Psychology of War

The psychology of war centers on the argument that human beings are inherently violent. This violence is fueled and escalated by humans transferring their resentments into hatred against other nations, races, religions and ideologies. This theory suggests that a nation state will preserve order in its own society while simultaneously creating an outlet for aggression through warfare projected against a rival nation.

The majority of studies on the subject of the psychology of war are arguments based upon evolutionary psychology. This area of research makes the suggestion that war is an extension of animal behavior, with examples being animal territoriality and competition. In 1974, biologist Jane Goodall documented what she called a war between groups of chimpanzees in the Gombe National Park of Tanzania. In addition to Goodall's research, wildlife expert Sir David Attenborough has spoken about groups of chimpanzees making raids into neighborhood territories.

There are three models of study that look into the psychology of war: biological, ecological and social-structural. Biological models examine the importance of the links between human and primate violence, as well as the acknowledged associations between success in war and success in reproduction. This idea proposes that violent conflict is a critical factor in shaping human evolution and that this natural selection has produced a cultural preference for war.

Ecological models make the suggestion that war can actually have a positive outcome for smaller societies. Theorists argue that warfare plays a role in mediating relationships with the environment. Historically, warfare has been ethnographically noted to create and maintain space between settlements, relieve tensions and prevent further degradation of natural resources.

Social-structural models have developed the theory that certain types of social organizations have impelled mankind to go to war. The hostile establishment of clan and lineage groupings and the lack of authority in non-state societies have been observed to create tensions that might erupt into war with neighboring tribes or nations.

These theories have received criticism from university scholars who make the argument that sustained and organized wars are different to territorial fights. Other researchers point out that social factors and childhood socialization are important in determining the nature and presence of warfare. Some argue that while human aggression may be a universal occurrence, warfare is not.

The Italian psychoanalyst Franco Fornari believes that war is an extension of mourning. Fornari has also suggested that war and violence develop out of mankind's need for love and the wish to preserve and defend the sacred object to which we are attached. In this case, it would the nation in question that an individual holds as a sacred and revered object. In his research, Fornari focused on the sacrifice an individual makes for their country, tribe or beliefs as the essence of war. Meanwhile,

psychologist Franz Alexander theorizes that peace does not really exist and those peaceful periods in both human history and contemporary life are actually periods of preparation for a future war.

In addition, there is a psychological theory in relation to warfare that looks at the leaders of the nations involved in the fighting. This argument stresses that the general population is more ambivalent or neutral in their feelings towards war and that wars only occur when leaders with a psychological disregard for human life are placed into power. Some psychologists believe that war is in actual fact caused by leaders who seek it. Examples of these include Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Napoleon Bonaparte. Leaders most often come to power in times of crisis when the population votes for a decisive leader, who in turn takes the nation down the road to war.

Research has suggested that certain aspects of the national psyche make some nations more likely to wage war than others. While not the only causes of war and genocide, there are factors that increase the likelihood of scapegoating and violence, some of which are present in many countries. Psychologists suggest that if war is a natural component of human nature, then it is highly unlikely that mankind will always create wars and conflicts.

Although warfare can be seen as having a natural cause, technological advancements have sped up the destructive nature of mankind. Examples of this include the machine gun, nuclear and biological weapons. These advancements have brought human destructiveness to an irrational and damaging level. A key proponent of this theory is psychologist Konrad Lorenz.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Painful Field: The Psychiatric Dimension of Modern War
Richard A. Gabriel.
Greenwood Press, 1988
Psychological and Psychosocial Consequences of Combat and Deployment: With Special Emphasis on the Gulf War
David H. Marlowe.
Rand, 2001
Soviet and American Psychology during World War II
Albert R. Gilgen; Vera A. Koltsova; Yuri N. Oleinik.
Greenwood Press, 1997
The Psychological Effects of War and Violence on Children
Lewis A. Leavitt; Nathan A. Fox.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1993
Children and Youth on the Front Line: Ethnography, Armed Conflict, and Displacement
Jo Boyden; Joanna De Berry.
Berghahn Books, 2004
Broken Spirits: The Treatment of Traumatized Asylum Seekers, Refugees, War and Torture Victims
John P. Wilson; Boris Drozdek.
Brunner-Routledge, 2004
Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars
George L. Mosse.
Oxford University Press, 1991
Recovery from Armed Conflict in Developing Countries
Geoff Harris.
Routledge, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Social Recovery from Armed Conflict"
Exempt from the Ordinary Rules of Life: Researching Postwar Adjustment Problems of Union Veterans
Marten, James.
Civil War History, Vol. 47, No. 1, March 2001
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
An Intimate History of Killing: Face-To-Face Killing in Twentieth-Century Warfare
Joanna Bourke.
Basic Books, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Includes discussion of the psychology and aftermath of war
How Students Coped with the War: The Experience of Lebanon
Oweini, Ahmad A.
Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 69, No. 4, July-August 1998
Tin Soldiers on Jerusalem Beach
Amia Lieblich.
Pantheon books, 1978
Librarian’s tip: Includes discussion of the psychological effects of war on the Israelis
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