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Thread: Motivation in War

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    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
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    Default Motivation in War

    Open question, is anyone working on the motivation underlying conflict. I am working on the idea that group conflict is a natural aspect of human nature and therefore war is just and extension of that (See Gat "War in Civilization" for a basic overview of this idea). Original motivations for conflict were the needs of the group. More modern motivations are also the needs of the group.

    In any case, has anyone working on anything similar? Does anyone know of any publications or papers that they felt covered the subject matter?

    Thanks in advance.

    The Curmudgeon.
    "I can change almost anything ... but I can't change human nature."

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    Somewhat limited in scope and based on pseudo-social science with a high degree of Western bias, so while being skeptical you can still appreciate their material on motivation.

    http://www.soc.mil/ARIS/HumanFactorsS.pdf

    Human factors considerations of undergrounds in insurgencies.
    http://www.army.mil/professionalWrit...07/8_07_4.html

    Rethinking Insurgency
    Explores the topic a little more.

    Recommend exploring the motivations behind Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, violent street gangs, ethnic conflict motivations in Bosnia, Rwanda, civil wars in Latin America, Asia, ours, etc. Suspect you'll find multiple factors, but if you find anything on how the factors morph after fighting as started due to establishing new social norms please let me know.

    http://www.silkroadstudies.org/new/d...ornell_SCT.pdf

    Paul Collier and his colleagues have argued that many civil wars are caused by economic rather than sociopolitical factors, and by loot-seeking rather than by justice-seeking.5 As Collier and Hoeffler note, this economic approach to understanding civil war differs from political science approaches by focusing on a different motivation for violence—greed, not grievance—and a different explanation for the outbreak of war, atypical opportunities and not atypical grievances.6 The economic approach focuses on the opportunities that arise to belligerents, especially insurgents, during times of civil war. While war leads to great material losses on a societal basis, this does not mean that “war is a disaster for almost everyone concerned.” As David Keen argues, war is not simply the breakdown of order, economy, and social organization, but “the emergence of an alternative system of profit,
    power, and even protection.”7 To put it simply, war has functions for some actors. The insecurity and unpredictability of war, coupled with the breakdown or weakening of law and order, implies the turn to a more opportunistic society; an increase in criminality; the disruption of markets; and opportunities for what Collier calls “rent-seeking predation.”8
    These consequences are immensely detrimental for society at large, but provide specific opportunities for armed groups to reap significant economic benefits: some people manage to do well out of war.9

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    Default Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy

    I found this an interesting read, The Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy (by Johan M.G. van der Dennen; 1995) (over 850 pp. with a huge bib).

    Good short review by George Modelski (BLUF):

    What this particular IR scholar appreciates in particular in this analysis is its facultative aspect. It is good to be shown convincingly that humans are neither inherently bellicose nor innately peaceable. Though it might at time have been opportune, war was not preordained in the long distant past, and it is not preordained in the future. On the other hand, it ought to be pointed out that the male-coalitional strategy has been key not only in war but in all the myriad other cooperative enterprises: business, political, religious, associational and sports, that have marked the evolution of the human race and of the world system. Nor does "reproductive strategy" appear sufficiently convincing as the ultimate cause of modern warfare. Territory remains an important bone of contention but hardly an all-encompassing imperative.

    What appears to be missing from this account is sensitivity to evolutionary changes in such a basic political institution as war. Are we to understand that in its basic makeup warfare has remained unchanged for several million years? Or that its basic structure was laid down in the dawn of prehistory, and that all that followed, in the past five thousand years of civilization and of "history", has been nothing but "a nightmare" (p.593)? Has nothing changed in world politics even in the past one thousand years? Arguably, the biological (reproductive) component of the war syndrome is less powerful to-day, and the social (coalitional) more important, and working through social evolutionary mechanisms such as e.g. elections, or innovations, that are analogous to natural selection and genetic variation. That much might indeed be implicit in this account but it could be spelled out more fully if the author looked carefully at modern history as the record of world political evolution.
    Regards

    Mike

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    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
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    Default Material I have found

    Thanks fo the additional material. I have two books, "Warless Societies and the Origin of War" and "War Before Civilization: The Myth of Peaceful Savage" that deal with the subject taking opposite veiws on whether war, which I will define as "morally acceptable collective violence by one group against another group." Also Azar Gat's book, "War in Human Civilization" covers the same material in the first three chapters. I am also in touch with a ethnographer who is conducting a large "N" study of existing Hunter-Gatherers. He expects that he will find that there was war but it was not universal. It is enough for me to say that it was a normal human activity.

    I would like mor material on young men as the primary warriors in these groups. I have some, but not enough. One of my ideas is that certain segments of the society require special attention. Young men are prone to become soldiers if for no other reasons than the excitement and status. Therefore they need to be addressed as a seperate demographic when looking at motivations in conflict - they require very littel to engage in a morally acceptable fight.

