Mass-Murder by Government


The Holocaust cannot be understood as an event separate from German history and Western civilization. The Holocaust grew out of the calamitous German experience of the First World War, and how Hitler interpreted and responded to this event.

When people learned of the death camps, they were horrified and appalled. “Incomprehensible” was a common reaction. Indeed, the event called the Holocaust is nearly beyond imagination. It is difficult to believe that human beings could bring something like this into existence. The event is so disturbing that some people deny it occurred.

When I became aware of the First World War, I was shocked, horrified and appalled. This event too is nearly beyond imagination. It’s difficult to believe that the leaders of “civilized” nations could ask men to get out of trenches for four years to be ripped apart — killed and maimed — by machine gun fire and artillery shells.

Here is a summary of the results of the First World War:

65 million men mobilized
8.5 million dead
21 million wounded
7.7 million POWs and missing
37 million total casualties

Although I was bewildered when I first began to read about the First World War, historians are apparently not. Perhaps they have become accustomed to this war. Whatever the reasons, historians — and people in general — rarely express surprise or amazement. The term “incomprehensible” is never used.

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In spite of the monumental carnage, the First World War is viewed as a “normal” dimension of history. We’d prefer not to put the First World War — or any war — in the same category as the Holocaust. Why? Because we view the Holocaust as an instance in which a nation intentionally engaged in mass–murder, whereas the 52-month episode of mass slaughter called the First World War is conceived as an event that occurred accidentally, or at least unintentionally.

It wasn’t that nations actually wanted to destroy large numbers of people. Rather, no one comprehended what they were getting into. The magnitude of killing was not expected. Things got out of control and went far beyond what anyone anticipated. It wasn’t as if anyone wanted what happened to happen. No one was responsible.

Can we truly claim that killing during the First War World — 9 million dead — was unintentional? Please provide your own insights on our blog.


Hundreds of books have been written seeking to fathom why some Germans were willing to murder Jews. Controversies have arisen. Were the murderers simply following orders — manifesting a universal human tendency to be “obedient to authority”? Had these people been so thoroughly indoctrinated with the anti-Semitic ideology that they believed that their actions were necessary and virtuous?

Rarely are similar questions asked about participants in the First World War. Soldiers are expected to kill. When they murder, they are simply doing their duty. No explanation is required. Regarding the First World War, we want to know — not only why soldiers were willing to kill — but why were they willing to die. This issue is glossed over. Do we imagine that it is natural for soldiers to go into battle — and to die when leaders ask them to?

One historian has posed the question of why soldiers continued getting out of trenches for four years — running into machine gun fire and artillery shells — when they knew that the results of this behavior were often fatal. In Rites of Spring (2000), Modris Eksteins asks:

What kept them in the trenches? What sustained them on the edge of No Man’s Land, that strip of territory which death ruled with an iron fist? What made them go over the top, in long rows? What sustained them in constant confrontation with death?

The question of what kept men going in this hell of the Western Front, Eksteins says, is “central to an understanding of the war and its significance”:

What deserves emphasis in the context of the war is that, despite the growing dissatisfaction, the war continued, and it continued for one reason: the soldier was willing to keep fighting. Just why he kept going has to be explained, and that matter has often been ignored.

Political scientist Jean Bethke Elshtain (in Women and War, 1995) observes that the First World War was the “nadir of nineteenth-century nationalism.” Mounds of bodies were sacrificed in a “prolonged, dreadful orgy of destruction.” “Trench warfare” meant “mass, anonymous death.” Elshtain observes that we “still have trouble accounting for modern state worship”; the “mounds of combatants and noncombatants alike sacrificed to the conflicts of nation-states.”

I pose three fundamental questions.

  • Why, during the course of the First World War, did national leaders continually ask young men to engage in battle strategies that caused a great number of men to be wounded or killed?
  • Why did men in the great majority of cases follow orders — going like sheep to the slaughter?
  • Why have historians rarely interrogated the suicidal battle strategies of the First World War?
We would appreciate your comments on this Newsletter. Please leave your reflections and commentary below.


Carolyn Marvin’s theory of warfare, presented in Blood Sacrifice and the Nation (1999), helps us to answer these questions. Marvin hypothesizes that “society depends on the death of its own members at the hands of the group,” claiming that the underlying cost of all society is the “violent death of some of its members.” In short, one’s nation or society “lives” insofar as members of one’s society die.

