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Nuclear War as
Psychoanalytic writing on nuclear war has to date mainly concentrated on the variety of defenses people have against the realization that a nuclear holocaust will mean the real death of hundreds of millions of people and the end of most of civilization as we know it
Lifton's work on "numbing," for instance, has eloquently described the numerous denials, evasions, idealizations, displacements and other defenses so often used by those in power and by the average person when thinking about the nuclear holocaust (Lifton and Falk, 1982). Mack (1981), Brenman-Gibson (1986) and other psychoanalysts have made telling cases for the proposition that most people have severe emotional resistances against acknowledging the ghastly realities of nuclear war.
In each of these works, however, the assumption has been made that the reason people so badly distort their perceptions of reality in the case of nuclear weapons is that the reality of nuclear war is so horrifying. Yet I know of no other clinical psychoanalytic studies which trace the source of psychic defenses to fear of reality. Defenses are usually thought to be constructed against whishes, against the unacceptable Id, not against unpleasant reality. If a patient denies the destructiveness of his or her current actions, it is because he or she feels guilty about the wish to destroy someone.
If this is equally true about thinking about nuclear war, then one must suspect that the defenses have in fact been constructed against a wish to have a nuclear holocaust.
Could this be possible? Could it be that the world's greatest fear is also unconsciously the world's greatest wish? Is it possible that we are mesmerized by nuclear weapons because the promise of a nuclear war is for some reason overwhelmingly attractive to us, and plays an extremely important intrapsychic role in our lives?
Carrying the parallel between the clinical and the social one step further, the following question might be asked: Is it possible that the world's addiction to nuclear weapons might be fueled by both aggressive and sexual drives, both destructive and erotic wishes, as in the case of other addictions?
That the drive toward a nuclear holocaust might have sexual origins is not usually considered by most analysts. To begin with, it seems too obvious, too "pop-psychological," to point out that the language of those proposing nuclear war is filled with continuous phallic references, such as "standing tall," "displays of firmness," "stiffening of the national will," "making the Russians impotent." "knocking their balls off," and so on (Caldicott, 1984; deMause, 1985b). When those who imagine or witness nuclear explosions describe the "beauty" of the phallic mushroom cloud or the "orgiastic release" of the explosion (Chernus, 1986), it seems almost embarrassing to draw attention to the all-too-obvious sexual language being used. And when a magazine describes a nuclear bomber as "a breathtakingly beautiful airplane with slim-silhouette wings that meld into a fuselage that breathes speed, the swanlike aircraft is designed to penetrate Soviet air defenses, unleashing nuclear-tipped missiles at targets deep inside the country" (Time, 1987) it seems almost superfluous to point out that the bomber in question is in fact an ugly world-destroyer, not a "swanlike" phallus depositing its load "deep inside" its target.
Sensitive reporters who interview hundreds of nuclear war planners are not too embarrassed to observe that these experts are mainly people sublimating sexual--indeed, often homosexual--preoccupations Thomas Allen describes the world of those in the War College who play nuclear war games:
There is a football-stadium excitement about the game . . . the players get together in a kind of locker-room camaraderie. (The towel -snapping image is not overly drawn. Women players are as rare in the male world of the war game as they are in football locker rooms. To further the jock image, players call their post game analysis a "hot wash-up.") (Allen, 1987)
Carol Cohn, in reporting on her experiences in observing the nearly all-male world of nuclear war experts, found their language dominated by sexual imagery. "Feminists have often suggested that an important aspect of the arms race is phallic worship," she begins. "I have always found this an uncomfortably reductionist explanation and hoped that my research at the Center would yield a more complex analysis." Yet she found no way to sidestep the fact that while rational analysis was in short supply, the subject of male potency appeared to be the central topic of every lecture:
I thought that at least at some point in a long talk about "penetration aids," someone would suddenly look up, slightly embarrassed to be caught in such blatant confirmation of feminist analyses of What's Going On Here. Of course, I was wrong. There was no evidence that any feminist critiques had ever reached the ears, much less the minds, of these men. American military dependence on nuclear weapons was explained as "irresistible, because you get more bang for the buck." Another lecturer solemnly and scientifically announced "to disarm is to get rid of all your stuff."
Other lectures were filled with discussion of vertical erector launchers, thrust-to-weight ratios, soft lay downs, deep penetration, and the comparative advantages of protracted versus spasm attacks--or what one military adviser to the National Security Council has called "releas-ing 70 to 80 percent of our megatonnage in one orgasmic whump." There was serious concern about the need to harden our missiles and the need to "face it, the Russians are a little harder than we are." Disbelieving glances would occasionally pass between me and my one ally in the summer program, another woman, but no one else seemed to notice. (Cohn, 1987)
If even untrained journalists notice that nuclear war discussions are filled with "homoerotic excitement" (Cohn, 1987, p. 695), need the psychoanalyst be so inhibited in investigating the possible sexual sources of war?
What surprised me most in preparing this paper is that when I finished reading through most of the several hundred books and articles written by psychoanalysts on the causes of war since Freud's 1932 essay "Why War?" I found that clinical studies of the actual words and motivations of real people going to actual wars were exceedingly rare. Most psychoanalytic theories of war are non-clinical and repeat in one form or another Freud's conclusion that war is caused by "the instinct for hatred and aggression" (Freud, 19321 P. 209). But this conclusion is not based on empirical studies of the actual words used by people as they bring about wars.
