Guest editorial: Know your enemy

IssueJune - August 2002
Feature by Andreas Speck

A Peace News on antimilitarism - shouldn't that be an easy task for the international antimilitarist magazine? If we thought so before, then working on this issue certainly proved us wrong!


While we engage in antimilitarist practice in our daily work - in the Peace News or WRI office, or in our activism out on the streets, or at military propaganda events - our antimilitarist analysis seems to trail behind. That doesn't mean that we don't know what we are fighting against or why, but do we know our enemy well enough to develop effective antimilitarist strategies?

Know your enemy!

I call the military our enemy, and I do so consciously, knowing that within most nonviolent circles we are not supposed to have enemies. But the military institution is not just an opponent - someone you can discuss things with, maybe convince and change - it is a structure based on violence, something that we do not want to just change, but to get rid of entirely.

To achieve this we need to understand it, and the changes that take place within it - including its connections with other institutions such as the state, as pointed out by Ekkehart Krippendorff (p14-15). The issue is even more complicated by different processes that take place in parallel - it is not just that states' violent apparatus is increasing, at the same time states "fail", and private "armies" (warlords) pose new-old challenges to antimilitarists.

Militarism within society

Militarism is deeply embedded in our societies - antimilitarism therefore needs to address much broader social issues than just tackling the armed forces. Although this section of the issue wasn't meant to be focused entirely on gender, that's how it turned out. This in itself points to the value of a gendered analysis for antimilitarists.

Emma Sinclair-Webbs description of military service and manhood in Turkey (p16-17) is one example. Siân Jones looks at how the military has absorbed and adopted women and/or “femininity”, and asks whether that has really changed anything in terms of power relations. Lothan Raz points to the threats that force Israeli men into a specifically militarised masculinity, something which is necessary to keep militarism going.

Opposing modern militarism

The events of 11 September changed the environment for antimilitarists for the worse. Ippy D and Ryan Amundson (Ryan's brother was killed in the attack on the Pentagon), talk about turning grief into action, and the hostile environment for any approach that criticises the US-government's response to “9/11” (p22-23).

Supposedly “humanitarian” military interventions pose new challenges for antimilitarists - what is there to say against the military bringing “peace”, and building schools or hospitals in Macedonia? Bobi from the Macedonian Group for Anti-Militarist Action talks about life with NATO (p26).


Institutions still depend on people, even in the age of electronic warfare. These people need to be recruited, and countering the military's efforts to recruit is one obvious antimilitarist strategy. Howard Clark (p28-29) looks at the role conscientious objection (CO) can play in an antimilitarist strategy, and points to the need for a broader perception of what CO means.

While I regard the military institution as the enemy, those who work in it are not my enemy - the simple recruit or the officer are performing a function, and they can change their minds and play important roles in resisting militarism. Peretz Kidron evaluates how Yesh Gvul in Israel effectively challenges the policy of military might (p32) and Bojan Aleksov shows deserters as normal human beings, people who take an important step, but are not necessarily pacifists or antimilitarists (p27).

Building a movement

Antimilitarism is about building strong movements, developing the counter-power we need to challenge militarism. But antimilitarism cannot be seen as isolated from the struggle against other forms of oppression. Kathryn Mathers (p32-33) looks at white conscientious objectors in apartheid-South Africa, and the contribution the End Conscription Campaign made in challenging apartheid. Tobias Pflüger (p34) explores the relationship between anti-war activities and antimilitarism today, while Wolfram Beyer looks at the old, but still very relevant, debate about anarchist and socialist antimilitarism.

This issue of Peace News leaves many gaps. The most obvious ones are around offering a deeper analysis of how militarism is justified today, how social consent to militarism is generated, especially after "9/11". Some articles give hints, but a more systematic analysis is really needed. The same is true of the changing character of war and the military: Krippendorff and Naeem Sadiq point to some questions, but we are far from a clear answer. This issue of Peace News offers some ideas about what needs to be explored. But we remain a long way from truly knowing our enemy. However, this shouldn't prevent us from engaging in the exciting struggle of antimilitarism, and in confronting militarism wherever we encounter it. Perhaps reading this issue of Peace News will give you some new ideas!

Topics: Anti-militarism
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