ICRC orthopedic centre, Kabul © Antonio De Lauri

Conversation on War

Antonio: Whatever the real reasons that generate a war, identifying the enemy is a crucial element of every call for conflict. Yet the changing character of ‘the enemy’ does not stand as one univocal and universal category. Wars have taken various forms across time and space to the point that, in certain circumstances, the enemy could not be understood in terms of a ‘distant other.’ For instance, civil wars have historically set neighbor against neighbor, and sometimes even brother against brother and father against son. Proximity to the enemy does not necessarily imply that hate can be avoided. The social and political production of hate is the result of complex historical processes, as well as ordinary stereotypes, prejudices and social discriminations. However, in order to be able to kill systematically, as it happens in war, it is not enough to disregard the enemy or to despise him/her, it is also necessary to see in the foe an obstacle to the realization of a social project. Fierce war violence is legitimized when applied to enemies that are seen as an impediment to the full realization of a collective self. This is why war consistently requires the transformation of a person’s identity from the status of an individual to a member of a (social, ethnic and political) group.

Deniz: There is something peculiar about the construction of the enemy. You may think that the more distant the enemy is, the easier it is to dehumanize him/her and to eliminate in a war situation. History has shown us the complexity of the process of enemy construction. In fact, the closer the so-called ‘enemy’ is to us, physically and socially, the easier it is to get alarmed, anxious and convinced for the necessity of a war to defend the in-group and its interests. During the collapse of the regime and breakup in Yugoslavia, we witnessed the most brutal tactics of torture and violence against civilians in those regions where there had been a long history of co-existence, intermarriage and affinity between the ethnic groups. Soldiers raped and killed both soldiers and civilians on the other side. However, civilians also killed civilians, sometimes including their neighbors, (re)constructing their distinct ethnic identities against their neighbor’s identity and politics. The so-called ‘enemy neighbor’s’ long presence in the (re)claimed homeland was used as discourse in nationalist politics of hatred, and used as a justification for ethnic cleansing, despite ethnicity having very little to do with the core-causes for the break-up of Yugoslavia. In the same vein, more recently, it is not the presence of a foreign enemy in a distant place, but rather its penetration into homeland through ‘terror’ attacks, that easily convinces the public to wage wars in faraway lands. The farther away the enemy is, the more difficult to imagine the real threat to the public. It is therefore the more difficult for war makers to legitimize the distant war that requires systematic mobilization of substantial amounts of financial and human resources. Especially in those circumstances, the justification of the war is done through the media creation of ‘enemies at home’ (e.g. the constructed illusion of invasion by Muslims, Arabs, potential terrorists, fundamentalists, immigrants, etc.) and dissemination of abstract propaganda to dehumanize them for public consent to exterminate their roots abroad wherever those roots are.

Antonio: War is not only a battlefield on which to conduct military actions. It also entails the interlaced dynamics of violence, fear, sacrifice, opportunism, reaffirmation or subversion of the social hierarchy, transfiguration of the ‘other,’ redefinition of the individual and collective selves. The symbolic construction of the enemy thus becomes a fundamental element for those individuals, groups, factions or governments who incite war, attempting to transform it into an identity-making battle and defense of an existing lifestyle, with the ultimate aim of earning presumed freedom, attaining presumed justice or establishing a new order. Indeed, when war is transformed into an abstract ideal, or even to a way of achieving a transcendental goal, it becomes easier to obscure the connections among geo-strategic plans, historical antagonisms, access to resources, development politics, privatization, expansion of the global market, and economic networks linked to licit and illicit trafficking. The very concept of ‘ethnic conflict’ itself, which has found ample opportunity to come to the fore in contemporary wars, when not inscribed in broader political and economic scenarios, contributes in part to rendering such correlations less evident. Elucidative examples are provided by the Rwandan genocide and the Afghan wars, often seen as internal humanitarian crises with limited consideration of the (trans)national historical processes at the core of internal political unrest. In Afghanistan, this unrest is typically wrongfully attributed to the country’s inability to spontaneously and autonomously embrace democracy. Not surprisingly, while there is widespread awareness in the Western media of the dramatic consequences of the Soviet invasion of 1979, the historically negative impact of the Anglo-Afghan wars, or the role played by the US in supporting the emergence of fundamentalism during the past thirty years, are generally absent in mainstream explanations of today’s internal instability.

