Response from Dr. Noam Chomsky
American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, logician,historian, political critic, and activist. He is an Institute Professor and Professor (Emeritus) in the Department of Linguistics & Philosophy at MIT. In addition to his work in linguistics, he has written on war, politics, and mass media, and is the author of over 100 books. He was voted the "world's top public intellectual" in a 2005 poll.
Thanks. Interesting piece. The model works well for WWI, but I'm not sure how general that is. In colonial wars, for example, the imperial power commonly gloried on how many unworthy natives were killed with so few loses for the "home team."
Response from Dr. Michale Andregg
Known for his study of the causes of war, global problems related to war, intelligence ethics and his peace activism. Andregg has published numerous works on biology, genetics, technology and contemporary social problems related to armed conflict. He has produced over 50 educational videos on wide-ranging subjects and a national award-winning book. Andregg holds a Ph.D. in behavior genetics.
1. Scapegoating is certainly a real phenomenon, and even more fundamental (to me) is the double standard between “in-groups” and “out-groups” which has been studied extensively in psychology and sociology because just about everyone thinks that’s important. But be wary of ‘single factor’ explanations, often accompanied by ‘silver-bullet’ solutions to this very difficult problem. They are almost always real causes of wars, but there are also VERY many others that are equally real. I inflict a one-page chapter outline of my book where ~ 40 recurring causes of wars are discussed, of which scapegoating and in-group/out-groups are discussed, but all are important.
2. For example, Koenigsberg (who is a social psychologist) cites D. Ragsdale “All the kingdoms of the world are based on the scapegoat mechanism.” That is total baloney. He has taken a single, real cause and elevated it to THE cause of ALL kingdoms. Baloney, no matter how sincere, but a common problem in analysis of this truly complex issue.
3. Also, I disagree with the later claim of Marvin that “The sacrifice of members of one’s own group (Marvin proposes) is the fundamental purpose of the institution of warfare.” Silly. Protecting one’s territory from others, or stealing some other group’s resources, is a far more fundamental and universal cause of war, in my seldom humble opinion. Sacrifice certainly DOES serve purposes of social cohesion, and many innocents certainly do get sacrificed even today. But once again, they are taking real phenomena and making them bigger than they really are.
4. I fear I will bore you to death repeating that, but it is the recurring theme of Koenigsberg’s essay. World War I, for example, is overwrought. All bore some responsibility, the Germans, the British, the kings and generals etc. The stupid war plans for mobilization were even a significant factor, as “The Guns of August” showed so well. Do not confuse my meaning – they were not equally culpable. For example, I say that even the volunteers were partly responsible, when no one forced them to the front. Even the propagandists, who rationalized the carnage, were responsible in their ways. Sunshine patriots at home who urged others to attend bore some of the blame. Industrialists who profited from the slaughter were more responsible to me than many innocent rural people who responded to incentives. Wars are complicated, and the special slaughters of World War I contain many lessons on institutional inertia and stupidity at high levels. But to say it’s all about preserving nation-states by ritual sacrifice is taking one real dynamic way too far.
5. When he writes about how these human nature things are used by those who train young soldiers, he is much more accurate in my opinion.
6. The official story about 9/11 is profoundly false. That’s a cause of quite a few wars.
7. “Awakening” is good in any event, and on that front I completely share Koenigsberg’s commitment to trying to reduce the grip that modern war propaganda has on so many mass populations. I work on human survival every day partly because mutual assured destruction is unstable. If we keep the world wired for complete destruction, one of these days the rare event will occur that sets them off (the nukes in particular, or someone’s idea a cool new biological weapon).
8. PS: another ‘single-factor’ theory some theologians are fond of is ‘it’s all Satan’s fault.’ Neither you nor Koenigsberg mention that possibility, eh? And how to prove or disprove in a scientific way?
Ryan, I hope these words helped you and apologize I cannot devote more time to his essay. I will continue trying to find better ways to cultivate warriors who are fundamentally protectors, and less vulnerable to manipulation by the masters of deception.
