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A History of Research on Warfare in Anthropology

Author(s): Keith F. Otterbein


Source: American Anthropologist, Vol. 101, No. 4 (Dec., 1999), pp. 794-805
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
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HISTORICAL ESSAY

KEITH F. OTTERBEIN
Department of Anthropology
University at Buffalo
State University of New York
Buffalo, NY 14261

A History of Research on Warfare in Anthropology

In this brief history of warfare research, I identify four major periods: Foundation Period, Classical Period, Golden Ag
and Recent Period. The myth of the peaceful savage arose in the Classical Period rather than in the later periods, as argued
by Lawrence Keeley. The myth has its origins in an early evolutionary approach as well as in cultural relativism. It contin-
ues to play a major role in warfare research with some anthropologists arguing for the peaceable nature of man, while oth
ers argue that man has engaged in warfare from the beginning of prehistory. [war, theories of warfare, history of warfar
research, myth ofpeaceful savage]

Warfare research in anthropology has become


viding the third segment created two periods, the Golden
prominent in the past decade, both within and
Age and the Recent Period, for a total of four periods.
outside the field. Science writer Bruce Bower A brief, accurate history of research on warfare in an-
(1988, 1991, 1995) has brought anthropological research thropology is required to counter the inaccurate treatment
on violence and war to the attention of the general public,presented in Lawrence Keeley's book, War Before Civili-
while two anthropologists (one an archaeologist, the other zation (1996). Keeley argues that a myth of the peaceful
a primatologist) have published books that have been re- savage arose after 1960 and became the dominant perspec-
viewed in both scholarly journals and publications outside tive in anthropology. The task he sets for himself is to re-
the academic disciplines (Keeley 1996; Wrangham and fute the myth. The history presented here shows his history
Peterson 1996). Moreover, scholars outside of anthropol- to be incorrect. It does not attempt to show that there was
ogy have recently familiarized themselves with research no myth, nor does it challenge the accuracy of the "myth of
on warfare in anthropology: there have been major excur- the warlike savage" (my term), which he substitutes. How
sions into anthropology by historians, political scientists,
he created a new myth and why I believe it also is inaccu-
and biologists seeking and utilizing information on war- rate, I have described elsewhere (1997).
fare, in particular prehistoric "war" and the war of nonliter-My approach to constructing history is to consider the
ate peoples (e.g., Dawson 1996; Ehrenreich 1997; Ferrill reception of published works. I am concerned not with the
1985, 1997; Gabriel 1990; Keegan 1993; McRandle 1994; validity of research results as we view them today, but how
O'Connell 1995). a person's contemporaries viewed the results (DeNora
This "history" is not intended to be comprehensive, but1995:123-129). (Although at some points in the presenta-
tion I felt it was appropriate to make "corrections.") In my
to lay out in broad brush strokes what I believe are the four
major periods in the study of warfare. I have acceptedprevious publications on the history of warfare research
(1973, 1994b), I have tried to hold this perspective. I also
Stocking's Classical Period (1920-1960) as one time seg-
ment (1989:210), automatically creating three segments.
try to elucidate how the larger world impacted these works.
The segment before the Classical Period I have called the
For warfare studies, colonial expansion, World War II, and
Foundation Period, and the segment after the Classical Pe-
the Vietnam war in particular strongly influenced the re-
search undertaken as well as the results obtained. Cur-
riod I have divided at 1980. My reason for selecting this
date is that the frequency of publications on warfare rap-
rently, ethnic wars and the breakup of states are influenc-
idly increased during a 20-year period, then plateaueding
at research activity. Each of the major periods was shaped
by one of these events. I have also not hesitated to use
1980 (data, not interpretation, from Ferguson 1988). Di-

American Anthropologist 101 (4):794-805. Copyright ? 2000, American Anthropological Association

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OTTERBEIN / RESEARCH ON WARFARE 795

