How war has shaped us

Hosted by

An Austrian soldier column marching through the flat country of Eastern Europe during WWI, 1914-17. Photo by Shutterstock.

Over the centuries, wars have shaped humanity’s history. From the ancient Greeks and Romans to the furthest corners of the earth, wars have changed social and political institutions, values and ideas, cultures and beliefs. So can understanding how past conflicts have shaped us give us a better understanding of what we’re witnessing in Ukraine?

In peaceful and advanced societies, are wars still inevitable?  

Though wars are never good, they have often had unintended positive consequences. The great wars of the 20th century actually brought about greater social cohesion, bridged the gap between rich and poor, and were instrumental for women getting the vote. Advances in medicine, like penicillin and plastic surgery, were also fast tracked by war.  

Jonathan Bastian speaks to Margaret MacMillan, acclaimed historian, emeritus professor at Oxford University, and author of “War: How Conflict Shaped Us,” who looks at the ways in which war has influenced human society — politics, technology, and ideologies are all affected by how and why we fight. 

MacMillan talks about the complexity of war, and how it’s not perpetrated in the heat of the moment but is heavily orchestrated and organized. She dispels the myth that fighting is in our DNA and highlights that war, more than any other time in ordinary life, brings out the best in human nature, “the altruism, the willingness to die for others or to die for a cause.”



  • Margaret MacMillan - Professor of history, University of Toronto; emeritus professor, Oxford University; author of “War: How Conflict Shaped Us”


Andrea Brody