aggression, intergroup aggression, and international war as discussed
here must be seen as points on a continuum of increasing complexity,
with many intermediates. Over time, from the Greek wars to World War
II, there has been an increase in complexity, in the diversity of
the roles of those involved, in the destructiveness of the weapons,
and in the involvement of the civilian population (Pogge von
Strandmann. 1991). And in the twentieth century, there have been
all intermediates between tribal conflict in New Guinea to near-global
war. The continuing violence in the Basque country and in Northern
Ireland have the characteristics of inter-group conflict, while the
recent conflicts in Rwanda and in the former Yugoslavia come closer
to international war.
The extreme of the continuum from individual aggression to international
war can be distinguished by three criteria:
international war involves conflict between societies, each of which
is itself complex and consists of many overlapping groups. Any negotiations
between potential combatants take place not between unified nation
states but between large bureaucracies representing diverse interests
Hopmann. 1989). Indeed maintaining the integration of the groups
within each side of the conflict may be a major preoccupation for
the role of leaders is paramount, both political leaders and military
leaders at every level.
and most importantly, international war is best seen as an institution.
The concept of institution perhaps needs some elaboration here. In
our society, marriage is an institution, with husband and wife as
constituent roles. Each role has certain rights and duties associated
with it. Parliament is an institution, with a large number of constituent
roles — prime minister, ministers, members of Parliament, members
of the voting public, and so on. Again, the incumbents of each role
have certain duties that they are expected to perform, and certain
rights consequent upon their roles. In the same way, war must be seen
as an institution with a large number of constituent roles, those
of politicians, generals, officers, soldiers, munitions workers, transport
workers, air raid wardens, doctors, nurses, and many others. Indeed,
virtually every member of the civilian population may come to have
a role in total war. Each role is associated with its particular rights
and duties, and it is the individuals' duties in the roles that they
occupy in the institution of war that primarily motivates their behavior.
Satisfaction in duty well done contributes to self-esteem.
The motivations that are responsible for individual aggression play
little part in total war. Hope of material gain is unimportant, at
any rate amongst the combatants. Hope of increasing the status that
the institution of war can confer with promotion or decoration may
play a minor role. Fear is certainly an issue, and can contribute
to defensive aggression, though the excessive arousal associated with
fear reduces military efficiency (Marshall, 1947). The issues involved
in the formation and dynamics of groups, discussed in the last section,
are of course relevant at every level in the complex organization
of societies at war. Loyalty to and a tendency to cooperate with comrades
may be a major issue, though this is to be seen as part of the combatant's
duty. But aggressive motivation is seldom an important issue in international
war, and when it is, as at My Lai, it is often not condoned. It is
most likely to be important in short-term interactions, especially
in religious and ethnic wars, but the primary motivation stems from
duty associated with the role occupied in the institution of war.
International war may cause aggression, but aggressiveness does not
As we have seen, most analyses of the causes of war focus on societal,
socio-cultural or economic factors. Psychological issues, other than
perhaps the personalities of the leaders, are seldom mentioned. But
such approaches neglect an important issue: rational appraisal, historical
knowledge, and personal experience all testify to the horror of war,
yet wars continue to happen. Thus, for reasons which must surely be
sought, wars remain an acceptable way of solving conflicts. This must
be due to powerful forces that support the institution of war.
These factors that make war acceptable to the individuals who take
part, or who support the institution of war in other ways, can be
grouped into three categories;
The background of everyday life. Many
of those who go to war expect something quite different from the reality
Mosse, 1990). Their expectations stem in part from everyday matters.
years, efforts made to remove sexisms from everyday speech have met
with some success. As yet, there has been little attempt to remove
"warisms." Yet it can be argued that phrases such as "getting dug
in," "putting your head above the parapet," or "outflanking your rival,"
and even such rallying cries as "war on want" or "fighting disease,"
may be as insidious in maintaining the acceptability of war as sexisms
have been seen to be in perpetuating sex discrimination. Particularly
noteworthy is the way in which militaristic comparisons are used to
refer to valued activities — "behaving honourably," with honour being
frequently seen as a military quality: "life is a battle" or "never
give in to defeat." Even if the use of sexisms and warisms is merely
a symbol of the status quo, recognising them for what they are may
serve to raise consciousness about the issues.
