Warrior Culture

In his book A History of Warfare (New York: Knopf, 1993), John Keegan writes of the position of Carl von Clauswitz, whose On War remains a key work to many of the thinkers influencing the foreign and military policies of the United States government. But, as Keegan demonstrates, Clauswitz was:

even in his time an isloated spokesman for a warrior culture that the ancestors of the modern state were at pains to extirpate within their own borders. Naturally, they recognized its value for state purposes, but they allowed it to survive only by localising it within a collection of artificially preserve warrior bands; the regiments were wholly different in ethos from that of the civil society in which they were garrisoned. (page 49)

Keegan’s comments may be particularly pertinent today, as rumblings of confrontation with Iran continue–and our society moves towards domination by its “warrior culture.”

Keegan, no fan of Clauswitz, explains his fascination to strategists since World War II:

The academic strategists were conflating an observation with a hypothesis. The observation is that war is a universal phenomenon, practised at all times and all places since the retreat of the last Ice Age; the hypothesis is that there is a universally trye theory of the objects of war, and of how those objects may best be achieved. It is easy to see why they were seduced by Chauswitz: under threat of nicear attack, a state has no option but to align its foreign policy as closely as possible with strategic doctrine, and to extrude from the interstices all modifying qualifications. A nuclear state must appear to mean what it says, since deterrence depends upon convincing an adversary of one’s fixity of purpose, and mental reservation is the enemy of conviction. (page 48)

The sabre-rattling going on today, with people saying ‘all options must be on the table,’ is an extension of this state of mind. Keegan goes on a little later:

There was a double weakness in this logic, however. First, it was entirely mechanistic; it depended upon the procedures of deterrence working faultlessly in all circumstances. Yet if there is one observable truth of politics, it is that mechanistic means have a poor record of controlling the behavior of governments. [emphasis added] Second, it requires the citizens of states with nuclear weapons to cultivate a schizophrenic outlook on the world: while sustaining their beliefs in the sanctity of human life, respect for the rights of the individual, tolerance of minority opinion, acceptance of the free vote, accountability of the executive to representative institutions and everything else that is meant by the rule of law, democracy and the Judaeo-Christian eithic — nuclear weapons were deployed to protect these values — they were at the same time expected to acquiesce in the code of the warror, of which physical courage, subordination to the heroic leader and ‘might is right’ are the ultimate values. (page 49)

Once, there may have been a balance in this schizophrenia. Recently, though, we have fallen to the side of the ‘warrior culture.’

It may be our undoing. And this movement towards Iran–certainly a culture that is not going to respond to the ‘logic’ of the Clauswitzian ‘warrior culture’ dominating the US government today (no more than Iraq submitted to that ‘logic’).

Maybe changes in domestic politics will dampen the aggressive ardor towards Iran. I certainly hope so.

We’re facing a grave mistake, if we go forward ‘against’ Iran on the assumption that it will react with the ‘logic’ of “our” own flawed thinking.

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