The links between war, racism and national identity are well established in the development of postcolonial societies in the context of 20th century history. Today, the current NATO/ISAF operations in Afghanistan expose diverging national identities within Europe and other member countries. Some, like Sweden, consider their role to be largely humanitarian or ‘peace-keeping’; others, like the UK, are committed to active military engagement in support of the US-led strategy. Contemporary debates about multiculturalism, social cohesion and terms of belonging within postcolonial societies do not often ask questions about where soldiers come from, how they are made, and what society might owe them in return for ‘serving’ their country. This lecture uses the example of the British Army as a case study to ask why military institutions are often ignored in discussions of racism and social cohesion despite the historical role of colonial troops fighting European wars and the constitutive links between social citizenship and military service.
This lecture was given within the framework of the 2010 School of Critical Theory organized by the Centre for the Humanities in Utrecht. The programme was titled ‘Cosmopolitanism, Peace and Conflict’, and offered trans-national and interdisciplinary approaches drawn from the humanities, social sciences, law, philosophy and international relations. Its focus on the development of crossnational European perspectives in these areas, allows for the innovative use of key notions of cosmopolitanism and diversity as bridge-makers across different national, cultural and disciplinary traditions. The school consisted of three clusters, which focused on Populism and anti-cosmopolitanism in Europe today, Frames of War, and Legal Theory and Cosmopolitics.