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Este Blogue é um estudo da Associação Projecto Raia Alentejana e tem como objectivo a discussão da violência em geral e da guerra na Pré-História em particular. A Arqueologia da Península Ibérica tem aqui especial relevo. Esperamos cruzar dados de diferentes campos do conhecimento com destaque para a Antropologia Social. As críticas construtivas são bem vindas neste espaço, que se espera, de conhecimento.

Guerra Primitiva\Pré-Histórica
Violência interpessoal colectiva entre duas ou mais comunidades políticas distintas, com o uso de armas tendo como objectivo causar fatalidades, por um motivo colectivo sem hipótese de compensação.


Friday, 17 April 2009

RITUALIZED ‘PRIMITIVE’ WARFARE AND RITUALS IN WAR:PHENOCOPY,HOMOLOGY,OR...? - Johan M.G. van der Dennen II

PART 2: RITUAL IN ‘PRIMITIVE’ WAR


The Function of Human War Ritual
Ritual in humans seems to have a primarily apotropaic (anxiolytic) function: it reduces
fear and anxiety. It has the effect of coordinating preparations for action among several
individuals. It also functions as a means of organizing the perception of reality, i.e.,
chaos is replaced by order (Kennedy, 1971).
Rituals seem to play an important and even indispensable role in social intercourse.
According to Durkheim, societies must periodically “recharge their social and moral
sentiments of solidarity” (quoted in P. Smith, 1991). Furthermore, rituals “receive their
special character from underlying and overarching semiotic structures that arrange
concepts in patterns of binary oppositions” (P. Smith, 1991). The ritualistic
confirmation of an ethnocentric cosmos apparently played a major role throughout the
history of war (Meyer, 1993).
Ritual reduces anxiety and fear and institutes confidence, while at the same time giving
assurance of ultimate meaning. It reinforces the solidarity of the group by dramatizing
its status structure. It strengthens group boundaries, justifies its hostile or defensive
activities, and expiates its guilt. It especially supports the warrior values and the warfare
process by ceremonially transforming the guilt of killing into self-righteous virtue and
strength (Kennedy, 1971).
The fear-reducing function of human rituals may be illustrated by the example of the
peaceful Semai. The Semai of the Malay Peninsula live in small bands and consider
everything and everyone outside the band as malevolent and mortally dangerous.
Robarchek & Robarchek (1998) state: “The forest that surrounds Semai communities is
filled with malevolent ‘spirits’, beings and forces that wait only the opportunity to
attack and kill human beings. People seldom venture alone into the primary forest, and
staying alone in the forest at night is so foolhardy as to be symptomatic of madness.
Nearly every activity is hedged with rituals and taboos in an attempt to stave off the
omnipresent dangers that menace just outside”. This is contrasted with the Amazonian
Waorani (or Auca), whose world view holds few dangers beyond the human threats of
witchcraft or a spearing raid. “With no tutelary spirits, few animistic beliefs, and little
magic, the are no communal religious rituals or responsibilities to link people together”.
Kennedy (1971) has presented an inventory of preparatory (pre-battle) and post-battle
rituals, on which the following account is based.
Preparatory Ritual
Almost all societies perform a series of rituals before they join the enemy in battle
which sometimes go on for days or even weeks in advance. We may call these
preparatory rituals. The most obvious of these have the overt purpose of protecting the
warrior from harm and death. Somehow he must be reassured that he has a reasonable
chance of avoiding the fate of ‘all those others’.
(1) Prayers and offerings are among the most common ritualistic attempts to instill such
confidence.
(2) Giving and wearing of magic amulets (making the warrior invulnerable against the
projectiles of the enemy) is another.
(3) Divination: forecasting the outcome of the fighting (which may include
interpretation of omens, dreams and/or visions).
(4) Warrior ascetism: ritualized sexual abstinence before a battle (lest the fierce warrior
be contaminated by feminine substances).
(5) Sacrifice is another particularly common form of preparatory ritual.
(6) The vow is a ritual closely related to sacrifice. The vow of revenge, the vow not to
return without killing or victory, the vow not to retreat (as in the ‘dog societies’ of the
Plains Indians), are common examples.
(7) Decorations of the body by painting, use of feathers, wearing a uniform etc.
(8) The ritual rehearsal, where the battle is enacted and won symbolically before the
war party sets out.
Warrior ecstasy is an opposite type of ritually induced preparatory behavior.