War is a ritual performed by nations — in order to claim sacrificial victims. Society, Marvin says, “depends on the death of sacrificial victims at the hands of the group itself.” The maintenance of civilization, society and the nation-state, according to Marvin, requires blood sacrifice in war.

What an unpleasant theory. However, is it less pleasant to reflect upon the 200 million plus human beings killed by governments in the 20th century? It is not a question of this instance of war, or that; of this instance of genocide, or that. Rather, the slaughter of citizens by nations is a consistent theme — a prominent feature — of twentieth century history.

Do we have theories to account for these recurring episodes of governmental mass murder? Of course, each historical event is unique. However, do we really wish to claim that each episode of societal killing has a separate cause?

Marvin’s theory arose out of her study of United States history, yet works perfectly to explain the phenomena I have studied. The First World War may be understood as a massive, collective ritual of blood sacrifice. Societies acted to cause the deaths of young men — in order to keep their nations alive. In some instances (for example, Australia and Canada), blood sacrifice gave rise to the nation.


Marvin’s theory explains why wars recur — their function for societies and human beings. Just as significantly, her theory seeks to explain the fact that we don’t want to know the truth: that warfare is sacrificial ritual. The occurrence of war — and the denial of warfare’s purpose or function — are part of the same dynamic or complex.

According to Marvin, knowledge that society depends on the death of sacrificial victims at the hands of the group is the “totem secret”; the “collective group taboo.” While we enact warfare as a sacrificial ritual, we simultaneously don’t wish to know that we are enacting this ritual.

Throughout the twentieth century, governments have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of millions of human beings. Did each war and episode of genocide occur because of reasons unique to each given event? Perhaps a more parsimonious hypothesis is that episodes of violence generated by societies and governments represent the fulfillment of a collective desire.

Warfare is not forbidden. Indeed, we take it for granted that nations will wage war. It’s what they do. This is what I mean when I say that people believe that Nations Have the Right to Kill (Koenigsberg, 2009). We are not forbidden to wage war, but up to now we have been forbidden to know why we wage war.

The sacrificial meaning of warfare once was a secret — but no more.

17 thoughts on “Mass-Murder by Government

  1. Araf

    I wish someone would come up with a testable hypothesis, or a combination of testable hypotheses, instead of more and more unverifiable theories. Can you sustain the assertions of “blood sacrifice” being necessary for the survival of society, of the existence of “totem secret,” etc., with any kind of empirical evidence rather than just theoretical arguments? If so, let us see that evidence.

  2. Jon Roland

    Regarding war as only a blood sacrifice by nations is somewhat unfair, although it can be that in some cases. Much depends on what a nation or other group can expect if they lose. As Hemingway once put it, “There are many things worse than war and all of them come with defeat.” If defeat can be expected to result in severe abuse, slavery, or extermination then the sacrifice of some willing combatants may be rational.

    I have had some conversations with Japanese under U.S. occupation who were surprised and shocked when we did not treat them the way they treated the Chinese and others in areas they had occupied. Treating a defeated enemy kindly was just not done, in their understanding of such things. In Europe, on the other hand, one of the factors that contributed to the success of U.S. forces was the expectation that if they surrendered to Americans they would not be mistreated. Our image as “civilized” preceded us and served us well. That was especially apparent when we invaded Iraq and Iraqi soldiers quickly surrendered as soon as they thought they could do it without being shot by their own officers.

    The best way to reduce war casualties is to have a deserved reputation for being a kind conqueror.

  3. Bob Yeats

    I ask why Hitler was able to mobilize a country that had been a leader of the Enlightenment, that produced Goethe, Beethoven, Kant, and Einstein to sink to the depths of murdering Jews in the Holocaust or submitting to the aggressions of World War II. I conclude that it could happen in the United States, where the extremists of the Tea Party force Americans into outrageous conclusions about Hispanics, Blacks, and other minorities. These are the Jews of our generation. The media, and not just Fox News, are a part of the problem, not the solution. Goebbels would have loved to have the technology of today.

