Tag Archives: War

What Could Australia Be without War?

We hear over and over that Australian nationalism was forged in the crucible of war.

The Australian War Memorial preaches this belief with its Forging the Nation exhibition.

The renowned war historian C.E.W. Bean made the message clear in his history of Australia in World War 1:

And then, during four years in which nearly the whole world was tested, the people in Australia looked on from afar [and] saw their own men flash across the world’s consciousness like a shooting star. Australians watched the name of their country rise high in the esteem of the world’s oldest and greatest nations. Every Australian bears that name proudly abroad today; and by the daily doings, great and small, which these pages have narrated, the Australian nation came to know itself…

We are repeatedly reminded of headlines like the following:

But it’s not true. It is a myth. Australian nationalism was alive and flourishing in the years preceding and following Federation in 1901. An Australian identity — the one that is propagandized today with its stress on mateship and egalitarianism — was there in the cultural, social and political life of Australians before 1914.

I wish I could locate the source of the words now but I recently heard a woman being interviewed on Late Night Live, I think it was, remarking that the Great War broke Australia. It changed us as a nation. We lost our confidence not just from the immediate trauma of the four years of battle but from the many traumas of trying to rebuild lives in the years following.

With Federation in 1901 the big question was what sort of nation Australians wanted to build:

‘’A new demesne for Mammon to infest?
Or lurks millenial Eden ’neath your face?”

Was the continent to see repeated the evils of other civilizations, the ravages of war, the co-existence of great wealth and abysmal poverty, the rigid class structure of privilege, or was it, on the other hand, free of the taint of older societies, to produce a civilization in which the individual dignity of man had full respect?

(Greenwood, 199. The poetry is from the Bernard O’Dowd’s prize-winning poem challenging the emerging nation in 1900 to ask what sort of society it would make of itself.)

The mateship was there long before Gallipoli as anyone who has read Henry Lawson’s poetry should know.

Bitten deep into the consciousness of the men and women who espoused the Labour cause was a belief in the importance of solidarity, of sticking together, of being able to rely on one’s mate. (200)

And it wasn’t confined to the labouring class, either:

While the more advanced liberals had in common with the leaders of political Labour a belief in experimentation, a sense of Australianism, a recognition of the necessity for remedying social injustice by State action, and, in the larger view, an optimistic acceptance of the social democratic doctrine of progress, all this sprang from genuine conviction, for the faith to which they held and by which they acted was their own and not merely a pale reflection of Labour doctrine. (203)

Australian values (good and bad) were being self-consciously “defined and firmly established” from at least as early as 1901. There was a confidence we would scarcely recognize today, a confidence in the ability to transform and make a more just society, one free of poverty and inequality and exploitation (205).

There was a tone of self-confidence about the pre-1914 nationalist creed. The world was young, and despite the turmoil and depression of the nineties there was an idyllic and anticipatory assumption of future triumphs. Power and creative vigour, the impulse to assert the dignity of the ordinary man through a new Australian social order and the exhilaration of building towards an independent and native cultural tradition all belong to the movement. (207)

Geographic realities meant that the nation had to come together to work through a centralizing power. (See Australia and the United States – Interesting Comparisons for a comment on Australia’s attitude towards central government.) There was also the labour movement’s felt need to take control of the power that had formerly been used to oppress them into accepting unsafe and intolerable conditions. But the core values were shared by both sides of politics:

Humanitarian liberalism, whether of the Deakin [i.e. Liberal] or Fisher [i.e. Labor] variety, was in the ascendant until the war of 1914. Liberal and Labour governnicnts testified in action to their belief in the efficacy of State enterprise. Their social and economic principles were worked out in the field of public policy, and by experimentation they endeavoured to forge new instruments of social and economic justice . . . . Social aims, however, touched almost all legislation . . . . (210-11)

So what were some of the achievements of that “social experiment” of the pre-War years? What particulars are worthy of being remembered and celebrated and embraced as proud achievements of a nation? Here are a few: read more »

Challenging Steven Pinker’s Better Angels View of Human Nature and the History of War

So by this measure too, states are far less violent than traditional bands and tribes. Modern Western countries, even in their most war-torn centuries, suffered no more than around a quarter of the average death rate of nonstate societies, and less than a tenth of that for the most violent one.