To illustrate the kind of new theory of war which can result from careful empirical psychoanalytic studies of people who bring about wars, I would like to consider some of the evidence provided by an excellent recent psychoanalytic study of Adolf Hitler (Bromberg and Small, 1983). Since Hitler helped start World War II because he felt that Germany was in danger of being engulfed by Jewish "world blood poisoners," I will concentrate on discovering the source of this blood-poisoning delusion.
When Adolf Hitler moved to Vienna in 1907 at the age of eighteen, he said in Main Kampf, he haunted the prostitutes' district, fuming at the "Jews and foreigners" who directed the "revolting vice traffic" which "defiled our inexperienced young blond girls" and injected "poison" into the body of Germany (Hitler, 1925, p. 59.)
Months before this poison delusion was formed, Hitler had the only infatuation of his youth, with a young girl, "Stefanie" (Bromberg and Small, 1983). Hitler thought he could communicate with "Stefanie" via mental telepathy and imagined that she was in love with him--although in reality she had never laid eyes on him. He was so panicked about approaching her in person that he planned to kidnap her and then to murder her and commit suicide himself.
Hitler's childhood had been so abusive--his father gave him daily beatings "with a hippopotamus whip" (Miller, 1983, p. 152)--that he was filled with rage toward the world. When he grew up he became convinced that his sexual impulses were terribly dangerous to women. One aspect of this was his belief that during sexual intercourse the man's sperm went into the woman's bloodstream, where it could poison her (Bromberg and Small, 1983, p. 280). He was therefore totally abstinent until past the age of 30 (Kubizek, 1955), when he finally allowed himself to have sex with women, but only if they agreed to kick him and urinate on him.
Once these clinical facts have been established, the conclusion seems reasonable that Hitler's rage against "Jewish blood-poisoners" began with his accusation in Vienna that Jews were "white slavers" who kidnapped Aryan women for sexual slavery and murder, and that this was in fact a projection of his own plan to kidnap and murder "Stefanie."
Faced for the first time in his life with the temptation of permissive sexuality in Vienna, Hitler avoided sex with Stefanie--that is, avoided becoming a sexual "blood-poisoner" himself--by accusing Jews and foreigners of being "world blood-poisoners."
As is often the case with delusions, Hitler's projection of his fears of his own poisonous sexuality into Jews and foreigners undoubtedly helped him avoid a psychotic breakdown. He said in Meim Kamph that when he "recognized the Jew as the cold-hearted, shameless, and calculating director of this revolting traffic in the scum of the big city, a cold shudder ran down my back.. the scales dropped from my eyes. A long soul struggle had reached its conclusion." (pp. 59-60.) From that moment on, he became a professional anti-Semite, avoiding guilt over his own sexual wishes by relentlessly pursuing and exterminating all "world blood poisoners" in the most complete genocide and the most destructive war ever experienced by mankind.
From these facts, then, the analyst could form a provisional hypothesis that Hitler may have gone to war against the Jews and against the rest of the world as an anti-sexual Purity Crusade (deMause, 1987), in an effort to cleanse himself, and the world, of sinful, poisonous sexuality, under the pressure of an extremely punitive superego, which was the legacy of his traumatic childhood.
Might Hitler's motives in going to war as a Purity Crusade be shared by others as well? The answer to this question can, of course, only be discovered by lengthy empirical examination of the fantasies shared by others prior to World War Ir. Certainly it is true that much of Europe shared Hitler's abusive childhood (deMause, 1982) as well as his fears of "poisonous" sexuality and his blaming the ills of the modern world on the lustful nature of Jews (Wistrich, 1985; Timms, 1986). Such an extensive study of the psychological origins of World War II is, in fact, now being completed by psychohistorian David fleisel, whose preliminary findings as reported at recent conventions of the International Psychohistorical Association confirm that most of Europe wanted World War II and unconsciously looked forward to it as a cleansing ritual similar to Hitler's delusional motivation.
Whether all wars are cleansing rituals stemming from guilt over sexual and aggressive wishes is an even larger psychohistorical research task. My own research over the past decade into the fantasies shared by people prior to war crises (deMause 1982, 1984, 1985b, 1986, 1987) has confirmed that in each of the some dozen wars I have studied in detail there were indeed Purity Crusades against sinfulness prior to the outbreak of each of these wars.
For instance, in the months prior to Vietnam, American magazines reacted to the increasingly liberal treatment of sex in books and movies and to liberal Supreme Court decisions by running special issues of magazines which condemned America for having become "one big Orgone Box" of "Freudian" pornography and promiscuity (Time, 1964), encouraging the Citizens for Decent Literature to conduct a nationwide letter-writing campaign to harass drug store chains in order to stop the distribution of "obscene" literature. Similarly, in the years preceding World War I, in response to the liberalizations of the Progressive era, there was a hysterical white-slavery scare and anti-prostitution campaign (Connelly, 1980) which blamed "foreign conspirators" for seducing thousands of innocent country girls and enslaving them in city brothels (deMause, 1987). Going back even further in our history, the new sexual mores and beginnings of the woman's rights movement in the decades prior to the American Civil War produced a succession of Purity Crusades, climaxing in the Abolitionist discovery that there was too much illicit sex going on between Southern white men and black women, and that, because "the sixteen slave States constitute one vast brothel," the North had to go to war with the South to stop all the sinful sex (Walters, 1973).
