The Sociology of Warfare


HISTORICALLY, WARS WERE LARGELY
A MATTER OF POWERFUL LEADERS, KINGS, FEUDAL LORDS,
WHO MOBILIZED POPULATIONS WHO OFTEN DIDN’T WANT
TO BE FIGHTING. THEY WERE CONSCRIPTED
INTO ARMIES. THEY WERE FORCED INTO IT WHEN
THEIR LANDS WERE TAKEN OVER. OR SOMETIMES THEY WERE RECRUITED
OUT OF POVERTY AND IT WAS A JOB OPPORTUNITY. BUT MUCH OF WARFARE INSIDE
EACH ARMY WAS A COMMAND STRUCTURE OF GETTING PEOPLE TO
FIGHT AGAINST THEIR WILL. AND THE ARMIES WERE NOT
CULTURALLY UNIFIED. SO WHEN YOU HEAR ABOUT A WAR IN
THE MIDDLE AGES, WHEN YOU THINK OF THE CRUSADES, IT’S
NOT AS THOUGH ALL OF THE CHRISTIAN CRUSADERS GOING TO THE
MIDDLE EAST SPOKE THE SAME LANGUAGES OR CAME FROM THE
SAME CULTURAL BACKGROUND. MANY OF THEM WERE IN A SENSE
JUST EMPLOYEES OF A KNIGHT WHO HAD WITH HIM VARIOUS PEOPLE TO
TAKE CARE OF HIS HORSE AND HIS ARMOR AND SO FORTH. NOW THIS ALL CHANGED IN THE
PERIOD FROM THE 17TH TO THE 19TH CENTURIES. AND YOU CAN TAKE SOMETHING LIKE
THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION AS A TURNING POINT IN THIS,
WHERE YOU HAD ON THE ONE SIDE, A BRITISH ARMY, WHICH WAS
ORGANIZED MORE OR LESS IN THE OLD WAY. MANY OF THE PEOPLE WHO
FOUGHT IN THE BRITISH ARMY HERE WERE GERMANS. THEY DIDN’T ALL SPEAK ENGLISH. THEY WEREN’T ALL ENGLISH. AND THEY WEREN’T HERE BECAUSE
THEY HAD A COMMON BELIEF IN THEMSELVES AS ENGLISHMEN. THE COLONISTS ON THE OTHER HAND
WERE MUCH MORE UNIFIED CULTURALLY. THEY WERE ALSO PEOPLE WHOSE OWN
LAND AND WHOSE FAMILIES WERE AT STAKE. THEY WEREN’T HIRELINGS
IN THE SAME WAY. NOW, MODERN WARS EVER
SINCE HAVE TENDED TO HAVE CITIZEN ARMIES. AND WHAT THAT MEANS IS THAT THE
SOLDIERS THEMSELVES SHARE A COMMON BOND AND ARE FIGHTING
FOR IDEALS AND FOR THEIR SENSE OF COMMON IDENTITY AS WELL AS
FOR ANY POSSIBLE MATERIAL GAIN, EXPANDING AN ECONOMY
OR A LAND BASE. BUT WARS ARE ALSO ABOUT
ECONOMIC FACTORS. THEY’RE ABOUT LAND. THEY’RE ABOUT POWER. THEY’RE NOT JUST
ABOUT CULTURE. BUT MODERN WARS ARE
SHAPED BY THAT. NOW, WHEN YOU LOOK AT WARS LIKE
THE WAR IN IRAQ OR WARS IN AFGHANISTAN, YOU SEE
DIFFERENT KINDS OF SOLIDARITY, DIFFERENT KINDS OF IDENTITY
THAT UNIFY PEOPLE ON EACH SIDE. SOME PEOPLE ARE FAR AWAY
FROM THEIR HOME. THEY’RE UNSURE WHAT
THE IDEAL IS. OR MAYBE IT’S A FAIRLY ABSTRACT
PROPOSITION LIKE WORLD PEACE. OTHER PEOPLE ARE VERY
CLOSE TO HOME. AND THEY’RE FEELING THIS IS
A MATTER OF NECESSITY. I’M FIGHTING TO BE ABLE TO KEEP
MY TRADITIONAL WAY OF LIFE GOING, TO SPEAK MY OWN
