Sociology and War

Sociology and War

The North Carolina State University Faculty Club

Raleigh, N.C.

November 18, 1994

About the Speakers. Four sociologists with diverse theoretical orientations agreed to participate in our workshop by discussing their discipline=s contributions to the study of war. Michael Mann is Professor of Sociology and Associate Director of the Center for European and Russian Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he has worked since 1987. He has written extensively on the relationship between war, the state, and society. Some of his recent publications include States, War and Capitalism (1990), The Sources of Social Power, Vol. II: The Rise of Classes and Nation-States, 1760-1914 (1993), and ANation-States in Europe and other continents: diversifying, developing, not dying, Daedalus 122 (3), Summer 1993. Martin Shaw is Professor of Political and International Sociology and Head of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Hull, England. He has contributed to numerous academic journals and collections on both sides of the Atlantic. Some of his recent publications include Dialectics of War: An Essay on the Social Theory of War and Peace (1988), Post-Military Society: Militarism, Demilitarization and War at the End of the Twentieth Century (1991), and Global Society and International Relations: Sociological Concepts and Political Perspectives (1994). He is now working on a new book, Distant Violence: Media and Civil Society in Global Crises (forthcoming, 1995). James Burk is currently Associate Professor of Sociology at Texas A & M University. A fellow of the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society, he is the incoming editor of that society=s journal, Armed Forces and Society. His recent work includes contributions to and editorship of The Military in New Times (1994) and authorship of APower, Morals, and Military Uniqueness in Society (November/December 1993). Laura Miller is a Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern University. Her publications include AFighting for a Just Cause: Soldiers Attitudes on Gays in the Military, in Wilbur J. Scott and Sandra Carson Stanley, eds., Gays and Lesbians in the Military: Issues, Concerns, and Contrasts (1994) and (with Charles Moskos) AHumanitarians or Warriors? Race, Gender and Combat Status in Operation Restore Hope, Armed Forces and Society (forthcoming).

Michael Mann addressed the 50 conference participants with a talk entitled “A Macro-Sociological Approach to the History of War.” Mann focused on militarism, which he defined as “the persistent use of organized violence in pursuit of social goals,” as it related to the different development patterns of modern authoritarian and liberal states. He contended that militarism was central to the historical experience of both types of societies, while the inherently different material and ideological structures of each state determined the form which that militarism would take. Authoritarian states, such as Germany and Russia/Soviet Union display what he called “militarism of the neighborhood” because their security concerns resided almost totally on their immediate borders. As a result, they had large standing military establishments that were extremely visible in the lives of the domestic population. In contrast, Mann ascribed “militarism of the globe” to liberal states such as Britain, it former colonies, and the United States. Their militaries were generally stationed abroad and globally oriented, both removing the armed forces from daily contact with the population and engendering what Mann called “spectator sport militarism.”

Mann argued that during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries both types of state legitimized themselves through different forms of popular sovereignty, the authoritarian through mass mobilization, and the liberal through democracy. At the same time, modern ideology infused both states with a sense of mission. In authoritarian states the state itself was presented as the bearer of this moral project, while in liberal states the moral project was diffused throughout the individuals who made up civil society. In both instances, but at different times, violent racism became central to the national ideologies, but the way the ideology was translated into policy was a function of the type of militarism that characterized a particular society. Mann pointed to the clearly state-led racial militarism of National Socialist Germany as an example of the former, while the exterminationist settler policies in places like Australia epitomized civil-society militarism in which the state was either absent or just a bystander to civilian initiatives. In other words, liberal states, led by elements within civil-society, have displayed a tendency to seek lebensraum similar to authoritarian states when a group was defined as outside the moral boundaries of the nation as defined by popular sovereignty. However, the key phenomenon, which occurred in authoritarian states as well, was the initiative and active participation of civil-society in militaristic activity, whether in conjunction with or in the absence of state leadership.

