The liturgy of triumph: Victory culture, popular rituals, and the US way of wartiming

Andrew R. Hom, Luke B. Campbell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Wartime is fundamentally important to the study of international politics but not especially well understood. In this paper, we use timing theory and the concept of liturgy to unpack the contemporary dynamics of US wartime. A theory of political timing posits that all temporalities derive from and symbolize underlying social processes, and that these timing efforts unfold according to a master organizing standard. Liturgy highlights the way that ritualized acts help participants commune with the sacred – whether this be God or the nation-state. Scrutinizing contemporary US culture practices, we combine these ideas to argue that the notion of victory, as enacted through a widespread set of performative routines, acts as an organizing standard that embeds and reifies wartime in US security policy and daily life. Prevalent ideals of winning wars gather together a stylized past, explicate present problems, and generate expectations about future problems and conflicts. We tabulate several highly influential examples of this liturgy of triumph from national calendars, commemorative sites and events, and cultural practices like spectator sports. In addition to normalizing a view of wartime as having clear beginnings and uniquely successful endings, the US liturgy of triumph highlights a growing gap in the country’s relationship to the use of force. Most of what performative war liturgies commemorate is ‘finished’; it has been seen, known, and ostensibly won. Yet, much of what defines 21st century conflict is anything but certain or victorious. Moreover, US victory culture has only grown more acute the longer the concrete victories fail to materialize, suggesting a tragic code at the heart of US security politics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)591-615
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Relations
Issue number4
Early online date25 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • liturgy
  • ritual
  • timing
  • US way of war
  • victory
  • wartime


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  • Leroy A. Bennett Award

    Hom, Andy (Recipient), 3 Nov 2022

    Prize: Prize (including medals and awards)

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