Best Wishes Always,
Michael Andregg, Justice and Peace Studies Department, University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Response from Dr. Anthony Chamberlain
Director of Latin American Studies Program, Central America. Holds a Ph.D. in Political Economy and Third World Development and an M.A. in International Relations from the same university. Previously, a Foreign Expert at Beijing University, P.R. China and served as a consultant to Brethren in Christ Overseas Missions in South America.
I found the article very disturbing, thought provoking, and cause for deeper reflection. War as a “solution” does seem so insane!...such that there must be a better explanation for its persistence. A book that we use on the subjec that you would appreciate, is “Is religion Killing Us”, by J Nelson-Pallmeyer. Let me know what you think. Keep the faith…in better things,
Response from Dr. "M", Professor of Theology.
The article's thesis seems plausible. The problem with an all-encompassing theory of the "logic" of war like his is that it usually fits some conflicts better than others. The line he draws from WWI to the body bag phenomenon is, however, fairly intriguing (and disturbing). The idea of the soldier as "sacrifice" was also prominent in the American Civil War (for an account of it--one that has received some criticism, but strikes me as generally tenable--take a look at Harry Stout's Upon the Altar of the Nation). Rene Girard's theory of sacrifice and scapegoating has been pretty controversial in the theological world, so your view on the success (or failure) of that theory would affect whether you're convinced by Koenigsberg's thesis. Unfortunately, I haven't had an opportunity to read Girard's stuff(much less other authors that the article references, such as Carolyn Marvin), so I can't evaluate the article very confidently from that standpoint. I guess that one way to put what I'm getting at here is that if the assumptions and theories that Koenigsberg is depending on are sound, then he has a pretty powerful analysis (and critique) of the "logic" of war. I see that he wrote a book on Hitler and the Holocaust (Nations Have the Right to Kill). I checked the scholarly databases that I have access to for academic reviews and only found one that I could access from our library. It seemed to think that the book had a few blind spots, but opened up some promising lines of research.
Response from Colonel Henry Close
Orthodox Preist and Air Force Chaplain
The biblical idea I do buy. As your writer proposes, it does not ring for me. -HC
Response from Mr. Matt Geiger (B.S.)
Writer. Specializes in the Psychology of Politics
It is important to first understand humans comprehend the world by breaking information down into manageable pieces. We do not think outside of "the box"; we draw our own boxes and those boxes are universally valid when we can use them to communicate our thinking. The sacrificial ritual model discussed in Richard Koenigsberg’s “the Soldier as sacrificial victim” is one box, or frame, that can be useful. Unfortunately, simply looking at war as a sacrificial ritual offers readers little in terms of applicable insights due partly to the culturally specific, symbolic nature of the underlying psychoanalysis used to explain the model. As such, it is probably more useful to interpret the sacrificial nature of war in terms of conflicts of interests and motivation.
Wars occur when two or more social groups have conflicting interests and cannot resolve those conflicts through nonviolent means. In that sense, wars are external conflicts where “foreign” soldiers are killed versus willing victims sacrificed by their societies as Koenigsberg argues. At the same time, wars also serve as rallying points for group unity; therefore, those willing to sacrifice themselves for the perceived interests of the group are glorified. As such, war can serve as a sacrificial ritual when national leaders use war to achieve their goals of unifying their people and solidifying their power, i.e. Koenigsberg’s argument then becomes valid. Instead of ritualistic sacrifice stemming from an inherent social or individual need for violence as Koenigsberg suggests, however, ritualistic sacrifice is a consequence of society/leadership pursuing its interests or leaders using the practice to manipulate the masses.
The seemingly senseless loss of life due to faulted military tactics in pre-World War II conflicts, as an example discussed in the Koenigsberg paper, is better understand as a failure to consider the interests of troops. Society, i.e. people en mass, has certain interests (wants and needs) that it will seek to fulfill while those at the top of society, i.e. the powerful, have their own interests that they will seek to fulfill. When the interests of the powerful are misaligned with the interests of society, conflicts occur. In order to avoid conflict, the powerful will often distort what the actual interests of society are, so the interests of the powerful will be served. In doing so, the powerful can neglect the interests of the masses, but avoid conflict by manipulating those whose real, versus perceived, interests have been neglected.