Within the rhetoric of war, ethnicity becomes the concrete manifestation of alterity, the emblem of otherness and difference. In war, the ‘other’ is an uncomfortable and unexciting role, in which the physical body becomes a projection of the social body, the most natural, intimate, and thus most significant site at which to identify the somatic signs of an enemy to fight.

Deniz: During the time I spent researching the political situation in southeastern Anatolia, the ambiguities associated with the concepts of ‘ethnicity’ and ‘ethnic conflict’ and the ideological battle over these terms were especially intriguing for me. I learned immediately not to use the terms ‘ethnicity’ and ‘ethnic conflict’ in front of the supporters of the PKK because neither the term ‘ethnicity’ nor the concept of ‘conflict’ were the right terms to use in their discourse. The Kurds were a ‘nation’ not an ethnic group, and their struggle was a ‘national liberation war’ through ‘guerrilla warfare’ that could not be belittled by terms such as ‘conflict’ (understood in terms of it is general usage in Turkish as ‘clash’). The Turkish officials, both civilian and uniformed, would prefer to use the term ‘low intensity conflict with terrorists’ instead of the terms ‘war,’ ‘guerrilla warfare’ or ‘ethnic conflict.’ However, there were also those Kurds who would not sympathize with the PKK, the ‘Kurdish national liberation war’ or its ideologically charged justification, but would also feel alienated by the aggressive, patronizing, militarized state discourse about the situation. Ultimately, the discourses (of ‘conflict,’ ‘nation,’ ‘freedom fighter,’ ‘martyr,’  ‘enemy’ etc.), the politics (of ‘national liberation’ or ‘national security and unity’), and the fighting tactics (based on ‘guerrilla warfare’ or ‘counter-insurgency’) were used to promote a particular construction of conflict/war, to draw the line between the enemy and the friend, and to claim and control the territory. On the ground, there are competing micro discourses, ideals, ideologies and politics justifying each side’s cause and position and demonizing the enemy. But then again, the academic terminology, research methods and literature are available to study political violence in terms of ‘ethnicity,’ ‘ethnic conflict,’ ‘nationalism,’ ‘national liberation,’ ‘armed conflict,’ ‘violence,’ or ‘terrorism’ without necessarily contextualizing it in global geopolitical scenarios or in regional political economy of competition over resources, rent, markets and networks of trafficking. There may be a few book chapters remotely dealing with the Kurdish nationalist politics of the last two decades within the broader global context of neoliberal encroachment around the world, and/or in relation to the reshuffling of power in the Middle East pushed by the regional powers, foreign governments and/or neoliberal market forces. In addition, there is almost no evidence-based academically informed research or analysis on the opium and arms trafficking that the members of both/all sides of the war in southeastern Turkey have been systematically involved in since the early 1990s. The role of foreign actors, barons of black markets and the warlords of illicit trafficking have been explained by the entertainment industry in a way that has distorted reality and undermined its significance. Reality has been transformed into a caricature, a cheap conspiracy theory for consumption. The invasion of Iraq was removed from its historical context and geopolitical significance by the US government, the international mainstream media and Hollywood. They reduced the US-led foreign military presence into a witch-hunt theatre to save the world from a dictator and turned the war against the Iraqi people into Oscar-winning movies like The Hurt Locker and American Sniper for propaganda and cheap entertainment.