    In the 1960s, our leaders passed the Civil Rights Act and other laws to protect the weakest among us. No mention of such acts in today’s media-rigged environment. Your organization needs to address this issue. I’d like to be proven wrong, but I don’t think I will be.

  4. Jon Roland

    A good illustration of the benefits of having a deserved reputation as a kind conqueror is provided by the way that is mocked, as it was in the Peter Sellers movie, The Mouse that Roared. The head of a small country that couldn’t pay its bills came up with the solution: go to war with the United States. His adviser protested, “But we’ll lose!” To which the Sellers character responded, “Of course we’ll lose. Then we’ll get foreign aid!” Some countries might think the loss of a few soldiers a small price for the foreign aid that would follow.

  5. BZ

    The “Sacrifice for Society” theory would seem more plausible if more modern wars were truly popular endeavors. I don’t recall my neighbors spontaneously packing their MRE’s and rifles to invade Iraq in 1991 or 2003. I do recall a tiny minority of insulated individuals who call themselves “the government” doing so, however. So, perhaps the theory should be narrowed to a “Sacrifice for Modern State-Centered Nationalism”. When clarified in this way, it seems far more like an institution we’d be better off skipping altogether.

  6. Jean-Jacques Arzalier

    ◾Why, during the course of the First World War, did national leaders continually ask young men to engage in battle strategies that caused a great number of men to be wounded or killed?

    National leaders did not want to loose the war (when a democratic government looses a total war, it looses legitimacy too). A French humorist explained that war an horrible thing, with the death of men who they did not known personally (their enemy), for an advantage to men who they actually did know personally (their government colleagues), but who did nod die…

    ◾Why did men in the great majority of cases follow orders — going like sheep to the slaughter?

    In France, this aspect seems to be linked to the education received by a generation between 1870 and 1900. As soon as in primary school, “revenge” was on the stage, as a duty, a consequence of the defeat against Prussia in 1870-1871, with two French provinces (Alsace-Lorraine) transferred to Germany. Brain software in children was so cabled. Not the unique reason, for sure, but a whole generation was indoctrinated to get revenge.

    ◾Why have historians rarely interrogated the suicidal battle strategies of the First World War?

    No answer to that… Perhaps suicide was not the intention, only a consequence if we consider 1914-1945 to be a continuous European civil war, deadly for European nations, indeed, with the onset of new superpowers.

  7. Jan Garrett

    One could just as easily ask why most 19th century Euro-Americans had little problem with the extermination of First Americans. It is not merely a matter of sacrifice on the altar of nationalism or (Western) European values. It was a condition for the successful growth, at least in the short-term, of the socioeconomic system from which they benefited or to which they were committed because of the prevailing ideas instilled by those in control of wealth and political power. They were largely unable to see that another world, structured around partnership rather than predation, is possible.

  8. Barry Spector

    With all due respect, I think that neither historians nor conventional psychologists have the conceptual tools to interrogate, let alone explain the Great War. We need the broader perspective that mythology offers. I’d like to offer a section from Chapter Eight of my book, “Madness at the Gates of the City: The Myth of American Innocence:”

    …The great, culture-binding myths had been slowly breaking down for centuries. The Industrial Revolution, however, greatly accelerated this trend, damaging father-son bonds in particular. In mythic terms, it brought forth the ascendancy of the Greek god Ouranos.

    Although both Ouranos and his son Kronos are archetypal patriarchs, utterly disconnected from the feminine, there are significant differences. Recall how Ouranos pushed his children away, down into the body of Mother Earth, Gaia. He symbolizes distance, from complete paternal absence to contemporary fathers who, returning from work, are physically present but emotionally unavailable. They are appendages to the family, ghostly figures existing at the edges, concerned more with the outside world. Meanwhile, mothers conduct the family’s relational world, and sons lack masculine role models. Large institutions have long understood this situation…

    As this image came to dominate fathering, its opposite was evoked as well. By eating his children, Kronos symbolizes inappropriate proximity. He consumes their individuality by demanding loyalty to monolithic standards and shaming the children for not living up to them. He may physically or sexually abuse them, or send them off to die for abstractions like patriotism. While Ouranos neglects the children in his pursuit of spirit(s) or success, forcing them into inappropriate identification with the mother, it is Kronos – Time – who kills them. Like his blood brother Jehovah, he demands that fathers prove their loyalty by sacrificing their sons…By the second half of the nineteenth century, just as boys everywhere were experiencing the loss of meaningful fathering, the archetypal image of Kronos was fully constellated as the national state…In countless ways, young men were encouraged to surrender their allegiance, indeed their very identity, to an abstraction, its flag symbols and its demand for sacrifice.