myself as an "informant" for the last two periods,butsince I


the highest agriculturalists, the killing of captives, in-
was a graduate student in anthropology at the end of the
cluding non-combatants, occurred for about 75% of the so-
Classical Period and decided in 1961 to focus my research,
cieties. Slavery at the highest level accounts for the decline
in part, on the study of warfare (1994b:xvii). (1915:228-233).' Besides Tylor and Hobhouse, Wheeler,
and Ginsberg, other anthropologists in the Foundation Pe-
Foundation Period (c. 1850-c. 1920) riod arranged customs in evolutionary sequences. For ex-
ample, Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers placed weapons in a develop-
I have chosen to begin with the mid-nineteenth century;
mental sequence from simple to more complex
it is at this time that ethnographic data collected in the field
(Pitt-Rivers 1906; Vincent 1990:61-63). He also wrote the
become available to scholars whom we later deem to be
section on war for Notes and Queries (Vincent 1990:58);
anthropologists, such as Lewis H. Morgan, Edward B. Ty- the sixth edition has five pages on war and 12 pages on
lor, and Franz Boas. The study of warfare was not a centralweapons (Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain
concern for these early anthropologists. I have suggested and Ireland 1951).
three reasons why it was not (Otterbein 1973:926): (1) War The two salient characteristics of the Foundation Period
was not an ongoing phenomenon while they were conduct- were: (1) a strong ethnographic database became available
ing their fieldwork; (2) they were morally opposed to war, that included information on warfare, and (2) the major and
some pacifists; and (3) they failed to appreciate the impor- indeed only theoretical framework utilized for studying
tant role that war can play in the affairs of native peoples;war and military practices was evolutionary. Customs,
they appear not to have focused their reading upon histori-practices, or weapons were placed in sequences or they
ans and political scientists. were linked or related to stages of an evolutionary typol-
Although warfare itself was not a central concern to
ogy, such as levels of subsistence technology. The evolu-
these early anthropologists, warfare practices were often a tionary approach, in particular the use of a developmental
part of ethnographic descriptions. Notes and Queries, first typology, in spite of the anti-evolutionism of Boas and his
published by the Royal Anthropological Institute in 1874, students in the early part of the twentieth century, persisted
contained a section on war (Vincent 1990:58). This bookas the primary theoretical approach used by anthropolo-
provided guidelines for amateur ethnographers. Although gists to study war. Strangely, it dominated thinking about
many of the peoples encountered by ethnographers hadwar during the second of the four major periods.
been "pacified" in the process of colonial expansion, older
informants were able to provide accounts of their military
Classical Period (c. 1920-c. 1960)
exploits. Indeed, by the time Tylor wrote his famous paper
"On a Method of Investigating the Development of Institu- This periodization is taken directly from the writings of
tions" in 1888, now considered to be the first cross-culturalGeorge Stocking, who refers to this 40-year span of time as
study, there were enough data for him to include marriagethe Classical Period (1976, 1989:210). It is, of course, the
by capture, often the outcome of a raid, as one of his vari-period in American anthropology dominated by Franz
ables: "When the accounts of national custom are classi- Boas and his students. Anti-evolutionism reached its peak
fied they show that capture (which belongs to over oneand cultural relativism flourished. It was also the period in
which "the myth of the peaceful savage" emerged, to use
hundred of the peoples scheduled) can be more or less ac-
curately divided into three kinds": hostile capture, connu- the subtitle of archaeologist Lawrence Keeley's book
bial capture, and formal capture (1888:258). Tylor's theo-(1996). The myth is described by Keeley as the erroneous
retical framework was explicitly evolutionary. "The effect belief that primitive warfare-a term used by Keeley-is
of capture in breaking up the maternal system, and substi- desultory, ineffective, "unprofessional," and unserious
tuting the paternal for it, has thus to be taken into account(1996:11). The myth includes three aspects: the notion of
as a serious factor in social development" (1888:259). prehistoric peace or the "pacified past" (prehistoric peo-
By 1915, more data were available to Hobhouse, ples did not have warfare) (1996:17-24), the belief that
Wheeler, and Ginsberg, who included both the presence of hunter-gatherers or band-level societies did not engage in
war and the treatment of captives in their cross-culturalwarfare (disputed by Ember [1978] and Dentan [1988]),
study. Again, the theoretical framework was evolutionary: and the assumption that when war occurred among tribal-
level societies it was ritualistic, game-like in nature-with
their major independent variable was the level of subsis-
tence technology (Lower Hunters, Higher Hunters, Incipi-the first wounding the battle would stop (Chapple and
ent Agriculture, Lower Pastoral, Agriculture-Pure,Coon 1942:616, 628-635; Chapple and Coon, however, do
not consider these assertions to be a myth). Perhaps the
Higher Pastoral, Highest Agriculture). Two of their major
findings pertain to war: (1) Only a few societies were with-most succinct statement of the third aspect of the myth ap-
out war (13 of 298) and only about 12% of hunters werepears in the next period (Naroll 1966:17):
peaceful (7 out of 56); (2) the killing of captives taken in surprise is not a universally applied military tactic. Some
war declined with increasing technological levels. In all primitive tribes simply line up at extreme missile range and

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796 AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST * VOL. 101, No. 4 * DECEMBER 1999

