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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 6/27/21

Don't read this book - A critical reaction to "War: How Conflict Shaped Us"

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War: How Conflict Shaped Us. Margaret MacMillan. Random House, New York. 2020.

I almost did not finish reading "War: How Conflict Shaped Us". It is not worth reading, but I worked through it anyway. Which is unfortunate as Margaret MacMillan can be an excellent writer of history. The two volumes of hers that I have read - "Paris 1919" and "The War That Ended Peace" - are well-written histories, readily accessible and valuable for all levels of readers. Unfortunately she errs right from the title on through to the lack of actually saying what shape we are in today as a result of all our wars.

Cultivation and language

The title suggests that war has shaped us, almost as if it is a natural force in a similar manner that economists argue the 'free markets' are a natural force. Both are human constructs, and when reading through the book it becomes apparent that the title should have read "War - How We Cultivate It." Certainly it shapes us, but the preponderance of language used in its descriptions throughout the book indicate it is a culture: "improvement by training; intellectual development", although I dare say to call war intellectual is a bit of a stretch, more a culture of rationalization. When something is cultivated it is "preparation to grow", which in our culture is the preparation and growth of war, militarism, and its associated institutions and behaviours.

MacMillan's choice of language fully indicates how humanity cultivates war. While discussing how war is supposedly shaping us, she uses the language of social cultivation, some words more severe than others. On the soft side, support for war is managed, legitimated, motivated, sanctified; on the harder side war is instilled, inculcated (from its roots to be trod on by the heel), manipulated.

She discusses "public opinion" as if the public has an actual say in determining the advent of war, but public opinion is mostly determined by the media of the day - just read some histories of Randolph Hearst and Edward Bernays among others. She also uses the term "public culture," and in the same manner, public culture is formed mainly by the media: manipulated, managed, legitimated and even sanctified by corporate control.

The descriptor "unscrupulous" is used to describe demagogues and some of the military, but the word scrupulous indicates a person is "conscientious even in small matters, not neglectful of details, thoroughness, unfailing". To be sure, demagogues and military personnel can be very scrupulous. Just because they are being destructive does not mean they do not have the "scruples" of the militarized mindset inculcated or sanctified internally.

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Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and analyst who examines the world through a syncretic lens. His analysis of international and domestic geopolitical ideas and actions incorporates a lifetime of interest in current events, a desire to (more...)

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