Academic journal article Military Review

Crowds, Mobs and Nonlethal Weapons

Academic journal article Military Review

Crowds, Mobs and Nonlethal Weapons

Article excerpt

CWO-5 Sid Heal, US Marine Corps Reserve

PEACEMAKING is neither painless nor easy but fraught with danger, misperceptions and criticism. According to one political leader, "Making peace, I have found, is much harder than making war."1 To accomplish those difficult peacekeeping missions, being considered just is more important than being considered powerful. The payoff can be substantial, for "the greatest honor history can bestow is that of peacemaker."2

Peacekeeping as Warfighting

An examination of peacekeeping and warfighting, despite their similarities, is a study of contrasts. First, peacekeeping operations are highly sensitive to political objectives and tend to cast the military in a supporting, rather than a leading role. The military has developed doctrine and honed procedures to prepare for and execute war. Peacekeeping operations, however, present new problems for which there are few readily apparent solutions.

Second, adversaries during peacekeeping operations are often amorphous and difficult to identify. Factions with shifting loyalties and alliances can be friend one day and foe the next-and then friend again the day after. These factions often seek to further their cause not by winning but by provoking a situation in which they can be seen as victims. While enemies can be conquered, this mercurial aspect of peacekeeping adversaries makes the application of any force difficult.

Third, while force is the predominate means of imposing the commander's will in war, it can actually be counter-productive in peacekeeping missions. Peace imposed at any cost can be viewed as tyranny. Roman historian Publius Comelius Tacitus noted, "A bad peace is even worse than war."

Fourth, destructive influences in a community always compete with society's legitimate right to restrain them. Citizens either comply with legitimate mandates or defy laws and even efforts to enforce them. That tension does not disappear when stability is restored; civilian law enforcement merely replaces the military peacekeeping force.

Citizens as Warriors

The change from law-abiding community members to dangerous and menacing antagonists has been studied for centuries. In 408 BC, Greek dramatist Euripides noted that "mobs in their emotions are much like children, subject to the same tantrums and fits of fury."3 Millennia later, mob members, like children, still tend to be emotional, unreasoning and immature. They are inclined to act out their frustrations rather than attempt a meaningful resolution. Fortunately, mobs do not simply spring forth, but grow and escalate.

The US demonstrations concerning civil rights and the Vietnam War during the I960s and early 1970s generated a large amount of research on mob characteristics. Based upon this work, some generalizations provide a snapshot view of the process.

The accepted traditional customs, attitudes and manners in society, collectively called mores, set the standards for acceptable conduct. When a person is caught up in the emotional sway of a mob, a number of psychological influences tend to reduce the impact of our mores or, in some cases, completely negate them. Eight distinct psychological factors have been identified:

Novelty. Individuals may subconsciously welcome a break from the routine and react enthusiastically to new circumstances.

Mobs provide a release for pent up frustration and anger, even if a person is only marginally committed to the issue at hand. For example, during the latter stages of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, interviews of looters by the media revealed that many had never heard of Rodney King nor were even aware of the jury verdict.

Members of mobs feel a sense of power. In fact, if authorities are unable or unwilling to intervene, this sense of power increases.

With this sense of power are feelings of irresponsibility, and even a sense of righteousness. The single-mindedness of the mob causes individuals to rationalize their actions until they become convinced the mob is morally justified. …

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