(1956:3,
work up from hurling insults to hurling rocks at each other; 250-252, 256, 258, 261), W. W. Newcomb Jr
(1960:322-323,
this tournament-like war usually ends when the first enemy is 328), Morton Fried (1961:137, 140), and
killed. This kind of combat is a prearranged tryst, like Raoul
duels Naroll (1966:17).4 I can speak only for myself, but
under the European code duello. did not derive the notion from reading Tumey-High tha
I know of no tribe that fits this description. band and tribal level peoples were either peaceful or waged
war in a desultory way; what he said was that they did not
Keeley is correct that a "myth of the peaceful savage"
wage war efficiently, they had not passed "the military
developed, but he is incorrect when he attributes it to Harry
Hoijer, working for Quincy Wright, and to Harry horizon."
H. I knew of examples of bands and tribes that had,
yet I tested the notion and found that while there was no
Turney-High (1996:11). Hoijer did a cross-cultural study
clear "military horizon," his generalizations were essen-
of war in 1929, using a sample of over 650 peoples, which
was incorporated into Wright's massive A Study of War correct (Otterbein 1970:70-76, see table 17 on p. 74)
tially
([1942]1964:53-100, 412, 527-557). Hoijer showed Turney-High
that has recently been cited by Joan Vincent
(1990:254-255), John Keegan (1993:89-94), and
only 8% of hunters had no war (he used the technological
Lawrence
levels developed by Hobhouse, Wheeler, and Ginsberg); Keeley (1996:9-17), and has been credited by
Keeley
on the other hand, he showed that 75% of hunters had with being influential.
If the myth of the peaceful savage should not be attri-
"social war" ([1942]1964:556) defined as "mild warfare"
buted to Hoijer, as filtered through Wright, and Tumey-
where "no indication was found of fighting for definite
High, what is its "origin"? I believe the myth has deep
economic or political purposes" ([1942]1964:546).
roots in the Foundation Period, for it can be directly related
Slaughter of enemy could be an object of social war, but
to the evolutionary approach that was employed during
the object was more likely to be trophies and honors (what
that period.5 The myth of the peaceful savage is embedded
I have called a prestige goal of war, Otterbein 1970:63-67,
in the developmental typology. By definition an evolution-
146). Keeley further informs us that Hoijer "later co-
ary sequence must show change. If war was a monstrous
authored the most widely used anthropology textbook of
scourge in the twentieth century (remember the Classical
the 1950s and 1960s (Beals and Hoijer 1965 [1st ed.
Period follows World War I and encompasses World War
1953]). Thus anthropologists did not need to consult
II), it must have been less common and less lethal in the
Wright's massive book to be influenced by it (1996:203)."
past. Although the Classical Period is viewed as anti-
In their textbook, however, Beals and Hoijer do not discuss
evolutionary, the developmental framework persisted. A
war, but only political organization. Their first stage or
prime example comes from anti-evolutionist Robert Lowie,
"provisional category" of a three-stage sequence was "no
who, in The Origin of the State (1927), seeks the genesis of
true political organization, no organized warfare," not
statehood in the recognition of obligations to unrelated
peaceful hunters.2 The other two stages were "politically
members of the same community. This established territo-
organized as bands, tribes, or confederacies" and "con-
rial ties, which later came to take precedence over blood
quest states" ([1953]1959:502-503; 524). Thus it isties.
un-Examples were drawn from the Yurok of California
likely that any anthropologists learned the myth from and
thisthe Ifugao of Luzon.
textbook. Hoijer should not be blamed for the myth. Major figures in the field of anthropology writing on
Strangely, Wright gives William Lloyd Warner credit for
warfare subscribed to the evolutionary typology. Ruth
reading the chapter on primitive war (Wright [1942]1964:
Benedict prepared a paper in 1939 that describes the fight-
vii, 53-100), while not giving Hoijer credit for the ing
re-of many primitive peoples as being of the "non-lethal
search. If a textbook is to be blamed for the myth, a much
species of warfare," while modem warfare is described as
better candidate is Principles ofAnthropology, by Chapple
being of the "lethal variety." The paper was not published
and Coon (1942:628-635), which is not cited by Keeley.
until after Benedict's death, but I presume it was circu-
Although the Beals and Hoijer textbook was widely lated. In 1959 Margaret Mead selected it for inclusion in an
read, Turney-High seldom was (1949). The forewordanthology
to of Benedict's writings. Bronislaw Malinowski
the second edition by political scientist David Rapaport
in 1941 presented a developmental sequence in which the
tells us that Primitive War was rejected by Tumrney-High's
first three phases of war are nonserious; the third phase is
colleagues (Tumrney-High 1971:v). I think the bookarmedwas raids for sport (1941b). Malinowski argued that
largely unnoticed; anthropologists, like everyone else, do
warfare only slowly evolved as a mechanism of organized
not read what they are not interested in, and there wereforce
few for the pursuit of national policies. He described six
anthropologists interested in war. The picture of a Jivaro
types of armed contest: (1) fighting between group mem-
shrunken head on the dust jacket of the first edition might
bers-the prototype of criminal behavior, (2) fighting as a
have turned away many anthropologists. (The dust jacket juridical mechanism for the adjustment of differences, (3)
on the second edition has no picture.) The only anthropolo-
armed raids for sport, (4) warfare as political expression of
early nationalism, (5) military expeditions of organized
gists I know of who read and cited Tumey-High were my-
self, Melville Herskovits (1948:330, 344),3 Andrew Vayda
pillage, and (6) war as an instrument of national policy.

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OTTERBEIN / RESEARCH ON WARFARE 797