Antonio: Beyond politics, war is a complex human experience. If the only objective of war is the mere physical elimination of the enemy, then it is not possible to explain why the torture and destruction of bodies, both dead and alive, is practiced with such ferocity on so many battlefields. From the researcher’s point of view, among the principal difficulties linked to the confrontation with the violence produced by war is the need to produce logical explanations and interpretations in scenarios that sometimes put to the test our capacity to discern right and wrong, justice and injustice. We understand the rational logic beyond warfare, but it is more complicated to deeply investigate the brutality it can generate. It is challenging to explain, from the perspectives of the social actors involved, the fury involved in mutilating bodies, visceral hatred, or murderous desire. A sentiment of elusiveness permeates the ‘scene of violence’ in war contexts, and it seems, in some ways, to be akin to placing oneself before the indefinite which, in a tragically paradoxical way, produces clearly visible and verifiable effects: the agony of bodies in pain, abandonment, death. There is a sort of uncertain upper hand that expands to every level of daily routine and that apparently finds its epilogue only in the dialectics of good or bad luck. In her work on violence, Hannah Arendt (1969) argued clearly and impactfully that, more than any other circumstance, luck plays a crucially role on the battlefield. It is formally considered unacceptable for a human group to systematically unleash its power on other groups through homicide and violence, including torturing and raping people and dissecting their bodies. Although in abstract terms such violence appears unimaginable, it becomes concretely realizable when the murdered or tortured are aligned with dehumanizing representations that portray them as usurpers, cowards, filthy, paltry, unfaithful, vile, disobedient. Thus, war violence becomes a dramatic attempt to transform, redefine and establish social boundaries; to affirm one’s own existence and deny that of the other.

Deniz: The physical destruction of the enemy has never been the utmost goal of warfare. Rather, the common idea behind wars has been to assert power, impose control over, and pacify the targeted land, territory and social organization (Malesevic, 2010). We are overwhelmed by acts of modern genocide in recent world history when violence has been to exterminate every member of the targeted group in the most unimaginable and horrendous ways. Nonetheless, historically speaking, warfare has always been at the core of social organization, and organized violence is used to control, dominate and discipline the social systems. War has become more and more sophisticated, bureaucratized, and hierarchical; therefore, with modernity and industrial capitalism has become more systematic, vicious and destructive. In modern cases of genocide, the objective is not only to physically eliminate the individual members of the enemy group, but also to impose a particular kind of sociopolitical order over the rest of the society. Sociologists such as Charles Tilly and Michael Mann have produced substantial amounts of research on the relationship between the nation-state formation and modern warfare and genocide. However, Max Weber probably drew the first close link between industrial capitalism, bureaucratic rationalization and coercive control. Acts of torture, gang-rape, murder and mutilation may be quite unimaginable under ordinary circumstances that ordinary social norms and the rule of law apply to, but these acts are definitely not irrational, nonsense or senseless. Rather, the most heinous acts of violence in the 20th and 21st centuries may be the easiest to rationalize given the extraordinary social systems that modern societies have created. This is compatible with market capitalism, and the supporting ideologies that continue to normalize subtly and sophisticatedly the hierarchies between human beings.