Thus concludes Stephen Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2012). He supplies tables to illustrate his point (click on the images to read larger text):

Pinker concludes from the above statistics that concerning warfare there has been a historical “retreat from violence”. Over millennia our species has transitioned

from the anarchy of the hunting, gathering, and horticultural societies in which our species spent most of its evolutionary history to the first agricultural civilizations with cities and governments, beginning around five thousand years ago. With that change came a reduction in the chronic raiding and feuding that characterized life in a state of nature and a more or less fivefold decrease in rates of violent death. I call this imposition of peace the Pacification Process.

But there is a problem.

Still, there are many ways to look at the data—and quantifying the definition of a violent society. A study in Current Anthropology published online October 13 acknowledges the percentage of a population suffering violent war-related deaths—fatalities due to intentional conflict between differing communities—does decrease as a population grows. At the same time, though, the absolute numbers increase more than would be expected from just population growth. In fact, it appears, the data suggest, the overall battle-death toll in modern organized societies is exponentially higher than in hunter–gatherer societies surveyed during the past 200 years. 

Stetka, Bret. 2017. “Steven Pinker: This Is History’s Most Peaceful Time–New Study: ‘Not So Fast.’” Scientific American. November 9, 2017. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/steven-pinker-this-is-historys-most-peaceful-time-new-study-not-so-fast/.  (Bolded highlighting is my own in all quotations.)

Here is some detail from that Current Anthropology study by Dean Falk and Charles Hildebot.

The objection raised by Stetka above is that Pinker overlooks the scaling factor when he interprets the raw statistics.

Psychologist Steven Pinker suggests that humans “started off nasty and . . . the artifices of civilization have moved us in a noble direction” (Pinker 2011:xxii). Figure 1 [Figure 2-2 above], reproduced from Pinker, illustrates his main evidence for asserting that states are less violent than small-scale “hunting, gathering, and horticultural societies in which our species spent most of its evolutionary history” (Pinker 2011:xxiv); however, because this figure depicts annual rates of war deaths suffered per 100,000 people, these ratios are blind to actual population sizes. (Falk and Hildebot)

By factoring in population sizes, F&H observe that the numbers of war deaths have increased exponentially as populations increase. Their studies were based on direct war or inter-group conflict deaths relative to population sizes of

  • 11 chimpanzee communities,
  • 24 human nonstates,
  • 19 and 22 countries that fought in World War I and World War II.

Clicking on the following F&H image will enlarge it to allow for clearer detail:

The chimpanzees make an interesting comparison. Chimpanzee communities engage in deadly violence against one another but the numbers of absolute deaths suffered are unrelated to the sizes of their communities.

A Cochran-Armitage trend test indicates that, as mean chimpanzee population sizes increase, the percentages of mean annual deaths from external aggressors that are observed, inferred, or suspected decrease . . . . A reduced major axis regression . . . shows that the absolute number of annual deaths suffered by a population is unrelated to its size . . . . 

Image by Jack Mobley

To come full circle, assertions that humans living in states have become less violent than those living in nonstates, with the assertions being based on blind ratios of annual war deaths relative to population sizes (e.g., war deaths per 100,000 people), are parallel to the untenable assertion that squirrel monkeys are smarter than humans because they have relatively large (blind) ratios of brain sizes divided by body sizes. (F&H)

Are state societies less war-mongering than nonstate societies?

[N]onstates should be viewed as neither more nor less fundamentally violent than the countries that fought in World War I and World War II, because severity of war deaths scales nearly identically with population sizes in all three groups.

The more severe the anticipated casualties in a war the less frequent war occurs.

. . . thus, in 97 interstate wars that occurred between 1820 and 1997, “a 10-fold increase in war severity [war casualties] decrease[d] the probability of war by a factor of 2.6” (Cederman 2003:136; fig. 3). Importantly, wars causing relatively few absolute numbers of deaths occurred frequently; those with moderate deaths occurred less often; and highly disastrous wars (e.g., World War I and World War II) occurred rarely (fig. 3). . . . .

F&H cite other studies that conclude the likelihood of a third “rare” world war is “a distinct possibility” (because decisions to wage war are found to “[depend largely] on innovations in military technology and logistics and alterations in contextual conditions”) . . .