The reason that so much of this analysis of shared emotional states has yet to be done and that psychohistorians have to start from scratch in analyzing primary source documents is that war studies to date have rarely considered the words and feelings of real people actually going to war. Although scholars have been expressing opinions about the causes of war since antiquity, they have so far generally avoided using the empirical clinical method. They ensure this by dividing themselves into two mutually exclusive disciplines: (1) historians, who allow themselves to report the actual words and actions of people going to war, but who also have been trained to believe that each historical event is unique and therefore cannot be compared with others or studied scientifically, and (2) political scientists, who scientifically compare data from many wars, but who believe that emotions are only "psychology," and therefore do not study the actual words and feelings of real people, but instead limit themselves to comparisons of material conditions.
This is not to say that nothing can be learned from the vast literature on war. In the past decade, for instance, political scientists have thoroughly tested each of the major theories of war against the empirical record of the fourteen thousand major wars which have been fought since antiquity (Beer, 1981). The theories which they tested were all variations of a single paradigm: that war is a rational activity motivated by materialistic gain (Luterbacher, 1984). Whether phrased in terms of balance of power, demographic pressure, economic gain or political hegemony, every war theory proposed so far has been based on the assumption that although sometimes nations may go to war mistakenly and fail to gain from it, nevertheless their motivation is ultimately for materialistic gain--they intend to gain economically or geographically or in military power, which then can be translated into material gain.
The results of this empirical testing by political scientists, employing regression analyses and other sophisticated statistical methods, has been a complete lack of proof for every materialistic theory of war. As Zinnes (1980, p. 331) puts it, "after thirty years of empirical research, in which we have devoted an enormous amount of time to collecting, measuring, and summarizing observations about nation-state behavior, we cannot find any patterns" which show any good material reasons as to why nations have gone to war. Every single variable measured has shown a lack of co-variation: there has been no relationship at all between war frequency and level of economic development, degree of urbanization, population density, geography, culture, political or economic system or any of the other material causes of war which have been proposed to date.
This lack of proof for materialistic theories of war has been discouraging to the political scientists involved. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, one of the leading war theorists, has admitted that "despite the efforts of such intellectual giants as Kant, Spinoza, Rousseau, and others, we know little more about the general sources of international conflict today than was known to Thucydides more than two millennia ago. The failure to identify a generally accepted theory of international conflict has led some to conclude that scientific explanations of such conflicts are not possible." (1980, p. 361)
Yet the opposite conclusion could equally be maintained: that if political scientists can find no proof that war is a rational enterprise for material gain, it might therefore be logical to investigate whether it may be irrational and must be studied clinically like other irrational activities. If war does not in fact promote material gains, perhaps one should investigate if one of its aims might be to destroy material gains, a surplus-reducing rather than a surplus-increasing activity, more a masochistic sacrificial ritual than an attempt to gain material wealth or power.
Indeed, several of the statistical studies of the political scientists point strongly to the masochistic side of war--although those who did the studies did not state this obvious conclusion because self-destructive motives seemed so irrational to them. The fact is that wars are rarely won by those who start them, the so-called "challengers" who hope to upset the current balance of power system (Thompson, 1983). Those who start major wars usually either find that they have provoked unexpected opposition, or they soon begin making inexplicable diplomatic or military "mistakes," like Hitler challenging Russia and the United States after he was successful in most of Western Europe, thus bringing about his own downfall. To insure their eventual defeat, nations which are about to start wars usually pick leaders like Hitler or Wilhelm ii -- men who are afraid of sex and success and are quite masochistic in character structure.
Another important finding of these war studies has been the discovery that most major wars occur during economic upswings (Goldstein, 1985, Thompson and Zuk, 1982, and Craig and Watt, 1985). Contrary to the Marxist theory that war is an outlet for capitalist economies in trouble, the fact is that major wars almost always occur during good times, with the economic upswings of the well-known 50-year Kondratieff cycle characterized not only by more and longer; wars but also by bigger wars, ~six to twenty times bigger as indicated by battle fatalities" (Goldstein, 1985, p. 425). This finding not only agrees with the surplus-reduction theory of war but also emphasizes its cyclical nature, emphasizing that war--like all addictive processes--must fill an extremely important psychological need.
In order to discover what this irrational psychological need is, a group of scholars associated with The institute for Psychohistory have for the past decade been examining psychoanalytically a wide range of historical documents from several countries, particularly from the years immediately prior to wars. These documents include speeches of leaders newspaper and magazine articles, magazine cover illustrations and political cartoons, editorials and letters to the editors--anything which might reveal shared unconscious motivations.
A new psychoanalytic tool, fantasy analysis, has been devised to uncover the shared fantasies embedded in these documents. It is best to explain this technique in some detail before going on to the results of the project.
