[lit-ideas] Re: On the Psychological Interpretation of War

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 9 Dec 2004 22:00:20 -0800

I am surprised that anyone could write the statement ?the bottom line is
humanity chooses war.?  Surely the author of this statement has never read a
history of a war.  It is impossible to make such a statement fit any war
I?ve read about, and I?ve read about a great many (unless the person intends
something absurd like, ?nations should let their citizens be slaughtered
rather than go to war?).  Simply invoking WWI (invoked by Koenigsberg) gives
the lie to that statement.  I sketched the history of WWI ? just a small
sketch so as to avoid offending students of that war.  But alas, the author
(of the aforementioned statement ? following Koenigsberg) went on as though
World War One had never happened.

And so to get into a bit more detail:  Because of past conflicts, nations in
Europe were afraid of other nations in Europe.  In hopes of preventing
attacks, there were a number of treaties.  Germany was afraid of France.
France was afraid of Germany.  Germany was afraid that France would make
treaties with Britain or Russia and attack Germany.  Russia was mistrustful
of Austria.  Britain wanted to keep a balance of power on the continent but
didn?t want to make a formal treaty with anyone ? still, they couldn?t let
France fail.  Germany needed allies, but who was there other than Austria?
Serbia had a common religion with Russia and expected support in case of
emergency.  No one wanted war.  If you read a history of this time then you
will know that no one wanted war.  No one chose war. 


We live in America.  We pride ourselves that anyone can say anything he
likes (although a couple of people didn?t think I should say anything
detrimental to Chomsky.  One even suggested that my criticism of Chomsky
would have found me a home in Soviet Russia.  Toleration of free speech,
apparently, has its limits.).  Anyone can say anything he likes, but he
can?t prove that any of the aforementioned nations chose or wanted war.
Those nations were afraid of war and made treaties not because they were
gathering up troops to start a war.  They were afraid someone would attack
them.  The treaties were for self-protection.  


There were conflicts between Austria and Serbia.  The Austro-Hungarian
Empire had dwindled but it still exerted influence.  It opposed Serbia
joining with Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Arch-Duke Ferdinand traveled to
Bosnia-Herzegovina and a Serb soldier by the name of Princip, dying of
tuberculosis, planned to assassinate the Arch Duke and then kill himself
before anyone could find out he was a Serb.  Unfortunately for Princip, he
was not able to kill himself.  Princip and his coconspirators had not
planned to start a war.  They just didn?t want Austria interfering in
Serbia?s affairs.  But after the assassination, Austria declared war on
Serbia.  Of course Russia could not let Serbia be defeated by Austria.  And
of course Germany could not let Austria be defeated by Russia.  And of
course France could not let Russia be defeated by Germany.  And of course
Britain could not let France be defeated by Germany.  And of course the
United States could not let Britain be defeated by Germany.  None of the
participants wanted war, but there was no way to avoid it given the treaty
relationships and the events and circumstances surrounding the assassination
of Arch Duke Ferdinand.  


Assuming that no one is suggesting that anyone break a treaty and do the
national-equivalent of fleeing to Canada, the one area where someone might
argue that someone could have chosen not to go to war was in regard to
Austria?s decision.  Could Austria have chosen not to go to war with Serbia?
If one spends time understanding the situation, I believe he will agree that
the answer is no.  Members of the Serbian Army assassinated the Arch Duke
and that was considered tantamount to a declaration of war upon Austria.
Austria was attacked when Princip assassinated the heir to the
Austrian-Hungarian throne.  Assassinating the heir to the Austrian-Hungarian
throne was tantamount to a Serbian declaration of war.


This discussion began as a response to Koenigsberg?s comments.  He mentioned
the First World War and then asked ?How can we make sense of the ritual of
death and destruction in warfare?  What does it mean?  What is its
continuing appeal?  What does its persistence say about us??  Koenigsberg
goes on to say that ?to move toward a world not dominated by warfare, one
must do more than advocate peace.  We must begin by interrogating the
sources of war?s appeal.?  


I recently read several books about World War One and could find no evidence
that it was entered because of ?war?s appeal.?  There is a psychological
root to War, but it isn?t in the love of war.  It is in man?s natural
aggressiveness.  Humans compete with each other.  Conflict is normal.  War
is human conflict at the highest level.  We strive to reduce this conflict
in all areas.  Andy Amago may irritate someone to the point that someone
might want to take a baseball bat to him.  But this sort of conflict is
inhibited by our Laws.  Such a person knows he would probably be arrested;
so he leaves his baseball bat and himself at home and Andy gets away with it
one more time. 