Antonio: From my early childhood onwards, I learned about war through the memories of my grandparents and the signs (scars, amputations) on the bodies of their brothers and sisters. I have seen the wounds of war while travelling in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I have acquired an understanding of the long-term effects of the violence of war through meeting refugees, veterans and military in different parts of the planet. One aspect that attracted my attention to the issue of war was discipline, or rather indiscipline. I found the war stories that Carlo, an Italian man, used to tell me particularly fascinating. He was born in a small village in Northern Italy in 1918, the year in which the Great War was turning into a fragile and temporary epilogue. He passed away in 2009, with his daughter and niece at his bedside. Carlo was an introverted man who was extremely respectful of rules. Without a doubt, nobody could have defined him as being talkative. His sparing use of speech vanished only when speaking about his beloved job as a shoemaker, or when his memories carried him back to the years of the Second World War, when he was a soldier, or a ‘small soldier,’ as a Roman officer used to call him due to his short height. It is widely accepted that war is an extremely tragic event. However, historical records, literature and cinematography have contributed to giving shape to a sort of ethics of war identifying something humanly noble about it, something that directly connects tragedy with grandeur. In war, human beings touch the lowest level of their existence, but at the same time war enables them to aspire to something ‘more important.’ They can make something more than a mere man or a mere woman of themselves, they can become heroes who escape the banality of daily routine and boldly write their names in history. Glory, honor, defense of homeland, sacrifice and martyrdom are all elements that make the tragedy of war more acceptable to some degree. They are elements that make up the plot of a fertile rhetoric of war and exploit the tragedies and suffering in the name of ‘something greater,’ a superior interest that justifies the payment of innumerable lives. Yet, Carlo’s memories emphasized the suffering, famine, cold, thirst, the loss of dear friends, the affirmation of the hierarchy and loss of self. At the time as the Italian expedition to Russia, Carlo, who could read and had read somewhere the story of Napoleon, knew what the Italian soldiers were going to face. He knew that the expedition would not be a bed of roses. He was serving in Rome at the time and loved the city but was homesick and missed his fields and country lanes. When the time came to leave for the cold Russian lands, his restlessness became unbearable: ‘it was not the right thing to do,’ he told me. His life had already been miraculously saved on several occasions while wearing his uniform, the meaning of which he often questioned. He began to eat less and less. In a few weeks, his body became so weak that his captain took him to the medical lieutenant colonel. ‘This man is undernourished; he cannot leave,’ said the doctor. The captain, who had his own requirements to reckon with, did not want to accept this and tried to convince the doctor that the soldier had to go. ‘I repeat, this man is ill,’ decreed the doctor. Carlo was thus exempted from the expedition and assigned other duties. ‘I would have died,’ he often repeated. The expedition had meant the death of his comrades who, whether or not aware of the freezing ordeal to come, had been obliged to go.

These kinds of stories are not generally included among those echoing the hegemonic rhetoric that constantly invades talks, movies, songs, novels, poetry, and history books about war, in which the main focus is on killed heroes, not reluctant and ‘undisciplined soldiers.’ This dominant rhetoric alternates victimizing perspectives with glorifying narratives, sometimes in a schizophrenic fashion.

Deniz: I am not sure to what extent Carlo’s reluctance to continue to fight in that war was an act of intentional overt refusal to obey the orders from higher-ups. We do not know what he would do if the doctor had decided that he was fit to serve. I prefer to use the word ‘disobedience’ to talk about those individual and collective acts of objection to serve the interests of a military authority or a state in war with no legitimacy in the eyes of the objector. If Carlo were a deserter, his name would have been officially recorded and he could have appeared in some official documents as a statistic and in historical analysis as a subject matter to explore the war circumstances. Desertion has always been a concern for the states and their armies during war times, and might have been very well recorded and officially examined for strategic purposes. I was born and raised in a society where the army has, until very recently, been considered an institution as sacred as religion. Despite that, there was a very systematic problem with deserters (asker kaçağı in Turkish) in the Ottoman army before and during the WWI. There were political, economic and institutional reasons for and implications of the increasing number of Ottoman soldiers deserted during the final years of the Empire, especially during the First World War. Those soldiers were different to Carlo in terms that they did not hesitate to run away. Their leaving the official ranks of the army was against Ottoman law; therefore returning to their village was not an option for them and carried a risk of identification and arrest. They would immediately become outlaws, and a significant number of them would form their own bands or join the existing ones in the mountainous areas for survival. Historically, banditry in Ottoman Anatolia had been limited to pillaging the wealth of the rich ones, and had its own unofficial töre (customary norms) regulating the behaviors of the eşkıya (rebel/outlaw) to protect the welfare of the poor and oppressed. In people’s imagination (i.e. folk tales, legends, elegies and songs), Eşkıya was a romantic heroic character brave enough to challenge the oppressive state and its official representatives on behalf of the oppressed. During the war years (WWI) as official records of testimonies show, töre were violated by the newly formed bands of deserters regularly and the incidents of stealing from the poor, murder and rape increased drastically. The lines between the ‘haydut’ (bandit/thug), ‘asker kaçağı’ (deserter) and ‘eşkıya’ have become less and less obvious through time, but the eşkıya (sometimes hero, sometimes villain) has continued to have an intriguing presence in the artistic imaginations in Anatolian oral culture and Turkish fiction writing, poetry, painting, music and cinema. Ironically, the Turkish Liberation War was started by the irregular militia groups (Kuva-yi Milliye) led by former Ottoman army officials who rebelled against the Ottoman government in Istanbul and deserted the Ottoman Army at the end of the WWI. The Turkish Kuva-yi Milliye was, in a way, a nationwide movement of disobedience against the Ottoman Sultan. The leading figures were former high-ranked Ottoman soldiers including Mustafa Kemal, who were accused of treason and declared traitors to be given the death sentence. While the Sultan was negotiating with the allied powers for his own personal interests, civilians including women and Ottoman army deserters in Anatolia started organizing in every town under occupation or under the threat of occupation by the Allied forces to form ‘voluntary’ militia groups to fight back. It could have been ‘voluntary’ for women and children, but men were forced to volunteer with decrees. Men were obliged by the law to serve when the standing army was consolidated after the foundation of the new Grand National Assembly in Ankara in 1920. The war was not limited to the armed struggle against the occupying European powers, but it was also against the armed minority (mostly Anatolian Greek militia groups) resistance to the Turkish Kuva militia/army and often times against the civilian minority presence as well. The Kuva militia groups/army units would try to maintain the Turkish domination in their respective territory where there would also be eşkıya presence. My great grandfather was a former Ottoman soldier from Southern Anatolia who led Kuva militia groups against the armed Greek presence/occupation nearby the town of Iznik in northwestern Anatolia where he married my maternal great grandmother. There was a very fluid line separating the militia groups from the eşkıya groups who might or might not have supported the Turkish resistance against the occupation. It was not surprising to see the members of the Turkish militia leaving their side to join the eşkıya, and vice versa. This kind of desertion by soldiers to run away from the war joining the eşkıya continued after the regularization and consolidation of the standing Turkish army. The act could be looked down upon when it is limited to individual acts of refusing to fight for a ‘noble’ cause in the eyes of those representing or supporting the power, or celebrated as heroism when it is done collectively to rebel against a failing authority with damaged legitimacy in the eyes of the rebels and their supporters. Nonetheless, the interpretation will always be time and context specific, and differ according to the standpoint of those telling or writing the history.

