- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (December 18, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195119126
- ISBN-13: 978-0195119121
- Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 0.6 x 5.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 73 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #362,079 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage Reprint Edition
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Throughout much of this century the notion has been gaining ground, bolstered by genocide and Holocaust, that modern warfare is more barbaric than war has ever been. Alongside this view has grown a romantic impression that primitive cultures were, and are, more peaceful. Lawrence Keeley, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois, aims to dispel this inversion of the connotations of "civilization." He cites the historical evidence that humans have always been just as bloodthirsty as they are today, and that indeed in the days when death was less clinical it was often nastier. War, it seems, has always been with us. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"The evidence that Mr. Keeley marshals is vivid, varied, and often complex."--The New York Times Book Review
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Keely deals with the different types of combat these societies tend to engage in and highlights how a society based on raids and ambushes can be as, if not more, deadly (in relative terms)than full scale modern warfare based around huge armies. In basic sum if two tribes with 50 people each fight a war and kill 10 people over a year that is a catastrophically high casualty rate for those tribes but it won't register as much for a state of 200 million people.
Keely marshals an impressive array of evidence and examples and offers explanations that will make sense to people who are not anthropologists. The book is well organized and makes the solid point that "primitive" warfare isn't "inferior" warfare. It can be very effective (horribly effective in some cases) and fits the needs of these societies.
In brief, the camp of Hobbesian thinkers believed that technologically advanced societies were superior, and had a duty (construed sometimes as "the White Man's Burden") to civilize and Christianize unfortunate, less developed people. This reasoning many times became a self-serving excuse to enslave, colonize, and exploit Native Americans and Sub-Saharan Africans.
On the other hand, adherents to Rousseau believed in the idea of the "noble savage" (a term, incidentally, not coined by Rousseau), and these academics slowly gained ground, especially in a post-World War Two environment. This strand of thought held basically that the people Eurocentrics regarded as inferior were actually superior, and that Sub-Saharan Africans and Native Americans existed basically in a state of grace, enjoying a near-Utopian existence before ravenous Europeans introduced greed and pestilence into their midst.
Lawrence H. Keeley's "War Before Civilization" destroys the myths cherished by both camps with a lucid and even-handed investigation that shows that "primitive" people were more than capable of killing each other in acts of mass genocide, as well as hunting animals to extirpation, well before the White Man showed up with his vast fleet of ships. But Keeley also dispels the Eurocentric notion that superior military tactics and sophistication allowed Europeans to conquer the Red and Black Man; this wasn't the case at all, according to the convincing arguments elucidated in this book. In fact, the opposite was many times the case, and the only reason the White Man won was frankly due not to his vast military expertise, but rather due more prosaically to the vast numbers in which he arrived and the germs he carried in his immune system.
This was an incredibly informative, brilliant read, bound no doubt to anger anyone with an agenda, bound also to satisfy anyone eager to learn.