Furthermore, duty, honor, and nobility are examples of deeply rooted emotions, which can be used as social control mechanisms that enable the powerful to serve their interests at the expense of the less prominent. In the case of war, leaders seek what they perceive to be the interests of the state then convince their troops to serve those interests, whether or not those interests are trivial and cost the troops dearly. The underlying reason why British soldiers in wars before WWII were trained to throw themselves into a battlefield, which more often than not resulted in massive causalities, hinges on the fact that this is how military commanders believed wars were won. Before guns, this was more or less true, but the world views of military leaders were not updated until later wars when easily reloaded guns resulted in far too many casualties, thus the interests of the troops could no longer be ignored.
What I would argue happened from the preWWI and WWII eras into the modern day era is that leaders began to do far more to take the interests of their troops into consideration. The monarchs of old Europe would start wars over the most insignificant, trivial matters, including personal tiffs; whereas, modern governments must offer convincing justifications for war and consider the interests of those fighting the wars, i.e. the brutality of war must be calculated when deciding to go to war. Understanding the sacrificial nature of war, however, hinges on an observer’s ability to understand the reasons individuals are willing to become sacrificial victims. The motivation behind any individual’s actions can be framed in terms of economical, i.e. the pursuit of self-interests, emotional, and social incentives; therefore, the motivations behind an individual’s willingness to become a sacrificial victim can be better understood through the use of these three frames.
In all cultures, troops receive financial compensation and/or special accommodations for their service. Where most modern governments pay their military personnel, countries lacking formal economies, such as North Korea or the American tribes, provide their troops increased food rations and other goods. In addition to financial compensation, the US and other modern governments promise to provide live long medical, educational, and other fringe benefits to servicemen and women. In doing so, the potential loss of life or decrease in quality of life due to a serious injury, i.e. sacrifice, is compensated for economically, thus troops are paid to be willingly sacrificed.
As Koenigsberg noted, the post Vietnam War era was marked by a hypersensitive to risk when it came to the lives of US servicemen and women. In terms of balancing interests, Americans were more willing to neglect US interests served by military intervention, often endangering and costing the lives of many more non-Americans as well as long-term US security interests, in favor of safeguarding the lives of US troops, a.k.a. the sacrificial ritual was no more. Where the interests of those fighting wars had been thoroughly neglected in the past, America over focused on the interests of its troops to the point military service lost its sacrificial component. During the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, however, this trend was reserved to the point where the interests of the troops were being neglected to a degree for a faulted mission.
Meanwhile, military service invokes and cultivates strong emotions, specifically pride. At the same time, servicemen and women are trained to sacrifice themselves. Emotionally, this means learning to disconnect from the fear of death and neglect personal interests. For some, this process can lead to emotionally instability, especially if these individuals have experienced traumatizing events during their deployment. In many regards, learning to emotionally disengage from personal interests, experiencing absolute pride in one’s actions, and learning to give unquestioned loyalty is traumatizing as military servicemen and women are being asked to temporarily sacrifice their individuality, i.e. the ability to choose and reflect on their actions. When these individuals’ military service ends or their absolute loyalty is violated, individuals can become more susceptible to emotional issues. In turn, these underlying psychological issues accentuate any difficulties these servicemen and women might already have when transitioning between the military subculture and civilian life.
Aside from economic and emotional interests, service members are expected to sacrifice themselves for the social incentives afforded them. Those in the military might be regarded as a sacrificial class; however, the sacrificial nature of their social position also leads to these individuals serving as a privileged and isolated class. In general, a perceived failure to show proper respect to US servicemen and women is met with great distain to the point there are times when criticism of the military has been considered taboo. A lack of political will and courage to stand up to faulted military policies has been problematic as certain policies and contracting decisions have endangered personnel and missions. On the other end of the extremes, public support for the military and troops evaporated during the Vietnam War era when widespread misconduct by a relative minority of troops was allowed to fester. With the loss of social prestige, i.e. social incentives, the military was weakened.
