Traditions of War: Occupation, Resistance, and the Law

By Karma Nabulsi | Go to book overview

4
High Priests of the Temple of Janus: The Martial Tradition of War

INTRODUCTION

At the conferences on the laws of war, the most powerful (and certainly the noisiest) voice on the question of a distinction between lawful and unlawful combatant was the martial. This voice easily drowned out all others at Brussels in 1874. It was equally pitched at The Hague in 1899, and was still going strong, although definitely more beleaguered, at Geneva half a century later. The main object of this chapter is to present martialism, the political tradition behind that voice. This intellectual paradigm contained a political and philosophical set of assumptions, the importance of which has been consistently undervalued in the literature on war. The second claim here is that this ideology has been unnecessarily conflated into the broader analytical category of 'realism', resulting in a failure to draw out both the specific traits of realism and the distinct properties of martialist thinking. Once the key differences between these two concepts have been identified and illustrated, the influence of martialist thinking on a particular set of conceptions and practices of war which emerged in Britain during the second half of the nineteenth century can be demonstrated.

The term 'martialism' will be used throughout this chapter to define an ideology which glorified war and military conquest. The more commonly used 'militarism', which generally encompasses this ideology, suffers from a number of drawbacks both in its definition and its taxonomy, and, accordingly, its use has been excluded. The first reason that using militarism is inappropriate is because the term itself is ideologically tainted: it arose as part of a general nineteenth-century liberal critique of war and has retained highly pejorative connotations ever since.1 Secondly, its traditional history has overemphasized its Prussian roots. Blanning has succinctly described the dangers of this approach, which

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1
For a chronological development of the use of the term 'militarism' see V. Berghahn, Militarism: The History of an International Debate ( London: Berg Publishers, 1981).

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