In writings about war the horrors are often sanitised and the combatants
ennobled. In World War I the use of "high diction" helped to conceal
the reality of war, the "dead" becoming the "fallen," "other soldiers"
becoming "comrades," and so on (Fussell, 1975).
Books and films (e.g. Winter, 1991)
about war, with certain honorable exceptions, similarly censor the
horror and emphasize heroism; show the triumph of victory, but not
the desperation of defeat; the drama of conflict, but not the agony
of slow death; the bravery of the survivors, but not the long-term
loss of the bereaved. As the popularity of television violence shows,
people seek imagined violence, and one must suppose that the positive
effect may be generalized to real life.
the same time, war may be trivialised by kitsch (Mosse, 1990). Shell
cases used as umbrella stands, cigarette lighters in the shape of
guns, board games on militaristic themes, tin soldiers and the like
reduce war to pleasant nostalgia. Worse still, some writers manage
to find positive virtue in the fact of war. Mansfield
(1991, p. 161) writes "The aesthetic experience of the sublime
on twentieth century battlefields makes sense emotionally, if only
temporarily, of our mechanistic and anomic way of life." It has also
been suggested that, while heroic myths have inspired men to fight,
anti-war myths can, perversely, romanticise it (Hynes, 1997).
As another example, it has been argued that the paintings and etchings
of the German war artist Otto Dix show not only its horrors but also
a reverence for war as a cosmic principle (see critique by Midgley, 1994).
To most of those familiar with the stark immediacy of Dix's work,
it must seem that any such ambiguity must lie in the eye of the post-war
UNESCO recommended that member states should foster education for
peace, but this has been largely disregarded. Finland, among very
few countries, has tried to implement it. History, at least at the
elementary level, is often taught as a history of wars and conquests
and military values are espoused (Hinde &
in countries at peace introduce children to the idea of war, capitalizing
especially on the attractiveness of mechanical devices for boys. They
help to create the impression that war is a normal activity in which
most adults indulge.
The Macho Ideal.
to display physical aggression more than women. Many aspects of risk-taking
behavior, including physical aggressiveness, are on average more frequent
in men than in women, rising to a peak in the late teens or early
twenties, and there is much evidence that the difference is biologically
based. But biological propensities interact with social influences
in the development of aggressiveness, and it is perhaps a form of
sexual rivalry (perhaps stemming from childhood experience, Dinnerstein,
1976) that leads men to see war as a specifically male business:
"No real man would want a woman to fight his battles." Recently, there
has been much discussion as to the part that women should play in
war. Against their involvement it has also been argued that male troops
would over-protect women on their own side, and rape those on the
other, leading to a breakdown of discipline. Countering this and other
arguments that are sometimes used, Mansfield
(1991) points out that the feminine qualities of tact and of understanding
in personal relationships are important in good leaders (see above),
and that female biology is less of a cost than the propensity of men
to get drunk or become addicted. However, the important issue is not
whether women are as efficient at fighting a modern war, but whether
the claim that war is a masculine prerogative makes war more likely
when men are the decision makers, as is usually the case. Women tend
to value peace more highly than do men, yet seldom participate in
the decision-making processes that determine whether or not war shall
1989; Ruddick, 1989).
Those women who do reach positions of power often do so by virtue
of masculine characteristics.
Individual Narrative Construction.
We all construct
narratives of our lives that tend to accord with current experience,
but those narratives may have a rather tenuous connection to historical
fact (e.g. Harvey, Agostinelli
& Weber, 1989). It is probably the majority who forget or
underplay the horror and remember the camaraderie, constructing personal
narratives that both justify and glorify their participation. No doubt
psychological defence mechanisms operate. And those for whom reality
remains central often keep it to themselves.
Pervasive cultural factors. Contributing
to, and enhanced by, the everyday factors are aspects of the socio-cultural
structure that affect the orientation of individuals.
saw the life of the warrior as epitomizing human life at its best;
he had a not inconsiderable influence in central Europe. Some countries
have a long record of belligerence; others, such as Switzerland, of
neutrality. These national characteristics are perpetuated through
the socio-cultural structure and propaganda. However, some such as
Sweden have changed from being a warlike nation to being a peaceful
world religions, Thompson (1988)
found that while virtually all have talked peace, religion has often
supported an "us versus them" attitude. Many wars have been characterised
as holy wars, and in nearly all wars religious imagery is recruited
to justify the nationalistic cause. In the World Wars, the slogans
"Gott mit uns" or "In God we trust" were used by both sides. Atheistic
societies may substitute the sanctification of the system for a deity,
as with the USSR and Communism.