Historically famous warrior ecstatics are the Berserkers of the Vikings, the dreaded
furor teutonicus, and the Biblical Sampson who, filled with blood lust, in frenzied,
trance-like states performed what seemed to be superhuman feats of mass killing. More
common and less spectacular examples of warrior ecstasy are the war dances. The war
dance, sometimes intensified by drug taking, serves the overt purpose of final emotional
preparation to face the spiritual and physical dangers of the enemy.
Often these emotion-arousing rituals have the effect of irrevocably committing the
individual to bravery and self-sacrifice, for who could show his face if he exhibited
cowardice in battle after such extravagantly fierce claims, the vows to kill, and the
taunting of the less aggressive? Also, what right would he have to share the spoils in the
event of victory? The great ritual effort to induce commitment may be seen as culturally
developed means for overcoming the subconscious repugnance to killing as well as for
reduction of fear (see also Potegal, 1979; van der Dennen, 1980, 1985).
The warrior value system apparently needs a great deal of social buttressing, from early
training in fierceness through divine validation and many shaming devices to arousal
and fear reducing rituals (Kennedy, 1971; Cf. Andreski, 1964; Chagnon, 1968a; Van
der Dennen, 1995; Keeley, 1996).
Post-Battle Ritual
It is after the battle that ritual again reaches a crescendo in primitive societies. We
frequently find orgiastic victory dances, in which gloating, bragging and frenzied joyful
abandon predominate. Captives are tortured, killed and sometimes eaten. Sexual
energies, previously dammed up by ascetic taboos, are released, and food and alcohol
are consumed in great quantities. Much of this behavior is of course a kind of ritualized
release of tension and fear. “Victory has ever been strong medicine” as Turney-High
(1949) puts it.
He further points out that the victory dance restores the upset social equilibrium caused
by the war, while at the same time acting as a rite de passage, i.e., a return to the
normality of daily life roles which were disturbed by the war. A great deal of the ritual
following battle is defensive against spirits. Victory is heady, but conversely there are
one’s own dead to mourn, and retaliatory anger is unleashed on the captives as symbolic
equivalents of the killers of relatives and friends. Much of such ritual activity seems
clearly to indicate the expiation of guilt, even more than it does relief in the freedom
from danger, or the ego-inflating claims of triumph.
Disculpation Ritual
Various kinds of ritual penance after killing were widespread in primitive, as well as in
ancient, societies. Fasting, sexual abstinence, and separation were common, as were
ritual responsibilities such as sacrifices for vows given. Often the returning warrior was
considered sacredly polluted and had to undergo additional purification rituals.
The Pimas, for example, regarded the killing of an enemy to be such a dangerous act
that according to some observers a Pima warrior withdrew from battle the moment he
killed his opponent to begin his rites of purification, or lustration (Kroeber & Fontana,
1987).
In his The Golden Bough, Frazer (1890 et seq.) was the first to acknowledge and
summarize the available evidence of the existence of disculpation ritual, taboos and
purification ceremonies (or lustration) in the war behavior of ‘primitive’ peoples. The
purpose of the seclusion and the expiatory rites which the warriors who have taken the
life of a foe have to perform is, he points out, Ano other than to shake off, frighten, or
appease the angry spirit of the slain man@.
In his Totem und Tabu, Freud (1913) was so impressed by these examples of
disculpation ritual among primitive peoples that he devoted a chapter to it, and
concluded: “We conclude from all these regulations that in the behavior toward the
enemy other than purely hostile sentiments are expressed. We see in them
manifestations of repentance, or regard of the enemy, and of bad conscience for having
killed him. It seems that the commandment, thou shalt not slay, which could not be
violated without punishment, existed also among savages long before any legislation
was received from the hands of a God”.
Does Culture Phenocopy Nature?
Davie (1929) considered the sparing of women and children in war to be the beginning
of a common law of war and peace. Efforts to confine armed conflict to the fighting
male population has also been observed by Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1986) to be part of the
institutionalization of rules of warfare that help to avoid unnecessary bloodshed.
Cultural evolution, he submits, here phenocopies ritualizations that in the animal
kingdom repeatedly led from damaging fights to tournement-like contests (“Wir
beobachten ferner die Ausbildung von Regeln der Kriegsführung, die unnötiges
Blutvergießen vermeiden helfen, und insbesondere auch das Bemühen, die bewaffnete
Auseindersetzung auf die kämpfende männliche Bevölkerung zu beschränken. Hier
phänokopiert die kulturelle Evolution in ganz auffälliger Weise jene Ritualisierungen
die im Tierreich wiederholt von Beschädigungskämpfen zu Turnierkämpfen führten.
