Racism and the Culture of War


David Adams | Transition to a Culture of Peace – TRANSCEND Media Service

1 Jul 2020 – To succeed, the struggle against racism needs to be understood in the context of the struggle against the culture of war.

In my history of the culture of war, I quote Malcolm X at length:

“”Book after book showed me how the white man had brought upon the world’s black, brown, red, and yellow peoples every variety of the sufferings of exploitation. I saw how since the sixteenth century, the so-called “Christian trader” white man began to ply the seas in his lust for Asian and African empires, and plunder, and power… First, always “religiously,” he branded “heathen” and “pagan” labels upon ancient non-white cultures and civilizations. The stage thus set, he then turned upon his non-white victims his weapons of war.”

As examples, he describes the British conquest of India, the African slave trade and the Opium War against China.

As Malcolm X describes, racism was used to justify the slave trade from Africa to America, to justify the economic profits gained from slavery. It was used to justify colonialism. And it was used to justify the genocide of indigenous peoples to make way for the expansion of empires.

The institution of slavery goes back to the first empires at the dawn of history. From the beginning it was an expression of the culture of war. Slavery was the fruit of warfare; the vanquished were enslaved. This is clearly described in the narratives of ancient history, for example, in the the Old Testament of the Bible.

The only reason that the African slave trade is not included in the list of wars is that the slaves were rarely able to counter-attack. The same is true for the military conquest of lands inhabited by indigenous peoples. They were wars without names. For example, when I did the research for my study of internal military intervention in the United States, I was unable to find complete records for the use of the military to suppress slave rebellions and to massacre the indigenous people of North America. These were considered so routine that they were not worthy of news articles or historical records.

Legal systems perpetuate this racism in order to protect the power and property of the rich. How else can you explain the fact that people of color are locked up in American prisons far more than their percentage of the population.

And Hollywood has done its part. As described by the great Black activist and statesman, Kwame Nkrumah,

“Even the cinema stories of fabulous Hollywood are loaded. One has only to listen to the cheers of an African audience as Hollywood’s heroes slaughter red Indians or Asiatics to understand the effectiveness of this weapon. For, in the developing continents, where the colonialist heritage has left a vast majority still illiterate, even the smallest child gets the message contained in the blood and thunder stories emanating from California. And along with murder and the Wild West goes an incessant barrage of anti-socialist propaganda, in which the trade union man, the revolutionary, or the man of dark skin is generally cast as the villain, while the policeman, the gum-shoe, the Federal agent – in a word, the CIA – type spy is ever the hero.”

Progress against racism depends on whether we can make progress against its root cause, the culture of war which, in turn, is maintained to increase the wealth of the rich and to protect their property. If there is one trend that is clear over the past few centuries, it is this: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This is maintained by the culture of war and its associated racism.

The recent uprisings against racist violence by the police is another step towards the radical transformation from the culture of war to a culture of peace.


Dr. David Adams is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment and coordinator of the Culture of Peace News Network. He retired in 2001 from UNESCO where he was the Director of the Unit for the UN International Year for the Culture of Peace.  Previously, at Yale and Wesleyan Universities, he was a specialist on the brain mechanisms of aggressive behavior, the history of the culture of war, and the psychology of peace activists, and he helped to develop and publicize the Seville Statement on Violence. Send him an email.

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