The History of the Culture of War
2. External conquest and exploitation: colonialism and neo-colonialism 5,000 years of increasing monopolization of the culture of war by the state

The History of the Culture of War

What is culture and how does it evolve?

Warfare in prehistory and its usefulness

The culture of war in prehistory

Data from prehistory before the Neolithic

Enemy images: culture or biology

War and the culture of war at the dawn of history

--Ancient Mesopotamia

--Ancient Egypt

--Ancient China

--Ancient Greece and Rome

--Ancient Crete

--Ancient Indus civilizations

--Ancient Hebrew civilization

--Ancient Central American civilization

Warfare and the origin of the State

Religion and the origin of the State

A summary of the culture of war at the dawn of history

The internal culture of war: a taboo topic

The evolution of the culture of war over the past 5,000 years: its increasing monopolization by the state

--1.Armies and armaments

--2.External conquest and exploitation: Colonialism and Neocolonialism

--3.The internal culture of war and economies based on exploitation of workers and the environment

--4.Prisons and penal systems

--5.The military-industrial complex

--6.The drugs-for-guns trade

--7.Authoritarian control

--8.Control of information

--9.Identification of an "enemy"

--10.Education for the culture of war

--11.Male domination

--12.Religion and the culture of war

--13.The arts and the culture of war



Summary of the history of the culture of war


Looking back over history, it is clear that conquest and exploitation have remained a major function of warfare between nations, although its nature has changed. In the centuries leading up to the 20th Century, it consisted mainly of European colonialism. Although the Europeans considered themselves to be at peace, as far as the colonized peoples were concerned colonialism was a form of conquest and war. Lenin (1917) described this in especially blunt terms during the First World War in War and Revolution. What Lenin describes is our distinction between war and the underlying culture of war which he calls as "the entire system of European states in their economic and political interrelations":

"Peace reigned in Europe, but this was because domination over hundreds of millions of people in the colonies by the European nations was sustained only through constant, incessant, interminable wars, which we Europeans do not regard as wars at all, since all too often they resembled, not wars, but brutal massacres, the wholesale slaughter of unarmed peoples. The thing is that if we want to know what the present war is about we must first of all make a general survey of the policies of the European powers as a whole. We must not take this or that example, this or that particular case, which can easily be wrenched out of the context of social phenomena and which is worthless, because an opposite example can just as easily be cited. We must take the whole policy of the entire system of European states in their economic and political interrelations if we are to understand how the present war steadily and inevitably grew out of this system."

Colonialism brought racism, a new and especially vicious aspect of the culture of war. A particularly vivid account of this process was made by the Algerian revolutionary and psychologist, Franz Fanon, in his 1959 book Wretched of the Earth, a book that had considerable influence among those fighting for national liberation:

"Colonial domination, because it is total and tends to over-simplify, very soon manages to disrupt in spectacular fashion the cultural life of a conquered people. This cultural obliteration is made possible by the negation of national reality, by new legal relations introduced by the occupying power, by the banishment of the natives and their customs to outlying districts by colonial society, by expropriation, and by the systematic enslaving of men and women. ... Every effort is made to bring the colonised person to admit the inferiority of his culture which has been transformed into instinctive patterns of behaviour, to recognise the unreality of his 'nation', and, in the last extreme, the confused and imperfect character of his own biological structure."

As national liberation movements gained ground in the middle of the 20th Century, colonialism could not be sustained, and it was replaced by neo-colonialism. A classic first-hand description of neo-colonialism is provided by Kwame Nkrumah, President of the first newly-liberated African nation, Ghana, in his book Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism (1965). Now, over 40 years later, with the exception of a few named personalities, Nkrumah's analysis holds true as much as ever:

"Faced with the militant peoples of the ex-colonial territories in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, imperialism simply switches tactics. Without a qualm it dispenses with its flags, and even with certain of its more hated expatriate officials. This means, so it claims, that it is 'giving' independence to its former subjects, to be followed by 'aid' for their development. Under cover of such phrases, however, it devises innumerable ways to accomplish objectives formerly achieved by naked colonialism. It is this sum total of these modern attempts to perpetuate colonialism while at the same time talking about 'freedom', which has come to be known as neo-colonialism.

"Foremost among the neo-colonialists is the United States, which has long exercised its power in Latin America. Fumblingly at first she turned towards Europe, and then with more certainty after world war two when most countries of that continent were indebted to her. Since then, with methodical thoroughness and touching attention to detail, the Pentagon set about consolidating its ascendancy, evidence of which can be seen all around the world.

"Who really rules in such places as Great Britain, West Germany, Japan, Spain, Portugal or Italy? If General de Gaulle is 'defecting' from U.S. monopoly control, what interpretation can be placed on his 'experiments' in the Sahara desert, his paratroopers in Gabon, or his trips to Cambodia and Latin America?

"Lurking behind such questions are the extended tentacles of the Wall Street octopus. And its suction cups and muscular strength are provided by a phenomenon dubbed 'The Invisible Government', arising from Wall Street's connection with the Pentagon and various intelligence services ..."

"Still another neo-colonialist trap on the economic front has come to be known as 'multilateral aid' through international organisations: the International Monetary Fund, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (known as the World Bank), the International Finance Corporation and the International Development Association are examples, all, significantly, having U.S. capital as their major backing. These agencies have the habit of forcing would-be borrowers to submit to various offensive conditions, such as supplying information about their economies, submitting their policy and plans to review by the World Bank and accepting agency supervision of their use of loans ..."