    Anyway, thanks
    "I can change almost anything ... but I can't change human nature."

    Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan
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    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
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    Default Greed as motivation

    Bill,

    One of my categories is what I call Wars of Personal Gain. In the primitive world these were raids either for stuff or for women (probably more often for both). The motivation is a version of greed, but greed is not easily defined as a independent motivation, so I am having some problems fitting it in. How far that motivation can be used in large scale conflicts is difficult for me to determine. Since my definition includes a moral component (hence making it socially acceptable to the group) personal gain will most likely be tied to some other motivation, like revenge or collective identity. This is a sticky problem and l many not have a complete solution by the time I have something to publish.
    "I can change almost anything ... but I can't change human nature."

    Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan
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    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
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    Default Definiton of War

    The definition of War I plan to use.

    "Deadly or potentially deadly organized violence committed by a subset of one group, morally sanctioned by that group, against a politically or otherwise distinguishable group with a specific objective."
    "I can change almost anything ... but I can't change human nature."

    Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan
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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    Default

    At the final, most basic elemental nature of everything we do as human beings, it comes down to sex, and the pursuit thereof.

    I know this has zero to do with your original question, and I don't have much in the way of why I think everything in life comes down to sex, but I just finished a six-day cross-country drive and had the opportunity to ponder a lot during the trip [insert wry grin face here].

    I'm sure some anthropologist or feminist has written volumes on the subject, but I think conflict (which is just one permutation of human interaction) eventually comes down to sex. It might be a Six Degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon sort of deduction, but yeah, it's all about sex.

    Back to your regularly scheduled programming... : ^ ]
    Last edited by jcustis; 07-21-2013 at 10:21 PM.

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    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
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    Default Sex is big

    If you were to look at the limited demographic data for hunter-gatherers you would find that about 95% of same sex murders are male against male and it is either over a women or in revenge for stealing a women. Gat covers this in his book as well as the fact that most warriors are males. You were on the right track - although the idea of being on a long cross country journey thinking about sex makes me wonder where you stopped along the way ...
    "I can change almost anything ... but I can't change human nature."

    Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan
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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    I had the four female members of my clan along, all as part of a relocation to Florida. Finding myself stuck in containment with them for those six days, I spent a lot of time wondering why humans of the opposite sex put up with each other.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TheCurmudgeon View Post
    Bill,

    One of my categories is what I call Wars of Personal Gain. In the primitive world these were raids either for stuff or for women (probably more often for both). The motivation is a version of greed, but greed is not easily defined as a independent motivation, so I am having some problems fitting it in. How far that motivation can be used in large scale conflicts is difficult for me to determine. Since my definition includes a moral component (hence making it socially acceptable to the group) personal gain will most likely be tied to some other motivation, like revenge or collective identity. This is a sticky problem and l many not have a complete solution by the time I have something to publish.
    As you know there is no single right answer, or silver bullet solution based on motivation. Identifying greed as primary motivator for large modern conflicts may be a hard link to make. In this type of conflict we see motivation based on identity (nationalism), fear, pride, hatred, and self-preservation. I'm not sure if Saddam's invasion of Kuwait was based on greed or self-preservation (didn't he believe Kuwait was threatening his oil fields with horizontal drilling?). However, with insurgencies and civil wars greed is often a prime motivator. Using your definition of war, I guess we could consider the conflict between Mexico's government and their cartels war(fare), and there is certainly an element of greed involved. I think in the end several factors motivate people to resort to violence on large scale, but generally believe identity politics is almost always a factor. If you can't identify with a particular group why would you fight with them? Once you start fighting then group dynamics takes on a life of its own, forget the political and economic factors being the main drivers. What you believed at one time becomes subordinate to the group norms and loyalty. That is why I think loyalty to the chain of command in the military can be over done, because personal loyalties replace loyalty to our Constitution and nation.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TheCurmudgeon View Post
    If you were to look at the limited demographic data for hunter-gatherers you would find that about 95% of same sex murders are male against male and it is either over a women or in revenge for stealing a women. Gat covers this in his book as well as the fact that most warriors are males. You were on the right track - although the idea of being on a long cross country journey thinking about sex makes me wonder where you stopped along the way ...
    I can't buy this Freudian psycho babble, but if there is any truth to it then future wars can be prevented with technology and capitalism. Excellent way to test your hypothesis. If young men can be sexually satisfied with sex robots, that may eliminate the will to fight, but I suspect not, some of the most violent societies are the most over sexed. I don't think it will work, at the end of the day a lot of young men will still give us their girl friends and families to pursue adventures and test their manhood.

    http://news.discovery.com/tech/robot...tes-120423.htm

    Robot Prostitutes, the Future of Sex Tourism

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    Yeah Bill, but I think young men do that due to an innate compulsion to have better sex. It is subconscious to a great degree, and I didn't mean to say that we fight to have sex. I should have been more thoughtful in the post, but I only ever meant it as a drive-by.