Each type was an entirely different "cultural phase"contrast


in theto modem nations who bombed civilian popula-
development of organized fighting. This article was tion
an centers-engage
ex- in nonlethal warfare. Major figures
panded version of an earlier presentation (Malinowski were probably familiar with Notes and Queries and might
1941a). have read that "among the simplest societies warfare is
At approximately the same time, Eliot Chapple and often limited to sporadic conflicts between contiguous
Carleton Coon (1942) published a textbook in which they groups" (Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain
argued that primitive war is more closely related to game and Ireland 1951:141).
behavior than to warfare waged by modem nations. The ar- Another possible-and I think likely-reason for the
gument is based in part upon the notion that warfare be- emergence of the myth of the peaceful savage in the Clas-
tween tribal peoples is often arranged mutually in the same sical Period was the development of cultural relativism.
manner that sporting events, such as lacrosse games, are For cultural relativism to succeed as a liberalizing, human-
arranged (1942:616, 628-635).6 Leslie White (1949) in a izing point of view, nonliterate peoples had to be gentle
similar fashion argued that tribal peoples had nothing seri- and benign, not savage and brutal. The inclination of eth-
ous to fight over, while a follower of White, W. W. New- nographers to ignore the mean behavior of "their people"
comb Jr. (1960), largely reiterated Wright's sequence. An while describing them in admirable terms is called "the
avowed cultural evolutionist, White (1949) argued that as bias of romanticism" (Rohner et al. 1973:286-288). This
man's cultural heritage increased, economic and political romanticizing of nonliterate peoples went hand-in-hand
goals became the causes of war. According to White with cultural relativism. Edgerton refers to this as "the
(1949:131), "warfare is virtually non-existent among many myth of primitive harmony" (1992). Thus peoples known
primitive tribes." When cultures have progressed to the to have had warfare are described as peaceful. The
point where it is worth fighting over hunting or fishing Arapesh, who were indeed warlike (Fortune 1939), were
grounds, grazing lands or fertile valleys, warfare emerges. described by Mead as childlike; her Samoans likewise do
Newcomb (1960), building upon White's analysis, deline- not have war. The Zuni, also with a history of serious war-
ated four types of warfare, corresponding closely to fare, are described by Benedict as Apollonian (1934).
Wright's types. Type 1 warfare consisted of brief skir- Moreover, I suspect the near absence of treatment of war-
mishes between hunting and gathering bands. Type 2 war- fare in anthropological textbooks derives from the influ-
fare was designated as primitive warfare (Wright's "social ence of cultural relativism. Crime and other forms of vio-
war"). Newcomb informed us that primitive war was lence, including capital punishment, also have not made
"crude, sportive, brief, generally unorganized conflicts" their way into most textbooks. (Ember and Ember [1996:
(1960:328), and that "small bands of warriors can be 430-456] is an exception.) But this is slowly changing-it
spared from time to time for a few days or weeks, to en- is hard to exclude the now famous, warlike Yanomamo
gage in the sport of war" (1960:328-329). (This is an ex- from textbooks. Yet, there have been efforts to describe the
cellent statement of the myth and it is not cited by Keeley.) Yanomamo as unwarlike (Sponsel 1998), and their pri-
Type 3 warfare was "true" warfare, involving economic mary ethnographer has dropped the subtitle "The Fierce
causes. And finally, Type 4 warfare constituted world wars People" from the 4th and 5th editions of his book (Chag-
based upon the industrial revolution. Benedict, Mali- non 1992 and 1997).
nowski, and Chapple and Coon surely were not influenced Throughout the Classical Period, however, "solid" eth-
by Wright or Tumey-High, since they were writing before nographic studies, published as both articles and mono-
the appearance of the works of the latter two. Newcomb, graphs, made their appearance. Among the descriptive
however, cites Tumey-High (1960:322-323, 328). studies of this period were a series of published Columbia
In addition to the logic of the developmental sequence University Ph.D. dissertations that utilized a diffusion-
that assumes warfare to be simpler at the lower levels, it is acculturation or culture contact approach. Examination of
possible that the major figures listed above, as well as other a list of Columbia University dissertations from 1938 to
anthropologists, were unfamiliar with the findings of Hob- 1955 reveals 10 that dealt directly with warfare and 8 that
house, Wheeler, and Ginsberg (1915) and Hoijer in Wright partially did. Archaeologist William D. Strong appears
([1942]1964), reviewed above, namely that only from 8% from introductions to have been the major influence on
to 12% of hunters had no war, and that killing of captives many of these ethnohistorical studies. They included stud-
occurred in 75% of simpler societies (Hoijer's social war ies by Mishkin (1940) on Plains Indian Warfare, Bram
by definition included the killing of the enemy as a goal). It (1941) on Inca Militarism, Lewis (1942) on the Blackfoot
is also possible that they had encountered the evidence, and and the fur trade, Codere (1950) on Kwakiutl potlatching
distorted it, perhaps in the following manner: since the and warfare, Jablow (1951) on Cheyenne traders, and Se-
only peoples without war are hunter-gatherers, hunter- coy (1953) on changing military patterns on the Great
gatherers are classified as peaceful, and since about 25% of Plains. All six were published as monographs of the Amer-
tribal peoples do not kill captives, nonliterate peoples-in ican Ethnological Society. Together with the ethnographic

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798 AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST * VOL. 101, No. 4 * DECEMBER 1999