Beim Menschen findet eine analoge Entwicklung zweimal statt C bei den Zweikämpfen
mit Waffen und dann beim Kriegführen zwischen Gruppen. Hier sind vermutlich
ähnliche Selektionsdrucke wirksam. Bei dieser kulturellen Entschärfung des Krieges
dürfte die uns angeborene Aggressionshemmung eine wichtige Rolle spielen” [Eibl-
Eibesfeldt, 1986]).
Warfare as Callisthenics and Catharsis: Game-like Wars
Howell (1975) has argued that there are at least three kinds of ‘war’: (1) conflictive,
marked especially by balance of forces and tendency toward resolution; (2) without
conflict, due to lack of balance of forces or “no effective resistance”; and (3)
nonconflictive, the “kind in which neither side is particularly interested in a more or less
permanent disengagement”. It is the latter “which is so widely distributed in the
anthropological literature, and the type which may be described as a kind of game with
moderately high stakes”. His approach is reminiscent of Rapoport’s (1960) distinction
between ‘fight like’ and ‘game like’ wars (cf. Speier’s [1941] distinction between ritual,
instrumental and genocidal wars; and Van der Dennen’s [1995] distinction between
wars of callisthenics, wars of coercion, and wars of carnage).
Rappaport (1968) provides a detailed exploration of intergroup relations among the
Maring-speaking Tsembaga and their neighbors in New Guinea. These societies have a
fairly complex system of interrelationships, with groups which are close and groups
which are traditional enemies. And in the latter case, if for any reason a group is
spoiling for a fight, even a minor incident can precipitate one.
The Tsembaga Maring distinguish between minor and serious fights (as do numerous
other peoples: many societies all over the world distinguished between some kind of
conflictive, issue-related ‘real’ war and something akin to the game-like ‘minor fight’
which was regarded as primarily recreative). In minor fights the offended party issues a
challenge, after which allies are recruited and a battleground is selected and cleared.
The clearing operation involves both sides but these avoid any encounters in advance of
the appointed hour for the fight. At that time the sides line up to fire arrows and
sometimes spears at each other (some informants claimed that hand-to-hand weapons
were not even brought to the scene of the fight). Large shields form a barricade from
behind which the men pop out to shoot, then leap back to safety. But some men
deliberately exposed themselves to enemy fire to show their bravery; casualties were
not numerous and deaths were infrequent, “for the unfletched arrows of the Maring
seldom kill”. Rappaport suggests that such minor fights may serve to end a quarrel
before it gets out of hand. They permit time for “tempers to cool while satisfying the
bellicose imperatives of manhood”.
Turney-High (1949) was appalled by the evident lack of military sophistication of North
American Indians and other warriors who nearly always yielded to “the temptation to
accomplish useless little victories, the slaughter of one man or the crushing of one small
party... so that more often than not no real advantage is acquired by the victor nor
permanent injury done to the defeated”. Kroeber (1925) reported that the California
Indians “delivered mass fire, but the extreme range made it notably bloodless. They
even went so far as to take poorer arrows to war than they used in economic hunting”.
With the Californians and Columbians war was really a form of amusement; it consisted
merely of duels, and the two ‘armies’ danced and sang at the battle. It was good fun and
they enjoyed it (Kroeber, 1925; Hoebel, 1949). Such reports inspired Turney-High to
charge that most Californians “were too cowardly to make fighting men”.
But in such examples there is no evident interest in seeking a resolution by either
victory or a peace pact, because the purpose of the war games is to demonstrate
bravado, if not courage (Howell, 1975).
War for adventure or sport is commonly reported among preliterate societies. Certain
Australian tribes occasionally sent out expeditions, ostensibly to procure medicinal
plants and minerals such as red ocher hundreds of miles away. They usually had to fight
their way through tribes on whose territory they trespassed and returned with thrilling
tales of adventure rather than with valuable commodities.
Malinowski (1920) writes of the Trobriand Islanders: “The mere fact of fighting as a
sport, and the glory derived from a display of daring and skill, were an important
incitement to warfare”.
“Among peoples who esteem the military life, expeditions are sometimes launched for
the sheer fun of it. Young Plains warriors were actually disappointed when older
chieftains called off prospective fights through peace parleys. War can be loved by
those who play it as a game and are willing to pay the croupier, Death” (Hoebel, 1949).
