Tag Archives: war

The Nation State as an Agent of War

29 May
Tyler Cowen has a recent post consisting of the abstract to a working paper by Alberto Alesina, Bryony Reich, Alessandro Riboni, “Nation-Building, Nationalism and Wars”. Here’s that abstract:
The increase in army size observed in early modern times changed the way states conducted wars. Starting in the late 18th century, states switched from mercenaries to a mass army by conscription. In order for the population to accept to fight and endure war, the government elites began to provide public goods, reduced rent extraction and adopted policies to homogenize the population with nation-building. This paper explores a variety of ways in which nation-building can be implemented and studies its effects as a function of technological innovation in warfare.
Here’s a link to an ungated version of the paper.

Does this imply that as long as the nation-state is the focal-point of political organization we will be fighting wars? Is that why that United States has managed to engage itself in useless and immoral wars since the end of World War II? Perhaps it’s time we create other ways to organize our political life.

Here’s several opening paragraphs from the paper:

The interplay between war and the fiscal capacity of the state is well known. However, guns are not enough to win wars; one also needs motivated soldiers. In modern times, the need for large armies led to a bargain between the rulers and the population. The elite had to make concessions to induce citizens to comply with war related demands. Rulers promoted nationalism to motivate citizens and extract “ever-expanding means of war – money, men, materiel, and much more – from reluctant subject populations” (Tilly, 1994; see also Levi, 1997).

The “ancient regimes” in Europe used to fight wars with relatively small armies of mercenaries, sometimes foreigners, paid out with the loots of war. As a consequence of the evolution of warfare, countries changed the conduct of war, switching from mercenaries to mass armies recruited or conscripted almost entirely from the national population. Roberts (1956) explained how warfare underwent a “military revolution” starting between 1560 and 1660 and reaching a completion with the “industrialization of war” (McNeill, 1982) that occurred in the nineteenth century. The source of this revolution was due to changes in tactics and weapons, such as, the use of gunpowder technology and the invention of new styles of artillery fortification, higher population growth, changes in communications and transport technology which allowed states to put a large army in the field, and the adoption of techniques of mass weapon production. The electromagnetic telegraph, developed in the 1840s, allowed the deployment and the control of the army at distance. Steamships and railroads moved weapons, men and supplies on an entirely unprecedented scale (Onorato et al., 2014). In the middle of the 19th century, the adoption of semiautomatic machinery to manufacture rifled muskets made it possible, and relatively affordable, to equip a large number of soldiers (McNeill, 1982, p. 253). As a result, the size of armies increased and, as Clausewitz (1832) put it, “war became the business of the people”.

This paper examines nation-building in times of war. Mass warfare favored the transformation from the ancient regimes (based purely on rent extraction) to modern nation states in two ways. First, the state became a provider of mass public goods in order to buy the support of the population. Second, the state developed policies geared towards increasing national identity and nationalism. In particular the states had to hold in distant provinces to avoid the breakdown of the country, which would have interfered with war effort, and to motivate soldiers and civilians located far away from the core of the country. In addition, nation-building in times of war also included aggressive negative propaganda against the enemy and supremacy theories.

When the armies had to increase in size, the elites needed to build tax capacity. This is a well studied point as we argued above, and we return to it at the end to close our argument. We focus here on a different issue, the selection on how to spend fiscal revenues to motivate the population to endure wars. The composition of spending is quite relevant. For instance Aidt et al. (2006) argue that total spending as a fraction of GDP did not increase that much in the 19th century up until WW2. What mostly changed was the composition of the budget: in the 19th century and early 20th century, spending on defense and policing was partly substituted by spending on public services (transport, communication, construction) and later on public provision of public goods (education and health).

Continue reading

Waging Peace

18 Nov

By Charlie Keil

This was written over a decade ago and hasn’t  been updated, yet. But the basic thrust is as valid as ever.