Meanwhile, the military culture is an isolated subculture, versus as insider turned outsider as Koenigsberg argues, due to its command structure, i.e. abnormal social environment, training requirements, stressful deployment schedules, and other responsibilities it places on servicemen and women. Like many subcultures of a society, the military social environment forces members to adopt its own rules and protections. Unlike an unassimilated immigrant minority, as one example, the transient and sacrificial nature of the voluntary commitment means servicemen and women must eventually relearn how to function in our broader society. Those leaving the military, who lose their privileged status and purpose, can very well have problems functioning after they leave the military for this reason alone, especially if they find themselves without a meaningful role in our society. This is where Veteran’s Affairs provides a useful support structure for former members of the military.
Looking at the current sexual assault epidemic in the US military, as another example, it is also possible to understand how the interests of the broader American culture and the American military culture can conflict. Where our society has learned to treat sex crimes as serious social issues, the US military is struggling to address its conflicting interests. The sacrificial nature of military service creates a situation where we are inclined to want to overlook the wrongdoings of US servicemen and women, especially when those wrongdoings occurred in a war zone. After all, extreme stress pushes people to engage in behaviors they would otherwise never consider. At the same time, the isolated nature of the military subculture encourages military commanders to protect their subordinates from the outside world as the outside world has sacrificed themselves for its security interests. In doing so, the perpetrators of sexual assaults are protected at the expense of victims. For military personnel, who are victims of sexual assaults, these injustices are doubly harmful as such victims have been “sacrificed”/abandoned by our broader society and their adopted subculture.
In closing, volumes could be written on each of the subjects raised in this discussion; however, the sacrificial ritual model explained in terms of conflicting interests and motivation clearly provides insights into potential problems servicemen and women might experience when transitioning from active duty to civilian life. Meanwhile, it affords us the ability to understand how and why our broader culture might conflict with the military subculture. It also demonstrates why organizations like Veteran’s Affairs provide a valuable buffer for veterans attempting to bridge the two cultures. Moreover, military service can be seen as a sacrificial ritual; however, the modeling is valuable only if it is used to understand the conflict of interests that exists between our broader culture and the military subculture. -Matt
Reponse from David Parker
President Publishing, Business Expert Press, Momentum Press
I have always been a "fan" of the weak. I believe they have more tools, and more agency (Power) than we ever give them credit for being able to exercise. But they use "weapons of the weak" that are hidden to most of us. -David
Response from Vaune Shellbourn
Military Veteran & Director, National Veterans Training Institute, CO
After reading the article, I do have a problem with scape goat ideology. I really cannot buy into the conclusion of the article. I was disturbed by the article and disagreed with the examples being used to force their conclusions.
Response from Dr. Severio Costello
(Retired U.S. Navy, Writer, & Psychology professor)
The premise Girard makes is very interesting, but appears to “generalize” a broad occurrence (the scapegoating process/social victim role). Duncan Ragsdale stated that "All the kingdoms of the world are based on the scapegoat mechanism." Additionally, Ragsdale thought that it depended on a "collective unknowing" for it to work. Here is where I feel the premise falters: Girard assumes that All people, think alike, and therefore, will behave or Act in such for the community. Cultures, experience, & moral/values help to influence the personal duality that exists between “personal-self” and the “social-self.” People are unique from one another; individuality of a person isn’t stamped and predetermined!
People do have behaviors to help facilitate “coping mechanism/defense skills,” in order to“survive,” as well as the need to “belong.” But as we can each realize, people are not all the same and thus, have different levels of “Need” or Affiliation. While people may appear like Sheep on some occasions, moving along with the herd while feeling Safe & Secure, people are still “hardwired” to try and understand and make sense of the “unknown! I believe this is why we tend to categorize, group, and label things in an attempt to help “understand” the unknown, or what is thought to be known, just to have a better understanding of it!
