THE POLITICAL PSYCHOLOGY OF WAR, GENOCIDE, AND TERRORISM: Plenary Address to be presented by Richard Koenigsberg at Western Social Science Association’s 2004 Conference in Salt Lake City
This year’s annual meeting of the WESTERN SOCIAL SCIENCE ASSOCIATION will feature a special plenary address by Richard Koenigsberg, Ph.D. The lecture will take place on Tuesday, April 22, at 2:45 p.m. at the Sheraton City Centre Hotel, 150 West 500 South, Salt Lake City, Utah, 84101. Please check the WSSA Conference website at http://wssa.asu.edu/wssa_conference.htm for the exact location.
With no weapons of mass-destruction found in Iraq to date, some now pose the question: Why did Saddam Hussein not let inspectors do their work? If he had acted less provocatively, perhaps the Americans would have backed off. Why did he not make a greater effort to avoid the outbreak of a hopeless war and to prevent attacks that destroyed his palaces and his kingdom, killed his sons, and caused him to end up in a hole in the ground?
In the buildup to war and even now, we barely pose much less attempt to answer these questions. Why are psychological concepts absent in our analysis of political conflicts that endanger the future of the human race? What would be the impact upon policy if it was possible to uncover the source and meaning of the ideas and ideologies that generate political violence?
Historians and political scientists continue to accept the conventional idea that leaders and military commanders plan their actions on the basis of rational and strategic goals, weighing costs against benefits. Is there a rational explanation for the massive and grotesque violence of political events such as the Holocaust, the slaughter of the First World War, the Rwandan genocide or the World Trade Center attacks of 2001? This presentation will explore the unconscious sources of political violence, and the role of martyrdom and sacrifice in war, genocide and terrorism.
If a man from Mars witnessed the historical record—the havoc that wars have wrought throughout the centuries—he would have no difficulty concluding that the central meaning of war is destruction. Yet historians do not describe warfare in these terms. Dare we contemplate the possibility that destruction and self-destruction constitute the fundamental purpose and meaning of warfare and other forms of societal violence such as genocide and terrorism? That the hysteria of political and religious violence—the sound and fury— comes into being in order to prove that we are sincere in our devotion to our sacred ideals?
The WESTERN SOCIOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION was founded in 1958 with the mission of advancing scholarship, teaching, service, and professional exchange across the social science disciplines. Through its commitments to interdisciplinary scholarship, WSSA offers an alternative to parochial scholarship. The WSSA annual conference attracts over 800 scholars spanning a wide variety of fields. For further details, please visit the association’s website.
RICHARD KOENIGSBERG, Ph.D., is the author of Hitler’s Ideology, The Psychoanalysis of Racism, Revolution, and Nationalism, and Symbiosis and Separation: Towards a Psychology of Culture.
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