This is especially so because the onerous liability of weapons of mass destruction has failed to obviate further developments in war technology

The relative periods of peace between “rare major wars” is a sign of how extremely severe the next such war will be rather than a hopeful sign that we have become less violent somehow.

. . . not that larger populations are less prone to violence than smaller ones; rather, larger communities are less vulnerable to having large portions of their populations killed by (or entirely wiped out by) external enemies compared with smaller ones (i.e., there is safety in numbers). . . . 

. . . people living in small-scale societies are not inherently more violent that those living in “civilized” states. Our analyses demonstrate that war deaths scale similarly with population sizes across all levels of human society. 

Other scholars have uncovered the same results:

Based on our results, we conclude that trends in proportions of war group size or casualties in relationship to population are, in fact, described by deeper scaling laws driving group social organization subject to contingencies, such as logistical constraints, expedient needs, and technology. . . . 

Indeed, while the probability of being involved in conflict as a member of a war group or as a casualty of conflict in large and/or contemporary societies is lower than in small-scale societies, it might not be driven by any better or worse angels of our nature. This probability might merely be an emergent outcome of differential logistical constraints and group populations. This probability may also change rapidly based on group conflict needs, expedience, and contingency. The demographic investment of any society in its own conflict issues or the lethality of any conflict then is not a matter of proportions but of scale. (Oka et al.)

Prehistoric Warfare?

read more »

So it has come to this?

I have never visited the United States of America and have no plans to do so. (I must add that I have been told by some good American friends that there are certain pockets I would love and where I would feel very comfortable with people I really would like, and that not all Americans are racist, gun wielding, bible-bashing, anti-intellectual, loud-mouth, ignorant conspicuous consumers.) Nor have I ever taken a strong enough interest in sports events to attend major football (rugby, AFL) matches here in Australia. So I cannot seriously compare the following account with what happens here but I would be very surprised (and disappointed) if major Australian sports events were following suit.

To what extent has sports and the military become “increasingly fused” in the US? I ask because of an article by William Astore on TomDispatch about the militarization of sports and the redefinition of patriotism.

Since 9/11, however, sports and the military have become increasingly fused in this country. Professional athletes now consider it perfectly natural to don uniforms that feature camouflage patterns. (They do this, teams say, as a form of “military appreciation.”) Indeed, for only $39.99 you, too, can buy your own Major League Baseball-sanctioned camo cap at MLB’s official site. And then, of course, you can use that cap in any stadium to shade your eyes as you watch flyovers, parades, reunions of service members returning from our country’s war zones and their families, and a multitude of other increasingly militarized ceremonies that celebrate both veterans and troops in uniform at sports stadiums across what, in the post-9/11 years, has come to be known as “the homeland.”

These days, you can hardly miss moments when, for instance, playing fields are covered with gigantic American flags, often unfurled and held either by scores of military personnel or civilian defense contractors. Such ceremonies are invariably touted as natural expressions of patriotism, part of a continual public expression of gratitude for America’s “warfighters” and “heroes.”

. . . . .

Highlighting the other pre-game ceremonies the next night was a celebration of Medal of Honor recipients. I have deep respect for such heroes, but what were they doing on a baseball diamond? The ceremony would have been appropriate on, say, Veterans Day in November.

There is more but you get the idea.

Then there is this:

What started as a post-9/11 drive to get an American public to “thank” the troops endlessly for their service in distant conflicts — stifling criticism of those wars by linking it to ingratitude — has morphed into a new form of national reverence. And much credit goes to professional sports for that transformation. In conjunction with the military and marketed by corporations, they have reshaped the very practice of patriotism in America. 

Now there I do see a synchronicity with Australia. There has never been a repeat of the public insults directed at troops, many conscripts, returning from Vietnam. Now we see what I can’t help thinking is an opposite extreme, equally ignorant: the call for gratitude and honour that must stifle any public questioning of the motives and morality of those who sent them to kill and die. The masters of propaganda learned their lessons well.

I sometimes wonder if what we are witnessing now, but as an outsider it is difficult for me to say too much about America, is a gradual infusion of a type of fascism and militarism by stealth. The ignorant personalities don’t lead the way as they once did; but they do emerge somehow as symptoms or afterthoughts as the tide is changing.

I don’t know. Just thinking, wondering.