data on warfare from the Foundation Period, the ethno- Table 1. Theories of the Causes and Effects of War.
graphic studies of the Classical Period formed the database
Turney-High drew upon, as well as that used later by cross-
Causes of War Effects of War Common Variable
cultural researchers who chose probability samples (see
(War as a Dependent (War as an
Golden Age, below). These studies should have led anthro-
Variable) Independent
pologists to reject the myth of the peaceful savage, but they
Variable)
did not. They became a smorgasbord from which the theo-
rists could pick to construct their developmental Innate
se- aggression On species Biological man
quences.
Frustration-aggression Ethnocentrism Hatred of enemy
The salient characteristic of the Classical Period was the
myth of the peaceful savage. People with no war or ritual
Diffusion Acculturation Spread of invention
war occupied the lower levels of developmental sequences. Physical Ecological Natural
The myth is a direct outgrowth of evolutionary thought that environment adaptation environment
became firmly rooted in the Foundation Period. Once the Goals of war Patterns and theme Values of men
myth sprouted in the Classical Period it was nurtured by Social structure On social Social groupings
cultural relativism. Well established, the myth came to in- organization
fluence research in the next two major periods.
Military preparedness Survival value Efficient militar
organization
Golden Age (c. 1960-c. 1980)
Cultural evolution Origin of the state Level of
Publications by anthropologists dealing with war dra- sociopolitical
matically increased in the 1960s. For this reason I have la- complexity
beled this decade and the next a Golden Age. Ferguson's
bar graph showing number of publications per year docu-
ments the increase (1988: facing i). Not until about 1980 me now that I moved progressively from genetic to cultural
do heights of the bars on the graph level off. Although the theories. As the 1970s proceeded, one theory on the list be-
number of publications drops for the years 1980-85, then came singularly important-ecological adaptation (Otter-
rises in 1986, I have interpreted this as a plateau. I am fit- bein 1977:695-696; Vayda 1976). Those anthropologists
ting a curve to the bar graph. Ferguson interprets this pe- who used an ecological approach viewed warfare as an im-
riod differently (personal communication, 1997): portant aspect of social life. Those who were critics of the
approach viewed warfare as dysfunctional, not functional
I see the later periods a little differently than might be inferred
from the graph in my bibliography. Rather than a rise, then a (Hallpike 1973). Sides were beginning to form; by the
plateau, I see a rise, fall, and rise again of interest. War studies 1990s they had crystallized (see Recent Period). The eco-
grew through the sixties and into the mid seventies. The late logical approach remains with us today in Robert Dentan's
seventies I see as declining interest. The ecological paradigm studies of peaceful peoples (1992).
had lost its head of steam. ... I think if my bibliography were Ethnographic classics of both warlike and peaceful peo-
extended, we would see another major increase in the late 80s. ples were produced. The warlike groups included the
The advent of "ethnic warfare" around 1992 prevented a simi- Yanomamo (Chagnon 1968), the Maring (Rapaport 1968),
lar fall off of interest with the end of the cold war, and as you
and the Dani (Heider 1970, 1979). The peaceful groups in-
note, created a new subdisciplinary focus.
cluded the Bushmen (Thomas 1958), the Pygmies (Turn-
Divale's bibliography ([1971]1973) and my review articles bull 1961), and the Semai (Dentan 1968). Some of anthro-
(Otterbein 1973, 1977) provide references, while Fer- pology's best known films were made about the lives of
guson's introduction (1984) and bibliography (1988) in- these peoples: e.g., The Feast (Yanomamo) (National
clude most of those references and additional ones from Audiovisual Center, 1970), Dead Birds (Dani) (Contem-
the next 15 years. porary Films/McGraw-Hill, 1964), and The Hunters
During this period, theories of the causes and effects of (Bushmen) (Contemporary Films, 1958). The warlike
war proliferated, classic ethnographies were produced, and groups struck at the heart of the myth of the peaceful sav-
cross-cultural studies, some using a developmental ap- age- here were tribal peoples who annihilated enemy vil-
proach similar to those used in the previous two periods, lages, while the peaceful groups seemed to substantiate the
flourished. In my first review article, I identified 16 theo- myth at least for hunter-gatherers and simple horticultural-
ries or approaches. Each pair of theories focused upon a ists. The peacefulness of these three groups has been ques-
common variable (see Table 1), which was either the cause tioned. The Bushmen once waged war, and they lost. It
of or the effect of war (Otterbein 1973:927, 1994b:165). was pointed out as early as 1962 by Elman Service that the
Although in that review I stated "there is no inherent logic Bushmen were a "defeated people" (p. 49). The Pygmies
to the order in which the pairs are presented," it appears to long ago lost their political independence. They are well

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OTTERBEIN / RESEARCH ON WARFARE 799

known to be in a symbiotic relationship with Bantutovillag-


political war was incorrect. Guttman scales provided the
ers (they do not even have their own language). Theevidence.
Semai Both Naroll (1966) and Otterbein (1970:63-70)
have been raided by their neighbors for decades.demonstrated
Indeed, that economic goals of war underlay social
goals in that when social goals were present, economic
their peacefulness is seen by their primary ethnographer,
Robert Dentan, as a response to slave raids (1992).goalsFur-
were also, whereas economic goals could be found
thermore, Dentan has periodically pointed out that without
the Se-social goals being present. Defensive goals were
mai can be violent (1995). These three cultures, neverthe-
always present. In other words, by showing the primacy of
less, have been the stock-in-trade for those who argue thatand economic goals, these studies show the war-
defensive
man's fundamental nature is to be peaceful (i.e., not tononliterate
fare of go peoples to be serious, not a game.
to war) (Sponsel 1996:107-113). Why was this period a golden age for the study of war-
Another ethnographic classic from the beginningfare?
of this
I offer, tentatively, three thoughts. First, the number
period is The Tiwi of North Australia, by C. W. of M.anthropologists
Hart grew rapidly, beginning in the late
and Arnold Pilling (1960). The book was one of the "best-
1950s. These students needed to find research topics and
sellers" from the Holt, Rinehart and Winston paperback
field sites. In the early 1960s, I sought a topic that had been
ethnography series. Although not a peaceful society, the
little researched-and found warfare (1977:706, 1994b:
Tiwi entered the anthropological world as a society with
xvii). Second, the war in Vietnam, unlike the Korean War,
"ritual warfare." The junior author has spent years trying to resembling "primitive war." Although guerilla
had aspects
dispel the incorrect impression. The book contains a well-
warfare, which is waged within or between states, and the
known account of spear battles in a section titled "War-
warfare of peoples who have uncentralized political sys-
fare" (1960:83-87). The example given is from 1928. It is
tems are not the same, many of the tactics are-in particu-
a classic "ritual battle" that I believe helped contribute to
lar the raid and the ambush. Third, some unacculturated ar-
the perpetuation of the myth of the peaceful savage. Hart,
eas opened to field research. These included highland New
the senior ethnographer, wrote the section. However, in an-
Guinea, the Amazon, and areas of west, central, and east
other section written by Pilling, we are informed that "Tiwi
Africa. I ended up in northeast Nigeria in a region that was
treatment of outsiders prior to 1900 had been to rob them,
classified as an "unsettled district" until Nigerian inde-
spear them, kill them" (1960:99). To avoid problems with
pendence in 1960. At the beginning of my fieldwork in
authorities, starting about 1925, the Tiwi switched from
June 1965, the Nigerian police prevented a battle in the
spears to throwing sticks (1960:83). The implication is that
northern Mundara Mountains by parking their Land Rover
spear battles were aboriginal. This, however, is a very inac-
between two lines of opposing warriors. I arrived at the site
curate picture of Tiwi warfare. Pilling, in comments at the
that evening.
Man the Hunter conference, informs us that night raids oc-
curred until 1912 (1968:158): The myth of the peaceful savage continued, as it had in
the Classical Period, to influence research. Naroll's de-
scription of ritual war (1966:17), quoted in the previous
It is important to note the incidence of fatalities associated
with the old pattern of sneak attacks and the way of life with
section, along with the finding that hunter-gatherers did not
which it was correlated. In one decade (1893-1903),goattoleast
war-the Bushmen, Pygmies, and Semai (the Tiwi
sixteen males in the 25-to-45 age group were killed in feud-
had ritual war)-became support for the myth. The intro-
ing; either during sneak attacks or in arranged pitch battles.
duction to Divale's bibliography contains a generalized de-
Those killed represented over 10 percent of all males in that
scription of the warfare of nonliterate peoples that includes
age category.
a passage that has been used, taken out of context, until the
Thus we learned that the Tiwi warfare pattern was based present by historians as an accurate description of what
on both ambushes and lines. A fieldwork edition appeared they are still calling primitive warfare7 (Divale [1971]
in 1979; no new data on warfare were provided. A third 1973:xxi-xxii; Keegan 1993:98-99):
edition of the ethnography, appearing in 1988 (Hart et al.),
the pitched battle..,. involved anywhere from two hundred to
contains a new section by Pilling titled "Sneak Attacks"
two thousand warriors and was held in a pre-defined area...
(pp. 93-95). Here he notes that his cases listed 54 deaths
along the borders of the warring groups .... Even though
and 19 injuries from sneak attackers. A recent ethnogra- large numbers of warriors were involved, here was little or no
phy, which focuses on a single Tiwi homicide, reviews military effort; instead, dozens of individual duels were en-
Pilling's research (Venbrux 1995:16-17). Perhaps now gaged in. Each warrior shouted insults at his opponent and
Tiwi "ritual battles" will drop from the anthropological hurled spears or fired arrows .... Regularly occurring pitched
lexicon. It has taken Pilling since 1968 to unpacify the battles were generally found among advanced tribal people in
pacified past. fairly dense populations .... In spite of the huge array of war-
Two cross-cultural studies, independently conducted, riors involved in these pitched battles, little killing took place.
showed that Wright's (or was it Hoijer's?) sequence of ... In the event that someone was badly wounded or slain, the
types from defensive war, to social war, to economic war, battle would usually cease for that day.8