    What had humanity lost? First, the ancient father-son connection had been severed. Second, science undermined religious faith. Third, migration and urbanization further diminished the sense of ancestry. People were separated from each other in ways no one could have predicted a few generations before. Millions of autonomous individuals, newly liberated from ties to family, religion and the land, searched for new identities.

    To convince them to give it their allegiance, the national state created origin myths, heroes and elaborate rituals. It eliminated pockets of diversity, replaced regional dialects with a common language and established standardized, free, mandatory schooling. Schools were designed to resemble the factories and offices that most people would spend most of their lives inside. They produced citizens who, despite traditional class hatred, eventually came to feel that they shared a common past and destiny. These first generations to attend school en mass were more law-abiding and more patriotic than any that came before or since.

    When old myths break down, writes Richard Slotkin, ideology generates “a new narrative or myth…to create the basis for a new cultural consensus.” Many longed to submerge themselves within some larger, immortal community. They discovered that the primary function of the great nation-state was war (Prussia was spending ninety percent of its revenue on the military). In dying to defend it, they might participate in its immortality. Nationalism provided an alternative receptacle for the emotions they had always formerly directed toward family and church. It took on the intensity of religion, because it replaced religion…

    Ouranos and Kronos ruled the unconscious of modern man. Now everyone was judged by how useful they were under capitalism. In 1900 George Simmel wrote that existence in the urban factories had diminished human passions in favor of a reserved, cynical attitude. This had created a compensatory craving for excitement and sensation, which for some was partially satisfied by the emerging consumer culture. But others needed something even more extreme, more Dionysian, to make them feel alive.

    This damage to the soul occurred along with the most rapid technological changes in history…In the thirty years between 1884 and 1914, humanity encountered mass electrification, automobiles, radio, movies, airplanes, submarines, elevators, refrigeration, radioactivity, feminism, Darwin, Marx (who wrote, “All that is solid melts into air”), Picasso and Freud. It is particularly ironic that just as modern people were learning of the unconscious, they were forced to act out the old myths of the sacrifice of the children. The pace of technological change simply exceeded humanity’s capacity to understand it, and the pressure upon the soul of the world exploded into World War.

  9. Monty Vierra

    I share with Richard Koenigsberg his underlying outrage at the horror of WWI, and I appreciate the sources he has mustered in support of his thesis. I cannot comment about those sources. I also think the comments preceding mine are insightful and useful.

    However, I am a bit puzzled to read that “historians” and the general public don’t seem to know or care about WWI. From Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August to the final season of Black Adder, there is ample evidence to the contrary. Consider, too, the work of Ernest Hemingway; the short story “Soldier’s Home” is eloquent in its understatement. I have seen no discussion of Western art and literature in the 20th century that ignores the effect of WWI on people in the West.

    Moreover, the “general public” are well aware of the catastrophe of WWI. For instance, a couple of days ago, a German man born well after WWII told me that the devastation of the First World War had a paralyzing effect on people in Europe, and he quoted parents and grandparents and other relatives, as well as study in university, to support his statements. Many years ago, a Swiss citizen of French descent told me of his mistake of serving on the Maginot Line and thus serving out the rest of the Second World War as a German POW. He was amply aware of the losses to life and civilization brought about by WWI. His ancestors had been embroiled in it.

    Perhaps Koenigsberg is thinking of Americans. But then he has to answer for Barbara Tuchman. Does he say that she and she alone deals with WWI? Perhaps that is true. I don’t know. It might be worth while looking at the index of the journal of the American Association of Historians to see when their last article on WWI appeared and in fact how many articles have been written about the war. That might provide a first step toward “empirical” data on what historians and people believe or don’t believe about WWI.

    I also do not understand the reference to the Holocaust. It was part of WWII. It was a particularly insidious act of infamy. If you talk to Poles, however, as I did when I lived in Poland recently, you will hear some of them prefer to speak of the evil of the Katyn Woods murder by the Soviets of tens of thousands of Polish intelligentsia, leaders, and so on. There are, however, no “WWI deniers” as there are “Holocaust deniers.” No one I know or have read disputes the disaster of the First World War.

