PW: Take A Deep Breath

Warren Sproule (Warren.Sproule@SOCIOL.UTAS.EDU.AU)
Wed, 19 Oct 1994 10:13:31 +0200

On Monday 17 October Scott Holmes wrote:

A very nice response to Daniel Foss... I've stated my "working position" in
re: warfare but I remain open to being convinced otherwise. Do you still
consider "writing" as a demarcation point for a society's ability to engage
in warfare? If so, some explaination is needed; if not, can you
suggest another indicator?

If stated with less courtesy than Scott employs above, this constitutes an
eminently reasonable demand that I put up or shut up: So let's give it a
shot! I think the most direct or appropriate opening into my mooted hunch
about a 'writing/warring' conjunction is via the *definitions of war*
already proffered by contributors to this thread: List members may recall
that there were four on offer. In chronological order,

[1] for Mike Salovesh, 'war means organized intergroup violence WITH A
PARTICULAR KIND OF PURPOSE - control of territory, or control over a
population, or control of (scarce?) resources' (10/4)
[2] for Dana Bonstrom, the additional case of the Dugum Dani who war to
avenge 'the ghosts of those killed in previous battles' (10/4)
[3] for Dan Foss war outcomes are consistently 'a function of numbers,
morale, discipline, strategy, tactics, and technology' (10/12)
[4] and for Scott Holmes in two separate posts (10/13, 10/9), the
suggestion 'that perhaps it is best to define "war" as ratified social

I'll start with [1] in the interests of clarity (or, to come clean, to give
an *impression* of a clarity I've yet to achieve!): Also because, despite
Mike's conviction that my former criticisms of this definition 'got him
wrong', his view is probably closest to my own. In terms of the first part
of his conception, I take from Weber the notion of the state as the
controller ('organiser') of legitimate violence, and government
bureaucracies as the acme of a state machinery operating on a means-ends
('particular purpose') rationality. Both state and bureaucracy are
constituted by *writing* (or, in Hobbes' earlier _Leviathan_, by the
combination of a codified legal system and an armed force loyal to the
state, backing its decrees). In Weber's Ideal-Type bureaucracy, written
records (the "files") govern both internal structure and external
relationships (reducing those outside the structure to 'cases').
Etymologically and self-evidently, the French-derived term itself
incorporates 'bureau', an escritoire or writing-desk. Regarding the body
politic, consider those states 'founded' on a constitution: In introducing
_The Well-Tempered Self_, Toby Miller considers the problem of origin of
the state by asking in whose name the US Declaration of Independence - and
by implication *all* such state-creating documents - was signed, authored,
authorised? It can't be 'the American people' because prior to the D. of
I., no such entity exists. Under a typically Derridean paradox, the
citizenry is "created" by the document rather than vice-versa. A similar
line of reasoning would feed into observations on the second part of Mike's
definition, about the 3 areas of control. Maps 'precede' territories.
Concepts of land mass and physical terrain are initially rendered
cartoGRAPHICally, geoGRAPHICally, prior to exploration, ie without
reference to the physical aspects of the territory itself - that comes
later, to verify or modify the first recorded de*script*ions. Countries as
political communities change name, size, appear and disappear mainly as a
result of changes written on paper, rarely because of changes in the land
itself. War is the chief impetus to such change, standing always in a
symbiotic r/ship to map-making. As Margaret Hodgen's seminal _Early
Anthropology of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries_ shows, the older
maps, sometimes working in tandem with written travellers' tales, also
depicted characteristics of the human(?) inhabitants of what was largely
*terra incognita*. For physical features of these denizens drawings
sufficed, but capturing their more intangible traits (morality, behaviour,
habits, etc.) required literary accounts. These latter motivated and
rationalised a resort to warfare as a means of controlling such alien
populations. If the more ludicrous pictorial renditions of the 'other' (a
freaks gallery of dwarves, giants, no-heads, big-feet, etc.) could be
discounted by the evidence of the senses, denial of its textually-conveyed
(and essentially flawed) 'inner self' was another matter entirely. As to
Mike's third category - 'control of (scarce?) resources' - I refer
interested parties to Jack Goody's observations in _The Domestication of
the Savage Mind_, that the earliest uses of an alphabetic system (his
evidence is taken, I think, from Sumer, circa 3000 BCE) were not for
"literary" works, but for the compilation of lists and inventories. This
demonstrates both a pragmatic concern with ownership (accounts of goods)
and an abstract concern over scarcity, problems solvable by
economically-driven warfare: Defending your own resources (the accounts
confirm what's 'yours') and attacking to appropriate the resources of