In the case of nations, the ?balance of power? ideal practiced by Bismarck
worked well, but then Bismarck was removed from office and the balance was
lost.  Britain practiced something like that by intending to throw its
sea-power on the side of the weaker nation (in a given conflict) in order to
maintain a balance of power.  The US and the USSR did something like that
throughout the Cold War.  Neither side wished to risk retaliation from the
other.  In none of these cases is there a desire for war.  All of these
nations sought to avoid war.  And yet war was not avoided (although the US &
USSR avoided fighting each other directly, they fought each other ? in a
manner of speaking -- through surrogates).  Conflicts occur and they
sometimes escalate into war.  


Thus, I thought Koenigsberg?s thesis untenable.  The root of war is not in
some psychological aberration, some unnatural love of lemming-like-war.  It
is rooted in human nature, and no one has found a way to change human
nature.  There are social arrangements that can reduce the frequency of war,
but there is nothing in all the history of mankind (or even in the
prehistory as far as anthropologists can tell us) that provides evidence
that man?s natural state is non-aggressive, non-confrontational or peaceful.
Peace has always been conditional.  As long as you were polite to me, Andy,
I was polite to you.  But you were rude and insulting; so I became rude and
insulting to you.  As long as the Serb?s treated the Arch Duke with respect,
the Austrians would leave the Serb?s in peace.  Austria would of course
object to Serbia?s joining with Bosnia-Herzegovina, but that is hardly war.
. . .


Lawrence Helm

San Jacinto






-----Original Message-----
From: lAndy Amago


-----Original Message-----

From: Ursula Stange 



Not having proper time to follow this thread, I'm just poking my nose in now
and again.  But I spotted this statement of Andy's about Hitler 'hating
peace' and just wondered why it rolls so easily off the fingertips.  Hitler
was an angry young man who was shamed by Germany's defeat in a war he had
fought in and felt betrayed by the decision makers in the generation before
him.  Born in a different time and place, he might have been nobody.  Think
of a rogue wave in the ocean and a talented, lucky and plucky surfer.  Whole
lifetimes could pass without the two meeting.  The wave sinks lesser surfers
and the surfer has to make do with lesser waves.  Unless...things come
together.  That's the 'perfect storm' that came together and engulfed
Germany.   No one could see it coming.  The German people were not somehow
more prone to this than others might have been.  Neither they nor Hitler
hated peace.  Neither they nor Hitler loved war. 




A.A. I appreciate your response and I do see your point.  Even so, the fact
remains that the perfect storm could have taken a non-war expression, yet it
did not. 





U.S. Something in the US portends this same kind of 'perfect storm.'   If
ever one wanted to understand how what happened in Germany could happen,
they need only watch what is happening in the US right now.  While there is
no proof, it is widely assumed that Hitler's brown shirts set fire to the
Reichstag themselves.  The fear it engendered gave Hitler the opportunity to
turn his election victory into something more powerful and more permanent.
The people willingly exchanged their civil liberties for protection from a
possibly-invented fear.  And doesn't that sound familiar....


The Marxist analysis of history put paid to "The Great Man" theory, but
perhaps we need to take a second look.   (Those quotations around 'great
man' belong there for more than one reason.)




A.A. Likewise here.  We could have chosen another way to fight terrorism yet
we chose to invade a country that basically needled us.  When circumstances
gather, war is inevitable only if we choose it above other options.  The
bottom line is, humanity chooses war.  



Andy Amago






(my two bits...(Canadian)...about 42 cents American)



Lawrence Helm and Andy Amago.....


L.H.  It is possible to

examine many of Hitler's motives, but as much as he loved war, however mu=


that was, it couldn't be said that he went to war because he loved war.  =


objectives of his war were the reasons he went to war.  Lebensraum in the=


East and the countering of the effects of the ignominious surrender after=


World War One were probably the prime reasons.=20


A.A. If he hated war and violence, he would have found another way to mee=


his ends.  He chose instead to go to war, and his people chose to follow

him.  He hated peace, so he shunned it.




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