Start your review of Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War Write a review Shelves: war , nonfiction , history Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War covers the development of war from the prehistoric people who were at first the prey of larger animals and to the early s when some thought that war had become outmoded with the advent of nuclear weapons so horribly destructive that we would dare not use them again. We see the roots of war develop via sacred blood rites. It tells about early people coming together in bands and eventually the development of the warrior elites. You will Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War covers the development of war from the prehistoric people who were at first the prey of larger animals and to the early s when some thought that war had become outmoded with the advent of nuclear weapons so horribly destructive that we would dare not use them again.

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July 11, War Without Humans: Modern Blood Rites Revisited War has been, and we still expect it to be, the most massive collective project human beings undertake. But it has been evolving quickly in a very different direction, one in which human beings have a much smaller role to play. More generally, then, we should define war as a self-replicating pattern of activity that may or may not require human participation. In the human case, we know it is capable of spreading geographically and evolving rapidly over time—qualities that, as I suggested somewhat fancifully, make war a metaphorical successor to the predatory animals that shaped humans into fighters in the first place.

A decade and a half later, these musings do not seem quite so airy and abstract anymore. The trend, at the close of the twentieth century, still seemed to be one of ever more massive human involvement in war—from armies containing tens of thousands in the sixteenth century, to hundreds of thousands in the nineteenth, and eventually millions in the twentieth century world wars.

It was the ascending scale of war that originally called forth the existence of the nation-state as an administrative unit capable of maintaining mass armies and the infrastructure—for taxation, weapons manufacture, transport, etc.

War has been, and we still expect it to be, the most massive collective project human beings undertake. In the face of these new enemies, typified by al-Qaeda, the mass armies of nation-states are highly ineffective, cumbersome to deploy, difficult to maneuver, and from a domestic point of view, overly dependent on a citizenry that is both willing and able to fight, or at least to have their children fight for them. Yet just as U.

Only slowly, and with a reluctance bordering on the phobic, have the leaders of major states begun to grasp the fact that this approach to warfare may soon be obsolete. Consider the most recent U. According to then-president George W. The causal link between that event and our chosen enemy, Iraq, was, however, imperceptible to all but the most dedicated inside-the-Beltway intellectuals.

Nineteen men had hijacked airplanes and flown them into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center—15 of them Saudi Arabians, none of them Iraqis—and we went to war against… Iraq? Military history offers no ready precedents for such wildly misaimed retaliation. Why Iraq? Neoconservative imperial ambitions have been invoked in explanation, as well as the American thirst for oil, or even an Oedipal contest between George W.

Bush and his father. There is no doubt some truth to all of these explanations, but the targeting of Iraq also represented a desperate and irrational response to what was, for Washington, an utterly confounding military situation. We faced a state-less enemy—geographically diffuse, lacking uniforms and flags, invulnerable to invading infantries and saturation bombing, and apparently capable of regenerating itself at minimal expense.

Since the U. The effects of this atavistic war are still being tallied: in Iraq, we would have to include civilian deaths estimated at possibly hundreds of thousands, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and devastating outbreaks of sectarian violence of a kind that, as we should have learned from the dissolution of Yugoslavia, can readily follow the death or removal of a nationalist dictator.

Another thing hobbling mass militaries is the increasing unwillingness of nations, especially the more democratic ones, to risk large numbers of casualties. But the effects of war on the U. Instead of punishing the terrorists who had attacked the U.

By insisting on fighting a more or less randomly selected nation-state, the U. Unwieldy Armies Whatever they may think of what the U. Not only are they unsuited to crushing counterinsurgencies and small bands of terrorists or irregular fighters, but mass armies are simply too cumbersome to deploy on short notice.

Both hawks and liberal interventionists may hanker to airlift tens of thousands of soldiers to distant places virtually overnight, but those soldiers will need to be preceded or accompanied by tents, canteens, trucks, medical equipment, and so forth. The sluggishness of the mass, labor-intensive military has become a constant source of frustration to civilian leaders. It took the U. It is no longer acceptable to drive men into battle at gunpoint or to demand that they fend for themselves on foreign soil.

Ultimately, the mass militaries of the modern era, augmented by ever-more expensive weapons systems, place an unacceptable economic burden on the nation-states that support them—a burden that eventually may undermine the militaries themselves.

To this must be added the cost of caring for wounded and otherwise damaged veterans, which has been mounting precipitously as medical advances allow more of the injured to survive. The U. For many younger Americans… as well as for older combat veterans, the U.

From the Reagan years on, the U. Even the physical infrastructure—bridges, airports, roads, and tunnels—used by people of all classes has been left at dangerous levels of disrepair.

But to no effect. In the U. It was the bellicose German leader Otto von Bismarck who first instituted national health insurance. Drones, directed from sites up to 7, miles away in the western United States, are replacing manned aircraft. World War II spawned educational benefits and income support for American veterans and led, in the United Kingdom, to a comparatively generous welfare state, including free health care for all.

