The History of the Culture of War
The evolution of the culture of war over the past 5,000 years: It's increasing monopolization by the state;
Armies and armaments
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


Continued from previous page

The definition of the state as the "organization that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory" has remained valid from the origin of the state until the present time. This monopolization has ensured that the state has no competition from other potential sources of war or a culture of war. In The Evolution of Culture, Leslie A. White (1959) traces throughout history how the state has monopolized "an exclusive right to kill." This, he says, indicates "the achievement of full status of civil society."

With the advent of civil society private vengeance becomes outlawed, and the state assumes an exclusive right to kill. This applies both to personal vengeance and private "wars," such as used to be fought by Scottish clans. Blood revenge had been outlawed in ancient Aztec and Inca states, and in Negro monarchies such as those of the Ganda and the Dahomeans. The state had exclusive jurisdiction over crimes in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. The outlawing of private vengeance and wars is one of the best indications that could be cited of the achievement of full status of civil society. It is interesting to note, however that this point was reached rather late among Germanic peoples and in England. "As late as 1439," according to Munroe Smith, the schöffen (criminal judges) of Namur declared in a judgment: "If the kin of the slain man will and can avenge him, good luck to them, for with this matter we schöffen have nothing to do.'" And as recently as the fifteenth century in England, a private war was fought between two noblemen and their followers [Tylor 1881].

As we will see in the following pages, the state's monopoly on violence has increased in strength and complexity over the course of history, and evidence suggests that this trend is continuing. Although revolutionary wars and wars of national liberation break the monopoly of force of the previous state, they do not break the cycle of state violence. Instead, the revolutionaries establish a new state with a new monopoly on violence.

In sum, the eleven aspects listed previously for the culture of war at the dawn of civilization has been expanded to at least fifteen, with the addition of the military-industrial complex, the drug-for-guns trade, nationalism and racism:

1. armies and armaments
2. neocolonialism
3. the internal culture of war and economies based on exploitation (capitalist exploitation of workers, as well as exploitation and destruction of the environment)
4. means to deter worker revolts and political dissidents including internal use of military power, prisons and executions
5. the military-industrial complex
6. the drugs-for-guns trade
7. authoritarian rule associated with military leadership
8. control of information through secrecy and propaganda
9. identification of an "enemy"
10. education for a culture of war
11. male domination
12. religious institutions that support the government and military
13. artistic and literary glorification of military conquest
14. nationalism
15. racism, both institutional and attitudinal

Let's now look at these 15 aspects in some detail.

1. Armies and Armaments

Without going into great detail, the priority devoted by the state to the culture of war can be measured to some extent by the proportion of its budget dedicated to military spending. Here is a summary of national military expenditures for 1999 as published by the United States Department of State (2001). which seems to be the most recent data available on military spending as a percentage of central government expenditures. These figures range from 4.2 to 22.4 percent. They are probably underestimates; for example, according to the Friends Committee on National Legislation (2008), the U.S. government in 2006 devoted 28% of its budget to current military spending and another 13% to debt payment for past military spending, a total of 41%. This is much greater than the 15.7% admitted in the official government figures. Much of the difference also comes from U.S. government insistence on including social security entitlements as part of central government expenditures, even though it is simply reimbursing the investments that have been made by the citizen payments.

All states: 10.1%
Selected states:
Russia 22.4%
China 22.2%
United States: 15.7%
United Kingdom 6.9%
France 5.9% (estimated)

Middle East 21.4%
South Asia 16.1%
North America 14.6%
Africa 14.0%
East Asia 12.7%
Central Asia and Caucasus 9.2%
South America 7.6%
Oceania 7.0%
Europe 6.3%
Central America 4.2%

As mentioned earlier, it is the external functions of war and the culture of war that have been given the most attention, while as we will see later, the internal functions have remained, for the most part, a forbidden topic, i.e. taboo.

Two external functions may be distinguished, although in practice they are closely related. One is the function of war and the culture of war for defense against external attack, and the other is the function for external conquest and exploitation. Today, most states tend to emphasize the former. For example, they speak of the "Ministry of Defense" rather than the "Ministry of External Conquest" or, as in past times, the "Ministry of Colonial Rule". Under the present conditions of neo-colonialism, the major military powers speak of defending their "national interest," even though it is done through military bases and interventions in places far away from the home country.

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?