relation between the Christian religion and war has been a complex
one. The Old Testament, concerned with what were effectively tribal
conflicts, is full of bloody battles. In the Christian Church the
believer is portrayed as a soldier "fighting the good fight," and
the Book of Revelations makes extensive use of the imagery of war
and death. Nevertheless, the early Christians were essentially pacifists
and accommodated to militarism only in the 4th Century, when the Emperor
Constantine was converted to Christianity. This posed a problem, and
Saint Augustine, attempting to justify the contradiction, provided
a moral justification for Christian participation in war with the
concept of the "Just War" (Santoni, 1991;Teichman,
1986). A war was considered "just" if it was necessary to avenge
injury or to maintain earthly justice. The Just War tradition thus
legitimated at least some wars, and the flexibility of its criteria,
adjusted to meet political aspirations and the indiscriminate nature
of modern weapons, has helped to maintain the institution of war over
the two World Wars, each side used Christian imagery to make war appear
acceptable and necessary. Particularly potent has been the equation
of death in war with Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. "Greater love
hath no man than this. . ." is proclaimed on many war memorials. Often,
a sword is superimposed on the cross in military cemeteries or memorials.
The close relations between the perception of Christ's death on the
Cross and death in battle have been demonstrated by Mosse (1990) and
by Sykes (1991).
Christ's death is portrayed as a sacrifice, and the ritual celebrating
it is referred to as the Eucharistic sacrifice. Death in war is referred
to in similar terms; for instance, one propaganda poster showed a
dead soldier with a neatly sanitized bullet hole in his forehead lying
at the foot of the Cross. As Mosse (1990, p. 35) puts it, "The fallen
were made truly sacred in the imitation of Christ." Hitler similarly
used the language of sacrifice to inspire the German people to tolerate
losses for the sake of the German Volk. Sykes (1991,
p. 97) is at pains to point out the many positive contributions
that the Christian religion has to make, including the "command to
love the enemy" (to resist their depersonalisation, that is).
religions have had even more devastating effects in fueling the institution
of war. Watson (1995,
p. l67), analysing statements of soldiers from the Arab-Muslim
world and from Northern Ireland, points out that "The fighter's language
blurs the boundaries of the sacred-secular and religion-politics by
describing and locating temporal concerns within a religious framework."
Fighting for the just cause of a new sociopolitical system is defined
in terms of religious belief, personal identity, and political conviction.
War tradition is at the basis of modern international law as it pertains
to war. The law distinguishes between the right to go to war and conduct
in war once it has started. The former has been largely disregarded
in recent centuries, so that the right to go to war became almost
unrestricted. After the first World War, some restrictions were placed
on this right. After the second, the United Nations Charter ruled
that the use of force for settling international disputes should be
the prerogative of the United Nations, except in the case where a
state was the victim of an armed attack. Recent history demonstrates
the limited effectiveness of this ruling. However, in its concern
with the conduct of war, international law seeks to protect basic
human rights. The effectiveness of the International Court of Justice
remains to be demonstrated; we hope for its success, but also that
success will not be taken as an indication that war can now be "clean"
and thus permissible.
a distance, the most amazing thing about modern war is that individuals
are willing to join up, to make sacrifices, and even to give up their
lives when they go to war. Others work long hours or abandon their
careers in order to support a war effort. All who have been to war,
even all those who have been alive in a country at war, must be aware
of its horrors, yet somehow the message does not get through. One
must ask, what is it that gives recruits this false picture of war?
of the explanation lies in the way in which national traditions, religious
beliefs, and current situational demands are channeled into nationalism.
It is helpful here to distinguish between patriotism, involving love
for one's country, and nationalism, involving attitudes of superiority
or a need for power over other national groups. Feshbach (1991;
Feshbach, 1989) showed that these attitudes, though positively
correlated with each other, can be distinguished. In research carried
out in the USA during the Cold War era, they found that individuals
scoring high on nationalism in a questionnaire were more hawkish about
nuclear weapons, but less willing to risk their lives for their country,
than those scoring high on patriotism. This is in harmony with distinctions
that have been made in studies of the dynamics of groups (Brewer &
Brown, in press). Discrimination between in-group and out-group may
arise from enhanced favoritism to in-group members without any change
in effect on others, or from enhanced denigration of those seen as
different from oneself; or finally from perceived inter-group competition.