The other premise made is a little more radical, according to Marvin, the "ultimate sign of faith in social existence." Whereas Girard theorizes that preserving the unity of the community requires violence toward an outsider or marginal group.” The sacrifice of members of one’s own group, Marvin proposes, is the fundamental purpose of the institution of warfare. Marvin suggests that beneath these declared motives lies the real purpose of warfare, the desire or need to sacrifice members of one’s own community. "Blood sacrifice," Marvin declares, "Preserves the nation."
On a Social level, this view would support the Social Sacrifice argument. It would depend on the “social blindness” from several prospectives. It is a Scary notion, but is one that has strong undertones! Confirmation Bias may add to support or not support the said premise. Good article for discussion.
Response from Mr. Brian Orczeck
Military Veteran and current Veterans Representative, Department of Labor
I can appreciate the statement: “Marvin proposes a more radical hypothesis: that preservation of the nation-state requires sacrificing members of one’s own group.” This is the trend that I observe when engaged in political discussions. The comparative, from my point of reference, is where Christianity follows two primary doctrines, “Love the Lord they God” and “Love one another”. The Christian perspective of sacrifice is a type of “self-sacrifice” that enables a community to love each other and experience the derivatives of the love. The doctrine will not work as mutually exclusive items because it lacks a binding morality. Ignoring one precept and focusing only on “love” will lead to a Buddhist-type concept with no authority beyond self which permits an individual determination of what “love” is. Ignoring the other precept and focusing only on deity, leads to an understanding of a vein like Muslim, where the service to the god trumps humanity and individual free-will.
The Christian understanding is gained from the instruction to die unto self(ishness) and accept the new life in Christ daily. This is a corporate understanding the group must incorporate into their lives for it to work. Therein lies the great contradiction of Christianity when set beside a more worldly view of internal sacrifice of group members. Failing to do the first (Self-sacrifice daily for Christ) inevitably leads to group or segmented sacrifice to pursue individual or group intentions by force of power.
Lacking a common enemy greater than the internal individual that doesn’t conform to a group-defined ideal, the group will indeed attempt to consume it’s on members to satiate it’s thirst for a desired preservation or propagation of an ideal. It’s really a “Force of Will” argument that defines societies as carnal and without knowledge or uniform reason.
Here is what P. H. Pearse, founder of the Irish revolutionary movement, had to say upon observing the daily carnage in France:
The last sixteen months have been the most glorious in the history of Europe. Heroism has come back to the earth. It is good for the world that such things should be done. The old heart of the earth needed to be warmed with the red wine of the battlefield. Such august homage was never before offered to God as this, the homage of millions of lives given gladly for love of country.
Pearse describes the First World War in the language of mythic sacrifice, proclaiming that the heart of the earth needed to be "warmed with the red wine of the battlefield." He declares that the war is "glorious" and is pleased to observe that "heroism" has come back to the earth. He characterizes slaughter as an offering to God, a form of august homage taking the form of "millions of lives given gladly for love of country."
I don’t know if I buy into the conclusion; I don’t see that education or removal of a veil or portrayal will change the desire of humanity to wage war or sacrifice others to continue or change the course of a societal outcome. We had detractors during Vietnam and even a president who fled the nation to avoid it. Then we had planes crash into our buildings and our recruitment lines formed again. We all knew carnage but, everyone waiting to be recruited have different motivators that compel them to engage in war. Sometimes it power, value, conviction, fear… the list can go on.
Where there is greed, avarice, vice, peace, complacency, etc… war will always be an option to ensure the continuity of the condition. Influence or Affluence over a society can compel people to see the value in the war and ready themselves, on a personal conviction, that their death is better than their life. I’d reason this condition is inborn, primarily masculine, with many undefined micro-influencers. Essentially, War is a peril of a free-will and individual election.