Has the Culture of War Changed? Is It Still the Monopoly of the State?

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 5 Feb 2024

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

1 Feb 2024 – I stand by the following conclusion of my 2009 book, “The History of the Culture of War”, but there have been important changes as I will discuss below.

Here is what I wrote in 2009:

“From the beginning of recorded history until the present time the culture of war has become more and more monopolized by the state, retaining the three functions: conquest, defense and internal control. Internal war has been and continues to be a taboo topic. The involvement of the state with the culture of war has become stronger over the course of history as the state has prevented the development of warfare by other social structures.

“In recent history, the culture of war at the level of the state has been further reinforced by the development of the military-industrial-complex in which a major section of the newly developed capitalist class has joined its forces with the state. Simultaneously, although in secret, the culture of war has come to include the trade of drugs and guns. Internal military intervention has been put at the service of the capitalist class for the suppression of the labor movement and revolts by the unemployed. Racism and nationalism have been added as essential components that justify and support all other aspects of the culture of war.

“The greatest change in the culture of war has been the enormous expansion of control of information including control of the mass media, overtly or covertly, by state power and its allies in the military-industrial complex. Other than these changes, however, the fundamental nature of the culture of war has remained remarkably stable; it has become increasingly a monopoly of the state, essential to the maintenance of state power.

“The internal functions of the culture of war explain why state power cannot allow a culture of peace. Perhaps the nation-states would be able to devise a new international system through the United Nations that would protect them from external invasion and conquest, but there is no indication that they are willing to abandon their “right” to use force internally, nor are they even willing to discuss the topic which remains, for the most part, a taboo, i.e. forbidden discussion. Under normal conditions, the authoritarian control exerted through the electoral process of so-called democratic governance at the national level, and the control of information through the mass media, religious instruction and educational systems ensure the power of the state.

“Of course, there are great differences between states at any given moment in the extent to which their culture of war is evident. The rich states of the North, for example Scandinavia, are in a better position to hide their internal culture of war through provisions of the welfare state and more liberal systems of electoral participation and education while the poorer states of the South are often less able to accomplish this. But this difference itself is a function of the culture of war, as it rests upon the neo-colonial exploitation whereby the Global North continues to get richer at the expense of the Global South. The United Nations system helps to maintain this exploitation through the policies of the UN Security Council which maintains nuclear and political superiority and the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization which maintain the economic superiority of the North.”

In the course of 14 years since 2009 when I wrote the above, there have been a number of very important developments that require discussion.

1) As discussed in several of my blogs, most recently “The BRICS Summit” of September 2023, the global south, led by China, is increasingly posing a challenge to the neo-colonial exploitation by which the Global North continues to get richer at the expense of the Global South. In the meantime, however, the worst wars such as those of Ukraine and Israel against Palestine continue to be fueled, directly or indirectly, by the American Empire.

Maybe the Global South will eventually replace the power of the Global North and its American Empire, but that will not necessarily put an end to the culture of war. BRICS remain a power of nation-states, which does not change the fundamental situation that the culture of war is in the hands of nation-states. Leading the BRICS countries, China continues to menace Taiwan with military force and Russia remains at war in the Ukraine. In my blog, “What next after the end of the American Empire,” I raise the question of whether China will continue to promote equitable economic relations with other countries, or will it turn to the exploitation that has always been the motor of the culture of war? As for the fundamental function of the culture of war for internal control, China continues to rely on its Red Army and Russia continues to suppress any opposition to its military. Nowhere in the world is there a serious challenge to the culture of war as the state’s ultimate means of internal control.

2) Also in recent blogs, most recently last month, I have continued to emphasize the importance of the control of the mass media, overtly or covertly, by state power and its allies in the military-industrial complex to justify its culture of war. “As democracy gained around the world, national governments were forced to convince their citizens that they were threatened by an enemy. Otherwise they could not justify their military preparations and wars. And since usually there was no real enemy, they had to control and manipulate information, especially the mass media, to convince voters that they were under attack. Usually the governments’ control of the media is kept hidden, but at one point it came out following the American War in Vietnam” (the 1976 Church hearings in the US Senate).