The Californian Yuman tribes apparently needed no immediate provocation because
they fought for the pleasure and excitement fighting produced (McCorkle, 1978).
These milder forms of war have also been interpreted as providing an opportunity for
working off aggressive impulses without danger to the social solidarity or economic
welfare of either of the contending parties (e.g., Howitt, 1904; Hoijer, 1929;
Wedgwood, 1930).
It has been observed time and again that war may provide an escape from debilitating
tedium and ennui, from the monotony of the routine of everyday-life, frustration, and
existential insignificance. “War is one of the most effective devices ever invented for
this cathartic purpose” (Turney-High, 1949).
As Andreski (1964) remarked: “For a vigorous man, war may appear very attractive as
an alternative to exhausting monotonous work and grinding poverty. The ‘heroic’
narrative poetry from the Iliad and the Nibelungenlied to the Mahabharatta is full of
glowing pictures of the life of warriors, amusing themselves with gambling, wine,
women and song, and basking in glory, which stands in strong contrast to the abject fate
of toilers”.
“Men like war” Davie (1929), and more recently Van Creveld (1991), stated rather
apodictically and generalizingly. “They often fight for the love of excitement or the
mere lust of fighting. While it is true, as someone has said, that anyone will fight when
he is mad enough, it is also a fact that men will fight when they are not aroused, but just
for the fun of it. War offers diversion and relief from ennui. It provides a mode of
escape from the monotony of a dull existence. Primitive life seems to afford scanty
amusements and means of recreation; the savage is so engrossed in a severe struggle for
existence that his life leaves little room for diversion. Hence men like to fight. The most
exciting things they know are hunting, herding, and warfare. These are the occupations
they enjoy, and their pursuit affords a considerable measure of satisfaction and
pleasure” (Davie, 1929).
Kwakiutl warfare was seasonal, and while the tactics involved surprise, ambush, and
trickery, the warfare generally “was ceremonialized... and the object of a whole
expedition could be gained by one killing and the taking of a single head. What actual
violence occurred was dramatized superbly and outrageously” (Codere, 1950).
Gearing (1962) noted the seasonal nature of warfare in the Great Smokey Mountains.
Howell (1975) observed: “As there was no obvious strategic or tactical reason for the
18th-century Cherokee to fight during the fall or winter, it seems likely that more urgent
matters, such as planting, harvesting, and communal repair activities took precedence
the rest of the year. Many activities are necessarily curtailed during the winter, but the
social calendar was still open. Winter was used for the used for the
GAME
of war, with
prestige the principal reward for the player-warriors. This interpretation gains support
from Gearing’s observation that ‘Occasionally, without regard to season, it was
necessary to revenge a murder or to exert pressures to prevent a wrongful marriage’.
That is, real grievance or real conflicts were dealt with promptly, as we might expect.
And during the war season the opponents were selected at council meetings. The
decision to fight was understood: what remained was to fix the target. The aggression
was teleological rather than instrumental (i.e., rather than part of an attempt to solve a
problem outstanding between the home team and the group to be attacked). The
situation changed after about 1730, when the presence of colonial powers had the effect
of linking much warfare with actual conflict situations” (Howell, 1975).
Evidence for the ritual character of war may also be found in statements that the society
involved warred or feuded, and traded, and intermarried with their ‘enemies’. For
example, Silver (1978) states of the Californian Konomihu (living near the Shasta):
“Although the Konomihu feuded with the Scott Valley Shasta... they traded leggings
and robes to them and intermarried with them”. Such observations are not scarce in the
ethnographical literature (a number of them have been collected by Keeley, 1996; and
Van der Dennen, f.c.).
Turney-High (1949) emphasized the psychological attractiveness of the sheer fun of
recreational warfare especially if it is combined with the cathartic function of tension-
releasing warfare: “War is the most exciting exercise in the world. The real struggle of
fighting is more thrilling than the mock opposition of games; the real man-hunt is
incomparably more stimulating than the slaughter of animals. War is the great trigger-
release of pent-up emotions, and it is apparent that more than one tribe has realized this.
The Winnebago, for example, recognized that war affords an excellent release when the
load of sorrow becomes too great to be borne (Fletcher & LaFlesche, 1906)”.
Among the headhunting peoples of the Philippines, such as the Ilongot, a death in the
household, and the subsequent period of mourning, was among the chief conditions that
would make a man wish to “relieve his heart” (Rosaldo, 1970; LeBar, 1975) by raiding
for a head.