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800 AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST * VOL. 101, No. 4 * DECEMBER 1999

The passage, however, proceeds and a totally different Recent Period (c. 1980-)
view of the warfare of tribal peoples emerges (Divale
[1971]1973:xxii). Output of publications on warfare in this period plateaus
(see Ferguson's bar graph, 1988: facing i), in spite of the
Groups that fought in pitched battles also conducted raids or increasing number of anthropologists. Two trends
ever
characterize
ambushes, and it was here that most of the killing occurred. In the research of recent years: first, theories
the past, many anthropologists viewed these pitched battlesconverged, with only 7 of the original 16 surviving; a sin-
and, noting the small number of casualties, concluded that gle model with variants emerged (Otterbein 1994b). Sec-
much or all of primitive warfare was a ritual or game. How-ond, research is now going in several, but related, direc-
ever, this perspective is now questioned, and it is suggested
tions: origin and seriousness of war, ethnic wars and
that such warfare was extremely effective, perhaps even
genocide, and studies of peaceful peoples. The theoretical
overeffective, in the sense that many cultural controls existed
model that has emerged contains three components; it can
whose primary aim was the regulation and limitation of war-
fare. be depicted as follows'0 (the original 7 theories are ordered
under their respective components):

Ambushes and lines form a two-component warfare pat- Material Causes-+ Efficient Causes-> Consequences
tern for bands and tribes, a pattern that probably was devel-
Physical Goals of war Effects on social
oped as early as the Paleolithic. Battles, in which warriors environment organization
confronted each other along a line, were a means of testing
Social
the strength of an adversary, while ambushes and raids on
structure Military Survival value
settlements were the means of killing large numbers of en-
preparedness
emy. The Tiwi appear to be an example (Otterbein 1997: Origin of the state
255-262). Ritual war, if it ever has occurred, would be
only one component of the basic warfare pattern. The writings of nine anthropologists on w
The myth appears later in an attack upon E. O. Wilson's shown to closely correspond to this paradig
Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975) by the Sociobiol- 1994b). They include Andrew Vayda, Keith
ogy Study Group of Science for the People (1976:184): William Divale, Marvin Harris, Napoleo
Robert Carneiro, Ronald Cohen, Raymon
"Primitive" warfare is rarely lethal to more than one or at Brian Ferguson. The paradigm has been use
most a few individuals in an episode of warfare, virtually studies as well as with comparative studies t
without significance genetically or demographically (Living- developmental approach.
stone 1968). Genocide was virtually unknown until state-or-
"This convergence in the anthropological stu
ganized societies appeared in history (as far as can be made
seems to stem from a natural process identifie
out from the archaeological and documentary records).
evolution by Hallpike (1987; Otterbein 19
At the time of the composition of the article there were 35
and for paleontology by Gould (1989:49);
there is a decrease in disparity of theories, stru
members of the organization; they are identified by one in-
or body plans followed by an increase in div
itial preceding the surname, hence it is not possible to as-
the few surviving theories, forms, or plan
certain whether there are anthropologists in the group.9 The
1994b: 172). This approach to the history of
Livingstone article cited contradicts the above description
of "primitive" war (1968:8-11); statement after statement gests that theories neither accumulate nor
other, but rather that a process occurs that inv
describes high casualty rates for the warfare of prehistoric
trition and combination (1994b:178). Howev
and nonliterate peoples. Wilson replies (1976:187):
publication of this report (1994), several of the
military activity and territorial expansion have been concomi- I thought had been set aside have made a co
tants throughout history and at all levels of social organization include innate aggression, diffusion-accultu
(Otterbein 1970), and they can hardly fail to have had signifi- zone theory), and cultural evolution (the ori
cant demographic and genetic consequences. These three approaches are discussed below.
sciences there seems to be no such thing as ex
Two salient characteristics of the Golden Age were: (1) The origin and seriousness of war has becom
A dramatic increase occurred in the number of publications terest once again as it had been in the Foundat
on warfare, both theoretical and ethnographic. Sixteen dif- sical Periods. Primatologists and archaeo
ferent theories were identified and over a half dozen classic joined in the inquiry. The killer ape/innate agg
ethnographies were written; and (2) sides were formed by ory, both in its professional and popular ma
those who believed that band and tribal peoples were war- had given way in the 1970s to the view that m
like and those who believed they were not. Ethnographic was a scavenger (Cartmill 1993:1-27; Ott
data were now available to support either position. 927-928), but recent observations of chimp