The detailed rules for the fantasy analysis of a historical document are given my books Foundations of Psychohistory (deMause, 1982) and Reagan's America (deMause, 1984). They can be summarized as follows:
1. Record all metaphors and similes.
2. Record all body language and strong feelings, even if they occur in innocuous contexts, like "kill the bill in Congress or "cutting remarks."
3. Record all repetitive and gratuitous word usages.
4. Record obviously symbolic and family terms, which means that since most nouns are not recorded the main subjects and objects recorded will be "mother," "father," "children," etc.
5. Eliminate all negatives, since negatives do not exist in the unconscious.
6. Note long periods of no imagery which are unusual and may indicate repression of group-fantasy
7. Rewrite the document in sentences, using mainly the fantasy words selected above, in a form which emphasizes the intra-psychic conflicts and unconscious wishes embedded in the original material.
The least precise instructions in these rules consists of deciding which words describe "strong feelings," and it is mainly differences in how "strong" an emotion should be before a word is included that have produced differences in word lists drawn up by those who have subjected the method to formal reliability testing (Elovitz et al, 1985). Words like "kill," "love" and "war" obviously qualify, while words like "anxiety," "safety" and "harass" seem more borderline. Although in my own fantasy analyses I am usually quite abstemious--in order to more starkly reveal the underlying conflicts and wishes without too much "static"--I have nevertheless purposely refrained from making this rule more specific because others who record many more words than the one percent or so which I choose often find interesting variations on the central message--which, however, comes through clearly regardless of how generous one's definition of "strong" might be.
The other problem in doing fantasy analysis is in the final step of constructing sentences using the embedded fantasy words, as will be seen when we illustrate the method later in this paper. Since this process of turning a list of words into meaningful sentences depends on the experience and theoretical orientation of the analyst, it is a problem which the fantasy analysis of historical documents shares with dream analysis of individual patients--one which cannot be reduced to a mechanical process. Even so, students in college classes regularly learn to do fantasy analysis with often surprising facility as has been documented in detail in a special issue of The Journal of Psychohistory entirely devoted to the teaching of psychohistory (Spring, 1988).
Any historical document can be subjected to fantasy analysis. In order to accurately follow the on-going group-fantasies of America, we monitor 110 newspapers, newsweeklies and monthlies at The Institute for Psychohistory, including the seven largest daily newspapers and the eight main newsweeklies, analyzing front-page articles, editorial columns, op-ed pieces, all presidential speeches, headline arrangements (all headlines being read as one document), and political cartoons and cover illustrations (we maintain files of over 10,000 cartoons and illustrations, both as clippings and on slides for lecture purposes). The redundancy of much of this analysis has been necessary to confirm for ourselves the ubiquity of fantasy themes throughout the national media.
In order to illustrate fantasy analysis, I have reproduced below a sample passage from Ronald Reagan's re-election acceptance speech of August 23, 1984, which was given at the Republican National Convention, with the embedded fantasy words indicated by bold type:
In the four years before we took office, country after country fell under the Soviet yoke; since January 20, 1981, not one inch of soil has fallen to the Communists... Parents were beginning to doubt that their children would have the better life that has been the dream of every American generation.... Together, we began the task of controlling the size and activities of the Government.. And that means a future of sustained economic growth without inflation that's going to create for our children and grandchildren a prosperity that finally will last... But if, heaven forbid, they are ever called upon to defend this nation, nothing would be more immoral than asking them to do so with weapons inferior to those of any possible opponent....
The fantasy message for this section of the speech would read "fell... fallen... children... controlling... children... grandchildren... immoral." The sequence suggests that something about fallen (sinful), immoral children is being conveyed by embedded words. The full fantasy analysis of this and the next section of the speech is given below, including its interpretation:
|fell... fallen... children.... controlling... children... immoral... sell out... betray... fear... wars... .war... students... crushing... genocide... young men lost their lives... sacrifice... murderous... actions... students... war||Our problem is fallen children. We are not controlling our children and they are immoral. We must sell them out, betray them, make them fear war, take students and inflict crushing genocide. Young men will lose their lives and be sacrificed to murderous actions as we send students to war.|
The technique of embedding a string of emotion-laden words which have a hidden message of their own within a seemingly bland and often boring main narrative is one commonly used in hypnotic induction (Erickson, 1980). This is why so-called "charismatic" political leaders so often use embedding (and other trance induction techniques) when implanting post-hypnotic suggestions into their audiences (deMause, 1985a).. This embedding takes place below the level of awareness, and has been consistently found to effectively convey hidden messages not only in thousands of speeches and other documents which have been analyzed by psychohistorians (for a fantasy analysis of the complete Nixon Tapes see deMause, 1982; also see over 60 articles using fantasy analysis published in The Journal of Psychohistory) but also in the words used in face-to-face groups (especially by Stein, 1985.)
One parallel between fantasy analysis and psychoanalytic dream interpretation is, of course, that the scenario is interpreted as containing a wish. A leader who gives a series of speeches which all contain images of children dying is considered similar to a patient who comes in to several sessions in a row with dreams in which his or her children die. In both cases, an unconscious death wish toward children is inferred. Therefore, the method of fantasy analysis of national group-fantasies involves looking at a great mass of historical documents at a particular period of time to determine if repetitive fantasy messages are being conveyed by much of the nation in its daily discourse.