Contradictions (a short introduction to “Waging Peace”)

I am adding this introduction to “Waging Peace” plus a “free copyright” notice to encourage its circulation, and sending it out again because it seems more obvious each day that time may be running out. IF the next rounds of terrorism here hit a few nuclear power stations and chernobylize big portions of east and west coasts, IF more bacteria and different kinds of bacteria are released, etc. etc. etc. and IF the West keeps acting out the scenarios of retaliation scripted by terrorists, then this country will not have the resources to help solve the world¹s problems even if it should eventually summon up the common sense, common decency, and the willingness to do so.

Diction = what is being said. Contra = against. We need to counter what is being said about the “war” on terrorism and challenge the assumptions behind this diction.

The old Marxist sense of the word “contradiction” must be remembered too; at certain points in time the dialectics, the oppostional forces, become so glaring and obvious that people will act in order to change the world system before it kills them.

You know it is time to “look at the contradictions” and to speak out against what is being proposed as a solution in the centers of power when:

  • the rich are obscenely rich and the poor are desperately poor all over the world;
  • world militarism (800 billion annual budget) is sucking up diminishing resources and destroying the biosphere and this “consciousness” experiment we call humanity;
  • 40,000 children die each day of starvation and preventable diseases;
  • many fields needed for food production are filled with landmines;
  • topsoil is flowing down all the rivers of the planet;
  • ozone layer, global warming, pollution levels disappear as issues because we are “at war” and now we really just don¹t have time for these deeper underlying problems;
  • deadly bacteria sent by Bush Sr. from Rockville, Maryland to Iraq in the 1980s may be returning to Washington D.C. to threaten Bush Jr. and the rest of us;
  • your home and backyard could be irradiated by the next terrorist attack.

This list could be much, much longer.

There is another long list, of cleansings or “administrative massacres” about to happen in Europe, Asia, Africa: against the Roma in any one or more of half a dozen east European and Balkan countries; against the Chinese or the next minority in Indonesia; against the Pagans and Christians of southern Sudan for the tenth or fifteenth time; as I write, the news reports 100s killed in Benue State Nigeria where we lived for two years ­ again, the list of ongoing and potential scapegoats is long and getting longer. I don¹t believe that the UN or the regional organizations are ready at this moment either to prevent these events within states or to attempt an intervention once they get started. Looking back, the Saddam Hussein regime should have been sanctioned and arrested after the gassing of Kurdish villages in 1988. Intervention was 8 years late in Greater Serbia. No one intervened in Rwanda. The illegal and ineffective missile attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan by the Clinton administration in response to embassy bombings in East Africa should have told us that the era of “war” with inappropriate technology was over. We don¹t know how to stop cleansing or terrorism, twin evils that threaten to plunge all of us into chaos. Continue reading

A Marx Brothers Analysis of America’s War Craziness

11 Sep
I grew up watching Groucho Marx on his “You Bet Your Life” television show. My father assured me that the Marx Brothers films were the funniest ever. But I didn’t get to see any of them until I went to The Johns Hopkins University, which had an excellent film series curated by Richard Macksey.
Then I saw at least some of their feature films and laughed myself silly. My favorite, and certainly one of their best, is Duck Soup (1933). It’s about war between two minor nations, Freedonia and Sylvania, with the four brothers playing both sides of the conflict against the muddle.
Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly, who is installed as head of Freedonia by Mrs. Gloria Teasdale, played by Margaret Dumont, Groucho’s foil in several films. I won’t go into the absurd intricacies of the clap-trap plot as I’m interest in only one scene, the scene where war is finally declared between Freedonia and Sylvania.
duck soup 1 chico in the dock
Chicolini (Chico Marx) is on trial in Freedonia for spying. Firefly has, for whatever reason, decided to act as his defense council, though he’s the one who caught Chicolini. This that and the other happens and the news comes that Sylvania troops are at the Freedonia’s border. This causes some distress as “war would mean a prohibitive increase in our taxes”—maybe back then, but not now; now we cut taxes and spend even more money on undeclared war. There’s some wordplay on “taxes” and “dollars” = “Dallas, Dallas, Texas.” It’s eerie, you’d think those guys were reading the future.