"Nor is the whole story of 'aid' contained in figures, for there are conditions which hedge it around: the conclusion of commerce and navigation treaties; agreements for economic co-operation; the right to meddle in internal finances, including currency and foreign exchange, to lower trade barriers in favour of the donor country's goods and capital; to protect the interests of private investments; determination of how the funds are to be used; forcing the recipient to set up counterpart funds; to supply raw materials to the donor; and use of such funds a majority of it, in fact to buy goods from the donor nation. These conditions apply to industry, commerce, agriculture, shipping and insurance, apart from others which are political and military."

Nkrumah goes on to describe the full culture of neo-colonialism, including not only economic, but also cultural manipulation including by means of the arts, the mass media and religion. Once again we see that the culture of war extends far deeper than war alone:

"In the labour field, for example, imperialism operates through labour arms like the Social Democratic parties of Europe led by the British Labour Party, and through such instruments as the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), now apparently being superseded by the New York Africa-American Labour Centre (AALC) under AFL-CIO chief George Meany and the well-known CIA man in labour's top echelons, Irving Brown ..."

"Even the cinema stories of fabulous Hollywood are loaded. One has only to listen to the cheers of an African audience as Hollywood's heroes slaughter red Indians or Asiatics to understand the effectiveness of this weapon. For, in the developing continents, where the colonialist heritage has left a vast majority still illiterate, even the smallest child gets the message contained in the blood and thunder stories emanating from California. And along with murder and the Wild West goes an incessant barrage of anti-socialist propaganda, in which the trade union man, the revolutionary, or the man of dark skin is generally cast as the villain, while the policeman, the gum-shoe, the Federal agent - in a word, the CIA - type spy is ever the hero. Here, truly, is the ideological under-belly of those political murders which so often use local people as their instruments.

"While Hollywood takes care of fiction, the enormous monopoly press, together with the outflow of slick, clever, expensive magazines, attends to what it chooses to call 'news. Within separate countries, one or two news agencies control the news handouts, so that a deadly uniformity is achieved, regardless of the number of separate newspapers or magazines; while internationally, the financial preponderance of the United States is felt more and more through its foreign correspondents and offices abroad, as well as through its influence over inter-national capitalist journalism. Under this guise, a flood of anti-liberation propaganda emanates from the capital cities of the West, directed against China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Algeria, Ghana and all countries which hack out their own independent path to freedom. Prejudice is rife. For example, wherever there is armed struggle against the forces of reaction, the nationalists are referred to as rebels, terrorists, or frequently 'communist terrorists'!

"Perhaps one of the most insidious methods of the neo-colonialists is evangelism. Following the liberation movement there has been a veritable riptide of religious sects, the overwhelming majority of them American. Typical of these are Jehovah's Witnesses who recently created trouble in certain developing countries by busily teaching their citizens not to salute the new national flags. 'Religion was too thin to smother the outcry that arose against this activity, and a temporary lull followed. But the number of evangelists continues to grow."

As Nkrumah correctly emphasizes, the countries of the North have engaged the United Nations as a partner in their neo-colonialist exploitation of the South. Although the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank claim to benefit the poor countries of the South, in effect they manipulate and pressure their economies so as to make them better targets for investment and profit-making by the multi-national corporations based in the North. This is described in the following excerpt from a editorial in the Ecologist (2000) :

"One of the World Bank's central roles is to ensure developing countries have the physical infrastructure necessary to facilitate their integration into the global economy so as to enable the exploitation of their resources, cheap labour, and consumers by Northern corporations. To that end, it provides loans for the construction of roads, ports, mines, hydroelectric dams, oil wells and pipelines, and coal-fired power stations, mostly built, once again, by Northern corporations -- who received nearly $5 billion in direct loans and guarantees for this purpose from the Bank's private sector arms last year alone. Revenues generated rarely reach the poor. Instead, the poor are often displaced from their homes, suffer loss or damage to their natural resource base, and are placed in the front line of climatic destabilisation that the Bank's support for fossil fuels is helping to cause.

"The World Bank and the IMF also provide loans (totalling $18 billion from the Bank alone last year) to debt-ridden or near-bankrupt developing countries in exchange for the introduction of structural adjustment reforms that remove all constraints on Northern corporations seeking to export/import raw materials, and invest or locate there. The predicament of these countries is exploited to exert enormous control over their governments which is used to ensure the bulk of public expenditure and economic activity is channelled into debt repayments to Northern banks and investors. In the process, once again, the poor are hit the hardest, as jobs are cut, health and education budgets slashed, price supports removed, and food and natural resources exported abroad."

The continued support of neo-colonialism by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are assured by its voting structure. It is a club of the rich, with votes allotted in proportion to financial contributions, and the United States in charge. There is no pretense of democracy here.

To take part in a discussion about this page, click below on the Culture of Peace Dialogues:

World Peace through the Town Hall


1) The difference between "peace" and "culture of peace" and a brief history of the culture of war

2) The role of the individual in culture of war and culture of peace

3) Why the state cannot create a culture of peace

4) The important role of civil society in creating a culture of peace

--Peace and disarmament movements

--Ecology movement

--Movements for human rights

--Democracy movements

--Women's movement

--International understanding, tolerance and solidarity

--Movements for free flow of information

--The strengths and weaknesses of civil society

5) The basic and essential role of local government in culture of peace

--Sustainable development

--Human rights

--Democratic participation

--Women's equality


--Transparency and the free flow of information

--Education for a culture of peace

--Security and public safety

--Some ongoing initiatives

6) Assessing progress toward a culture of peace at the local level

--Culture of peace measurement at the level of the state

7) Going global: networking of city culture of peace commissions

8) The future transition of the United Nations from control by states to popular control through local governmental representatives

9) What would a culture of peace be like?