Apparently, patriotic individuals are higher on susceptibility to
the first, nationalistic individuals to the second, and a war situation
inevitably involves the third.
however, merely puts the question one stage back: what is it that
maintains these patriotic/nationalistic attitudes? Because the two
are related, forces that maintain patriotism may also maintain nationalism.
Naturally and properly, cultural beliefs and love of one's country
must be maintained. Cultural diversity is to be valued in its own
right — a uniform Coca-Cola culture is not an acceptable prospect.
Unfortunately, customs like saluting the flag and playing the national
anthem enhance not only love of one's own country but also (though
perhaps to a lesser extent) comparison with and denigration of others.
The balance between the two depends, of course, on the context of
the ceremony, the precise way in which it is carried out, and the
wording of the anthem.
psychological bases of patriotism/nationalism have already been implied.
Patriotism contributes to an individual's social identity (see above),
to individuals seeing themselves as members of their country. In times
of actual or impending war, propaganda increases social identity at
the expense of individual identity. Integration of the in-group is
augmented by patriotic symbols such as flags and by the ritual of
parades and ceremonies. In military units a familial type of unity
may be fostered. On a broader canvas, the country may be seen as the
Fatherland or Motherland, and other soldiers as brothers-in-arms.
Indeed Johnson (1986,1989)
has suggested that patriotism depends on an unconscious perception
of fellow countrymen as kin, and is therefore parasitic on a biological
propensity to help related individuals. Animal and human data support
the view that familiarity does augment attraction to other individuals
It is also likely that natural selection has acted to promote group
solidarity independently of questions of relatedness (Krebs &
Davies, 1981). In either case, both processes of socialisation
and social rituals, especially militaristic ones, would act to augment
time of war, the balance is swung towards nationalism. The threat
posed by the enemy becomes a threat to individuals' social identities.
Categorization of the enemy as such readily leads to stereotyping
and prejudice. An individual who is seen as a member of a category
is seen as imbued with the stereotypical qualities of that category
Trolier, 1986), and those qualities are seen as (to different
extents) associated with each other. Individuals high and low on prejudice
differ in the extent to which stereotypical attributes are associated
with the category label (Lepore &
Brown, in press).
involves and is augmented by denigration of the enemy. Thus in propaganda
the enemy is portrayed in a number of ways that are calculated to
augment hostile feelings towards him (Wahlstrom,
1987; Keen, 1991).
A variety of human propensities are exploited. Most frequently the
enemy is portrayed as an aggressor and therefore to be blamed for
the conflict and to be feared and resisted. The blame may be augmented
by an implied association between the enemy and evil; he may even
be portrayed as the Devil or as Anti-God. The culpability of the enemy,
as well as his fear-evoking properties, are sometimes augmented by
portraying him as a barbarian, supporting an anti-culture, or as greedy,
trying to acquire what is not his. Racism is readily recruited to
aid the denigration of the enemy. This is familiar enough to Westerners
from the differences between the portrayal by the Allies of the Germans
and the Japanese even before the savagery of the Pacific war. Reciprocally,
the Japanese saw the war as "just revenge for decades of condescension
and discrimination by the 'white' powers, whose 'demonic' nature was
shown by the mutilation of Japanese war dead and the systematic bombing
of urban areas in both Europe and Japan" (Dower, 1986,
strangeness of the enemy conveyed in such images also has fear-evoking
properties which again play on basic human propensities. Infants start
to show fear of strangers in the second half of the first year (Bronson, 1968),
and this may persist in some degree throughout life. Fearsomeness,
as well as the culpability of the enemy, is also conveyed by showing
the enemy as criminal, anarchic, a terrorist, and even as a torturer
and rapist. There is, of course. a need for balance here, as he must
not be shown as invincible.
do not readily kill other humans, and in some tribal warfare killing
is often limited, especially in formal battles as opposed to raids
and ambushes (Lewis, 1995).
In modern war this inhibition against killing may be less important
if, as is often the case, the enemy is unseen and at a distance. The
area bombing in Europe and Asia, the use of atomic weapons, and the
use of defoliants and napalm by the USA in Vietnam, epitomize the
issue. But modern war still sometimes involves hand-to-hand combat,
and the inhibitions against killing may then be overcome by fear or
under conditions of long-term experience of frustration and danger
Some aspects of enemy images are also important here. The culpability
of the enemy allows the soldier to see killing as justified, and portrayal
of the enemy as beast, reptile, or germ legitimizes his extermination.