To War! America’s National Psyche

11 Sep

I’m reproducing a set of notes I wrote up during the 2000 Presidential Election. I’m republishing them now in recognition of yet another turn in the long-spinning wheel of American mythology.

Everything is connected to everything else and the causal forces meeting in the historical present stretch back into the past without end. Figuring out where to start is not easy. My sense is that we need to focus our attention on the dissolution of the Soviet Empire in the late 1980s. That left the nation without a national scapegoat, thus radically altering the nation’s psycho-cultural landscape. We no longer had Ronald Reagan’s Evil Empire to kick around.

As some of you may know, my thinking on these matters has been strongly influenced by an essay Talcott Parsons published in 1947 on “Certain Primary Sources of Aggression in the Social Structure of the Western World”. Parsons argued that Western child-rearing practices generate a great deal of insecurity and anxiety at the core of personality structure. This creates an adult who has a great deal of trouble dealing with aggression and is prone to scapegoating. Inevitably, there are lots of aggressive impulses which cannot be followed out. They must be repressed. Ethnic scapegoating is one way to relieve the pressure of this repressed aggression. That, Parsons argued, is why the Western world is flush with nationalistic and ethnic antipathy. I suspect, in fact, that this dynamic is inherent in nationalism as a psycho-cultural phenomenon.

For the most part I have used Parsons, and others as well, in arguing about the nature of racism in the USA. While Africans were brought to this country for economic reasons it seems to me that during, say, the 19th century African Americans increasingly assumed a dual psychological role in the white psyche. On the one hand, they were a source of entertainment. On the other, they were convenient scapegoats, as became evident with the lynchings that emerged during Reconstruction and continued well into the last century. That is to say, African America served as a geographically internal target for the ethnic and nationalist antipathy Parsons discussed.

Thus we have the thesis in Klinkner and Smith, The Unsteady March (U. Chicago, 1999). They argue that African Americans have been able to move forward on civil rights only during periods where the nation faced an external threat – the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the major wars of the first half of the 20th century. When the external danger had subsided, gains were lost. From my point of view, they’re arguing that, when external danger looms large and demands attention, the citizenry can focus aggression there and so ease up on the internal colony. Beyond this, of course, it becomes necessary to recruit from the colony to fight the external enemy, both physically and propagandistically – be kind to your black citizens when you fight the Nazis, etc.

Continue reading

Empires, bureaucracies and religion arise from war : Nature News & Comment

25 Sep

War drove the formation of complex social institutions such as religions and bureaucracies, a study suggests. The institutions would have helped to maintain stability in large and ethnically diverse early societies. The study authors, who tested their theories in simulations and compared the results with historical data, found that empires arise in response to the pressure of warfare between small states.

via Empires, bureaucracies and religion arise from war : Nature News & Comment.

Image

Say No 2 War (from the Iraq era, but it’s good now and always)

30 Aug

NO2WAR

Breaking Bad: Breaking Men from the Inside

15 Aug

By now zillions of atoms have be scattered on the internet to the end of explicating Breaking Bad. I’ve read some of that, but not much. Breaking Bad‘s Moral Lesson to Civilians, by Alex Horton, is the best that I’ve read.

While I’ve found the show compelling, sometimes more, sometimes less, I couldn’t make sense of it. Yeah, it’s one of those new-fangled high-quality TV series, like The Sopranos, that’s, you know, dark. The other “dark” shows that I’ve seen (say, Deadwood or The Wire) nonetheless managed to make sense to me. Breaking Bad, compelling, but why?

Horton offers a compelling reason:

Walter, along with several of the Breaking Bad characters, exhibits a term many of us in the military and veterans community have come to understand as a moral injury, and the show profoundly explores the concept in a way previously unseen in film and television. Of course, virtually no troops or veterans have much in common with the criminals in the show, but the reaction to traumatic events is universal, be it in war or a fictional universe.