Life and views of a war correspondent

A most interesting fifty-minute long interview with British journalist based in the Middle East, Robert Fisk:

Robert Fisk: life as a war correspondent

  • He does not believe a journalist should be neutral, but that he should take a position on rights and wrongs.
  • He offers interesting commentary on the media, how reporting practices have changed, and the consequences for the type of news the public receives.
  • For memory buffs, he has some interesting biographical commentary on his father’s experiences in war.
  • Contrasting today’s Western leaders who have not had personal experience with war with those of a previous generation.
  • He talks about his interviews with Osama bin Laden.
  • Lots of interesting personal anecdotes.
  • A great insight into one of the better journalists reporting on the Middle East today.

 

 

 

God, the Army, and PTSD : Is religion an obstacle to treatment?

Tara McKelvey’s article discusses the impact of war on the faith of soldiers and how “religious ideology has played a central role in denying veterans access to treatment.”

Tara’s article is published in the Boston Review

Also accessible at Information Clearing House

myths of war, grapes of wrath

Why is my grief mingled with anger and not pride? And why am I continually haunted every Anzac day by the recollection of a very different Anzac day service tone so many years ago? read more »

Faith : a keyword to war (or peace)

Language has been manipulated by leaders since 9/11 to instill a state of fear and war in our minds. A new book by academic Mary Zournazi, Keywords to War: reviving language in an age of terror, discusses many of the words manipulated today for this intent. In the process she looks at how the same words have reflected different cultural values since their inception. I outline here her discussion of the history of the word “faith”. Zournazi compares today’s manipulation of the word with reference to Simone Weil‘s criticism of how the word’s use and meaning in the Nazi era. read more »

Australia to rush to U.S. side in its war on the world

One has become painfully used to Australian governments being the first to rush to the side of their favourite major power — once the UK, now the US — whenever it decides to declare yet another imperialist war in defiance of international opinion.

And Australia’s foremost rightwing propaganda machine, the IPA, has taxed its imagination to the limit by borrowing wholesale its culture wars and anti-environmental arguments from the U.S. neocons — see Quarterly Essay discussion

So why be surprised to wake up this morning to read how the US has invited to its side in the upcoming international greenhouse emissions summit one of the smallest greenhouse gas emitters, Australia. The news story is here.

We know Howard’s record on climate change — his silencing of CSIRO scientists, and his total focus on being an agent for the coal and nuclear industries — read Scorcher, The Dirty Politics of Climate Change, by Clive Hamilton — so can there be any doubt that Bush needs Australia to prove he’s “not alone” in his anti-world position at the upcoming summit. Only yesterday I was listening to the rationale for this summit where it was explained it was to consist of the “leading” greenhouse gas emitters! So Bush wants Howard to hold his hand there! The world can get stuffed so long as they help out their oil, coal and nuclear godfather buddies.

Why I always have misgivings every ANZAC Day

My childhood memories of school Anzac services are still very strong. I have never forgotten the grim tones of dark-suited men standing beside canon and soldier-statues in the park opposite our school warn us of the horrors of war. Their message was “Lest We Forget” but what was not to be forgotten was the horror of the battles that had brought us together that day.

It is not the same today. Or maybe my childhood experience or memory was limited. Today the government invests huge budgets in funding Anzac memorial services. The message is “Lest We Forget” but there has been a slight detour of direction. Today we are admonished never to forget the sacrifices that bought us our freedoms. Today, the message is that war is a necessary sacrifice to maintain our freedoms. In this way Anzac Day is used to justify with political spin the government’s current wars.

Anzac Day is being used to perpetuate and even increase national lies. No-one died at Gallipoli to protect our freedoms. No-one died in Vietnam to protect our way of life either. Wars have mostly been part of imperial ventures, not desperate acts to save our nation.

Is this also why there is so much emphasis now on “character”, “mateship”, “heroism”? Is this focus meant to ameliorate the horror of the reality? To justify war as an everpresent necessary act of government policy?

I can’t think of a better time than Anzac Day to ask Why our governments sent anyone to their murderous deaths and maimings. That, of course, would be sacriligious in today’s climate. But it would also surely do a lot more for reminding the nation to put a break on their government’s war policies whitewashed by their political spin.

Beside the wreaths and medals on the monuments, let’s start to place images of severed limbs and heads with their brains and eyesockets falling out and bring out for “show” some living victims from the less public institutions. “Lest We Forget”.