This text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensee. Preface



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Symbolic Interactionism


Symbolic interactionist writing on war features several emphases. One theme concerns the perceptions and experiences of people involved in war: soldiers, civilians, and others. There are many moving accounts, for example, both real and fictitious, of soldiers’ life on the battlefield and after they come home from war.

Figure 16.1 International Peace Symbolhttp://images.flatworldknowledge.com/barkansoc/barkansoc-fig16_001.jpg

Source: Clip art: http://www.homemade-preschool.com/image-files/peace-sign-black.png.

A second emphasis concerns the use of symbols to marshal support for war or protest against war. Symbols such as the flag evoke feelings of patriotism, perhaps especially when a nation is at war. The president and other politicians typically display a flag when they give major speeches, and it would be unthinkable for a flag not to be showing when the speech is about war or the threat of war. During the Vietnam War, protesters sometimes flew the US flag upside-down (the international symbol of distress) to show their hatred of the war, and some protesters also burned the flag—an act that is almost guaranteed to provoke outrage and hostility from onlookers.

Other symbols can also be important. When the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, millions of Americans put magnetic yellow ribbons on their cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks to show their support for the troops. The largest manufacturer of the ribbons sold more than one million monthly a year after the war began. However, sales slipped as support for the war declined, and four years after the war numbered only 4,000 monthly (Ward, 2007). [9] Another ubiquitous symbol during the Vietnam War was the so-called international peace symbol (see ), originally designed in the late 1950s to symbolize concern over nuclear weapons. Vietnam War protesters wore this symbol on their clothing, and many put peace symbol decals on their motor vehicles, book bags, and other possessions.

A third emphasis of symbolic interactionism concerns how concepts related to war and terrorism come to be defined in ways that advance the goals of various parties. For example, a key goal of the military in basic training is to convince trainees that people they may face on the battlefield are the enemy and, as such, an appropriate target for killing. Related to this goal is the need to convince trainees that when they kill an enemy soldier, the killing is a justified killing and not murder. Similarly, the military often refers to civilian deaths or wounding ascollateral damage in a conscious or unconscious attempt to minimize public horror at civilian casualties.

Another definitional issue concerns terrorism. As we shall discuss later, the definition of terrorism is very subjective, as actions that some people might regard as terrorism might be regarded by other people as freedom fighting or some other much more positive term than terrorism.

With this theoretical background in mind, we now turn to several issues and problems of war and terrorism.




KEY TAKEAWAYS


  • War and terrorism serve several functions, including the creation of social solidarity.

  • According to conflict theory, war advances the interests of the military-industrial complex, while militarism takes money away from unmet social needs.

  • Symbolic interactionism emphasizes the importance of symbols in support for war and terrorism and the experience of civilians and veterans as victims of war.



FOR YOUR REVIEW


  1. Which one of the three perspectives on war and terrorism do you most favor? Why?

  2. Why do you think the flag has so much symbolic importance in American society?

[1] Park, R. E. (1941). The social function of war: Observations and notes. American Journal of Sociology, 46, 551–570.

[2] Markides, K. C., & Cohn, S. F. (1982). External conflict/internal cohesion: A reevaluation of an old theory. American Sociological Review, 47, 88–98.

[3] Shiller, R. J. (2012, January 15). Spend, spend, spend. It’s the American way. New York Times, BU3.

[4] Mills, C. W. (1956). The power elite. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

[5] Worrell, M. P. (2011). Why nations go to war: A sociology of military conflict. New York, NY: Routledge.

[6] Boggs, C. (2011). Empire versus democracy: The triumph of corporate and military power. New York, NY: Routledge.

[7] Worrell, M. P. (2011). Why nations go to war: A sociology of military conflict. New York, NY: Routledge.

[8] Boggs, C. (2011). Empire versus democracy: The triumph of corporate and military power. New York, NY: Routledge.

[9] Ward, A. (2007, March 2). Yellow ribbons dwindle with war support. The Financial Times. Retrieved from http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/4793da48-c8f7-11db-9f7b-000b5df10621.html#axzz1uqyZTxHR.



16.2 War

LEARNING OBJECTIVES


  1. Explain why war is best understood as a social phenomenon and why nations go to war.

  2. Outline both sides to the debate over the size of the US military budget.

  3. List the types of problems that military veterans often face.

War is “sustained armed conflict” that causes “large-scale loss of life or extreme material destruction” (Worrell, 2011, p. 1). [1] Wars occur both between nations and within nations, when two or more factions engage in armed conflict. War between nations is called international war, while war within nations is called civil war.

The World at War


More than 100 million soldiers and civilians are estimated to have died during the international and civil wars of the twentieth century (Leitenberg, 2006). [2]Although this is almost an unimaginable number, there is cause for some hope, even as there is also cause for despair.

The hope arises from historical evidence that the number of international wars, civil wars, and other types of armed conflict has in fact declined over the centuries, with the number in the past half-century much smaller than in centuries past (Pinker, 2012). [3] Reflecting this decline, a smaller percentage of the world’s population died in armed conflict during the past century than in earlier eras.

To illustrate this trend, compare two periods of history (Pinker, 2012). [4] The first is the thirteenth century, when the Mongol Empire under the initial leadership of Genghis Khan became an empire in Asia and Eastern Europe through wars and conquest in which it killed 40 million people. The second period is 1939–1945, when World War II killed 55 million people. Although 55 million is more than 40 million, the world’s population in the thirteenth century was only one-seventh its population during the World War II period. A quick calculation shows that about 11 percent of the world’s population died from the Mongolian wars, while 2 percent died from World War II. In terms of the risk of dying in war, then, the Mongolian wars were five times more deadly than World War II.

Looking further back in world history, the death rate in prehistoric times from tribal warfare was extremely high. If this high rate had held true during the twentieth century, 2 billion people would have died in twentieth-century wars rather than the 100 million who did die (Pinker, 2012). [5] Although wars, other armed conflicts, terrorism, and genocide certainly continue, and 100 million is a terribly high number of deaths, the world overall is in fact more peaceful now than in the past.

That is the good news and the cause for hope. The cause for despair is twofold. First, war, terrorism, genocide, and other armed conflicts do continue. Even if they are less frequent and less deadly than in the past, that is of little comfort to the tens of millions of people around the world during the past century who died or otherwise suffered in war and other armed conflict and who live in fear today of becoming a victim of armed conflict.

Second, the world today is a much more dangerous place than in the past because of the existence of nuclear weapons. The thirteenth-century Mongolians killed their 40 million with battleaxes and other crude weapons; the World War II deaths resulted from gunfire and conventional bombs. At the end of that war, however, the nuclear age began when the United States dropped two atomic weapons on Japan that killed tens of thousands instantly and tens of thousands more from radiation exposure.

Those two weapons were tiny in both number and size compared to nuclear weapons today. More than 20,000 nuclear warheads now exist; 4,800 are operational and almost 2,000 (held by the United States and Russia) are on high alert, ready to be used at any time (Federation of American Scientists, 2011). [6]Each of these warheads is an average of at least twenty times more powerful than each of the atomic bombs that decimated Japan. The Union of Concerned Scientists (2009) [7] summarizes their danger bluntly: “Nuclear weapons remain the greatest and most immediate threat to human civilization.” However more peaceful the world is today, it could easily end at any moment.


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