To be clear, a moral injury is not a psychiatric diagnosis. Rather, it’s an existential disintegration of how the world should or is expected to work—a compromise of the conscience when one is butted against an action (or inaction) that violates an internalized moral code. It’s different from post-traumatic stress disorder, the symptoms of which occur as a result of traumatic events. When a soldier at a checkpoint shoots at a car that doesn’t stop and kills innocents, or when Walter White allows Jesse’s troublesome addict girlfriend to die of an overdose to win him back as a partner, longstanding moral beliefs are disrupted, and an injury on the conscience occurs.

As he chokes the life from Krazy-8 with a bike lock [early in the first season], Walter enters a distorted moral universe where killing and death become the currency of his trade.

That I can understand. It makes sense. Continue reading

War is the Health of the State: The Impact of Military Defense on the History of the United States by Jeffrey Hummel :: SSRN

8 Oct

There you have it: the primary function of the state is to wage war.

Abstract: Of all the functions of government, or the State, national defense is generally considered to be the most essential. Ideally, national defense should be a service provided by government to the people. The service entails protection from aggressors outside the State’s jurisdiction, usually foreign States although sometimes foreign terrorists. Yet a government’s ability to provide such protection ultimately rests on its power to wage war. Governments therefore have tended to devote more resources to war than to anything else. Indeed, prior to the advent of the modern welfare State, they usually spent more on war than on all other things combined. Governments were essentially war making institutions that did a few other things on the side. As a result, the history of nearly all governments is dominated by the conduct of wars, the preparation for wars, and the consequences of wars; and this is no less true for the United States government than for any other.

This manuscript therefore surveys the domestic repercussions of past U.S. wars, from the American Revolution through World War II. Not only did the State swell in authority, reach, and intrusiveness while waging war, but also a postwar ratchet effect almost always left government in America more powerful after the fighting was over. Post-war retrenchment was rarely sufficient to bring government back to its prewar levels. The State had assumed new functions, taken on new responsibilities, and exercised new prerogatives. The impacts of modernization, urbanization, economics, demography, complexity, or other domestic developments pale in comparison. Of all the myriad factors that historians have studied and identified as contributing to the evolution, contours, and scope of government at all levels within this country, none is more crucial, pervasive, and ubiquitous than warfare.

via War is the Health of the State: The Impact of Military Defense on the History of the United States by Jeffrey Hummel :: SSRN.

How Resilient Is Post-9/11 America? – NYTimes.com

9 Sep

Too big to win?

These raise concerns that the United States is losing ground in the New Darwinism of security threats, in which an agile enemy evolves in new ways to blunt America’s vast technological prowess with clever homemade bombs and anti-American propaganda that helps supply a steady stream of fighters.

Have we become America the brittle?

“Resiliency” has finally entered the lexicon of American political leaders. The military has instituted programs for the fighting force. Officials are looking to the experiences of such countries as Britain and Israel, examples of individual and national resilience earned the hard way.

via How Resilient Is Post-9/11 America? – NYTimes.com.

War is Betrayal: The 1% lures the 99% into doing the fighting

16 Jul

The poor embrace the military because every other cul-de-sac in their lives breaks their spirit and their dignity. Pick up Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front or James Jones’s From Here to Eternity. Read Henry IV. Turn to the Iliad. The allure of combat is a trap, a ploy, an old, dirty game of deception in which the powerful, who do not go to war, promise a mirage to those who do.

I saw this in my own family. At the age of ten I was given a scholarship to a top New England boarding school. I spent my adolescence in the schizophrenic embrace of the wealthy, on the playing fields and in the dorms and classrooms that condition boys and girls for privilege, and came back to my working-class relations in the depressed former mill towns in Maine. I traveled between two universes: one where everyone got chance after chance after chance, where connections and money and influence almost guaranteed that you would not fail; the other where no one ever got a second try. I learned at an early age that when the poor fall no one picks them up, while the rich stumble and trip their way to the top.

Those I knew in prep school did not seek out the military and were not sought by it. But in the impoverished enclaves of central Maine, where I had relatives living in trailers, nearly everyone was a veteran.

When soldiers return home: Continue reading