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Why a War?

12.21.2005 07:06 | DISPATCHES

In The Emotional Life of Nations (Other Press, 2002), Lloyd deMause, the founder of psychohistory, writes that the real reason a state prosecutes war is not to conquer another state or even jump-start its economy. In fact, the most destructive wars, measured in fatalities, usually occur after a sustained economic upswing. What gives?

Not only do many of us feel unworthy of prosperity, he contends, but humanizing society and relaxing artistic and entertainment constraints make people feel society has become indulgent and weak. Not only does war "aim at reducing progress and prosperity," it sacrifices our young, their potent life force the fuel for the liberalization of society, who must be sacrificed to pacify our guilt and anxiety.

"Most wars start 'for the sake of peace' because we really believe we can have inner peace if we stop our progress and individuation. . . [for] the majority whose childrearing is so traumatic that too much growth and independence produces an abandonment panic. . ."

Sound far-fetched? You have only to read the intrepid and revolutionary deMause, to whom, on a holiday note, the image of that overgrown cherub known as Santa wriggling down the chimney with his sack of toys represents a baby navigating the birth canal with his placenta in tow.


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