Killing is also justified by making war an expression of social solidarity
in defense of homes, religion, or way-of-life. This readily leads
to conscientious objectors being seen as traitors.
of the images used in propaganda symbolise the enemy as an individual,
whether human or non-human. This immediately reduces the conflict
to terms comprehensible to the individual. But with the increasing
impersonality of modern war, the enemy is sometimes depersonalised
and portrayed merely as a weapon — a bomber or a nuclear missile.
This again provides respectability for aggression against him. War
may even be referred to as a computer game. There is perhaps here
an echo of the much earlier tradition of war as a chivalrous conflict
between heroes, as seen in contests between knights or samurai.
important issue about such propaganda is that, by showing the enemy
as barbaric, evil, greedy and so on, it is at the same time saying
that we are righteous and civilized, and thus bolstering the self-image
by contrast with the other-image. Depictions of the enemy may serve
self-interest in other ways. In the 9th to 12th centuries, Irish writers
portrayed the marauding Vikings not only as aggressive and rapacious
but also as desecrators of the sacred, as barbarians capturing innocent
women and causing monks to break their vows, as surpassing beasts
in savagery, and as utterly uncivilised (Ni Mhaonaigh.
1977). The aim appears to have been not so much (or not only)
to induce antagonism to the enemy, but rather to advance the interests
of the literati, who were mostly monks. The enemy were seen as providing
retribution for inadequate religious observance, or were used to provide
an opportunity for glorifying their own kings for vanquishing such
War as an Established Set of Institutions.
far we have treated war as an institution with a large number of constituent
roles, that is an over-simplified picture. With modern war, we have
to do with an established set of nested institutions. Eisenhower
(1961) called attention to the danger that the massive armaments
industry created in the USA, together with the military establishment,
would come to wield an unwarranted influence throughout the nation.
He referred to the military-industrial complex, but it is perhaps
even more appropriate to speak of the military-industrial-scientific
complex. Each corner of this complex is to be seen as itself a nested
set of interrelated institutions. Each, if unrestrained, is self-enhancing
and self-perpetuating, leading to greater arms production and greater
emphasis on the acceptability and respectability of war.
This was well demonstrated during the Cold War era. At the military
corner of the triangle, the competitive force of inter-service rivalry
was a powerful force: for instance, in the 1960's the Navy and Air
Force of the USA competed to develop their own strategic counter-force
weapons, and worst-case assumptions about Soviet intentions allowed
for no restraints. Turning to the science corner, the arms race in
the Cold War was due as much to the science-induced pull of technical
advance as to democratic political decisions, and defense spending
came to play a major role in the country's academia. Finally, industry
had its own goals and its own interests at stake. The long lead-time
necessary for the development of new weapons placed arms contractors
in a strong bargaining position, for the government could not allow
a contract, once placed, to fail. Furthermore, it is in the interests
of both the military and industry that weapons should be sold to other
countries, as thereby the unit cost is reduced. Without the arms trade
by industrialized countries, many of the wars elsewhere would at least
have been less bloody and perhaps would not have occurred (for fuller
discussion, see Prins et al.,
Each of these three sub-institutions has its own internal organization
with appropriate sets of roles, and the incumbents of each have rights
and duties appropriate to their roles. But there is one factor in
common to each member of the military-industrial-scientific triad
— the career ambitions and inertia of the individuals involved. This
is no doubt augmented in many cases by feelings of loyalty and patriotism,
themselves augmented in turn by long-term patriotic traditions and
propaganda. But military careers depend on the possibility of winnable
war, scientists' careers can be made by military research, and industrialists
and their shareholders inevitably have financial goals.
contributed in many ways to the understanding of war, even though
the major part of the research has focused on how to conduct wars
efficiently. This paper is concerned with the ways in which psychology
reveals mechanisms that make war acceptable to those who take part,
in spite of its horrors. It involves sketches of the factors involved
in violence at three levels of social complexity. The importance of
individual aggressiveness decreases along the continuum from individual
aggressiveness through mob violence, ethnic and religious wars, to
modern institutionalised war, while the importance of group processes
and of institutionalisation increase. The factors that contribute
to support war as an institution include everyday background factors
(e.g., books, films), pervasive cultural factors (national traditions,
some uses of religion, propaganda). and the military-industrial-scientific