War, Other Organized Violence and Human Nature

I will tell you why I have written this article. I told a friend recently that I was going to give him a copy of my book, America’s Oldest Professions: Warring and Spying. “Isn’t war just human nature” he asked? Dear readers, what is your answer? Mine can be found in this article.

Organized Violence: War

I define violence, organized or unorganized, as any violent action causing injury or death. War is a form of organized violence. War, said Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), a Prussian general and military theorist, “is the continuation of politics by other means.” I would define it differently. War is any form of organized violence (as opposed to unorganized, individualized violence) perpetrated by politicians usually in concert with powerful economic and ideological interests to gain control over the resources and people of another state, territory or any opposition to such control.

Be that as it may, war however defined has been a staple of human endeavors for at least 14,000 years.

Other Forms of Organized Violence

Other forms of organized violence that come to mind are sacrificial rites, massacres, covert military operations (read CIA), torture by a group or agency, lynchings before an assembled mass audience, slavery, and capital punishment. The origins and incidence of these down through the centuries I am not going to bother researching. What they all have in common is violent actions by a group or organization

Just Human Nature?

We can’t blame war and other forms of organized violence just on human nature and often not on human nature at all, as in my case, for example. I will first use my case to explain my answer and then generalize it.

I was born and reared a pacifist Quaker. While no longer religious I still hate war, have never joined a violent group, never owned a gun or shot one, never got involved in fisticuffs. Organized or unorganized violence is clearly not part of my human nature.

In general, neither organized nor unorganized killing of other human beings is not just human nature or even may not be instinctive human nature at all. Except perhaps for psychopathic cases, people generally have to learn or are influenced to be violent and/or to kill. The learning and influence occur in group or organized settings. Human beings never do anything in isolation. We are always interacting with our settings, or circumstances and situations. A morally upright person, for example, will tend to avoid or successfully resist circumstances or situations favoring violence.

On Learning to Kill While in the Military

Let’s for a moment consider the surrogate killing by U.S. presidents. They order the killing. They do not do the actual killing. We have to go down to the bottom of the echelon to find the underlings who activate the deadly weapons aimed at other human beings. That takes us, for example, inside boot camp where these underlings are taught and then ordered to kill because it is unnatural for human beings to kill other human beings on a massive scale. Were it natural our species would either be extinct by now or substantially depleted. Were it natural there would be no skyrocketing cases of post traumatic syndrome or suicides among soldiers.

Here is what a former Army ranger had to say about the crucial role of military training in learning to kill: “Military training is fundamentally an exercise in overcoming a fear of killing another human.” This enterprising ranger has gone on to form a consulting group, “Killology Research Group,” a bunch of “Warrior Science Group consultants dedicated to protecting our families and our children and to the strong defense of our country.” Nothing surprises me anymore after reading that ranger’s website.

Think about it. Our government takes our youth, often under privileged, not all of whom are felons recruited by desperate Army recruiters, warps their human nature, and turns them into killers so that politicians can stay in office and the military/industrial complex can stay in business.

In Closing

In closing I want to quote David Swanson, director of World Beyond War, activist and prolific author, who wrote the foreword to my book mentioned above, and who was a nominee for the 2015 Nobel peace prize, a prize that has gone to the international war criminals Henry Kissinger and Barack Obama:

Now, I’m not a professor of logic but I think we have arrived at something that qualifies as a logical proof. If war is “human nature,” collective suicide is “human nature.” In other words, the nature of humanity is to cease to be. But everybody from Aristotle to Bill O’Reilly would agree that the nature of something cannot be its absence. Therefore, whether “human nature” means anything or not, it isn’t war.

Thank you, David Swanson.

Gary Brumback, PhD, is a retired psychologist and Fellow of both the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science. Read other articles by Gary.