During the panel discussion, James Burk asked whether Mann saw any fundamental differences in the racism that characterized liberal and authoritarian societies, given the distinct ideological rationales behind each. Mann replied that the key element of the racism in both instances was the identification of certain groups as “others,” conceptualized as beyond the pale of the in-group’s society. In short, he perceived no basic differences. Martin Shaw then expressed reservations about the importance that Mann had ascribed to civil-society militarism. He wondered whether the broader historical context which included the progressive intensification of state militarism during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries did not provide a more useful basis for analyzing the increasing militarism of society in general. He gave the example of the advent of total war, which militarized politics and society, as the crucial link between militarism on the one hand and totalitarianism and genocide on the other. Mann agreed with this explanation for the majority of the twentieth century, but reminded the audience that the civil-society led genocides of indigenous peoples by settlers had largely ended before World War I, rendering an analysis in terms of total war anachronistic. He saw civil-society militarism as a latent force that could possibly regain its former significance in the changing post-Cold War world.

Martin Shaw commenced his lecture “Analyzing the Fragmentary Peace: New Challenges for the Sociology of War and Militarism” with the contention that sociologists who study war have traditionally focused too exclusively on the role of war in society rather than analyzing its nature as a distinctive kind of social action. Shaw described Clausewitz as the theorist who first showed the inner character or war to be a process of social action. Clausewitz proposed two limits on absolute warfare, political context and friction, that Shaw used to illustrate war’s changing nature in the twentieth century. Increasingly, states tried to overcome these limits by deepening the degree to which their societies were organized for war, with greater levels of total war demanding greater levels of social mobilization. This social participation provided the political context that limited a government’s options, while the great difficulties in sustaining and fighting a total war created the friction.

Shaw then noted that the advent and spread of nuclear weapons in the two decades after World War II had essentially abolished both friction and political context as limits to war’s destructive power. This development uncoupled total war from total social mobilization, opening up space for a “post-military society” to evolve. This process has split the world into two spheres: a precariously pacified core and a periphery of conventional warfare. From this situation, Shaw saw the concomitant rise of what he calls the “Western state” as the major transition of international relations since 1945. He described the Western state as an extended framework of state power, which has emerged since the end of the Cold War as the core of a “global state” utilizing the United Nations as a legitimizing framework.

Shaw concluded by proposing an agenda for future work on the sociology of war. He stated that the discipline needs both a theoretical historical sociology of war and an empirical sociological analysis of current wars in the context of civil society.

During the ensuing discussion, Michael Mann inquired about the process through which the Western state was becoming the global state. Shaw replied that the Cold War had kept the system that concentrated around the Western powers from becoming a global one, but that the end of a Soviet alternative to a Western state has facilitated the broadening of its security framework and the growing sense that legitimacy for its actions radiates from the United Nations. Alex Roland asked both Shaw and Mann how one differentiates between war and other forms of social violence if one does not take the state as the primary actor. Claiming a Weberian heritage, Roland questioned whether studying war as a phenomenon below the state level might not be a slippery slope toward no clear definition at all. Mann replied, and Shaw concurred, that one could distinguish a war for the purposes of sociological analysis by determining whether the combatants were fighting over the constitution of their political order, whether that be domestic, racial, or international. At this point, another conference participant asked how the historical profession could help in Shaw’s proposed new look at the sociology of war. Shaw answered that the two disciplines should work together, with historians providing the empirical grist for the sociologist’s theoretical mill.

James Burk began the afternoon session with a talk entitled “Major Trends in Civil-Military Relations.” He argued that the issue of civil-military relations has only become a pressing one for the United States since the advent of the Cold War, when it became clear that the large standing military establishment would be maintained for the foreseeable future. Since then, sociologists have generally been concerned with two broad issues: the social isolation of the contemporary military and the social standing of the officer corps.

Regarding the first issue, sociologists originally feared that the standing military would become increasingly isolated from democratic society. Burk noted that empirical research has not borne out these sociologists= concerns that the military would diverge from society. Instead, he remarked that the military and society in general have come closer together. For instance, the military must now respond to market forces in order to recruit personnel. Additionally, Congress now exercises a much more intrusive and aggressive oversight of the military budget than it did in the 1950s and early 1960s. Therefore, Burk concluded, the increasing strains in civil-military relations result from closer contact between these two protagonists rather than their isolation from one another.

Concerning the social standing of the officer corps, Burk noted the debate between Morris Janowitz, who argued that the standing army would blur the boundaries between society and the military, and Samuel Huntington, who contended that only profound isolation between civilian society and the officer corps could foster military professionalism and military security. Burk argued that there has been a tendency for society to make increasing demands on the military establishment, while its deference to professional military authority decreased markedly. He suggested that the public is skeptical of all professions, but that this has a particularly important effect on the military, which must communicate with the civil-society regarding matters of national security. His prescription for the future of civil-military relations is to create a corps of “soldier-scholars” whose job it would be to bring expert opinions to the public debate without partisanship or advocacy in order to inform the public.

