The History of the Culture of War
What is culture and how does it evolve? 5,000 years of increasing monopolization of the culture of war by the state

The History of the Culture of War

What is culture and how does it evolve?

Warfare in prehistory and its usefulness

The culture of war in prehistory

Data from prehistory before the Neolithic

Enemy images: culture or biology

War and the culture of war at the dawn of history

--Ancient Mesopotamia

--Ancient Egypt

--Ancient China

--Ancient Greece and Rome

--Ancient Crete

--Ancient Indus civilizations

--Ancient Hebrew civilization

--Ancient Central American civilization

Warfare and the origin of the State

Religion and the origin of the State

A summary of the culture of war at the dawn of history

The internal culture of war: a taboo topic

The evolution of the culture of war over the past 5,000 years: its increasing monopolization by the state

--1.Armies and armaments

--2.External conquest and exploitation: Colonialism and Neocolonialism

--3.The internal culture of war and economies based on exploitation of workers and the environment

--4.Prisons and penal systems

--5.The military-industrial complex

--6.The drugs-for-guns trade

--7.Authoritarian control

--8.Control of information

--9.Identification of an "enemy"

--10.Education for the culture of war

--11.Male domination

--12.Religion and the culture of war

--13.The arts and the culture of war



Summary of the history of the culture of war



There are many histories of war, but since the dialectic concept of culture of war/culture of peace is a new concept, this is the first time that anyone has attempted to write a history of the culture of war. As for the culture of peace, it it too early to write anything but a most preliminary history (See Adams 2003). In fact, as it will be argued later in this book, we should not expect that there will ever be a culture of peace in the framework of the nation-state.

As demonstrated by the Seville Statement on Violence (Adams, 1989, 1991), the institution of warfare and its associated culture of war are not biological phenomena inherited from our primate ancestors; instead they are cultural phenomena. Therefore it is important to ask what is culture, and how and why the culture of war developed and has been sustained. To ask these questions, we then need to understand the usefulness of war and the culture of war.

What is culture and how does it evolve

The laws of cultural evolution are similar although not identical to the laws of biological evolution. The best scientific study of this, in my opinion, is by the anthropologist Leslie A. White in his book The Evolution of Culture (1959).

"We may think of the culture of mankind as a whole, or of any distinguishable portion thereof, as a stream flowing down through time. Tools, implements, utensils, customs, codes, beliefs, rituals, art forms, etc., comprise this temporal flow, or process. It is an interactive process: each culture trait, or constellation of traits, acts and reacts upon others, forming from time to time new combinations and permutations. Novel syntheses of cultural elements we call inventions . . "

. . The interrelationship of these elements and classes of elements and their integration into a single, coherent whole comprise the functions, or processes, of the cultural system . ."

"For certain purposes and within certain limits, the culture of a particular tribe, or group of tribes, or the culture of a region may be considered as a system. Thus one might think of the culture of the Seneca tribe, or of the Iroquoian tribes, or of the Great Plans, or of western Europe as constituting a system . . But the cultures of tribes or regions are not self-contained, closed systems in actuality, at all. They are constantly exposed to cultural influences, flowing in both directions with other cultures."

In the present book, the culture of war is considered in the framework of the preceding anthropological analysis: it is a cultural system that has evolved over the flow of time. Although at one time or another, some tribes or regions have been relatively independent from the culture of war, over the course of history most peoples have come under its influence. And, as we shall see, the system of nation-states has been from its beginning embedded within the context of the culture of war. Going back to seek the origins of the culture of war, we will consider it as a cultural invention with a certain usefulness at the time it was invented.

Also following White's analysis we will see that the various components of the culture of war are all interrelated. As he says, "It is an interactive process: each culture trait, or constellation of traits, acts and reacts upon others." Hence, to give just one of many possible examples, the secrecy of the culture of war supports authoritarian control by allowing certain information to be held only by those in power, and both make possible the practice of warfare by concentrating the command structure in the hands of a few.

Continued on next page

To take part in a discussion about this page, click below on the Culture of Peace Dialogues:

discussion board

World Peace through the Town Hall


1) The difference between "peace" and "culture of peace" and a brief history of the culture of war

2) The role of the individual in culture of war and culture of peace

3) Why the state cannot create a culture of peace

4) The important role of civil society in creating a culture of peace

--Peace and disarmament movements

--Ecology movement

--Movements for human rights

--Democracy movements

--Women's movement

--International understanding, tolerance and solidarity

--Movements for free flow of information

--The strengths and weaknesses of civil society

5) The basic and essential role of local government in culture of peace

--Sustainable development

--Human rights

--Democratic participation

--Women's equality


--Transparency and the free flow of information

--Education for a culture of peace

--Security and public safety

--Some ongoing initiatives

6) Assessing progress toward a culture of peace at the local level

--Culture of peace measurement at the level of the state

7) Going global: networking of city culture of peace commissions

8) The future transition of the United Nations from control by states to popular control through local governmental representatives

9) What would a culture of peace be like?