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OTTERBEIN / RESEARCH ON WARFARE 801

McRandle,
attacking one another has resurrected the idea that the an- Robert O'Connell, primatologist Richard
cestor of man attacked his own kind. Wrangham and Wrangham,
Peter- and biologist Barbara Ehrenreich. Doves in-
clude anthropologists Elman Service, C. R. Hallpike,
son (1996) argue that since early man and the chimpanzees
Leslie Sponsel, and Thomas Gregor, political scientist
are similar, and chimps have changed little in five million
years (pp. 46-47), it can be inferred that behavior patterns
Richard Gabriel, and archaeologist Jonathan Haas. In spite
currently observed in chimpanzee groups were charac-of Keeley's allegations that Ferguson and Whitehead are
teristic of the common ancestor of both man and chimps.
believers in the myth of the peaceful savage, it would seem
Thus, according to Wrangham and Peterson, the origin of
more appropriate to view Sponsel and Gregor as the lead-
war lies neither in the Neolithic nor Paleolithic, but
ers five
of the Doves (see below). Their research is not re-
million years ago. Furthermore, if they are correct, viewed Paleo- by Keeley. My position is that the evidence from
lithic man engaged in warfare and so did hunter-gatherer prehistory supports neither of these ideal types (1997:252).
peoples in recent centuries. Another recent interest of anthropologists has been eth-
To attack the myth of the peaceful savage, or pacified nic wars and genocide. Not only can they be seen as result-
past, Keeley (1996) assembled archaeological findings ing that
from expanding states, they can be viewed as a result of
he believes show that warfare destructive of human life the breakup of the state. Since the end of the "cold war"
was a common occurrence in prehistory. Keeley also there have been an ever-increasing number of ethnic wars,
amassed a voluminous number of ethnographic cases of often accompanied by genocide (Nietschmenn 1987).
warring peoples, as had Turney-High (1949); he also uti- Carolyn Nordstrom and Antonius Robben have assembled
lized the frequency of warfare statistics available in cross-a number of articles on the topic (1995), while Mary Foster
cultural studies, primarily from Otterbein (The Evolution and Robert Rubenstein have been concerned with how
of War [ 1970]). Thus the evolution of war has resumed im- peace can be achieved (1986). Jack Eller describes how
portance in research on warfare in anthropology, with culture or tradition-remembered, interpreted, or in-
Keeley claiming victory over those who believe in thevented-is transformed into an ethnic identity and then
myth of the peaceful savage. Unanticipated support for the how ethnicity is transformed into conflict (1999).
evolutionary approach has come from primatology. Studies of peaceful societies have recently flourished
Wrangham's theory, however, has been challenged by(Gregor 1996; Howell and Willis 1989; Sponsel and Gre-
Robert Sussman, for both its logic and the data used to sup- gor 1994,). Librarian Bruce Bonta (1993) has compiled an
port it (1999). annotated bibliography of 47 peaceful peoples. Thomas
The above approach contrasts with another view that Gregor (1994:242-243) acknowledges that peaceful socie-
seeks to understand the origin and seriousness of war by ties are rare but believes they are worth studying for the
employing a world-systems approach (Wolf 1982), guidance or they can give as to how peace might be achieved.
what can be called tribal zone theory (Ferguson and White- Robert Dentan (1994) points out that peaceful societies
head 1992). This approach is strongly linked to the diffu- usually fit one of two social types: they are either enclaved
sion-acculturation or culture contact approach of the Clas-societies, such as the Amish, or very small-scale societies,
sical Period. War in tribal zones is generated by expandingmany of them hunter-gatherers, such as the Semai. Peoples
states. Three categories of war can occur: (1) Wars of resis-like the Semai have adapted to slave raids by their ability to
tance and rebellion, (2) Ethnic soldiering, and (3) Inter- disperse and regroup. In their "geographic refuge" they be-
necine warfare. This approach challenges the notion that come nonviolent and develop values of peaceability (Den-
war occurred early in man's development by arguing that tan 1992:215-220). More recently Thomas Gregor has
the presumed pristine and violent warfare of such cultures pulled together the findings of himself, Sponsel, and others
as the Yanomami is caused by state expansion (Ferguson into A Natural History of Peace (1996).
1995). In other words, the issue with us is whether ob- The Recent Period has two salient characteristics. (1) A
served native warfare has an indigenous development or issingle theoretical model, which focuses upon both causes
the result of culture contact.'2 and consequences of war, characterized the works of nu-
Lawrence Keeley considers tribal zone theorists Brian merous researchers working on the Anthropology of War.
Ferguson and Neil Whitehead to be the chief proponents of (2) A controversy has developed between those who be-
the myth of the peaceful savage (1996:20-21, 203, 205), lieve that it is man's nature to be warlike and those who be-
while Ferguson vigorously denies the charge (1997:424). lieve his nature is to be peaceable. One side sees war as
The bifurcation that has arisen among those who study the part of human nature, the other as the result of state organi-
origin and seriousness of war had led me to distinguish two zation, whether the state is expanding, warring with other
groups of scholars-Hawks and Doves (1997:251-252, states, or dissolving into warring ethnic groups.
266-270). Keeley heads the Hawks and Ferguson theOver the past 150 years the ethnographic database on
Doves. Hawks include anthropologist Robert Carneiro,warfare has increased. It includes many excellent descrip-
military historians Arther Ferrill, John Keegan, James tions of warring peoples and a few descriptions of peaceful

