Re: Primitive war? NO!

Dana Bonstrom (bonstrom@HUSC.HARVARD.EDU)
Tue, 4 Oct 1994 13:59:03 -0500

On Tuesday, 4 October, Mike Salovesh wrote:

>Warren Sproule asks us to have a try at cracking the "primitive war"
>chestnut. I'm game for one shot at an approach:

>Let's start with a definition of "war". I find it useful to say war
>means organized intergroup violence WITH A PARTICULAR KIND OF PURPOSE
>--control of territory, or control over a population, or control of
>(scarce ?) resources.

>Simple intergroup violence, no matter how organized or how
>deadly, WITHOUT the purpose of one of those kinds of control is, by
>my definition, just plain not war. (Thus as I understand what the
>film "Dead Birds" is telling us, those folks have battles but they
>don't have war.)

...much deleted...


Regarding Robert Gardner's _Dead Birds_, the filmmaker does indeed
characterize the organized intergroup violence ("weem") of the Dugum Dani
as "war". In the film's narration, Gardner acknowledges that a Dani weem
"yields neither territory, prisoners, nor plunder" (corresponding with the
criteria you define above), but stresses that it nevertheless contributes
to the social and spiritual welfare of the tribe by avenging the ghosts of
those killed in previous battles. The narration underscores this point:
"Unavenged ghosts bring sickness, unhappiness, and possibly disaster. It is
for this reason that these people go to war -- and for this reason that
they like to." While the culture depicted in _Dead Birds_ does not practice
a warfare that necessarily meets Western (or so-called "civilized")
criteria, the Dani weem most certainly qualifies as "organized intergroup
violence with a particular kind of purpose".


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Dana Bonstrom
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Director, New Media Initiative
The Film Study Center, Harvard University
24 Quincy Street, Cambridge, Mass. 02138
Tel 617.496.2714 Fax 617.495.8197