The Mindset of War

In war, do our minds find peace?

By Colin Allen, published on October 1, 2002 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

It's impossible to avoid; talk of war with Iraq has been front-page
news for months, and it's showing no signs of relinquishing its
headlining position any time soon. Other international and even national
news may slip by unnoticed, but war—in Iraq or elsewhere—is
here to stay.

"War is probably the second most popular activity with the human
race," says psychologist Lawrence LeShan, Ph.D., author of the recently
published book, The Psychology of War (Helios Press, 2002). "Making
love," he concedes, "is the first." In his book, LeShan argues that war's
popularity stems from its unique ability to resolve two major
psychological needs. It fulfills our sense of independence by assigning
it a purpose, and it fulfills our need for community by establishing
boundaries between "us" and "them."

"We say we love peace, but it doesn't actually excite us," says
LeShan. "Even pacifists talk more about the horrors of war than the
glories of peace." Battle generates perceptions so attractive that they
can shift people from a rational perspective to one of "war mode," the
idealized perception of crusading against evil. But as LeShan notes,
"After it's all over, you might have solved one problem, but you won't
have solved all of them."

As to war with Iraq, LeShan supports President Bush's call for a
regime change, even if it brings with it other difficulties. "Bush is
doing it for the wrong reasons," he asserts, "but I think that he is
doing the right thing."