Antonio: From a comparative perspective, it is interesting to look at Carlo’s hesitation in relation to other forms of what might be considered indiscipline and disobedience from an official-military viewpoint. From 1965 onwards, movements opposing the war in Vietnam had repercussions within the US military forces. The case of the Fort Hood Three was one of the first episodes of dissent against the Vietnam War in the US army. Dennis Mora, James Johnson and David Samas were stationed at Fort Hood in Texas, when in 1966 they received the order to leave for Vietnam. The three soldiers prepared a joint statement in which they refused to obey the order, arguing that the Vietnam War was unjust, immoral and illegal. They claimed they did not want to take part in a war of extermination and they rejected such a criminal waste of American lives and resources. The soldiers were arrested and each was condemned to three years of imprisonment by different tribunals. It has been observed that during the Vietnam war ‘the military itself was the locus of widespread anti-war activity. Opposition to the war intensified as service personnel began to see themselves as occupying the front ranks of a multi-faceted struggle against American imperialism abroad and injustice at home.’ Some, like the Fort Hood Three, ‘analyzed the disobedience in explicitly political terms. Others sought Conscientious Objector status, even while they served in the military’ (Tischler 2002, p. 395). Since then, many US soldiers have been arrested and condemned because they expressed dissent – the post-war activism of Iraq veterans is one of the most recent examples. Although these cases have generally been read as forms of mere disobedience, their implications go much further.