Reagan's next nationwide speech was delivered after his landslide re-election, the central part of which follows below:
|fire.. burning.. weak... children.. children. fire alive.. never stop... you'll forgive me... you ain't seen nothin' yet||We will prepare a fire, burning weak children, children who will be thrown into the fire alive. I'll never stop, but you'll forgive me. You am 't seen nothin' yet!|
His next speech was his 1985 State of the Union address. It contains the fol lowing main section:
|knock down.. cripple... abandoned... fight... children.. wound.. unborn wound.. children.. child... child abandonment... horrible.. deteriorating... painful.. terrible... young people.. despair||We will knock down, cripple, abandon, fight children. We will wound the unborn, wound children. Our child abandonment will be horrible, deteriorating, painful, terrible, and young people will feel despair.|
The discovery of a common theme--here "kill children"--in a series of speeches is, however, only the beginning of the fantasy analysis method. The subject of the murder and rape of little children was found everywhere in greater quantity than usual during the same period when Reagan's "kill children" speeches were being given.
For instance, hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles appeared during the three-month period on a supposed rise in the physical and sexual abuse of children. These articles uncritically accepted as fact claims about massive sexual abuse occurring in nursery schools, most of which later proved to be quite false. A nationwide campaign to "save the missing children," tens of thousands of whom were supposedly being abducted by strangers each year, was reported on in articles such as the one stating that "this country is littered with mutilated, decapitated, raped, and strangled children," even though FBI figures reported only 67 stranger-abducted children that year (Eliasoph, 1986.)
During the same period, anti-abortion activists were extensively covered by the media as they followed Reagan's opponents with placards depicting pictures of dead babies, chanting "Baby-killers!" in opposition to their pro-choice stand (deMause, 1986, p. 107). At the same time, political cartoonists began quite gratuitously introducing children in danger into their cartoons, showing them being thrown off cliffs, being shot, being bombed, being choked--anything which would allow them to depict the "kill children" theme. These filicidal images occurred in hundreds of political cartoons at the end of 1984 (Beisel, 1984 and deMause, 1986), whereas in preceding months they were extremely rare.
This widespread "kill children" group-fantasy at the end of 1984 was not something which was suggested by some pet theory of ours. When it appeared, it was a surprise to us. Of course, the meaning of this or other group-fantasies can be interpreted in several ways, depending upon the theoretical orientation of the analyst and on the context of other events and group-fantasy themes--but the existence of these patterns, if a sufficiently broad data base is analyzed, cannot be doubted. The discovery that nations share identifiable group-fantasies is the most important result of our fantasy analysis project, a finding which has been replicated by psychohistorians in several countries (see Beisel, 1981; Elovitz, Lawton and Luhrmann, 1985; Bliersbach, 1980.)
The slowly shifting fantasies of any group, large or small, tell a story of the unconscious emotional life shared by the members of the group in much the same manner as the slowly shifting transference fantasies within a series of psychoanalytic sessions indicate the major emotional themes which the patient is working through. If an analysand should bring into the analytic session a series of dreams in which children were being shot, bombed and choked, the analyst would soon recognize the wish to kill babies as a main topic to be discussed and might investigate the reasons for this pervasive fantasy. The difference, of course, is that nations are not therapeutic groups, and their group-fantasies are more in the nature of trial actions than those which occur in analysis. It is no surprise, then, that we have so regularly found "kill children" group-fantasies when nations move toward war--both before actual wars and before near wars such as the Cuban missile crisis. When actual wars break out, they are experienced as liberating, as a relief from intolerable anxiety, substituting a manic, goal-directed sacrificial period of war for the conflicted, guilt-laden daily life of periods of peace (deMause, 1982, p. 160).
War, it turns out, is quite lawful. Major wars occur in most nations during most centuries about every 20 years (Walsh, 1971, p. 17), as older adults select young men from each new generation just as they reach manhood and sacrifice them to Moloch--that is, to the punitive superego. The unconscious imagery we have regularly found in historical documents regarding the youth sacrificed in wars is that they are containers for the poisonous sexuality and vitality of the prosperous nation. As in Hitler's "poison blood" delusion which was described above, which required that the body of Germany was to be "cleansed" of the Jewish "blood--poisoners" who were containers for Hitler's (and Germany's) sexuality, we have discovered regular group-fantasies before wars indicating that those killed resemble the blood sacrifices of ancient civilizations--a symbolic shedding of blood which cleanses the body politic and removes its sinfulness, making it morally good again (deMause, 1982, 1984; Schmidt, 1983).
The comparison of war with the blood sacrifices of ancient civilizations is a reminder that the cyclicity of war over the past ten millennia does not necessarily lead to the pessimistic conclusion that war is inevitable in the future. War--like blood sacrifice, slavery and dueling--fills a psychological function for large groups, but the historical evolution of the human personality puts a beginning and an end to each of these practices. There was a time before war--which began in the Neolithic--and there will be a time when war is no longer needed by mankind, depending ultimately on the slow evolution of childhood beyond the need for sacrificial wars (deMause, 1974). Hopefully, even before nations can outgrow their psychological need for war they can become aware enough of their psychological need for war so that--assuming an unconscious wish only has power when repressed--a nuclear holocaust can meanwhile be avoided (deMause, 1985b).
