The Costs and Benefits of Warfare

Besides being well adapted or designed for their environments, chimp and human societies possess another salient feature in common, that of a strong propensity to kill their own kind. A willingness to kill members of one's own species is apparently correlated with high intelligence. It may be that chimps and people are the only species able to figure out that the extra effort required to exterminate an opponent will bring about a more permanent solution than letting him live to fight another day. Military skills are probably underappreciated as a biological phenomenon, but in their own way are just as remarkable a human adaptation as is the artistic ability of the Upper Paleolithic cave painters. Warfare of the human kind has many levels of complexity and at its highest is an integral component of statecraft. At the lower end of the scale, however, it overlaps closely in both tactics and goals with the chimpanzee variety. Chimp warfare takes the form of bands of males who patrol the borders of their territory, looking for an individual of the neighboring community who has been rash enough to feed alone.

Occasionally they make raids deep into enemy territory. "Behavior during patrols is striking and unusual," writes the primatologist John Mitani. "Males are silent, tense and wary. They move in tight file, often pause to look and listen, sometimes sniff the ground, and show great interest in chimpanzee nests, dung, and feeding remains." Just like human raiders, they are tense and nervous.180

Chimpanzees carefully calculate the odds and seek to minimize risk, a very necessary procedure if one fights on a regular basis. They prefer to attack an isolated individual and then retreat to their own territory. If they encounter an opposing patrol they will assess the size of their opponents' party and retreat if outnumbered. Researchers have confirmed this behavior by playing the call of a single male through a loudspeaker to chimp parties of various sizes. They find that the chimps will approach as long as they number three or more; parties of two will slink away. Three against one is the preferred odds: two to hold the victim down and a third to batter him to death. The raid is also the principal kind of warfare conducted by primitive human societies. Yanomamo raids too are carefully calculated to minimize risk. "The objective of the raid is to kill one or more of the enemy and flee without being discovered,"

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