by Barbara Ehrenreich
An adapted excerpt from Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War
(part of the extended online release of Tipping the Sacred Cow – The Best of LiP: Informed Revolt)
Two months before a somewhat recent U.S. military invasion, I gave a presentation on war and warrior elites to a small group of sociologists. They were interested and supportive, but a bit pitying about my choice of a topic: War, they were eager to remind me, had run its course. The Cold War had ended; communism was over; there were no longer any “sides” to take. Too bad I had elected to work on a subject of only historical interest.
The conviction that war is passé, or soon to become so, has a venerable history of its own. The introduction of the gun, and after that, artillery, seemed to promise levels of destruction so costly that no state would want to risk them. After the gruesome bloodletting of the Napoleonic Wars, philosophers Auguste Comte and John Stuart Mill prophesied that war would end as civilization turned, in relief, to the peaceful business of industrial production. World War I was, of course, the “war to end all wars”; a quarter-century later, the nuclear weapons developed and used in World War II seemed to doom war once and for all. Ghoulish wonks might play with scenarios for “limited nuclear war” and “flexible responses,” but anyone with sense could see that “war has been vanquished,” as Robert L. O’Connell has put it, defeated by its own weaponry.
* * *