Beyond the differences in the historical, political and social contexts of Carlo’s and the Fort Hood Three’s stories, both subvert the idea of the soldier as an emblem of the ‘disciplined body’, a sort of religious figure who ‘has a mission and a calling’ (Lutz, Millar 2012, p. 487). The undisciplined soldier is different to the contractor (the modern version of the mercenary and one of the most visible effects of the privatization of warfare), different to the unaware soldier (as in Hannah Arendt’s banality of evil), and different to the deviant soldier (who loses control, commits a crime or is guilty of excess in the exercise of violence). The latter three figures are all functional to the hierarchical order. Although it may seem illogical, even the action of the deviant soldier is somehow predictable. Examples are provided by US soldiers who tortured prisoners in Abu Ghraib and by the US soldier (even though there are still doubts as to whether or not he acted alone) who, in March 2012, killed children, women and men in Southern Afghanistan for no apparent reason. A ferocity that at first appears incredible may yet be explained within the dehumanizing framework provided by war. In order to reaffirm the authority of the government and the legitimacy of war, the soldier is condemned, perhaps even executed, but his actions remain functional to the macro-logics of the conflict, such as creating a climate of terror, exacerbating hatred, and justifying further interventions (or justifying withdrawal, depending on the specific political moment – e.g. election time). The undisciplined soldier, on the contrary, challenges authority, reacts to a fate that seems already sealed, and searches for his/her own humanity just as war is trying to annihilate it. Of course, the role of those who take part in war needs to be understood in another sense too. As Achille Mbembe puts it, dominant and dominated participate in the same épistéme. It is against the backdrop of shared canons that one must conceive of and interpret practices of ‘disorder’ and indiscipline, desertion, disguise, duplication and improvisation (1992, p.133)..

Carlo’s story, for instance, might be seen as a story of indiscipline, disguise and improvisation while the Fort Hood Three case might be regarded as a story of indiscipline and ‘exposure.’

Because of its co-participative epistemic nature, however, war cannot be simply described as the by-product of political decisions from above. It is also determined by participation and initiatives from below. This complicates the picture, as does the connection between individual actions and global forces. Yet, if scholars have devoted analytical effort (and some, political commitment) to understanding the causes of extreme violence and investigating the close relationship between historical processes and individual participation, to grasp the long-term wounds of those who ‘did their job’ in battle, it should at least be recognized that the stories of ‘undisciplined soldiers’ remain mostly untold in mainstream narratives. Throughout human history, untold stories have always had something to reveal that runs contrary to consolidated myths and official memory – Howard Zinn (2001) has provided some useful examples.

Deniz: ‘Conscientious objection’ is a specific kind of refusing to serve in the military. It means that the motivation to object is a set of morals and ethics that either call for antimilitarism or prescribe those circumstances to when it is right to serve in the armies and when it is wrong to do that. Especially in situations where the objector is obliged to fight on the more powerful, more violent and less legitimate side, it suggests an alternative discourse (not necessarily a counter-discourse) to the hegemonic or dominant one. I started following conscientious objection cases in Israel during my years of research on Israeli economy and politics in the early 2000s. As a response to the acceleration of the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) attacks on Palestinian civilians following the 2000 intifada, hundreds of Israeli soldiers were writing letters or signing petitions declaring their refusal to serve beyond the 1967 borders of Israel. The conscientious objection movement had been active and stubborn in Israel since 1950s; but the participation of the high-profile soldiers including pilots and elite commandos in the movement was impressive. Hundreds of high school students were also a part of the movement with their own signature campaigns. In September 2003, 27 pilots in the Israeli Air Forces signed a petition calling the IDF attacks on civilians in the Occupied Territories “illegal” and “immoral”, and refused to serve in the West Bank and Gaza. One of the pilots withdrew his signature, but another one joined and added his. The petition was directed to the Chief of the Israeli Air force who made a public statement arguing that there was a strong general Israeli public support for their ‘war against terror’ and thousands of other Israeli pilots did not agree with the signatories. A few months after the letter of the pilots, 13 Sayeret Matkal commandos sent a letter that was stronger in its tone to then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The letter read: “We say to you today, we will no longer give our hands to the oppressive reign in the territories and the denial of human rights to millions of Palestinians, and we will no longer serve as a defensive shield for the settlement enterprise.” Objection was indeed a means to (re)claim one’s humanity before the war exterminates it. In 2014, a group of IDF intelligence officers refused to operate in the West Bank in a letter stating that their activities aim to persecute Palestinians rather than defend the state of Israel. As of today, there are tens of conscientious objectors serving jail sentences in Israeli prisons. In terms of their numbers and impact on the Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories, the objectors may be insignificant. In terms of the historical role that they play in presenting and recording the diversity of opposing opinions among the Israelis against the hegemonic Israeli state policy and discourse, they are significant. However, the Israeli conscientious objectors are still a part of the history from the Israeli point of view; just like their American counterparts are a part of the history from the American point of view. They provide Israeli and American viewpoints alternative to those of their states. American conscientious objectors have never represented the Vietnamese, Iraqis and Afghans; rather, they have presented and defended their own (conscientious) concerns. Israeli conscientious objectors have never represented the Palestinians; rather, they have defended their own stance on the political situation. It was highlighted in the letters, petitions and statements that the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was corrupting the ‘people of Israel’ and the ‘Zionist cause,’ and risking the future of the ‘Israeli society’ and ‘Zionist Jewish Israel.’ We are still missing the voices of the oppressed here, and Palestinians continue to be a mass of victim bodies kicking, shouting and throwing stones without a clear articulation of what they have been experiencing since 1948.

