On Ending War

E. Douglas Kihn, “On Ending War,” Truthout, 21 January 2014

We are compelled to end warfare, or sooner or later warfare will end us. The great physicist Albert Einstein, one of the architects of the Bomb, said it first: “World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones,” assuming of course that anybody survives World War III and the nuclear winter that would inevitably follow. …

The most immediate and dramatic evidence concerns the mental health problems of those people involved in war. The consequences of post-traumatic stress disorder for returning veterans of American wars are now commonplace news items. In World War I, they called it “shell shock” or “cowardice.” Killing and maiming other people haunts war veterans for the rest of their lives. And for soldiers and civilians alike, the threat of being killed and the witnessing of war’s destructiveness can and often does cause serious mental illness.

According to a September 21, 2013 report by CNN, 22 American veterans – one every 65 minutes – commit suicide every day. And this figure may be an underestimate. Not counted was Levi Derby, who was not in the VA system at the time. Levi “hanged himself in his grandfather’s garage in Illinois on April 5, 2007. He was haunted, says his mother, Judy Casper, by an Afghan child’s death. He had handed the girl a bottle of water, and when she came forward to take it, she stepped on a land mine.”
In the same article, former US defense secretary Leon Panetta called the suicide rate among service members an epidemic. …

  • In separate scientific studies published in the August 2013 issue of the journalEvolutionary Anthropology, UC Santa Barbara anthropologists Adrian Jaeggi and Michael Gurven came to the following conclusion: “Sharing doesn’t just enhance the welfare of humans,” wrote Gurven. “The human subsistence niche would never have been possible without sharing. It’s no coincidence that sharing is most pervasive and structured among humans, the one primate whose economy is defined by high levels of interdependence.”
  • A University of Virginia study used functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scans to determine that we are hardwired to empathize with others, especially those who are close to us, as reported in the August 2013 issue of the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. In other words, our self-identity is largely based on whom we know and empathize with.
  • The theory has been put forward by some that since wars are fought mainly by men, therefore war is the result of “testosterone poisoning.” This notion was demolished by a September 2013 report in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, indicating to the surprise of researchers that boosting testosterone levels in humans can promote generosity, but only when there is no threat of competition. The findings show that testosterone is implicated in behaviors that help to foster and maintain social relationships, indicating that its effects are more nuanced than previously thought, and that the hormone itself does not automatically lead to aggressive or warlike behavior.

Read the full article here.