The psychogenic theory of war which has been the outcome of our study of historical group-fantasies is based upon the new paradigm that war is a homeostatic mechanism designed to restore internal psychological and neuro-chemical balance when faced with anxiety-producing change. The psychogenic theory is founded upon earlier work done on the evolution of childhood (deMause1 1974), which discovered that new historical childrearing modes occur in a minority of families within each new generation, involving somewhat warmer, less punitive, more individuating parenting. In turn, these new parent-child relations produce new historical personality types, termed "psychoclasses" which attempt innovative new ways of living, invent new technologies and economic arrangements, allow more equality and intimacy between the sexes, reduce the need for scapegoats among minorities, and in general upset the group--homeostatic mechanisms previously established by the older psychoclasses.
The introduction of a new psychoclass into the adult population of a nation begins the first, innovative phase of a four-phase group-fantasy cycle, lasting approximately 50 years, or one generation. During this innovative phase, people, though allowing considerable change in society, fear it as well. Since most individuals in any society have psyches formed by earlier childrearing methods, the freer interpersonal arrangements which the new psychoclass tries to establish prove extremely anxiety-producing to the older psychoclasses. Not only are they envious of the pleasures enjoyed by the new psychoclass, they are also filled with terrible anxieties over their own unconscious infantile wishes, which they fear may erupt. It suddenly feels like everything is "getting out of control," as previously repressed material threatens to surface into consciousness.
If women get voting rights or new working rights or sexual rights, men become terribly anxious that they themselves will act out forbidden infantile fantasies--incestuous, violent, whatever is the legacy of each individual's childrearing experiences. If homosexuals come out of the closet, all men are challenged to come to terms with their own homosexual fantasies. If Jews or blacks or other minorities gain civil rights, those who had been accustomed to using them as containers for their own id contents will be forced to deal anew with what had previously been projected. If women begin to expect men to share in the care of young children, this new closeness becomes threatening to fathers whose own childhood experience was that children exist mainly to carry out the delegations of their parents. In summary, the use of women, children, minorities and others as "poison containers" by the "normal" people in society is an extremely important homeostatic mechanism, one which cannot be upset without serious consequences by a new psychoclass whose more nurturant upbringing gives them less need to use such scapegoats.
Besides allowing a reduction in the use of poison containers, prosperity is in itself dangerous. It is guilt-producing for men to make more money than Daddy did and to have a closer sexual relationship with their wives and a more empathic relationship with their children than they were used to in their original family. (The male role is stressed here because for most of history social arrangements, including wars, have been made primarily by males.) Furthermore, prosperity always appears to give individuals more chances to live out their infantile fantasies. Everyone during prosperous times is a bit like Hitler in Vienna, tempted by the freer social atmosphere to act out his fantasies. That is why prosperous, innovative historical periods soon produce anti-modernity movements which attempt to "turn back the clock" and restore arrangements which once kept infantile fantasies under stricter control.
As the older psychoclasses become more and more anxious about change and more guilty and depressed about the risk of their fantasies getting out of control, the nation enters a second, depressed phase of the group-fantasy cycle. It soon brings about an actual economic depression--often after a few brief manias and panics--by withdrawing money from circulation, by reducing credit and raising interest rates, by reducing consumption and by making all sorts of surplus- reducing "mistakes" in national fiscal policies (deMause, 1984, pp. 56-6l)~ Although innovative change continues during this second phase of the cycle, it does so under continuous opposition by the older psychoclasses.
Economic depressions are "internal sacrifices" which often kill more people than wars do (deMause, 1984). Depressions result in halting the dangerous prosperity and in sacrificing representatives of the nation's id. Cartoons prior to economic downturns, for instance, often portray greedy people being sacrificed on altars (deMause, 1984, p. 64). The nation, like the depressed patient, becomes terribly concerned about oral needs, loss of love supplies, cannibalistic fantasies, and feelings of sinfulness. Suicide rates increase. Anti-sexual morality campaigns multiply, with "Great Awakenings" and other moral reform movements and apocalyptic scenarios expressing the nation's need for punishment. The economic depression becomes a massive demonstration of a "nobody-loves-me" psychodrama, wherein the media focuses public attention on the sufferings of the poor while doing little to help them and resenting their dependency and helplessness.
The nation "turns inward" during this depressed phase of the cycle. Empirical studies have clearly demonstrated that major economic downswings are accompanied by "introverted" foreign policy moods, characterized by fewer armed expeditions, less interest in foreign affairs in the speeches of leaders, reduced military expenditures, etc. (Klingberg, 1952; Holmes, 1985). Just as depressed people experience little conscious rage--feeling "I deserve to be killed" rather than "I want to kill others" (Fenichel, 1945, p. 393)--interest in military adventures during the depressed phase wanes, arms expeditures decrease and peace treaties multiply.