Antonio: To be sure, from West to East, dominant narratives of/on war are anything but the product of a coarse ideology. They rather embody a complex fusion of morality and doctrine, reason and pragmatism. In the humanities and social sciences there are many instances of those (including eminent personalities of the past, from Machiavelli to Sun Tzu, from Evans-Pritchard to Wittgenstein) who have combined critical thinking with a personal pragmatic interventionist tendency, or those who have objectified war as a social fact with few emotional implications, or those who have thought to prove themselves through the experience of war, or again those who have associated scientific/professional expertise with military intelligence. Conflicting narratives on war are engaged in a continuous relationship with the ‘War, Inc.’ universe. On the one hand, the hegemonic position of governments and large corporations fuels a dominant rhetoric that tries to offer a more acceptable image of war, presenting it as an inevitable step towards solving extreme situations. On the other hand ‘indiscipline’ as a critical category may be seen as a useful instrument for the production of a different understanding of war. This implies reflecting on the (historical and new) political and cultural use of categories such as evil, good, justice, honor, homeland, and sacrifice, categories that become legitimating concepts allowing those who detain power to preserve it.

Deniz: 21st century warfare will not be same as that of the 20th century, just like 20th century warfare was different than that of the 19th century. I think this is why the mighty ones, now with industrial and virtual technologies beyond our imagination, will continue to destroy even more effectively in the 21st century. The corporate initiatives to introduce soldier robots with AI to the markets and fields of war sound thrilling, especially when put in the same picture with the increasingly more systematic blatant enslavement of human beings in Africa and around the world. In the 21st century, scholars will have to reconsider everything about good and evil, justice and injustice, honor and dishonor, homeland and exile or refuge. Our scholarly recipes using theoretical/conceptual ingredients from earlier centuries to produce 21st century counter-rhetorics are likely to fail.


Alon G. and Harel A., September 24, 2003. “Mofaz: IAF Pilots’ letter of Refusal Benefits Terror Grsoups” in Haaretz. https://www.haaretz.com/news/mofaz-iaf-pilots-letter-of-refusal-benefits-terror-groups-1.101072

Arendt, H., 1969, On Violence. Harcourt.

Harel, A., December 22, 2003. “13 Elite Reservists refuse to Serve in the Territories” in Haaretz. https://www.haaretz.com/13-elite-reservists-refuse-to-serve-in-territories-1.109397

Lutz, C., Millar, K., 2012, “War” in Fassin, D., (Ed.) A Companion to Moral Anthropology. Wiley-Blackwell.

Malesevic, S., 2010, The Sociology of War and Violence. Cambridge University Press.

Mbembe, A., 1992, Prosaics of Servitude and Authoritarian Civilities. Public Culture, 5(1): 123-145.

Tischler, B., 2002, “The Antiwar Movement” in Young, M. B., Buzzanco, R., (Eds.) A Companion to the Vietnam War. Blackwell.

Zinn, H., 2001, Howard Zinn on War. Seven Stories Press.



Leave a Reply