    All that said, I am sure that the two books mentioned in the essay will prove fruitful (future) reads.

  10. Jeff Johnson

    Your essay is interesting and stimulating, but with all due respect, your criticisms of historians’ approaches to the First World War are misleading at best. There is no shortage of studies that address the three “fundamental questions” you pose, but they do so perhaps in ways that you would not agree with. One cannot really expect most historians, and certainly not most military historians, to fundamentally question the existence of war as such. Nevertheless, on a slightly less philosophical level, there is a large historical literature that does provide answers of various kinds to these questions, and often use rather different approaches and come to significantly different conclusions than yours.

    Let us begin with your second “fundamental question,” “Why did men in the great majority of cases follow orders — going like sheep to the slaughter?” That too has been interrogated by historians; take for example Niall Ferguson’s The Pity of War (1999), ch. 12: “The Death Instinct: Why Men Fought” – which explicitly raises your question, though you would probably not agree with Ferguson’s answers (nor do I): “men kept fighting because they wanted to” (p. 357), and he goes on to argue that they shared a fatalistic outlook combined with an ingrained belief held by each individual soldier that even if all his comrades died, he would be the lucky survivor. (pp. 364-367) Ferguson unfortunately ignores a significant literature that, going beyond Ecksteins’ discussion of the Christmas Truce of 1914, emphasizes that soldiers, far from blindly following orders to go to their deaths or to kill as many enemies as possible, wherever possible developed a “live and let live” system in the trenches, against the wishes of higher officers. (cf. Trench Warfare, 1914-1918: The Live and Let Live System [1980], by Tony Ashworth)

    Now take your first and third questions, which considerably overlap: “Why, during the course of the First World War, did national leaders continually ask young men to engage in battle strategies that caused a great number of men to be wounded or killed?” and “Why have historians rarely interrogated the suicidal battle strategies of the First World War?” Along with Modris Ecksteins, whom you properly quote (but from a book published originally in 1989, not 2000), there is an enormous historical literature on the suicidal battle strategies of the First World War.

    Historians have been trying to comprehend the reasons for the mass destruction of human life in the “Great War” since the war began, and for you to flat-out claim that they have not been doing this suggests that you have not been reading the literature closely enough. Take Winston Churchill’s discussion of the development of tanks and their successful use in the first stage of the battle of Cambrai (Nov. 20, 1917), which cost the British only 1,500 men to take 6 miles of German lines and 10,000 prisoners: “Accusing as I do without exception all the great ally offensives of 1915, 1916, and 1917, as needless and wrongly conceived operations of infinite cost, I am bound to reply to the question, What else could be done?

    And I answer it, pointing to the Battle of Cambrai, ‘This could have been done.’ This in many variants, this in larger and better forms ought to have been done, and would have been done if only the Generals had not been content to fight machine-gun bullets with the breasts of gallant men, and think that that was waging war.” (The World Crisis [1-volume edition, 1931], p. 745) So Churchill’s answer, albeit rather simplistic in itself, is to blame the inherent conservatism and lack of technical imagination of the general staffs on all sides; there is considerable evidence to support this view (though there is also a significant “revisionist” literature defending at least some of those generals’ strategies). And recall that Churchill was not simply an outside observer, but actively engaged in the political leadership.

    But this does not, of course, explain away the fact that in the Second World War, when the military and political leaders (including Churchill) were much more willing to incorporate technical innovations that would avoid the suicidal trench warfare of the First World War, the destruction of human life was more than twice as great — except that the great majority of the additional casualties were civilians, whose losses made up a much smaller proportion of the deaths in the earlier war.

    It is the rising proportion of civilian vs. military casualties in 20th and 21st century wars that I think should engage our attention, because most nations have not again been content to send the vast numbers of their youth to suicidal slaughter, as they did in 1914-1918; instead, from the Holocaust through countless anti-colonial and “dirty wars” in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, to 9/11 followed by Iraq and Afghanistan and now the current horrors in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, it has all too often been non-combatants who have been subjected to slaughter, and all to often that has been at the hands of much smaller numbers of well-armed and armored soldiers. This of course raises a host of other questions . . .