    We fight to acquire power and prestige, wealth, influence, control, knowledge, and on and on. We fight as individuals who compromise states, so it is an individual component of a larger dynamic, and although most can control the impulse to sow their oats beyond their betrothed, look at thr number of general officers who can't control the impulse despite having everything they could ever want. For goodness sake just look at Petraeus. If he isn't the poster boy for what I'm talking about then I don't know who is. This stuff goes back to Helen of Troy. What does power and prestige get for the man who holds it? What does money get for the likes of the Trumps and the Welches?

    We scratch our heads and ask, why can't these guys keep their wee wees in their pants, but we already know the answer why--they simply can't help themselves and control the impulse. That, or they don't think they will be caught. I know few might offer an opinion on this in polite company, but I think if you sampled 1,000 men if they would have sex outside of their marriage with some dream, perfect female, because they knew they could never be caught, 900+ would probably say they'd do it.

    Over-sexed societies were still violent because there was probably this subconscious thing ticking in the heads of the ruling elite that drove them to pursue increasingly outlandish forms of sex. We'd call some of it depraved today, but the only reason why we came to consider it as off-kilter was because it fomented conflict. We suppressed sex and indecency because we wanted to stop conflict. We still liked the sex, as any scandal to befall a priest, minister, or legislator proves, but we tried to keep the conflict down.

    When we look at large-scale conflicts, or the reasons behind how dictators and leaders who become aggressors on the world stage are able to come to power, I think you have it right TC. That aggressive, power-grabbing behavior (often explained away as defense of the father/mother-land) is looked at as acceptable because in the subconscious of the men, it's just a state/ruler/industrialist behaving the same way they wish they could on an individual level.

    I can't quite put my finger on what drove eunichs of royal courts to behave as they did, but yeah, I did a lot of thinking on this through Utah, Kansas, and Tennessee.
    Last edited by jcustis; 07-22-2013 at 02:55 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
    It is subconscious to a great degree, and I didn't mean to say that we fight to have sex.
    JC,
    Half the Country Music Industry is based upon that idea!

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    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    As you know there is no single right answer, or silver bullet solution based on motivation. Identifying greed as primary motivator for large modern conflicts may be a hard link to make. In this type of conflict we see motivation based on identity (nationalism), fear, pride, hatred, and self-preservation. I'm not sure if Saddam's invasion of Kuwait was based on greed or self-preservation (didn't he believe Kuwait was threatening his oil fields with horizontal drilling?). However, with insurgencies and civil wars greed is often a prime motivator. Using your definition of war, I guess we could consider the conflict between Mexico's government and their cartels war(fare), and there is certainly an element of greed involved. I think in the end several factors motivate people to resort to violence on large scale, but generally believe identity politics is almost always a factor. If you can't identify with a particular group why would you fight with them? Once you start fighting then group dynamics takes on a life of its own, forget the political and economic factors being the main drivers. What you believed at one time becomes subordinate to the group norms and loyalty. That is why I think loyalty to the chain of command in the military can be over done, because personal loyalties replace loyalty to our Constitution and nation.
    Bill,

    Two points. First, I am not interested in why leaders decide to go to war. There is plenty of material about that. I break the population into four groups, leaders (no interest), warriors (young men who traditionally have a propensity towards combat), patriots (others who do not have a propensity towards combat but who feel compelled to join in), and civilians (who must at least tacitly support the war effort). My interest is in why the other three categories engage in/support wars.

    Second, greed is not my primary category, although it is probably going to be more associated with anxiety reducing actions based on what I have found on values. Yes, almost everything in this paper is based on psychobabble. There is a need called relatedness (Deci and Ryan) that is associated with values such as tradition and conformity (group ideals or identity driven motivations). This is one of the needs I identify as being associated with war. Others include autonomy (freedom) and, of course, the basic physiological needs required for survival (food, water, sex). There is another need called security but it is too broad for me to use. It is better looked at as a conglomeration of separate needs. In any case failing to meet your security needs causes anxiety (fear). Not necessarily fear of attack, but fear of not keeping up with the Jones’ or any other self-created ideas. This I associate with greed. There is also the ever-present motivation of revenge. Not a need, it is a cognition (another category of motivation). None the less it is very present as a motivation in war, at least at the very basic level.