“Many tribes, indeed, were more realistic in conceiving of war as a flight-from-grief
device than we are” (Turney-High, 1949).
War stories are still the most entertaining stories, and in order to spin yarns there
must be wars. Wissler’s (1906) discussion of the Blackfoot makes this clear. With
them the military yarn was the most important form of entertainment, and the
Blackfoot insisted that it be a true one. Plains life was probably very monotonous,
and therefore the successful warrior had not only provided pleasure for himself in
manhunting but was a public benefactor in relieving the ennui of his fellow-
tribesmen.
Much primitive war was more of an athletic than a military exercise. Of course,
one sought to kill a human and risked being killed himself, but dangerous games
have always been the most fun, especially those which look more dangerous than
they are. When a Plains warrior got more honorable coups for slapping a living
enemy in the face, for being first to whip a corpse, for taking a bow or blanket
from a living man than for slaughtering a hundred troublesome enemies in
ordinary battle, he was indulging in an athletic event, not war.
California informants admitted as much to Kroeber (1925). They knew that war
looked more dangerous than it was. These tribes knew how to make stone arrow
points, for they used them in hunting. Yet, they carried headless arrows to war.
Warriors would return from an engagement bristling like pin-cushions. Their
wives would pull out the simple wood arrows, and they would live to ‘fight’
another day.
Landtman (1927) points out that the inter-clan and intra-village hostilities in
Papua were exercised with much self-restraint. They were generally held at night
by the light of torches held by women. The observer might think that the battle
was frightful from the noise and expenditure of rage, but deadly missiles were
aimed at the legs and deaths were rare (Turney-High, 1949).
Unless viewed from the standpoint of a game, Turney-High (1949) comments, the
whole thing seemed impossibly futile. Harris (1978) and Ferguson (1984) have (not
very convincingly) criticized the ‘war as play’ explanation of primitive war.
Multiphase War Processes as Assessment and Escalation
Primitive War as a Harmless Pastime?...
There are many misunderstandings about ‘primitive’ war. On the one hand, Dyer (1985)
and many others such as Montagu (1976), consider primitive war to be a relatively
harmless pastime because it was ritualized to a large extent:
“[A]lmost all of them [hunting-and-gathering cultures] have the same attitude
toward ‘war’: it is an important ritual, an exciting and dangerous game, and
perhaps even an opportunity for self-expression, but it is not about power in any
recognizable modern sense of the word, and it most certainly is not about
slaughter” (Dyer, 1985; p. 6; italics added).
“They were almost all continuously involved in low-level warfare against their
neighbors in their spare time, but nobody thought ‘winning’ was sufficiently
important to put much thought into organizing warfare efficiently; rather, it
provided justification for the fact that the warriors ran everything, and gave
meaning to their lives.
This sort of tribal warfare is almost always very limited and bound by ritual.
‘Battles’ are often prearranged, but once they begin, they are not much more than
the sum of the individual actions of many warriors acting on their own without
direction or coordination. The fighting often stops for the day after one side has
exacted a death, with the losers mourning their loss and the other side celebrating
its victory within sight of each other. There are often deliberate steps taken to
ensure that the killing does not get too efficient” (p. 9; italics added).
“Though precivilized warfare served various ritual and magical purposes and
may have had broader social functions, it was predominantly a rough male sport
for underemployed hunters, with the kind of damage-limiting rules that all
competitive sports have” (p. 10; italics added).
Dyer (1985) explains why among hunter-gatherers, living in societies essentially
confined to a single band, warfare would not be expected to be a bloody affair. These
peoples were, he submits, rarely capable of imagining a degree of coordination that
would make it possible to conquer another band and hold its territory, nor indeed would
there have been much point. Other bands had few material possessions worth seizing,
slaves were practically valueless in that sort of subsistence economy (where they could
do little more than feed themselves), and additional territory was generally of only
marginal use to migratory hunters.
Similar views have also been expressed by numerous cultural anthropologists and
others, though they are, in fact, erroneous. These views do not take into account (1) the
lethality of ‘raiding’ as the mode of warfare much more prevalent than pitched battle
and conventional combat. Both Van der Dennen (1995) and Keeley (1996) provide
numerical and circumstantial evidence of the astonishing number of casualties and the
devastating destruction of primitive raiding; (2) the fact that even a pitched battle might
turn into a massacre at the moment one party realizes its numerical or technological
superiority; conventional combat may more appropriately be regarded as a low-cost
means of assessing the (numerical) strenght and determination of the adversary. Vayda
provided empirical evidence for the idea that ritualized warfare (pitched battle) may
rapidly change into lethal warfare if the odds change (vide infra).