  11. Gregory Carr

    Why, during the course of the First World War, did national leaders continually ask young men to engage in battle strategies that caused a great number of men to be wounded or killed?

    World War I set the stage for a new kind of drama – a clash of nationalistic ideologies, which soon played itself out for an international audience. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand lit the spark for the tinderbox known as Sarajevo. Ferdinand, who made a symbolic appearance to demonstrate his power as leader of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, enraged Serbian nationalists with his presence. Not only did Ferdinand appear on a date significant to the Serbians, but he also fatefully was there during his wedding anniversary. Subsequently, Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were felled by assassin’s bullets during an unsecured motorcade.

    The fractious European detente of 1914 dissolved in a single act; Russia, Great Britain, France, and Belgium, and Serbia would face off with the Serbian, German, and Austria-Hungary alliance for the theater of World War I. Ferdinand’s presence was a show of imperialistic dominance, which led to a violent reaction from the Serbs. Because of this dramatic political posturing, national leaders may have encouraged young men to sacrifice their lives in the First World War as an act of a hegemonic masculinity.

  12. Manuel

    Focusing so much on the number of people killed is understandable but perhaps misleading. Who is killed , why and by whom seem the questions that we pose to get pass the horrors of the carnage of the 20th century and try to understand. The difference between the death of soldiers and the death of civilians, for instance, is a crucial legal and moral distinction. The ius publicum Europeum, the legal theories that Europaeans had elaborated to live together in war, went into a crisis during WWI, but had not yet been rejected.

    This is not the space for extensive analysis, but next to sacrifice, the issue of the role of doctors in the holocaust suggests that the Nazi criminal state operated as a sort of self immune disease, where, in order to protect society (the German race), you would kill all of its members. WWI seems to me much more in line with the idea of self sacrifice and, as such, much less horifying because much less “modern” than Nazi eugenics.

  13. SJM

    One of the best explorations of the “reasons” as to why men at every level participated in the insanity of WWI–though why the slaughter was decidedly at the lowest levels–is taken up in Stanley Kubrick’s great film “Paths of Glory.” It bears out tolerably well the Marvin/Ingle thesis, which is itself rooted in Girard’s Mimetic Theory(though problematically, in my view, stripped of Girard’s Christian underpinnings). “Path’s of Glory” is about the inevitable continuity between war and what Jacques Ellul calls technics–the fusion of bureaucracy and media technologies that structure culture as propaganda. The film’s “paths” of culpability lead ultimately back to the public: arguably its most chilling moment for any audience self-conscious of its own role as spectators seeking entertainment occurs when press photographers document a scapegoating execution.

    It is certainly true that Americans know and care least about WWI. The sanitizing mythology of WWII as “The Good War” fought by “The Greatest Generation” to finally end the conflict that began as The Great War acts powerfully to innoculates most of my fellow citizens against any question of American exceptionalism. How many Americans know anything about the Wilson-sponsored Committee on Public Information, the innovative domestic propaganda agency that drove the US entry into the conflict, or how its great effectiveness thoroughly intrigued both Hitler and Goebbels? We ought to watch “Paths of Glory,” and then Eastwood’s “Flags of our Fathers” as a pair–both work to disclose full public complicity in war as mass murder made possible by scapegoating propaganda.

  14. Barry Smith

    When William Tecumseh Sherman said that “war is hell,” he was certainly right, and most would agree. One question raised in Dr. Koenigsberg’s essay is why societies engage regularly in war. If, indeed, war is hell, why do virtually all peoples engage in wars, knowing that many will die and that others will be permanently injured? A second, and arguably more important, question is why all societies seem to feel compelled to find ways – war, genocide, or just mass murder – to kill their own members.

    While there is much of interest in this essay, I do have one major concern: There is little to suggest that the scientific approach that historians refer to as historiography has been fully utilized. While Koenigsberg does cite some references in his essay, there is not enough in this document to qualify it as espousing a scientific (i.e., evidence-based) set of conclusions. Moreover, the author ends up subscribing to Carolyn Marvin’s theory, which essentially holds that patriotism in the United States – and, by extension, worldwide – is a civil religion symbolized by a sacred flag and resulting in the blood sacrifice of members of the society in the interest of social renewal. Frankly, this theory makes no sense to me. The fact is that all members of all societies eventually die, so why does society need to seek renewal through blood sacrifice?