Notions of social justice and fairness, or at least the fear of working class insurrections, certainly played a part in the development of twentieth century welfare states, but there was a pragmatic military motivation as well: if young people are to grow up to be effective troops, they need to be healthy, well-nourished, and reasonably well-educated. In the absence of a federal jobs program, Congressional representatives become fierce advocates for weapons systems that the Pentagon itself has no use for, as long as the manufacture of those weapons can provide employment for some of their constituents.

With diminishing funds for higher education, military service becomes a less dismal alternative for young working-class people than the low-paid jobs that otherwise await them. For many younger Americans, however, as well as for older combat veterans, the U. In World War I, public health experts were shocked to find that one-third of conscripts were rejected as physically unfit for service; they were too weak and flabby or too damaged by work-related accidents.

Several generations later, in , the U. In fact, this may prove to be the ultimate military utility of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: if they have gained the U. One step in that direction has been the large-scale use of military contract workers supplied by private companies, which can be seen as a revival of the age-old use of mercenaries. Although most of the functions that have been outsourced to private companies—including food services, laundry, truck driving, and construction—do not involve combat, they are dangerous, and some contract workers have even been assigned to the guarding of convoys and military bases.

Contractors are still men and women, capable of bleeding and dying—and surprising numbers of them have indeed died. In the initial six months of , corporate deaths exceeded military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan for the first time. But the Pentagon has little or no responsibility for the training, feeding, or care of private contractors.

This would have been an almost unthinkable proposition a few decades ago, but technologies employed in Iraq and Afghanistan have steadily stripped away the human role in war. Video cameras, borne by drones, substitute for human scouts or information gathered by pilots. Robots disarm roadside bombs. When American forces invaded Iraq in , no robots accompanied them; by , there were 12, participating in the war.

Only a handful of drones were used in the initial invasion; today, the U. These developments are by no means limited to the U. The global market for military robotics and unmanned military vehicles is growing fast, and includes Israel, a major pioneer in the field, Russia, the United Kingdom, Iran, South Korea, and China.

And in that may lie our last hope. It is hard to predict how far the automation of war and the substitution of autonomous robots for human fighters will go. On the one hand, humans still have the advantage of superior visual discrimination. Despite decades of research in artificial intelligence, computers cannot make the kind of simple distinctions—as in determining whether a cow standing in front of a barn is a separate entity or a part of the barn—that humans can make in a fraction of a second.

Thus, as long as there is any premium on avoiding civilian deaths, humans have to be involved in processing the visual information that leads, for example, to the selection of targets for drone attacks. If only as the equivalent of seeing-eye dogs, humans will continue to have a role in war, at least until computer vision improves. On the other hand, the human brain lacks the bandwidth to process all the data flowing into it, especially as new technologies multiply that data.

On the ground, troops increasingly use hand-held devices to communicate, get directions and set bombing coordinates. War Without Humans Once set in place, the cyber-automation of war is hard to stop. But it is precisely at the highest levels that decision-making may most need automating. A head of state faces a blizzard of factors to consider, everything from historical analogies and satellite-derived intelligence to assessments of the readiness of potential allies.

Furthermore, as the enemy automates its military, or in the case of a non-state actor, simply adapts to our level of automation, the window of time for effective responses will grow steadily narrower. Why not turn to a high-speed computer? So, after at least 10, years of intra-species fighting—of scorched earth, burned villages, razed cities, and piled up corpses, as well, of course, as all the great epics of human literature—we have to face the possibility that the institution of war might no longer need us for its perpetuation.

Computers will assess threats and calibrate responses; drones will pinpoint enemies; robots might roll into the streets of hostile cities.

Beyond the individual battle or smaller-scale encounter, decisions as to whether to match attack with counterattack, or one lethal technological innovation with another, may also be eventually ceded to alien minds. This should not come as a complete surprise. Just as war has shaped human social institutions for millennia, so has it discarded them as the evolving technology of war rendered them useless. When war was fought with blades by men on horseback, it favored the rule of aristocratic warrior elites.

When the mode of fighting shifted to action-at-a-distance weapons like bows and guns, the old elites had to bow to the central authority of kings, who, in turn, were undone by the democratizing forces unleashed by new mass armies. Even patriarchy cannot depend on war for its long-term survival, since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have, at least within U. Over the centuries, human qualities once deemed indispensable to war fighting—muscular power, manliness, intelligence, judgment—have one by one become obsolete or been ceded to machines.

Except for individual acts of martyrdom, war is likely to lose its glory and luster. Military analyst P. It may even continue to fascinate its aficionados, in the manner of computer games. But there will be no triumphal parades for killer nano-bugs, no epics about unmanned fighter planes, no monuments to fallen bots.

With the decline of mass militaries and their possible replacement by machines, we may finally see that war is not just an extension of our needs and passions, however base or noble. Nor is it likely to be even a useful test of our courage, fitness, or national unity. War has its own dynamic or—in case that sounds too anthropomorphic—its own grim algorithms to work out.

We can leave it to the ants.


Blood Rites

Brabei I do not know if Ms. Blood Rites rekindled my long held interest in almost non-existent theories of war. When massive beasts went extinct, solitary or small hunting Suggests an origin for the fervor humanity has for war and how its manifestation has morphed throughout our ehrehreich. A fascinating set of topics treated very compellingly.


Barbara Ehrenreich



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