Monday, August 13, 2012

War system?

We live in a war system with a war machine providing the moving parts.

How can I claim this? The domestic US is nothing like Somalia, the Balkans of the 1990s, like Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine, much of the Arabian peninsula, or Colombia. People live their entire lives entirely separate from war. Our foreign policies can be ignored by anyone who wants to in the US, with no conscription and no serious chance of foreign invasion nor significant chance of a military coup.
Still, we live in a war system with a war machine providing the moving parts. Indeed, the fact that we march on, into war after war without real overt involvement of civil society underscores that point. Even without conscription, we invade and occupy, getting all the volunteer warriors we need. Why? We live in a war system. There is no countervailing moral force exhorting youth to do something else--anything else--so they sign up, swear in, and learn to kill on command. That sort of accepted role for youth simply requires a war system. But of course it's much more than that.

In a condition of Stable Peace, peace is the dominant norm and is prevalent throughout the whole social system. 
--Kent Shifferd, 2011, p. 13

Kenneth Boulding was a systems thinker and devised a typology, a continuum of assessment of war systems and peace systems, with variable conditions from Stable Peace to Stable War. He did this in his 1978 book, Stable Peace, and posited a transformation of a war system to a peace system. He used some stable peace relationships--such as US/Canada--as a template. The US and Canada can have extremely serious conflicts with zero notion of it coming to military action. Indeed, writes Shifferd, the US-Canadian border is the longest undefended border in the world. We do have some stable peace, some elements of a peace system with our nearest neighbor, Michael Moore's film about a manufactured military crisis between the two nations, Canadian Bacon, notwithstanding. And, despite the estimated 45,000 American mortalities inflicted on us by Britain in the combination of wars (American Revolution and the War of 1812), we have a stable peace with them as well, and with many other nations.

Still, we live in a war system. We suffer more than 30,000 gun deaths annually with no serious public conversation about ways to staunch that flow of blood. We allow--we virtually require--military recruiters into our high schools, junior highs, and, with Starbase, even our grade schools--actually, in the case of grade schools, we stoop to a new low by bringing little children directly onto military bases over a five-week period each spring for participating elementary schools. Parents don't even blink. That is a war system.

Hollywood films about war are not government propaganda films, they are far more insidious, synthesizing the glitz of Hollywood--by far the most alluring storytelling system on Earth, ever--with the content provision and supervision by the Pentagon. Militarism is so deeply saturated into most aspects of our domestic culture, from entertainment to war profiteering economics to religion to education to news reportage and politics, that it has become largely invisible to many, which is the endgame description of a war system so pervasive it is like a fish not quite appreciating that she lives in water.

Transformation toward a peace system will come with awareness, education, public conversation, and determined, specific campaigns. Civil society will achieve it from the bottom-up or it won't happen. We don't all have to work on the same piece of it, but unless we work on some aspect and support each other's efforts, we cannot expect such transformation.


Shifferd, Kent D. (2011). From war to peace: A guide to the next hundred years. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

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