    Moreover, war, genocide, and mass murder are complex phenomena, and a multifactorial causal model is required to deal with the multifarious, interacting causal elements. Wars can thus not reasonably be explained as having any single cause, including the one that Marvin and Ingle provide and Koenigsberg supports.

    Finally, I would add that all societies have leaders, and it is these politicians who make the major decisions for the entire nation. In some cases, the political leaders are dictators, in others they are elected politicians. But in both cases, the society operates largely at the whim and will of its leaders. It was Hitler who made the decision to institute the Holocaust and to war on other nations. It was George W. Bush who issued his pre-emptive doctrine in order to attack a sovereign nation (Iraq).

    My point is that political leaders, with all their self-interests and human flaws, decide on wars and mass murder. Unlike Marvin, I find it difficult to attribute war to a nationwide need and desire for violent group social renewal.

  15. David

    “[A] universal human tendency to be “obedient to authority”” can not excuse the atrocities of WWI or the Holocaust. People turn a blind eye out of choice because it is easier than facing a conflict ethically. We tend to accept that there are degrees to this–those who ordered killings were dealt with more harshly than soldiers or the general public. The truth is, all are culpable, as the American public is for the last decade and a half of war. The idea of blood sacrifice and the desire not to know are both important, chilling, and should engender action.

  16. José Bastos

    War killings are multi-determined. You can add (1) the long War of declining and emerging European Imperialisms (converging to the Berlin Treaty, 1884-5), (2) the implosion of napoleonic imperialism (1815) leaving all the world to Great Britain (heir of Dutch possession as Ceylan), (3) the emergence of unified Prussia as Germany, trying to occupy the space of imploded France, (4) the emergence of demographic neo-darwinism and eugenics (strong in Germany and Sweden), (5) the interest of a new coming of the Kings of Oil, the megalomaniac American Empire, associated with GB (6) mixing megalomaniac WASP Imperialism with racionalized political destructive impulses against non-europeans (racism) + workers (local class struggle) + local juveniles (local conflict of generations), (7) as a ritual of ‘half-castration’ and submission of (real or phantasmized) ‘dangerous’ males (anthropology shows the centrality of generalized “initiation” rituals, with the same structural-dynamic characteristics). (8) In the occult focus: paranoid dynamics (megalomania + secret organizations, mansonic type (Skull & Bones) or post-mansonic (Golden Dawn, etc,) + paranoid / political killing impulses).

  17. Gertrude Merkle

    My recollection of WWII is that the war started as a corrective measure against an abusive power, a campaign on the part of the Western allies to straighten out and stop Germany’s ambitions. It all seemed legitimate. Of course it was not enough to stop the Germans who, at home, responded by advertising a “Blitzkrieg” to quiet the fears of the people, a flashwar, quick as a lighting, which they would accept as legitimate.

    But in war the results aren’t as promised, nor as anticipated or hoped for. Situations degenerate and after that, according to leaders who on both sides, war must continue. Leaders, civilians and top military brass are not exposed to the miseries of the trenches and to the fire. They barely suffer discomfort from lack of food or shelter. Not so the dwindling masses of people on both sides. The leaders, governments, can order “campaigns ” and continue to justify the right to kill until there won’t be anyone left to kill or be killed. Remember Napoleon’s retreats… but remember also Eisenhower’s comment: “Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of their way and let them have it.”

    Are the leaders. those in power the culprits? Does it mean that there is only peace and love in the heart of the mass of people?

    Just think of the war on the unborn in the United States, the holocaust of American children: 42 million since 1972 to this day, and counting. Why? Government agencies, which successfully helped communist countries to learn western modes of commerce and African countries to learn Western medical practices, are now preaching the right to abortion with the support of international organizations founded to promote world peace and women’s organizations claiming to work for social justice for every one. There is indeed something more than a love of peace and justice in the heart of men and women, and it is not very pretty. That is why, in spite of thinkers and organizations opposed to any form of reverence for God and his creation, there will be no peace and no justice until men and women want to believe in, to submit, and act according to the righteousness of human life lived under His laws.

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