Psychology of War

I know that this is not a topic that we should comfortably discuss (especially during this holy time of the year). However IS continues to be a threat, and looking at trends of attacks, we should be prepared for an attack close to the time of Eid – suggesting that it’s the ‘optimum time for jihad’. Thus, I would like to take this opportunity to show how this war affects you psychologically, and how the psychology of a terrorist works.

Firstly, we are all affected by the media psychologically on our views of IS. On the news, we always see attacks against terror-prone regions. However, we never see the attacks themselves, rather quirky animations or the launch of the missile. We have people further embellishing the beauty of the weapons rather than weighing the costs of human lives. It’s as if the media are trying to show us how the missile works and not the impact of the missile. Are we being controlled so we don’t question authority? News broadcasters can sway us to believe in a certain way, through clever substitutes such as ‘conspiracy theories’ or even ‘fake news’ (though I do not doubt its existence).

Now, why do we even wage war in the first place? Well, if we are looking at it from a scientific perspective – psychologists suggest that it’s natural for human groups to wage war because we’re made up of genes which demand to be replicated. So it’s natural for us to try to get hold of resources which help us to survive, and to fight over them with other groups. Other groups potentially endanger our survival, and so we have to compete and fight with them.

There are also biological attempts to explain war. Men are biologically primed to fight wars because of the large amount of testosterone they have, since it is widely believed that testosterone is linked to aggression. Violence may also be linked to a low level of serotonin, since there is evidence that when animals are injected with serotonin, they become less aggressive.
All of this is true – however, there are personal ‘positive’ impacts of war which may drive us as well, making us feel more alive, alert and awake. It enables us to express higher human qualities such as discipline, courage, unselfishness and self-sacrifice. Moreover, war relates back to our own human identity. We are social creatures – we have a need for belonging and identity which can easily manifest itself in ethnicism, nationalism, or religious dogmatism. We believe that only our group has feelings, and deserves to be protected. In psychology, it’s called ‘moral exclusion’, and so we alienate the other group. They are not us, therefore they deserve to be punished.

How does war affect the fragile human mind? Well, it’s the soldiers who get the worst burn of shellshock, PTSD and homesickness. Regular people on the other hand almost ignore the conflict – as if it is non-existent. This is of course dangerous, more so by the fact that we start to forget about the value of a human life.

Now what about IS’ soldiers? They are not any different from us. We are all human beings after all. What has occurred for the creation of IS has happened time and time again before in history. War bonds people together in their groups, and this bonding creates some of the fear and distress individuals feel when their beliefs break down. It also offers self-esteem to people who feel humiliated by their loss of place and status in a relatively orderly society.

When this happens, then individual and group identities partially merge and the person’s actions become as much a manifestation of the group as of the individual will. When this happens, people can do terrible things they would never have imagined doing otherwise: Individual conscience has little place in an embattled, warring group, because the individual and group selves are one so long as the external threat continues. It is groups that are capable of savagery, much more than any individual alone.

In this time of peace, we need to further understand ourselves, become more mindful and be hyper aware as to why we are acting the way we are. For the human mind is fragile, and a certain push can cause anyone to become alarmed.
Reference: Psychology Today

By Sana Kalim

This article was published on 01/06/2017