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802 AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST * VOL. 101, No. 4 * DECEMBER 1999

peoples. A developmental sequence using stages of war, uprising in Medieval/Renaissance Europe" (personal commu-
what I call the evolution of war or cultural evolution nication,
ap- 1997). Lawrence Keeley placed the origin of the
proach, has been the dominant theoretical perspective myth in the writings of Rousseau (1996:5-8).
6. I tested the notion that warfare between tribal peoples is
throughout much of this time. The myth of the peaceful
often arranged mutually and found it lacked support. In a
savage grew out of this evolutionary thought and was nur-
cross-cultural study I found that only 4 out of 28 uncentralized
tured by cultural relativism. Contrary to Lawrence
political systems initiated war by either announcement or mu-
Keeley's contention that the myth arose after 1960, this
tual arrangement; the other 24 used surprise (Otterbein
history of research on warfare has shown that the myth de-
1970:33).
veloped decades earlier. His replacement myth that nonlit- 7. Military historian Doyne Dawson, who cites other pub-
erate peoples were bellicose has set up a polarization lications
be- of Divale, emphasizes the ritualization of primitive
tween Hawks and Doves. war in The Origins of Western Warfare (1996:13-24). He
From the Classical Period onward numerous other theo- readily accepts the myth of the peaceful savage. His first foot-
retical approaches have been tried, but none gathered the note approvingly cites Wright, Malinowski, and Turney-High.
number of adherents who have used an evolutionary ap-
8. As indicated by the ellipses, Divale's description is
longer than this; Keegan shortened the original statement to a
proach. However, for both case and comparative studies a
more modest degree.
paradigm that examines causes (material and efficient) and
9. The members of the Sociobiology Study Group of Sci-
consequences has come to be employed. This paradigm ence for the People listed are: L. Allen, B. Beckwith, J. Beck-
has shown itself to be useful in studying the conditions un- with, S. Chorover, D. Culver, N. Daniels, E. Dorfman, M.
der which war and other forms of violence occur. Some Duncan, E. Engelman, R. Fitten, K. Fuda, S. Gould, C. Gross,
conditions lead to war, some do not. I see great variation in
R. Hubbard, J. Hunt, H. Inouye, M. Kotelchuck, B. Lange, A.
Leeds, R. Levins, R. Lewontin, E. Loechler, B. Ludwig, C.
the nature and frequency of war. It is this variation and the
Madansky, L. Miller, R. Morales, S. Motheral, K. Muzal, N.
reasons for it that researchers should be investigating
Ostrom, R. Pyeritz, A. Reingold, M. Rosenthal, M. Mersky,
(Dentan and Otterbein 1996; Otterbein 1987, 1988a,
M. Wilson, and H. Schreier.
1991a, 1991b, 1993, 1997, in press).
10. James McRandle informs us that this paradigm is
standard in the study of military history (1994:ix):
Notes
My choice of history as a major in college was much influ-
Acknowledgments. I am indebted to my wife, Charlotte enced by these experiences [service in World War II]; I
Swanson Otterbein, for her careful editing of this paper. My learned to analyze such things as immediate and underlying
colleague, Robert Knox Dentan, has made both content and causes of particular conflicts, the conduct of the campaigns,
editorial suggestions. R. Brian Ferguson, Andrew P. Vayda, and the changes occasioned by the outcome of the various
and my colleagues Saurnas Milisauskas and Timothy Pauketat wars.
have read the manuscript and made helpful suggestions. Four
Allan Millett has noted that the traditional focus of academic
anonymous reviewers likewise provided useful comments.
military historians was on the three "Cs"-the causes, conduct,
1. Recently in a cross-cultural study I have found some of
and consequences of warfare (1992:15).
the conclusions of Hobhouse, Wheeler, and Ginsberg to be in-
11. In 1988 (p. iii) Ferguson could write that "in recent
correct (Otterbein in press). While 93% of the societies in my
years there has been relatively little attention to the signifi-
sample killed captured enemy warriors, only 26% killed cance for war of sociocultural evolution. This was once the
women and children. Contrary to Hobhouse, Wheeler, and
major focus of anthropological theory in war, and its great im-
Ginsberg, uncentralized political systems are unlikely to kill
portance has been demonstrated by Otterbein 1985 (Evolution
women and children. Indeed, the higher the level of political of War). "
complexity, the more likely that women and children will be
12. For a detailed analysis of the tribal zone approach see
killed-from 15% to 44%.
my article "Ethnic Soldiers .. ." in Reviews in Anthropology
2. R. Lauriston Sharp at this time (1958) described the(1994a).
Yir
Yoront of Australia in these terms when he called them "a
people without politics." Yet his account mentions "fighting
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