The History of the Culture of War
10. Education for the culture of war 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


Military education has a long and impressive history. Working at UNESCO, my window overlooked the courtyard of École Militaire, the military school where Napoleon was trained in the 18th Century, and each day I watched the various exercises of the young officers as they engaged in horseback riding, volleyball and football, and marching bands with martial music on special occasions. I took photos with the idea to write book someday called "I was a spy for the culture of peace." In fact, the view was not by accident because the great socialist premier of pre-war France, Leon Blum, was on the committee that made the plans for UNESCO after World War II, and he wanted UNESCO functionaries like me to overlook the yard where the young Jewish officer Dreyfus was unfairly court-martialed in 1894.

What I saw in the courtyard of École Militaire was almost identical to what one would have seen in ancient Greece and Rome, which illustrates the universality over time and space of education for military officers. I can imagine that if you could put Julius Caesar, Napoleon and present-day generals together with interpreters in a room, they would understand each other perfectly.

In my scholarly work on internal military interventions, I have been impressed by the high quality of military scholarship, as it seems that military education in the West is seen as an unbroken chain of history going back to Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. Similarly, as mentioned earlier, it is said that Mao Tse Tung was an avid reader of Sun-zi's Art of War, from 2500 years ago.

The military education of officers is reserved for a small elite group of men, although in recent years a few women have been admitted in some countries, with results that have been problematic.

Modern education systems, aside from military education, are formally or informally divided into schools for the elite and schools for ordinary people. Each country has its elite schools, such as Yale and Harvard in the U.S., Oxford and Cambridge in the U.K., the Grandes Écoles in France, etc. Traditionally they were limited to men, and only recently have women been admitted. Elite schools are historically linked to the ruling class and the culture of war and they prepare their students to function in the ruling class. For example, to establish the CIA, it was desired to have a close-knit group of young men from the ruling class who had gone to school together, and for that reason most of the initial generation of CIA officials came from the secret society Skull and Bones at Yale University. Significantly, the U.S. Presidential election in 2004 was a choice between two members of Skull and Bones, George W. Bush and Bill Kerry.

The elite universities often lead the way in key themes of the culture of war such as racism and genetic determinism. As noted later in the section on racism, in the U.S. it has been Harvard University that has played over the years a leading role in claims of genetic inferiority of African-Americans and socio-biological claims that war is part of human nature.

Ordinary schooling is designed to prepare youth to function well within a culture of war by working obediently within an authoritarian society. An especially insightful critique is that of the Brazilian literacy teacher, Paulo Freire (1968) in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, who calls it the "banking concept of education":

"Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiqués and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the 'banking' concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits . . "

"It is not surprising that the banking concept of education regards men as adaptable, manageable beings, The more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they develop the critical consciousness would result from their intervention in the world. The more completely they accept the passive role imposed on them, the more they tend simply to adapt to the world as it is and to the fragmented view of reality deposited in them.

The capability of banking education to minimize or annul the students' creative power and to stimulate their credulity serves the interests of the oppressors, who care neither to have the world revealed nor to see it transformed. The oppressors use their 'humanitarianism' to preserve a profitable situation. Thus they react almost instinctively against any experiment in education which stimulates the critical faculties and is not content with a partial view of reality but always seeks out the ties which link one point to another and one problem to another.

Indeed, the interests of the oppressors lie in 'changing the consciousness of the oppressed, not the situation which oppresses them'; for the more the oppressed can be led to adapt to that situation, the more easily they can be dominated. To achieve this end, the oppressors use the banking concept of education-- in conjunction with a paternalistic social action apparatus . ."

A perspective remarkably similar to the "banking concept of education" is the "McDonalidization of education." This was supported by the Assistant Director-General for Education at UNESCO, John Daniel (2002) in Education Today, the newsletter of UNESCO's Education Sector. Rather than treating education as problem-solving, as proposed by Freire, he treats education as a commodity:

"The hue and cry about the 'McDonaldization' of education should make us reach for our critical faculties. First, despite their ubiquity, McDonald's restaurants account for only a tiny proportion of the food that people eat. Second, McDonald's is successful because people like their food. Third, their secret is to offer a limited range of dishes as commodities that have the same look, taste and quality everywhere.

Commoditization. It's an ugly word that my spellchecker rejects. But it is a key process for bringing prosperity to ordinary people by giving them greater freedom and wider choice. Products that were once hand crafted and expensive become standardized, mass produced and inexpensive. Personal computers and cellular telephones used to be specialized items for the elite. Today they are mass-market consumer items . ."

"What are the implications for education? Is the commoditization of learning material a way to bring education to all? Yes it is, and open universities in a number of countries have shown the way. By developing courseware for large numbers of students they can justify the investment required to produce high quality learning materials at low unit cost. . . We can imagine a future in which teachers and institutions make their courseware and learning materials freely available on the web. Anyone else can translate and adapt them for local use provided they make their new version freely available too. . . The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has shown the way by making its own web materials available free. Let's hope this heralds a worldwide movement to commoditize education for the common good."

A practical result of the tendency toward "banking" or "McDonaldization" of education is the recent U.S. Government program of "No Child Left Behind" which requires standardized tests that each student must pass. This has literally transformed the educational systems of the United States. As described in the following excerpt from a newspaper article by Bacon (2000), this approach has led to a special relationship between the education system and multinational corporations and it has increased rather than decreased the gap between education for the rich and for the poor:

"This the year U.S. schools went test-crazy. By January every state but one had adopted standards for public school students in at least one subject and 41 states had adopted tests to measure student performance. Promotion from one grade to another, and high school graduation itself, are now often test-determined. Test scores increasingly determine the ranking of schools, the resources available to them, and even control of the local curriculum.

Meanwhile, politicians vie with each other to position themselves as pro-education. This almost obsessive interest in testing is driven by factors ranging from political ambition to a genuine desire for public schools that teach their students. But a big push comes from a much less publicized source -- the testing companies themselves.

Districts and states spend huge sums on testing and standards, money that goes to a few large companies, which also publish school texts. Dominating the field are three big publishers -- McGraw-Hill, Harcourt and Houghton-Mifflin - Testing brought in an estimated $218.7 million for 1999 according to the Association of American Publishers . ..

" "But what do the tests actually measure? And even more important, do standardized tests really improve the quality of education?

Two Ohio mothers say the tests hurt students. "We used to have a wonderfully rich program in our schools," says Mary O'Brien, who has five kids in public schools. 'Now it's all oriented to test-taking. They just rank and sort students -- they don't actually teach them much at all.'"

". . an exhaustive study by Youngstown State University Professor Randy Hoover . . found that the poorer the family, the lower the score was likely to be. Schools in affluent neighborhoods do predictably well, and schools in poor, minority neighborhoods don't . ."

"But ranking schools isn't necessarily going to lead to reallocating resources. Next year, promotion to fifth grade in Ohio will depend on passing the reading test. Students who don't pass will be concentrated in schools with the least resources, which will have even greater problems paying for teachers, classrooms and materials to help them catch up. Furthermore, in many states, school districts that rank low on tests may lose funding, and see students and resources diverted to charter schools. Even pay raises for personnel are being tied to test rankings."

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

discussion board
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?