Sunday, 12 April 2015

Taking a stand against the glorification of war

Classified as: reflections, feminist theory

I haven't been writing much on the blog lately, but I want to take a stand on an issue that's bothering me a lot: the glorification of war in the lead-up to Anzac Day this year.

I have nothing against people who want to honour the dead, but what we are seeing is glorification of war, and it seems almost ubiquitous. Perhaps I am more aware of it than many because my tram or bike commute takes me past the Shrine of Remembrance, but the ABC is also full of it.

There seems to be no place for those who question war. The only event which questions it that I'm aware of is a reading of The One Day of the Year on 24 April, by the Independent Theatre in Adelaide (which my niece is acting in). Other than that I'm just seeing unquestioning glorification.

So this is to register my protest. Armed violence and war are not simply 'natural' to human beings and they are not the best or only way to resolve conflict. Many of my parents' generation (who were involved in World War Two) seemed to think that the lesson from war was that we should try to seek peace, but that lesson seems to have been lost in Australia.

Tomorrow I will try to put up some broader historical information about violent conflict from the readings I have been doing about patriarchy.

Update 20 April 2015
One of the necessary conditions for the glorification of war is the normalisation of war: the acceptance that war is a normal part of human existence and history. In addition, there is usually an assumption that 'our' side was justified in going into the war because the other side 'started' it, that is, that violence is the only, or at least the acceptable, response to violence.

In the case of the Anzac legend, the second assumption isn't part of the legend. There doesn't seem to be much concern or belief about whether the the First World War was justified (unlike say, the Second World War) and the Anzac battle at Gallipoli is widely accepted to have been a misguided battle. Rather, the glorification rests on a belief that Australia 'proved itself' as a nation by proving that it could fight in a war. Thus war is seen as not only normal, but heroic, regardless of cause or justification.

Contrary to this is the evidence provided by some archeologists and historians, including feminist historians, that war is not normal in a longer view.^ There is evidence that at certain times and places in history, such as the Neolithic era in the fertile parts of central Asia and Southern Europe, or in Minoan Crete, there were societies that were relatively peaceful and egalitarian, and did not make war.

The very first "pre-requisite" for health mentioned in the Ottawa Charter is peace, yet I don't often seem to hear health promoters speaking out on this issue. Indeed health promotion students are sometimes taught that the Charter is an 'utopian' document rather than something we can realistically aspire towards. Yet how much of that is because of this belief - not justified by history - that war is inevitable and normal? I would like to see more health promoters engaging with this question.

^ Key references
Riane Eisler The chalice and the blade : our history, our future 1987
Gerda Lerner The creation of patriarchy 1986

Additional works of interest:
Henryd Delcore 'New Reflections on Old Questions in the Anthropology of Gender' Reviews in Anthropology 36(2) 2007 (Discussion of some southeast Asian societies)
Cheryl Johnson-Odim 'Actions louder than words' in Sue Morgan (ed) The feminist history reader 2006 (first published in Pierson and Chaudhuri Nation, Empire, Colony 1998) (Discussion of some African societies)
Iam Armit 'Violence and society in the deep human past' British Journal of Criminology 51(3) 2011 (Discussion of early Europe)
Ian Hodder 'Women and Men at Çatalhöyük' Scientific American 290 (1) 2004 (Popular article on recent excavations at Çatalhöyük, post Lerner. Questions ubiquity of goddess worship as suggested by Lerner and Eisler, but acknowledges that neolithic society at Çatalhöyük appears to have been relatively egalitarian and peaceful)


Ronan said...

Good stuff, looking forward to any future posts Val ! (I actually had a few questions for you about the Irish in Australia over at the (Gerry Adams) Crooked Timber thread, but never got around to them. Perhaps in the future it might come around to it again. It's an interesting subject that you and ZM's comments encouraged me to read up a bit more about)

Valerie Kay said...

Thanks Ronan, great to hear from you. I'm very tied up with family stuff at present but will respond more fully soon.
Cheers Val

Valerie Kay said...

hi Ronan (in case you are still checking here)
I've finally got round to updating this post with some references, so thought I'd reply again.

Patrick O'Farrell "the Irish in Australia" is the best book I know of on the subject. I mentioned it on CT and said it was quite a while since I read it, but i just checked and found he has a 2000 edition, so that's a bit more recent. I think that would be a good starting point if you are interested in the issue. It's published by UNSW press in Sydney, I don't know how widely it's available though.

illbehaviourNZ33 said...

I just wrote a quite long comment that disappeared. Dang it. I agree wholeheartedly and think there should be far more said about the political and economic factors surrounding the the conflict the ANZAC forces were involved in.

Valerie Kay said...

Thanks! And sorry your comment vanished, blogger can be a pain that way.

Yes there should definitely be more analysis of the First World War and circumstances surrounding it - definitely an avoidable war I would think.

Ronan said...

Thanks for the recommendation Val, just had a look at it and it's exactly what I was looking for. (and for the recommendations in the update. Im going to have to check out Riane Eisle, I think you mentioned here on CT aswell)

Ronan said...

Thanks for the recommendation Val, I had a look and it seems just what I was looking for.
(And for the recommendations in the update, Im going to have to check out Riane Eisler who I think you mentioned on CT aswell)

Valerie Kay said...

I'll be interested to hear what you think of both books Ronan, if you have time to let me know.

Valerie Kay said...

Also Ronan I meant to say - I visited some excavations in Ireland when I went there about 2003, I'm pretty sure they were Neolithic. Do you know anything about that?

Ronan said...

I'll definitely leave you know. It might take me a little while (I'm a slow reader with a short attention span!) but I'll leave a note when I've got through one or both of them (I'll probably start with O Farrell)

I don't know a huge amount about the neolithic era (in fact I'd say you probably know considerably more)

Was it Newgrange

you visited ? (do they have similar excavation and protected sites in Australia from the pre European indigenous communities?)

Valerie Kay said...

Thanks Ronan. I really can't remember the site we visited but I dont think it was Newgrange (I read the information you linked). I think it might have been Carrowmore in County Sligo, as my (not very reliable!) memory says it was near where we tried the seaweed baths, which I'm almost certain was Kilcunnen.

We didn't have very long to spend at the site, which is probably why I don't remember it well, but it evoked an interest in me for sure.

Because Indigenous Australians weren't generally a settled society in the same way, archaeological sites are a bit different here. There are many sites of different kinds (Wikipedia has a long list), but the ones most visited by ordinary people I guess are cave painting sites. I have been to those sites in the Northern Territory and in the Gariwerd (Grampians) National Park here in Victoria.

One place that is of interest from a settlement point of view is Lake Conder where the Gunditjmara people built fish traps and stone huts (they were more settled because of the reliable source of food through the fish traps). I haven't been there yet but hope to do so.