    And yes, civil authorities attacks on gang violence would be a war based on my definition. It is even possible that gang violence against the civil authorities could meet the defintion. I think of Al Capone, providing alcohol to the public and using some of the funds to support community activities. Extending the concept more to the military side the FARC would be within my area of interest. It is somewhat difficult to make a bright-line distinction but I am going to expressly avoid that area, mostly because I do not have the time to do the research.
    Last edited by TheCurmudgeon; 07-22-2013 at 01:24 PM.
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    I'm surprised to see so little discussion of fear as a motivator. If we define war as ""morally acceptable collective violence by one group against another group", as above, we have to ask what makes violence morally acceptable. The answer, usually, is a perception of threat, whether justified or not. When leaders try to rally the populace to war, the first thing they try to do is make them afraid, to position the proposed antagonist as a threat. That's typically not been difficult: there's a long human tradition of fearing "them"... the other, the different, those who aren't "us".

    Once fear is in play and the perception of threat is entrenched, presenting violence as a morally acceptable option becomes a lot easier. Attacking another group to steal their $#!t and rape their women makes us feel sleazy; killing to protect our own $#!t and our own women makes us feel noble... and of course once violence is in play, if an opportunity for a bit of plunder comes along, to the victor belong the spoils.
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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    What about Racism as a motive for War. I am sure that has happened once or twice throughout history.

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    I mentioned fear in post 10, but agree it deserves further exploration. Fear has generated many conflicts in my opinion (both at the state and the conflict between people levels), but it seems TheCurmudgeon wants to focus more on individual motivation to fight. I tend to suspect that even individual motivation to fight in "most" cases are tied to social reasons such as identity groups (collective view of the world, common values, social norms, etc.). Take the KKK as a terrorist group, what motivated them to go out conduct their henious acts? I suspect they fought out of fear that their lifestyle was threatened by the emancipation, but I also think hatred played a key role, and sadly so did a desire to participate in some adventure. Not a comfortable question for soldiers, but are there times when it takes more courage not to fight than to fight? I think most of us would agree, but we also know that can be abused by those who are too cowardly to fight. Why did some groups pursue non-violent means to pursue their ends? Perhaps leadership plays more of role than we give it credit for. If a leader can control a group's desire to act out violent like Martin Luther King, while another leader can compel a group to act out violently are we possibly putting too much emphasis on individual motivation? Don't know, but it is a fascinating topic.

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    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by slapout9 View Post
    What about Racism as a motive for War. I am sure that has happened once or twice throughout history.
    Slap,

    I would classify these conflicts based on the Relatedness needs (what I term wars of collective identity) and with Security (fear) or Revenge, depending on what additional justification is given for the attack. Looking at the American west, you could argue that our genocidal attacks on the Native Americans were based on Relatedness (us versus them) and either Revenge (they attacked us first, so we must kill them) or Security (we need their land and resources for our own expansion). Once the motivational mold is set, everything else follows. Bill is also correct that the right leader can chose a different path, but I think this is only possible to a point. I have read some material on the Spanish-American war that basically said that it would have been political suicide to try to stop that war. I am not sure if a President after 9/11, or Pearl Harbor, could have said "let's take a step back and think about this" and survived politically. As Clausewitz point out, part of the trinity is the passion of the people.

    As Bill points out, there is always an us-and-them component. This is a basic part of my definition of war – one group using deadly violence against another distinguishable group. This becomes more interesting when you get to wars of individual identity (freedom) because suddenly there is less interest in attacking the population. If you use individual freedoms as your justification you cannot simply kill the other side, you must distinguish who you are killing and justify it as killing to gain freedom for the oppressed. Going out on a limb, I would argue that this is the basis for what some term the Liberal Peace – why certain liberal countries tend not to go to war with each other. It is not that they won’t, they just can’t use individual identity as part of the justification. The Falklands was over territory (a basic physiological need). I am still tweaking…
    Last edited by TheCurmudgeon; 07-23-2013 at 12:36 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by jmm99 View Post
    I found this an interesting read, The Origin of War: The Evolution of a Male-Coalitional Reproductive Strategy (by Johan M.G. van der Dennen; 1995) (over 850 pp. with a huge bib).
    Facinating book. Interestingly I can't find it anywhere else than at the web site.

    Do you know what became of the organization that Dennen was a part of when he wrote this. I saw that it merged with another group (The ISHE) but that link does not go anywere.
    "I can change almost anything ... but I can't change human nature."

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    Slightly different, but have you looked at Ted Gurr's 'Why Men Rebel'. It was a classic political science recommended book thirty plus years ago and all I can recall now is the title.

    How about honour and miscalculation?

    One post referred to The Falklands (1982), when these factors featured on both sides.

    Thinking - a little - it is curious how much the British sense of honour has featured in our declaring war in 1914 for "plucky little Belgium", at least that was a long-standing strategic interest; quite unlike Poland in 1939, whose security had quickly became a national interest. I hesitate to look at imperial era wars.

    Miscalculation is not confined to decision-makers. How many public's would be so "jingoistic" if told a war could last way beyond Christmas?
    davidbfpo

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