On to definition [2]. An initial quibble: Dana says that in the _Dead
Birds_ documentary, the Dani 'weem' = 'war' (10/4); but I note that
according to her post, this characterisation comes not from the subjects
themselves, but is ascribed to them by the film's *narrator*. Wouldn't it
then qualify as a variant on the contested issue of ethnographic
description ( 'loaded' attribution of behaviour and intent to oral-culture
groups in written accounts by literate anthropologists for literate
audiences)? On the assumption that I'm misreading this or making too big a
thing of it, and for the sake of argument, I'll cut to the chase. Avenging
ghosts - I had a crack at this in an earlier list entry (10/7). Massive
increases in casualty ratios and the framing of vengeance in terms of
national retaliation (as opposed to, or on top of,individual or familial
grievance) make this a major issue for literate/'advanced' rather than
oral/ 'primitive' societies. Writing functions here in a *commemorative*
sense - in national anthems, a martial literary canon, war poetry a la
Wilfred Owen, on the honour rolls of the fallen. Paul Fussell's take on
this in _The Great War and Modern Memory_ is indispensable here, but the
most telling concrete instance is to my mind the the Vietnam Veterans
Memorial, a long black slab inscribed with the names of the 57,939
Americans killed in that conflict (for an astute commentary on the VVM, see
the 1991 article by Wagner-Pacifici & Schwartz in the _American Journal of
Sociology_, 97, [2], 376-420). At a different level, memoirs of past wars
and war fatalities "outlive" their subjects and their authors. Textuality
as a vivid 'ghost-breeding' mechanism multiplies the number of spectres
calling for retribution on some future battlefield, in some national

In definition [3] I'd enquire of Dan how the six factors he describes are
not immeasurably aided, if not facilitated outright, by alphanumeric
capacity: Estimation and mustering of adequate numbers in terms of both
war-preparation and war-prosecution, is abetted by both a *census* and
*conscription*; morale is enhanced for combatants and non-combatants by
*patriotic (us) and demonising (them) literature* and disrupted for the
enemy by *propaganda* (Keen's _Faces of the Enemy_ is pretty good on both
aspects); discipline is enforced by training techniques increasingly
centred centred around the mastery of *manuals*; and the triumvirate of
strategy, tactics and technology (to which, following Paul Virilio's partly
evolutionary model, I'd add logistics) are enshrined in the contemporary
military commitment to a 'C3I' [command, control, *communications* and
*information*] system. I read 'primitive' groups as being relatively low on
these last 3 (4) criteria. As a friendly parting shot and since we're all
agreed about the Mongols, Daniel's point about their hiring of 'Chinese and
Arab engineers' (10/12) only reinforces his (and our, and Harold Lamb's,
and Lawrence Krader's) 'non-primitive Mongols' stance by conjuring up
Levi-Strauss' distinction b/w bricoleurs and engineers in respectively
"cold"/primitive and "hot"/proto-modern or modern societies.

Finally, to Scott's characterisation [4]. According to p. 680 in my trusty
Pocket Oxford Dictionary of 1969, 'ratify' is defined as follows:

o RATIFY, v. t. (-iable). Confirm or accept (compact made in one's
name) by
*signature* or other formality. -ication, n. [F f. L (ratio)]
(emphasis added).

As an aside here re one of Scott's earlier posts (10/10), I'm less than
impressed by Wooley's cited analysis - One, it's too generalised (which
pre-Sumerian societies are meant?); Two, statements like 'all were
afflicted by land-hunger', 'disputes over land, water and flocks must have
been common' and a resort to 'common sense' (which always seemed to me
"common" only in the sense that no-one else is credited with having any!)
is over-reliant on sheer guesswork; and Three, following Shanks & Tilley,
I'm (maybe overly) wary of retrospective attributions on the basis of a
shotgun wedding b/w archeological evidence and said 'common sense'
reconstruction - does an earthern rampart keep livestock in, keep water
out, or fortify against enemy attack (or do all 3, some, neither, or
something else altogether)? All too shaky for my liking...

Plenty to provide a rough feel of my *own* "working position" re writing &
warfare...clearly still just a tentative probe. Over to you.