A book by Historian Sue Mansfield
Interviewed by S.Keen Summarized and Complemented by Bruno Just.
Fritz Perls' view of our age was that the central repression had shifted from sexuality (Freud's view) to aggression. The neurotic individual turns this repressed, and therefore unacknowledged, aggression against the self. Then, it converts into guilt and resentment and is expressed in a perverse way, either as a masochistic need to submit and be punished or a sadistic need to judge and punish others. Fighting does not come naturally to human beings, but occurs when we neglect to be assertive in the pursuit of our organismic needs, such as food, shelter, affection, self-expression. Our hope of overcoming war lies in owning, becoming aware of and using our "aggressive" energies in creative ways. (Freud said as much, in one of his last books).
There is no way that life could be maintained without some degree of aggression - BUT a distinction has to be made between aggression as the organism knows it and war-making. War is a particular type of institutionalized aggression, in which social pressure is used to force individuals to kill other people whom they neither hate nor fear. Very few, perhaps 1% of the world's population, have ever participated in war. Of those who have taken part, a large proportion have never actually fired a shot. We well-read wargamers know of historical instances of bellicose armies coming together and only the front ranks ever exchanging shots or lifting a sword-arm. The rest merely add to the noise and confusion, like crowds at the football. Indeed, General S.L.A. Marshall (Men Against Fire) studied U.S. infantrymen fresh from combat, in W.W.II, and found that only a quarter of all combat troops had used their weapons against the enemy. We are all aggressive, but we are not innately hostile.
What is aggression as the organism knows it, then? Aggression is the attempt to "destructure" or change the organization of a situation or group. As a need arises in the organism, it forms a figure or gestalt that dominates the organism's emotional and perceptual experience. The organism forms an image of what it needs and motivates the self to satisfy that need. Aggression is the way the organism brings the process to a successful conclusion.
The oldest art works, in the caves of Lascaux and Altamira, show weapons being used for hunting and not for war. Weapons were not specifically made for war until the Neolithic Period, 13,000 years ago, when some peoples abandoned hunting and gathering and turned to agriculture. That's when swords, shields and walls around cities meant to keep out more than wild animals.
Primitive tribes engaged in ritual warfare. Usually, something has is out of order. A disease has struck the tribe, or the crops have failed, or a young person has died. In order to placate the ancestors or gods, a war has to be undertaken. For example, an American Indian war party sets an elaborate ambush along the route of a Sioux party. They allow the entire group to pass and only kill the last man.
Revenge is another reason primitive people give for war. This motive seems to be behind the first institutionalizing of war. This in turn is connected to child-rearing practices. To the extent that children are coerced, repressed, punished, forced into roles that they do not want, they are left with a great deal of ambivalence about adults. They both love and hate them. Being unable and unwilling to express their anger, children learn to turn it against themselves, to retroflect it. They feel guilty and ashamed. This anger and desire for vengeance - which are really directed toward the parent(s) and toward that part of the self that represses spontaneity and pleasure, in order to win the approval of adults - are acted out in the killing of an enemy. In this psychological context, a single enemy will do.
Sometime during the fourth millenium B.C., regimented warfare began. It continued until the end of the 18th Century. It was the warfare of agricultural, peasant-based societies, and was instigated by the political elite. It involved mass armies which fought over territorial rather than ritualistic goals. It is a kind of institutionalized sado-masochism in which a king and his subjects punish other peoples who have been judged wicked or are themselves punished. The masses identify with the fortunes of the king and with a theology of cosmic guilt that interprets events as judgements of the gods.
Modern warfare is dedicated to progress. "Mass multiplied by velocity means victory." The Newtonian view of matter. Beginning in the late 17th Century, generals started speeding things up. Minutely regulated drills were devised correlated to mechanically timed cadences. Soldiers were deliberately turned into automatoms who were required to perform as machines; their individual bravery and intelligence were irrelevant. Flintlocks, which required 30 motions, replaced matchlocks which required 98. By the time of Napoleon, the clock became part of battle. Napoleon conducted the battle of Austerlitz with a watch in his hand. Modern warfare is dedicated to progress, but the speed of modern warfare has not increased. In 1805, Napoleon covered the road to Ulm, 210 miles, in 11 days: 19 miles per day. The German blitzkrieg into Poland, in 1939, covered 300 miles in 30 days: 10 miles per day. The battlefield of Waterloo, in 1815, was 2.5 miles wide. In 1914, the front was 475 miles. The whole world can now be a battlefield encompassed by intercontinental ballistic missiles. The more one conquers space and time, the more space and time there is to be conquered.
Primitive warfare allowed the world and the tribe to continue, whereas modern warfare has almost lost all the rules of constraint. Not only cities and populations are destroyed, but also the environment and the metereological balance.
One of the rationalizations for warfare is that it allows the individual to transcend himself and to sacrifice his ego to something larger, the nation or unit. This transcendence, however, involves losing the self in the mass, rather than finding the self. It is a masochistic form of self-loss which is repeated compulsively without accomplishing anything. True self-transcendence is based on self-conquest, pushing oneself to the limit. This includes reclaiming our projections of evil that we habitually use to create the face of the enemy.
The antidote to the perpetuation of war is to encourage a way of child-rearing that gives each child contact with both parents with a maximum amount of love and a minimum amount of restriction. Also, increasing the areas in which people have a sense of control and responsibility in their own lives.