Posted by: Johan Normark | May 24, 2009

(Non-)Mayanist quote of the day: on the war machine and the use of violence to solve intersocietal conflicts

“The reason we start a war is to fight a war, win a war, thereby causing no more war!” (George W. Bush)

Although I begin this post with a statement from the former US president, it is only used to introduce the history of warfare studies in Mayanist research. As mentioned in an earlier post, warfare has an intimate relationship with ideology, power and inter-societal encounters in Mayanist studies. In the mid 20th century it was the belief in the lack of warfare that dominated since people during the Classic period (A.D. 250-900/1100) were seen as peaceful time worshippers (Morley 1946; Thompson 1942). For example, Proskouriakoff (1955) made a contrast between a militant Postclassic period (A.D. 900/1100-1540) and a peaceful Classic period.

More recently, the Classic period rulers in the Maya area have been described as warring and blood-thirsty shaman kings whose primarily goal and ideology was to hunt down enemies who would become sacrificial victims to feed the kings’ ancestors and cosmos in general (Freidel 1986, 1992; Freidel, et al. 1993; Schele and Freidel 1990; Schele and Miller 1986). Webster (1993) has labeled these ideas the Killer King Complex. For this group of researchers, war was primarily an elitist ritual practice which did not involve the “commoners” (Freidel 1986, 1992). Warfare was used as a way to legitimize an ideology, usually not distinguished from cosmology. Ringle questions the legitimation models since they do not describe how legitimation can create belief and legitimation must therefore be based on earlier beliefs (Ringle 1999:186).

Rice (2004) has put forward a new synthesis of the royal ideology during the Classic period. Still, this view relates to shared norms among a widespread population of elites. Warfare is still in the “ideological” models, although not as dominant as in the Killer King Complex.

Many are those who now are trying to piece together a political history of the Classic period from epigraphic and iconographic remains, often following Martin and Grube’s (1995; 2000) “super-power” model. In these attempts, warfare, as seen in epigraphy and iconography, is crucial, sometimes combined with archaeological traces of fortifications, massburials, termination rituals or other patterns of destruction that potentially could be the result of warfare between regional powers (Ambrosino 2003; Brown and Garber 2003; Pagliaro, et al. 2003; Suhler and Freidel 2000). Ideology is still part of the general background of warfare. However, economical or political motives are far more common as explanations (maybe apart from the termination rituals) (Bey 2003; Culbert 2000; Gunsenheimer 2000). Still, when ideology is mentioned, it is heavily entwined with the royalty and their need to express and exercise power related to warfare.

I return to Bush’s statement since it reflects his extremeley naive ideology. As any society in history shows, both economic and ideological reasons to warfare will not end any war. Warfare is an ongoing process and the Maya area is a good example of this. Mayanist research on warfare has never used Deleuze’s idea of the the war machine, which is a logic that counteracts the State’s striations, it smoothens space. Thus, for Deleuze war is separate from the State since the war machine is decentralized and self organizing, a deterritorializing process opposite to the territorializing State. Still, the State attempts to control the war machine for its own use, in the form of stable military institutions. There is therefore alwats a tension between the State and the war machine. Usually the war machine is controlled by the State but in fascist States the war machine has constructed its own State apparatus. Also in Bush’s politics the war machine took control over the State (although it did not turn into a totalitarian State). The danger with this, as Deleuze exemplifies with the Nazi regime, is that the war machine is suicidal. It will destroy itself and if it has taken control of the State, the State will go down as well. Some of the “collapse” scenarios for the Maya area suggests endemic warfare, a war machine that has partially taken control of the State. I am not a strong believer in “collapse” scenarios, but it will be interesting to see if Obama can take control of the war machine.


  1. I am an a alien student whom was stopped in Italy in 1987, but three years after the Italian state has made war against me destroying my life me! The history still continued in 2009, but the truth has exited outside and the scandal is exploded! Incredible but true!

    See the blog in order to believe.


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