Over the past 13,000 years the predominant trend in human society has been the replacement of smaller, less complex units by larger, more complex ones.
â€¦ part of the reason for statesâ€™ triumphs over simpler entities when the two collide is that states usually enjoy an advantage of weaponry and other technology, and a large numerical advantage in population. But there are also two other potential advantages inherent in chiefdoms and states. First, a centralized decision maker has the advantage at concentrating troops and resources. Second, the official religion and patriotic fervor of many states make their troops willing to fight suicidally.
The latter willingness is one so strongly programmed into us citizens of modern states, by our schools and churches and governments, that we forget what a radical break it marks with previous human history. Every state has its slogan urging its citizens to be prepared to di if necessary for the state: Britainâ€™s â€œFor King and Country,â€ Spainâ€™s â€œPor Dios y Espana,â€ and so on. Similar sentiments motivated 16thâ€“century Aztec warriors: â€œthere is nothing like death in war, nothing like the flowery death so precious to Him [the Aztec national God Huitzilopochtli] who gives life: far off I see it, my heart years for it!â€
Such sentiments are unthinkable in bands and tribes. In all the accounts that my New Guinea friends have given me of their formal tribal wars, there has been not a hint of tribal patriotism, of a suicidal charge, or of any other military conduct carrying an accepted risk of being killed. Instead, raids are initiated by ambush or by superior force, so as to minimize at all costs the risk that one might die for oneâ€™s village. But that attitude severely limits the military options of tribes, compared with state societies.