Howard S. Katz

The psychological basis of war





A short text that clarifies many current problems of state manipulation and state violence.

Source: Howard S. Katz, The Warmongers, Books in Focus, Inc., New York, 1981



There is a belief - widespread in our society - that feeling any emotion of hostility is a wrong or immoral thing. People who accept this belief do not like to admit their hostile emotional states, even to themselves. Such a person will, of course, feel anger and hate. Human emotions are automatic responses to the outside world. If a man perceives something which is evil and a threat to his values, hostility (and often fear) is automatic. It is part of his make-up as a· human being.

Such responses are not in themselves bad. In a good person the hate will be directed at evil and will act as a psychological motive for him to fight the evil and preserve his values. But when people deny their hate, pretending to themselves that it does not exist, then the hate ceases to be under rational control.

The most familiar example of this is the man who grovels before his superiors and takes out his aggression on his subordinates or his wife and children. Instead of feeling hate for the person who has caused his frustration, he simply hates the weakest available party. This is not in accord with justice. It is not a rational policy; and it will do nothing to deter future frustration. But this man cannot subject his hate to a rational process because he will not even admit that it exists. (One may see many examples of this type in the Armed Forces.) Another example may be found in certain members of minority groups who are servile to those who have power in our society and take out their hostility in criminal acts against random passers-by. Again this does nothing to deter the injustice to which these groups are often subject.

The result of this is that a huge number of people are walking around with irrational hostility - a free-floating hate caused by events in their personal lives but not directed at the rational object of their frustration. If a politician can reach out and channel that hate, he will strike a deep public chord and win a lot of support.

The following method for channelling hatred has a long and successful history: "Look out there," the politician says. "There is The Enemy. He is not like us. He harbors vicious and aggressive designs against us. He is evil."

If one studies history, one is struck by the number of times that this syndrome dominated countries so that each of them became The Enemy to the other. Each element in the syndrome has a function:

1. The Enemy is outside [1]
This allows the politician to unite all elements of the society. There is no one to fight back.

2. He hates us
This alleviates the guilt which people feel because the truth is the opposite, and the essence of this kind of personality is the belief that any hatred is immoral.

3. He is different
Thus easier to hate. Again one is struck by the frequency with which countries fight those who are similar to themselves. The Germanic tribes of Western Europe, all basically similar in culture, who have bitterly fought each other ever since they overran the Roman Empire are one example. The Greek city-states are another.

4. He is evil
Thus worthy of hate.

It is this Enemy syndrome which has been applied to the Russians in the Cold War period, most especially by William F. Buckley and his associates at National Review [2]. Without making the mistake of some leftists who argue that the Russians are nice people and that Communism would not be such a bad system to live under anyway, let us analyze this Cold War syndrome. But beware dear reader; hate is such a satisfying emotion - it feels so good to let it out - that we will all be under a strong temptation to adhere to the beliefs which channel it. Although the author is aware that it is much more fun to indulge our emotions, he is, unfortunately a stick-in-themud and is going to insist that all issues be settled by reason and reason alone.




[1] There is a variation on this theme in which this premise is replaced by: "The Enemy is weak." This is the scapegoat syndrome.

[2] Buckley tries to lure libertarians away from the burgeoning libertarian movement by claiming that he, too, is a libertarian - however, he says, we must make some temporary compromises with liberty while The Enemy is at the gates. When the Communist threat is ended, then he will join us in supporting liberty, pure and undefiled. Do not be deceived, libertarians. For Buckley, there will always be an enemy at the gates. Were the earth to open up tomorrow and swallow every Communist, then the day after tomorrow Buckley would find a new Enemy at whose altar liberty can be sacrificed.


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