LANGUAGE, OR HAVE LEADERSHIP FROM WITHIN MY NATIONAL GROUP. WITHIN EACH SIDE THERE MAY
BE UNIFYING FACTORS, LIKE LANGUAGE OR COMMON BELIEFS,
BUT ALSO DIVIDING. SO THERE ARE PEOPLE OF DIFFERENT
RELIGIONS, PEOPLE OF DIFFERENT CLASS LEVELS WHO HAVE
DIFFERENT STAKES IN THE FUTURE PROSPERITY
OF THE COUNTRY. AND SO PART OF WHAT GOES ON IN
WAR, AND IT’S TRUE ALSO OF ALL KINDS OF SOCIAL MOVEMENTS AND
MOBILIZATIONS, IS THAT IN ORDER TO GET PEOPLE TO WORK
TOGETHER, A SENSE OF COMMON PURPOSE, A SENSE OF BELONGING
TOGETHER IS VERY IMPORTANT. AND MILITARIES NOT ONLY INHERIT
THAT FROM A COMMON BACKGROUND CULTURE LIKE WE’RE
ALL MUSLIMS ARE WE’RE ALL AMERICANS, BUT THEY ALSO BUILT
IT THROUGH TRAINING AND THROUGH THE INTERNAL RITUALS IN ORGANIZATIONS OF THE MILITARY. SO WHEN THERE IS A FIGHT BETWEEN
TWO DIFFERENT GROUPS, IT’S VERY IMPORTANT THAT
PEOPLE HAVE A SENSE OF BELONGING TOGETHER WITH THE
OTHER PEOPLE ON THEIR SIDE. NOW, RELIGION IS JUST ONE OF
THE THINGS THAT CAN GIVE PEOPLE THAT SENSE. AND I WOULDN’T SAY THAT THE IDEA
OF A CULTURAL CLASH, SAY, BETWEEN ISLAM AND THE WEST,
IS UNIQUE IN THIS PERIOD. THERE HAVE BEEN A VARIETY
OF CULTURAL CLASHES. IF YOU THINK OF ALL THE WARS
THAT WERE FOUGHT OVER COLONIALISM AS WESTERN EUROPEAN
POWERS SUBJUGATED VARIOUS PEOPLES AROUND THE WORLD
IN INDIA OR IN AFRICA OR IN OTHER PLACES, CULTURE
WAS PART OF THE STORY. OR IF YOU GO BACK TO JOHN OF
ARC, A FAMOUS FIGURE IN EARLY MODERN WARFARE IN EUROPE, SHE
REPRESENTS FRENCH CATHOLICISM AGAINST THOSE ENGLISH
INVADERS. SO THERE’S A CULTURE
CLASH THERE. IT’S JUST NOT ORGANIZED IN THE
SAME WAY, WITH THE SAME DIVISIONS AS THE CURRENT
WARFARE. ONE OF THE THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
IN ANY RESEARCH PROJECT ALMOST BEFORE A SPECIFIC METHOD
IS HOW TO BE ABLE TO SEPARATE THE NEW THING THAT
YOU’RE TRYING TO STUDY FROM THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM OR WHAT
SEEMS OBVIOUS ABOUT IT. THE SOCIOLOGIST, PIERRE
BOURDIEU, CALLED THIS WINNING THE SOCIAL FACT. IN OTHER WORDS, THE STRUGGLE
TO BE ABLE TO SEE WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON, TO SEE IT FROM
DIFFERENT ANGLES, THE WAY PEOPLE OF DIFFERENT CULTURAL
BACKGROUNDS OR IN DIFFERENT SITUATIONS MIGHT SEE IT, OR IN
ITS INVISIBLE STRUCTURAL UNDERPINNINGS, RATHER THAN ONLY
SEEING THINGS THE WAY YOU SEE THEM EVERY DAY BECAUSE
THAT’S HOW THEY REPORTED IN THE MEDIA OR THAT’S HOW YOU
LEARNED THEM IN SCHOOL.