tribes. Where rich hunting or fishing grounds are at stake, we can expect military contests. The same holds true for grazing lands and for fertile valleys when culture has reached the level of animal husbandry and agriculture. It may sound absurd and superfluous to say that peoples will not fight over grazing lands, fertile valleys, coal and iron deposits, foreign markets, oil reserves and uranium mines until culture has advanced to such levels of development as domestication of animals, cultivation of plants, steam and internal combustion engines, world trade, and uranium piles. But if one listens to those who talk about man’s “innate pugnacity” he might easily get the impression that this was sufficient to account for everything. (White 1949:131-2)
The premise underlying this view is unsound. It assumes that wars are caused, or at least made possible, by ignorance and the lack of social control that goes with ignorance. It assumes that, given understanding through generous grants of funds to social scientists, wars could be prevented—the “peace could be kept.” The lack of understanding and realism displayed here is pathetic. The instinct of self-preservation of a society that subsidized atom bomb inventors rather than social scientists holding views such as these is a sure one. Wars are not caused by ignorance, nor can “the peace be kept” by the findings of social scientists. Wars are struggles between social organisms—called nations—for survival, struggles for the possession and use of the resources of the earth, for fertile fields; coal, oil, and iron deposits; for uranium mines; for seaports and waterways; for markets and trade routes; for military bases. No amount of understanding will alter or remove the basis of this struggle, any more than an understanding of the ocean’s tides will diminish or terminate their flow. (White 1949:343)
WHITE, Leslie. 1949. The science of culture: a study of man and civilization. New York: Grove Press.