Michael Mann began the panel discussion by questioning the practicality of Burk’s “soldier-scholar” model, wondering whether it would degrade military professionalism. Burk answered that he was not advocating that all individual officers become soldier-scholars; rather, he saw it as an institutional response to a current need. He said that a small group of officers would be picked and trained for such a role, functioning as a buffer between a thoroughly professionalized officer corps and the political establishment. He insisted that the presence of a small number of officers in the soldier-scholar role would not undermine the professional ethic of the entire corps because the two capacities could easily exist together. Martin Shaw then observed that he thought military affairs, especially the budget, involved too many vested interests to make such a detached attitude feasible.

At that point, a questioner asked whether or not perhaps military values were diverging from the broader society, even as they were coming together in other ways. He used as an example the decline in deference to obedience in civil society, compared to the need for that quality in military personnel. Burk answered that he agreed with the questioner’s assessment of obedience in civil society, but believed that the military had also followed this social movement because it has de-emphasized blind obedience and stressed initiative at lower levels of command. What Burk did not know, was whether the gap between the military and civil society on this issue was growing or shrinking.

Regarding the soldier-scholar, Richard Kohn expressed concern that Burk’s proposal placed the entire onus for relieving the current strain in civil-military relations on the military itself rather than on the civilian leadership. Burk replied by stressing the importance of public opinion and the practical reality that the public expected this kind of broad strategic thinking from the military, and that only the military was in a position to make the long-term institutional changes necessary to create effective communications with society.

Laura Miller began her presentation, “Women Soldiers and the Changing Face of War” by questioning the relevance of the traditional assumption that large scale war involves primarily bloody ground combat with more or less clearly demarcated front and rear zones of operation. This scenario has generally bolstered arguments against allowing women into combat, but Miller contended that the changing nature of military technology has both obliterated the distinction between front and rear and made military operations more fluid, blurring the distinction between combat and non-combat personnel. She cited the recent experiences of United States troops in Somalia and Haiti, as well as in the Persian Gulf, to suggest that several models exist that do not include protracted ground fighting, but involve either unconventional missions or standard operations within a greatly expanded battlefield. In these situations, attempts to protect women from danger become less relevant. She argued that empirical data does not corroborate the notion that the American public will not tolerate female casualties: more precisely, it appears that Americans will tolerate almost no casualties at all. Additionally, she maintained that the data show that men and women have proven themselves capable of working together in all manner of military specializations without a breakdown of discipline or morale.

Martin Shaw began the panel discussion with the observation that the increasing role of women in warfare has generally led the way for greater gains by women in society at large. He then asked why the movement to include women in military roles had not progressed farther in countries other than the United States. Miller answered that she saw a general correlation between the level of technology that a military employed and the degree to which it utilized women. As the most technologically sophisticated military establishment in the world, the United States has more opportunities to employ women outside of the standard ground war scenario. James Burk then asked why technology played such a key role in this equation, when the issue of unit cohesion usually dominates the debate over women in combat. Miller answered the issue of unit cohesion by pointing to empirical data that suggests that women in heavy support roles quickly gained the acceptance of their male counterparts through a process of socialization. Regarding technology, she said that the expansion of more cerebral specialties tended to undermine the issue of physical strength in debating women=s’ participation.

Richard Kohn argued that he was pessimistic about the society accepting women in combat roles because it would mean female participation in any potential future drafts. Arguing against the assumption that another mass-war was unlikely, he expressed concern over whether society was ready to accept a situation where able-bodied men remained behind while women were drafted. Miller concurred that this was a salient issue, observing that fear over female conscription partially motivated opposition to the ERA. However, she raised the issue of post-traumatic stress syndrome and the vast empirical evidence of large numbers of men avoiding modern war in order to question the traditional notion that war was a uniquely masculine activity. She contrasted the total government commitment to racial integration of the military with the piecemeal approach to female participation, which, she argued, has itself engendered much of institutional backlash against allowing women into traditional combat roles.