The History of the Culture of War
3. The internal culture of war and economies based on exploitation of workers and of the environment 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.Means to deter worker revolts and political dissidents

--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


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Discussion of the internal culture of war remains a taboo topic even now as we enter the 21st Century. At the level of contemporary diplomatic discourse the existence of the taboo is clear. Nation states consider that internal military intervention is a matter that is not appropriate for inter-governmental forums such as the United Nations. In fact, a special article was included in the UN Charter that forbids the UN from discussing the internal affairs of Member States:

"Article 2.7: Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state...."

I was reminded of this taboo when, in 1999, the European Union demanded that all reference to the culture of war must be removed from the culture of peace resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly.

Extreme examples of the taboo during the 20th Century are provided by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia during the 1930's. Each had extensive systems of internal prison camps that could not be discussed publicly in those countries. Instead, all attention was focused on battles of the military against external enemies.

A less extreme example, but no less instructive, is the McCarthy period of U.S. history as described in my history of internal U.S. military interventions. The emphasis on the military buildup during the Cold War, the labeling of an external enemy and the claims of extensive spying for this enemy functioned as the cover for internal repression of a militant trade union movement influenced by communist ideology, a repression that most of the media was afraid to discuss.

The example given here from the United States regarding taboos against discussion of the internal culture of war could be multiplied by examples in other regions, and readers from Latin America and Eastern Europe will have no difficulty in recognizing this dynamic in their recent history.

The contemporary taboo is not only at the diplomatic and political levels, but extends into the mass media and academic institutions. For example, the analysis of U.S. internal military interventions in my 1995 article in the Journal of Peace Research, points out the lack of attention to this topic:

"The unchanging rate of internal military intervention in the USA and the lack of attention to such intervention in the literature on war and peace are in striking contrast to the rapid changes in other aspects of war and peace. It is argued here that this reflects an oversight which peace researchers and activists should address in the coming years."

Since the paper was published in 1995, there is still very little attention to this topic. During the intervening twelve years, there have been only four academic references to it according to the Social Science Citation Index, even though it was published in a prestigious journal that one would expect relevant researchers to read.

The media and academia have also paid little attention to a recent example of internal military intervention: the deployment of troops in New Orleans following hurricane Katrina. Jeremy Scahill (2007) in Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army (2007) has described how these troops included mercenaries of the Blackwater Company, better known for its use by the U.S. government as a mercenary force in Iraq.

There are many studies in the literature of military science, political science and sociology on the relation of internal and external conflict and intervention, such as the theory that governments faced with internal conflicts may provoke foreign wars as a diversion and as a way of unifying the population around a common enemy. For example, Quincy Wright remarked in his monumental book, A Study of War (1942) that wars or the preparations for them have often been used by governments as instruments for dealing with internal disorders. However, with few exceptions the studies of the relation of internal and external conflict tend to avoid reference to internal military interventions in so-called "democratic states". Nor do they point out that "democratic" political leaders consider the military, over the long term, as essential to their maintenance of internal power. Nor do they ask about the relative importance of internal and external functions of war throughout history.

I have argued that the taboo holds among researchers because if they challenge the dominant culture of war, they could endanger their academic careers. In this regard, see the case of David Abraham described in Wiener (2005), Historians in Trouble: Plagiarism, Fraud and Politics in the Ivory Tower. As pointed out recently in my Letter to My Academic Friends (2007), most academics contribute to the culture of war either consciously or unconsciously:

"Academia, as a general rule, is an integral and essential part of the dominant culture of our society, the culture of war. To promote the culture of peace within academia, it is necessary first to free oneself from its prejudices and perspectives, and second to risk one's career by speaking and writing the truth which, in the past, has destroyed the careers of some of the best progressive academicians. Failure to free oneself from these prejudices and perspectives, runs the risk of contributing to the maintenance of the culture of war, either consciously or unconsciously."

The test of a taboo is the punishment that results when the taboo is broken. Take, for example, the taboo against discussing the internal culture of war in socialist countries. Although Marx and Engels were explicit about the use of the military to maintain internal power, Marxist writers of the Twentieth Century, for the most part, no longer dealt with the question of internal war. How else should we explain this except that the 20th Century states run by Communist Parties were themselves maintained by the internal use of military force and to discuss this fact would have been politically dangerous inside those countries and politically embarrassing for Communist Parties outside. As for "democratic countries" such as the United States, many academic critics of the McCarthy era were silenced or fled the country, some going to settle in Canada.

A more subtle way to enforce the taboo was employed during the Reagan administration of the United States during the 1980's. Academics who dared to mention "social class" in their research were denied grants by the major source of grants in the country, the National Institutes of Health. In particular, grants requests were not considered if they involved "studies of large scale social conditions or problems, social class and groups and their interrelations".

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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?