Pressfield’s Reified Tribalism

Good Lord, I hardly know where to begin.

Late last night, I was pinged by Fabius Maximus who had just written a post about historical novelist Stephen Pressfield, author of Gates of Fire, The Virtues of War and The Afghan Campaign. I do not read enough fiction, so while I had heard of Pressfield because his books are very popular among milbloggers, I did not know anything about the man specifically. I was intrigued by FM’s post, here is an excerpt which will serve to introduce the subject at hand:

Advice about our long war – “It’s the tribes, stupid”

Today’s post examines advice to us from historian Steven Pressfield:

“The real enemy in Afghanistan isn’t Islamism or jihadism. It’s tribalism. … Can we Westerners impose ‘citizen values’ on a tribal society?”  (from his website)

Some people say our real enemy in Afghanistan is their religion.  Pressfield says our enemy is their form of society.  Both sides agree that they cannot be left alone, since they are “the enemy”.  This debate goes to the heart of our Long War, as both sides usually ignore the question of why we fight – and exactly how these people threaten us.

…. However, we can all look at his essay in the broader context of American grand strategy.  Please consider this astounding statement:

“What struck me most powerfully is that that war is a dead ringer for the ones we’re fighting today. … the clash of East and West is at bottom not about religion. It’s about two different ways of being in the world. Those ways haven’t changed in 2300 years. They are polar antagonists, incompatible and irreconcilable.

Economist and businesspeople discuss the Competitive Advantage of Nations (as in Michael Porter‘s 1990 book of that title).  Social scientists and geopolitical experts discuss Samuel P. Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations theory.  But Pressfield goes beyond these.  In effect he calls for a long war.  War between “polar antagonists, incompatible and irreconcilable” – perhaps running until one side is exterminated or conquered. 

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