Or ‘Primitive’ War as guerre à l’outrance?...
On the other hand, Keeley (1996) argued the exact opposite position: ‘primitive’
warfare was even more lethal and destructive than its contemporary counterpart because
it was not ritualized at all:
As we have seen, the very deadly raids, ambushes and surprise attacks on
settlements were the forms of combat preferred by tribal warriors to the less
deadly but much more complicated battles so important in civilized warfare. In
fact, primitive warfare was much more deadly than that conducted between
civilized states because of the greater frequency of combat and the more merciless
way it was conducted. Primitive war was very efficient at inflicting damage
through the destruction of property, especially means of production and shelter,
and inducing terror by frequently visiting sudden death and mutilating its victims.
The plunder of valuable commodities was common, and primitive warfare was
very effective in acquiring additional territory, even if this was a seldom professed
goal.
Primitive war was not a puerile or deficient form of warfare, but war reduced to
its essentials: killing enemies with a minimum of risk, denying them the means of
life via vandalism and theft (even the means of reproduction by the kidnapping of
their women and children), terrorizing them into either yielding territory or
desisting from their encroachments and aggressions. At the tactical level,
primitive warfare and its cousin, guerrilla warfare, have also been superior to the
civilized variety. It is civilized warfare that is stylized, ritualized, and relatively
less dangerous. When soldiers clash with warriors (or guerrillas), it is precisely
these ‘decorative’ civilized tactics and paraphernalia that must be abandoned by
the former if they are to defeat the latter. Even such a change may be insufficient,
and co-opted native warriors must be substituted for the inadequate soldiers
before victory belongs to the latter...
Primitive warfare is simply total war conducted with very limited means...
Primitive war is ‘war to the knife’, guerre à l’outrance. (Keeley, 1996)
These two extreme positions may be reconciled somewhat by taking into account the
following observations.
In a number of recent anthropological studies of warfare, different grades of violence
have been distinguished, separate causes have been sought for fighting at each grade,
and, in some cases, escalations from grade to grade have been noted (e.g., Warner,
1930; Otterbein, 1968; Chagnon, 1967 et seq.). Vayda (1971; 1974) describes a
multiphase war process operating among the Maring of eastern New Guinea. The
significant features of this process include the following: (1) The later phases of the
process, that involves heavy mortality and sometimes leads to territorial conquests,
cannot occur unless preceded by periods of weeks or months marked by rather
ritualized hostilities in which mortality is low; (2) Escalations from phase to phase in
the war process are not inevitable; (3) The causes of entry into war are not the same as
the causes of escalation from one phase to another of the war process.
Evidence from case studies (Vayda, 1970; 1971) raises serious questions about the
validity of cross-cultural or cross-societal studies that depend on the fixed assignment of
the warfare of various societies to one or another of a limited number of such categories
as ‘revenge warfare’. The case studies point to the possibility that the ethnographic
reports on which the assignments to the categories are based may be describing the
causes of only the first phases of war processes; fighting for blood revenge, magical
trophies, or sacrificial victims can become something else if there is escalation to the
later phases.
This insight, that relatively ritualized agonistic war may escalate into instrumental or
even genocidal war, is Vayda’s most valuable contribution to the study of preindustrial
warfare. A war of callisthenics may escalate into a war of coercion or a war of carnage,
in a process of constant assessment and testing of disparities between the belligerents.
Durham (1976) suggested a selectionist explanation of the multiphase war process.
Selection (i.e., natural plus cultural selection) may favor the use of low-cost
‘assessment’ tactics in the early phases of war. This strategy would allow the
participants to assess the capability and motivation of their opponents without an
immediate risk of large losses. Escalation would be expected only where earlier, less
costly tactics seem insufficient to ensure net gain or where increased belligerence is
necessary to prevent large losses to an escalating opponent. Finally, belligerents may
actually be able to redefine the situation and the war aims, and expand their potential
resource benefits in the course of conflict.
Notice that this explanation parallels in considerable detail Clutton-Brock et al.’s
analysis of the ritualized stages of escalation in the agonistic behavior of red deer as a
process of mutual assessment of fighting potential.

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