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)