As this second, depressed phase of the group-fantasy cycle ends, economic recovery threatens to bring back the guilt which has been warded off, leading to the third, manic phase of the cycle. The renewed prosperity of the manic phase is, however, of a different nature from that of the first, innovative phase, being based less on new inventions and productivity gains and more on financial manipulations, monetary and credit expansion, speculative investment schemes, military expenditures and other grandiose attempts to demonstrate omnipotent control of symbolic love supplies. Whereas the depressed phase represented the triumph of the superego and was filled with self-punitive images, the manic phase represents an attempt at union with the superego and is filled with phallic imagery and paranoid fears of enemies. This hypergenitality (Fenichel, 1945, p. 408) produces a military buildup as a defense against deep feelings of failing potency. As a response to all sorts of imaginary threats to the nation's security--threats which are themselves the result of massive projections of rage-~a period of "extroversion" in foreign policy is initiated (Holmes, 1985), including military expeditions, annexation, colonization, and even brief "macho" demonstration conflicts like the War of 1812, the Mexican War and the Spanish-American War.
The Imagery most prevalent during the manic phase includes threatening monsters, sacrificed children, punitive phallic women and polluted poisonous surroundings (deMause, 1982, 1986). A common manic phase group-fantasy is that an imagined horde of poisonous" foreigners is about to engulf the nation--"the Red Tide of Bolshevism," "world blood-poisoners," "a flood of Central American refugees" etc The sexual source of these "poison" fantasies has been made familiar by the movie character, General Jack B. Ripper, who started the nuclear war in Dr. Strangelove because the Russians were trying to poison "our precious bodily fluids," a fact he said he first became aware of "during the physical act of love." So powerful is the punitive superego during this stage that the nation usually begins a Purity Crusade against prostitution and vice, which are imagined to be growing alarmingly (deMause, 1987). As part of Purity Crusade, the nation then tends to choose a leader who will "stamp out growing immorality" while at the same time "free us from impotence."
The passage of the nation from the third, manic phase to the fourth, war phase of the group-fantasy cycle is dependent upon finding a cooperative "enemy" who can be manipulated into giving the nation a guilt-free reason for going to war. Often this is done by first giving a potential enemy reason to believe that a geographical area is no longer going to be defended--as when America announced in 1949 that Korea was no longer in its defensive sphere or as when Britain sent ambiguous messages to Argentina in 1982 that the Falkland Islands might not be defended (deMause, 1984) Then, when the other country moves into the disputed area, the defending country can go to war without the guilt of having started it.
At other times, a number of nations arrange to play out family roles, with the "mother" of the family delegating to the most impulsive nation the role of the "sick" adolescent who starts the war (often Germany for the European family of nations). When a "family of nations" war is being acted out, the most crucial preliminary is a careful disunification policy by the most powerful members of the family, so the weaker nation that has been delegated the task of starting the war can have a chance to win for a while before being defeated -- the most recent example, of course, being the strange "inability" of the Allies to unite against Hitler until after he had conquered most of Western Europe. (Beisel forthcoming.)
When a sufficient casus belli is found and guilt for starting the war can be avoided, war turns out to be an extremely effective anxiety-reducing device with profound psychological benefits for all the nations involved. Killing enemies" and sending your own vital, sexy youth off to be killed accomplishes the elimination of dangerous projected inner wishes and is therefore a victory for Good (the punitive superego) over Evil (the id). Just as a paranoid psychotic feels relief after he moves from free-floating fears that his body is being poisoned to a systematized delusion that the FBI is out to get him (Frosch, 1983, p. 63), so, too, nations feel enormous relief when war breaks out, welcoming war as "great and wonderful" (Max Weber) and "the highest happiness that ordinary men can find" (Gilbert Murray) (both cited in Powell, 1970, p. 169). Like other paranoid delusions, war provides an extremely effective defense against the threat of psychotic breakdown.
War also gives people the opportunity to act out all sorts of rarely satisfied infantile fantasies. The primary one is, of course, oedipal: for most men, the only chance they have to actually kill father-figures is in war. Also, war has a heavy homosexual component, since it allows men avoid the conflicts of heterosexuality by leaving behind their wives and girlfriends and go to the front where they can penetrate other men with projectiles. The language of war is dominated by homosexual imagery, from Teddy Roosevelt's "Big Stick" threats to Lyndon Johnson's claim during Vietnam that "I didn't just screw Ho Chi Minh: I cut his pecker off" (deMause, 1984, p. 95). Group-fantasies during wars resemble very closely the phallic fantasies found in male homosexual pornographic literature. Invariably, the most bellicose section of the nation is composed of those men who had the most authoritarian upbringings and the most problems with repressed homosexuality (Adorno et al, 1956).
War intensifies the manic defense of the previous phase, as nations split off all persecutory anxiety and act out massive orgasmic violence against men, women and children--completely without guilt. As a recent magazine cover proclaimed, war is "a sexual turn-on . . the secret love of a man's life . . . the closest thing to what childbirth is for women" (Esquire, 1984). The psychological benefits of the war group-fantasy can be seen in the jump in Gross National Product during wars, far exceeding the increase in production of war goods. During wars, nations pull together in a unified, enthusiastic effort to produce far more than they ever had produced in the past, because with the manic defense well in place they can sidestep the usual limitations, based on guilt, which normally drag down productivity during peaceful periods. Cycles of Group-Fantasies
1. Innovative Phase: A new psychoclass comes of age, and introduces new inventions, new social arrangements and new prosperity, producing a Belle Epoque, with warmer personal relationships and less scapegoating of women and minorities.