Ironically, the control of information may now become less important, because the advance of “democracy” may be coming to an end. What we have called “democracy” is better described as “bourgeois democracy”, since it has always been “the best possible political shell for capitalism,” But voters around the world are in revolt against the continuing enrichment of capitalists through their control of elections, and they are increasingly electing populist candidates such as Trump, Erdogan, Bolsonaro, Orban, Milei, Meloni and Wilders who promise policies that move away from bourgeois democracy and towards fascism.

3) In recent years there are an increasing number of local wars in “failed states” of Africa. These wars seem to contradict the long-term tendency of the state as a monopoly of the culture of war. But failed states are not the cause of war but rather the consequence of the global culture of war in the hands of nation-states. Like the election of populists opposed to “bourgeois democracy”, these states are faced with revolts against the exploitation by the capitalists from the Global North and the allies of this exploitation that have been installed in their African governments. To the extent that this exploitation continues, these local wars may multiply.

A special case of wars in failed states is that of Mexico, where the state is unable to suppress the violence of the drug cartels. This, too, should be understood as a consequence, rather than a cause of the culture of war, since the drug trade has been part and parcel (though mostly secret) of the American Empire since the Vietnam War, the Contra War in Central America and the war in Afghanistan. Fortunately, it seems that Colombia, long plagued by drug violence, is escaping from this fate with help from its newly progressive government.

4) Some may argue that the failed states of Africa reveal that religion is a cause of war. It is true that the revolts in these countries are clothed in Islamic extremism. But, as argued above, the deep roots of these revolts must be traced to the capitalist exploitation from the North rather than religion.

Of course, religion is not always neutral. When religion becomes the religion of the state, it becomes part of the culture of war. This is especially evident in Israel and Iran.

5) Some may argue that wars are now caused by the scarcity of resources, water, food, etc. Certainly these are the causes of the mass migrations towards Europe and the United States. But again, this should be understood as a consequence rather a cause. While global warming may be part of the cause of scarcity, the most important cause of scarcity continues to be the unequal economic relations imposed by capitalist exploitation from the North. My blog “The Facts about Neo-Colonialism“, cites figures that when one includes secret and illegal transactions, the net flow of resources from Global South to the Global North is 24 times greater than the humanitarian aid furnished from the North.

Where are we headed? Will the American Empire finish its time without destroying the planet with a nuclear war? Will it be succeeded by a new culture of war based in the Global South and led by China? Or will we be able to take advantage of a window of opportunity to reform the United Nations to be based finally on We the People instead of the nation-states of the world? As I have argued in many of my blogs, such a United Nations could make the transition from a global culture of war to a global culture of peace.

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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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One Response to “Has the Culture of War Changed? Is It Still the Monopoly of the State?”

  1. PSand says:

    The populism of Trump as a “move away from bourgeois democracy and towards fascism” is a gross, albeit common, mischaracterization perpetrated by his political opponents.

    The “bourgeois democracy” mentioned may resemble what Trump disfavors, but in his rhetoric he characterizes it as the “Washington DC Swamp,” which is not so much about plutocracy as the corruption of the democratic process through cheating, bribery, pay-to-play, enrichment schemes through governmental agency. And it speaks to a demographic that has been left behind through the transfer of wealth, position and power to an ingrown governmental elite, overgrown bureaucracy and embedded governmental service class—a standard Republican admonishment of excessive government.

    The ludicrous suggestion that Trump’s aspirations are toward fascism is easily dismissed by the peace-building experienced during his presidency. Instead of seeing a massive buildup of military forces, or an escalation of overseas wars, we saw a remarkably peaceful four years. (Unfortunately, we did see a buildup of China’s forces—possibly saber-rattling in response to Trump’s tariffs, but more likely due to an effort to keep the Chinese economy afloat during the downturn of the world economy.)

    Trump’s “nationalism” has more to do with our nation’s charter and the expectations of his constituents than some kind of nostalgia for triumphs of a by-gone age. The job of government as listed in the Preamble is for the welfare of the people and to protect domestic jobs and businesses is aligned with the Constitution. To protect the border and national interests is also part of the mandate and not some purported road to nationalistic fascism.

    The America he wants to make “great again” is not a cry for some meaningless Teuton past, but rather an effort to start a new road into the future based on traditional American values of hard work and merit, and a resumption of the Great American Experiment.

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