The History of the Culture of War
8. Control of information 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


The most significant development in the culture of war over the course of history has been the increasing importance of the control of information. In parallel with the developments of the printing press, the telephone and radio, television and now internet, the control of these media has been crucial for the maintenance or changing of political power, no less for bourgeois democracy than for authoritarian regimes. We have already mentioned one example: the important role of television in electoral campaigns, and how it provides an ever-increasing advantage to those who are wealthy or have access to wealth.

In recent years control of the media has greatly reinforced the culture of war of the state and military-industrial complex. Never before in history has there been such a concentration of communication power in the hands of a few multi-national corporations, Most media in the United States, for example, are now in the hands of five multi-national corporations. There was popular resistance to this a few years ago, but the media monopolies were supported by the responsible government agency, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). The FCC was stocked with appointments of the Bush administration and headed by the son of General Colin Powell, the Secretary of State in the Bush administration who initiated the war in Iraq.

At the international level, a particularly revealing moment occurred when UNESCO considered implementation of the proposals of the International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems (UNESCO 1980). This is usually called the MacBride report after its chairman, the Nobel Peace Laureate Sean MacBride. The MacBride report recognized the dominance of Northern media and called for the "democratization of communication at national and international levels":

[page 111]: "We can sum up by saying that in the communication industry there are a relatively small number of predominant corporations which integrate all aspects of production and distribution, which are based in the leading developed countries and which have become transnational in their operations. Concentration of resources and infrastructures is not only a growing trend, but also a worrying phenomenon which may adversely affect the freedom and democratization of communication . . "

[page 253]: "Our conclusions are founded on the firm conviction that communication is a basic individual right, as well as a collective one required by all communities and nations. Freedom of information -- and, more specifically the right to seek, receive and impart information -- is a fundamental human right; indeed, a prerequisite for many others. The inherent nature of communication means that its fullest possible exercise and potential depend on the surrounding political, social and economic conditions, the most vital of these being democracy within countries and equal, democratic relations between them. It is in this context that the democratization of communication at national and international levels, as well as the larger role of communication in democratizing society, acquires utmost importance."

When it looked like they could not block implementation of the MacBride Report, the United States and the United Kingdom withdrew from UNESCO, effectively removing a majority of its operational budget and putting enormous pressure on their allies that remained in the organization. When I was at UNESCO in the 1990s there was no question but that this topic had become taboo for the organization. And meanwhile the concentration of the power of media in the hands of the wealthy continues to grow. As A. J. Liebling once wrote, "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one".

And perhaps never before in history has there been so much secrecy in government. Even though the functions of secrecy are often to hide incompetence and corruption, it is usually justified by the state in terms of "national security" - i.e. the culture of war. To illustrate the extent of secrecy, here is a small article clipped from the May 14 1997 issue of the International Herald Tribune:

"Washington - Representative David Skaggs, Democrat of Colorado, was quizzing the head of administrative services at the CIA about classified material a while ago. How much, he asked, did the agency spend each year on classification?

Well, the official said, that information is classified. Mr Skaggs persisted: "Why is that?" he asked. "I'll have to get back to you on that" he recalled the official saying. He's still waiting.

In the federal government, there is perhaps nothing so wonderfully Byzantine as a secret. You literally don't know what you don't know. And if you did know what you don't know, you still couldn't know it. That's called the need to know, and unless you have it, you may never know.

But what we do know, courtesy of the Information Security Oversight Office of the National Archives, is that the government - except the CIA - spent $5.23 billion on classification last year.

Mr Skaggs would like to demystify democracy by shrinking the number of secrets, and hopes that holding down classification costs will cause the amount of classified material to decline. (WP)"

As the article points out, it is difficult to know how much secrecy there is, because "you don't know what you don't know." However, there is every indication that the amount of secrecy in the U.S. government has increased since 1994. We have already indicated how secrecy was used by the U.S. government to avoid being implicated in the guns for drugs trade during the Contra War, and we can only assume that many other illegal actions related to the culture of war have similarly been hidden from the general public. Nor is the problem confined to the United States. Recent revelations about the secret complicity of European governments with illegal CIA rendition and torture show that other countries keep extensive "national security" secrets as well.

The control of the mass media by a few major multinational corporations plays into the hands of governmental secrecy and propaganda. To some extent media propaganda supports militarism because of a community of interest between the media executives and the government. This seems to have been the case to a great extent in the extraordinary support given by the American mass media to the war in Iraq during its initial years. This support has been documented by the journalist Bill Moyers, as in the following excerpt from interviews he did with other journalists for his television program, "Buying the War" which was broadcast on PBS April 25, 2007:

"Four years ago this spring the Bush administration took leave of reality and plunged our country into a war so poorly planned it soon turned into a disaster. The story of how high officials misled the country has been told. But they couldn't have done it on their own; they needed a compliant press, to pass on their propaganda as news and cheer them on . . As the war rages into its fifth year, we look back at those months leading up to the invasion, when our press largely surrendered its independence and skepticism to join with our government in marching to war."

" . . BILL MOYERS: What did you think? What does that say to you? That dissent is unpatriotic?

PHIL DONOHUE: Well, not only unpatriotic, but it's not good for business . . "

"NORM SOLOMAN I think these executives were terrified of being called soft on terrorism. They absolutely knew that the winds were blowing at hurricane force politically and socially in the United States. And rather than stand up for journalism, they just blew with the wind . . "

"DAN RATHER: Fear is in every newsroom in the country. And fear of what? Well, it's the fear it's a combination of: if you don't go along to get along, you're going to get the reputation of being a troublemaker. There's also the fear that, you know, particularly in networks, they've become huge, international conglomerates. They have big needs, legislative needs, repertory needs in Washington. Nobody has to send you a memo to tell you that that's the case . . You know. And that puts a seed in your mind; of well, if you stick your neck out, if you take the risk of going against the grain with your reporting, is anybody going to back you up?"

In a companion broadcast Bill Moyers recalls the role of American media propaganda in earlier wars:

"The Spanish-American War is often seen as a conflict almost initiated and fed by propaganda. Publisher of THE NEW YORK JOURNAL Randolph Hearst is commonly believed to have told a reporter in Cuba, "You furnish the pictures, I'll provide the war." Regardless of the veracity of that tale, Hearst's claim in the press that Spanish mines had sunk the Maine, pushed the nation toward war. His paper's notorious and ugly characterization of the Spanish and generous helpings of melodrama and sentiment became known as 'Yellow Journalism.'

World War I marked the American government's first official foray into creating propaganda. In order to jumpstart enlistment and sell war bonds to a somewhat isolationist public, President Wilson formed the Committee of Public Information. The CPI produced posters, films and other material that equated the American cause with democracy, hearth and home. American propaganda took its tone from British and French efforts which stressed the brutality of "The Hun" and the "rape" of neutral Belgium. Worries about immigration and European revolutions became prominent in government propaganda in the post-war Red Scare."

Continued on next page

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?