2. Depressive Phase: The older psychoclasses become depressed by guilt over the prosperity and anxiety from the new social arrangements. The world seems out of control, as childhood traumas press for repetition, and the nation regresses, goes on Purity Crusades and fears of women, and creates an economic depression.
3. Manic Phase: As economic recovery threatens fresh anxiety, group-fantasies of threatening monsters, punitive mommies, polluted blood streams, suicidal imagery and poisonous foreigners proliferate. The nation reacts with a manic defense against its depression, engaging in speculative investment, wasteful military buildups, monetary and credit explosions, foreign belligerence and other grandiose attempts to demonstrate omnipotent control of love supplies.
4. War Phase: When a cooperative Enemy is found who can provide a guilt-free reason to go to war, the nation sends its youth to be killed in a perverse homosexual ritual wherein they stick things into other men and are punished, as poison containers for the nation's guilt. Images of restored virility and rebirth of the world predominate, and the nation returns to a new innovative phase after the sacrifice.
The four phases of the group-fantasy cycle (innovative, depressed, mania! war) are shown in the graph below for the past two centuries of American history. These four phases are shown as ascending levels in order to symbolize higher and higher levels of anxieties. After wars, the anxiety level drops, poison fantasies disappear and the nation feels cleansed of "pollution."
Also shown on the graph is the "Extrovert-Introvert" mood curve for foreign policy compiled empirically by Klingberg (1952) and Holmes (1985), an index of the amount of military spending and activity plus the attention given in presidential speeches to external vs. internal affairs. The major American wars and depressions during this period are also shown. (Although most historians do not consider the Indian campaigns as a war, they in fact sacrificed more lives than several other American wars and are therefore included here.)
The graph clearly shows that American group-fantasy, cycles are closely related to the nation's economic, foreign policy and war cycles. Of course, the four-phase psychogenic theory of war is only a model, and some variations in individual phases are to be expected. Just as the slide into individual psychosis has individual variations yet follows a typical course (Frosch, 1983), so too the slide into war has individual variations in each cycle yet it follows closely the four-phase pattern.
There have been four group-fantasy cycles in America, approximately 50 years in length--identical with the Kondratieff cycle--each containing one introvert-extrovert swing in foreign policy. Each cycle begins with an innovative period, which is followed by a major depression and then two wars--except the most recent cycle which has had a depression followed by three wars. Except for the fact that WWii was larger than the previous three early manic phase wars, the four cycles since 1776 have quite similar characteristics, and the model turns out to describe the data rather well.
Some change in the American pattern of war since 1945 could be expected due to the assumption of the "world leadership" role by America at that time. Since then, America appears to have agreed to carry out sacrificial wars for the psychological benefit of other nations, much as England had done in previous centuries.
There also has been an effort since 1945 to reduce the severity of the previous pattern of world-wide depressions and world wars by replacing them with smaller recessions and localized wars. Nuclear war, after all, will not accomplish the sacrificial function very well, since it will kill off the majority of society rather than just a token minority. But the expensive buildup of nuclear weapons and space technology must nevertheless continue unabated, because it accomplishes the surplus-reduction function very nicely. After all, without the current arms buildup, the world would have a trillion dollars a year more to invest in productive capacities and would soon have the ability to eliminate poverty and class distinctions all over the world… an extremely dangerous psychological threat to a world addicted to poison containers.
Yet nuclear war continues to be fantasized about as a cleansing sacrificial experience and nuclear weapons continue to be spoken of in messianic religious language (Chernus, 1986). In order to monitor the group-fantasies now pressing toward nuclear war, The Institute for Psychohistory has recently begun a Nuclear Tensions Monitoring Center which will conduct on-going fantasy analyses of the major nuclear nations, hoping to be able to provide psychoanalytic insight into shared unconscious nuclear fantasies and to act as a "suicide hot line" to give professional advice during future nuclear crises (deMause, 1985).
One of the early findings of our Monitoring Center is that current depictions of the nuclear holocaust in books and on television usually begin with scenes of couples having illicit sex--as though the nuclear war which follows is a punishment for the sinful sex. The nuclear war itself is then typically followed by scenes depicting "heroic survivors... usually more blond and beautiful and creative and capable than we are," (Chernus, 1986, p. 87) who build a more moral civilization out of the ruins of the old one, cleansed of the sins of the past.
This rebirth of the world out of chaos, cleansed of sinfulness, conforms to our war group-fantasy model in every respect. If a nuclear war should ever start, it will be for the same psychological reasons previous wars were started. The psychological need for a cleansing rebirth ritual appears to be as urgent as ever, despite the complete irrationality of the apocalyptic sacrificial wish. As one American Senator said when voting for more nuclear weapons:
If we have to start over with another Adam and Eve, I want them to be Americans.
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