>Here's an article that surveys the available archeological evidence and
>critiques the claim that warfare has always been part of human society:
>R. Brian Ferguson, "The Birth of War," Natural History, July/August 2003,
>available online at http://www.naturalhistorymag.com/0703/0703_feature.html.
>The problem is that any science that contradicts contemporary social
>values is, ipso facto, controversial,so while it may be good science, it
>won't be "unarguably good science" until the values change.
>Ferguson replies to his critics here:
Barbara Ehrenreich on war
I guess I have gotten used to how bad the Nation magazine has become, but
every once in a while I run into something so rancid that I have to pause
and catch my breath. This was the case with a review by DSA leader Barbara
Ehrenreich of 3 books on war. This review was accompanied by a review by
Susan Faludi of Ehrenreich's new book on war titled "Blood Rites". All this
prose is dedicated to the proposition that large-scale killing has been
around as long as homo sapiens has been around and that it has nothing much
to do with economic motives. Looking for an explanation why George Bush
made war on Iraq? It wasn't over oil, "democratic socialist" Ehrenreich
would argue. It was instead related to the fact that we were once "preyed
upon by animals that were initially far more skillful hunters than
ourselves. In particular, the sacralization of war is not the project of a
self-confident predator...but that of a creature which has learned only
'recently,' in the last thousand or so generations, not to cower at every
sound in the night."
In a rather silly exercise in cultural criticism, Ehrenreich speculates
that the popularity of those nature shows depicting one animal attacking
and eating another are proof of the predatory disposition we brutish human
beings share. I myself have a different interpretation for what its worth.
I believe that PBS sponsors all this stuff because of the rampant oil
company sponsorship that transmits coded Social Darwinist ideology. Just as
the leopard is meant to eat the antelope, so is Shell Oil meant to kill
Nigerians who stand in the way of progress.
One of the books that Ehrenreich reviews is "War Before Civilization: The
Myth of the Peaceful Savage" by Lawrence Keeley. Keeley argues that
material scarcity does not explain warfare among Stone Age people. It is
instead something in our "shared psychology" that attracts us to war.
Keeley finds brutish behavior everywhere and at all times, including among
the American Indian. If the number of casualties produced by wars among the
Plains Indians was proportional to the population of European nations
during the World Wars, then the casualty rates would have been more like 2
billion rather than the tens of millions that obtained. Ehrenreich swoons
over Keeley's book that was published in 1996 to what seems like
I suspect that Keeley's book functions ideologically like some of the
recent scholarship that attempts to show that Incas, Aztecs and Spaniards
were all equally bad. They all had kingdoms. They all had slaves. They all
despoiled the environment. Ad nauseum. It is always a specious practice to
project into precapitalist societies the sort of dynamic that occurs under
capitalism. For one thing, it is almost impossible to understand these
societies without violating some sort of Heisenberg law of anthropology.
The historiography of the North American and Latin American Indian
societies is mediated by the interaction of the invading society with the
invaded. The "view" is rarely impartial. Capitalism began to influence and
overturn precapitalist class relations hundreds of years ago, so a
laboratory presentation of what Aztec society looked like prior to the
Conquistadores is impossible. Furthermore, it is regrettable that
Ehrenreich herself is seduced by this methodology since she doesn't even
question Keeley's claims about the Plains Indian wars. When did these wars
occur? Obviously long after the railroads and buffalo hunters had become a
fact of North American life.
The reason all this stuff seems so poisonous is that it makes a political
statement that war can not be eliminated through the introduction of
socialism or political action. For Ehrenreich, opposing war is a
psychological project rather than a political project:
"Any anti-war movement that targets only the human agents of war -- a
warrior elite or, on our own time, the chieftains of the
'military-industrial complex' - risks mimicking those it seeks to overcome
... So it is a giant step from hating the warriors to hating the war, and
an even greater step to deciding that the 'enemy' is the abstract
institution of war, which maintains its grip on us even in the interludes
we know as peace."
Really? The abstract institution of war maintains its grip on "us"? Who
exactly is this "us"? Is it the average working person who struggles to
make ends meet? Do they sit at home at night like great cats fantasizing
about biting the throats out of Rwandans or Zaireans in order to feast on
their innards? The NY Times has been reporting more and more concern among
Clinton administration officials about Kabila's drive toward the overthrow
of Mobutu, our erstwhile puppet. It is not out of the question that Clinton
and his European allies would put together an expeditionary force to
protect "democracy" in Africa. Who would be responsible for this war? The
ruling class or the poor foot soldiers who get drummed into action?