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Human Nature and War

According to Christians, the first death to occur in the world was a murder between brothers Cain and Abel. Wars erupt wherever man steps in, and man has fought 6 wars per decade on average. There have been 150 wars after World War II, and by the end of the 20th century a third of the nations in the world were in conflict. These patterns are not random; they tell a story of man’s nature, and some theorists use them to explain man as violent, while others discredit them as insufficient to label man as violent. Thus, various schools of thought emerge trying to explain whether the root of war is in human nature or it is an environmental acquisition. This study analyzes their arguments and intellectual propositions and seeks to find out which side gives a more convincing case on human nature.

Cognitive theorists. Dave Grossman. He is a highly trained former US military officer, whose insights on human nature provide an invaluable contribution to this topic. He particularly offers wisdom on human nature and war through his experience with soldiers or the individuals, who are naturally thought as killers without remorse. Being a psychologist, whose specialty is on why people kill and a retired Lt. Colonel, Grossman authoritatively states that man is not naturally violent. He argues that a man’s nature has in it a natural inhibition against killing a fellow one, which helps him avoid committing violent acts, starting wars or killing others (Grossman and Christensen, 2008).

He continues to argue that violence is an acquisition through continuous exposure to environmental and social factors that lower the inhibitory capacity. To demonstrate this, he quotes the media as a fertile ground, in which parents are exposing their children to violent content at early ages (Grossman, Watzman and Lev, 2003). A child understands such a content as fun and wishes to take part in it; consequently, they lose their innate aversion to violence. Thus, Grossman underscores violence as social and environmental conditioning.

However, Grossman faces the task of supporting his argument given the evident number of deaths that soldiers and man has caused in the past. For instance, there was a case of Jonesboro killing, in which a student shot a teacher and fellow students. As a former military officer, he also has to explain how soldiers and human beings in extension are not naturally violent and killers, given their continuous involvement in the war. Specifically, it is not long since the United States Army (which he served for over 20 years) attacked Iraq among other events.

This opposition notwithstanding, Grossman offers a convincing case that man is not naturally violent and acquires this; he takes his argument on the war through front and historical analysis. As a soldier, he states that history records that before any meaningful combat between the opposing sides, hesitation indicators reign, there are noises, posturing and trial attacks with no real action. Additionally, even in the events of killings, it is only after one group flees and the other attacks from behind. This indicates the unwillingness to kill as a natural occurrence.  Grossman quotes studies from the Second World War, in which less than a third of US soldiers fired their riffles as their enemies.

He does not deny, however, that man can kill effectively, but he insists that it is not natural, and a lot is actually done to make him as such. He picks up his argument on soldiers’ hesitation to kill and develops it to why currently the rate of firing at an enemy is thrice higher. He argues than man must be put in an environment that lowers his inhibition to violence and deprives him off that critical restraint (Grossman and Christensen, 2008). He states that this is what military training does to soldiers. They are dehumanized, contemptuously treated and placed in situations that lower their inhibitions. Without this environmental exposure, many soldiers would not shoot or kill an enemy. To add that indeed man is not naturally violent, Grossman states that even after all this training, a soldier is still guilty of blood he shed; this indicates the unnaturalness of violence, war and killing of a man.

John Fahey. Peace is the other side of war and violence; the absence of one mostly implies the presence of the other though, not in strict terms. To understand whether a man is innately violent or not, it is also important to examine whether he seeks peace, as well as war. John Fahey is a peace specialist and his arguments extend the view of man as a religious being as well who upholds certain moral norms on peace, violence and war. According to him, war is not an innate aspect of human or violence, in his argument on ‘War and the State’, he lays emphasis that even great historic leaders like Augustine stated in case if war was inevitable it must be a last resort and it should be done with mourning (Fahey, 2005).

Fahey terms war as an objective evil occurring when man is called upon to defend something greater and important. He denounces historical arguments that man is incapable of peace by stating that after the war, even in historic periods, knights went for penance (Fahey, 2005). This indicates its evilness and man’s inherent desire to avoid it and embrace peace. He lays emphasis that man is not violent but focuses on peace through analyzing the principles of war; none of the seven principles justifies war and the fourth states that war must have the intent of restoring peace. Thus, Fahey concludes that man is not innately violent, and states that actually war is younger than peace and peace periods dominate history in comparison to war eras. He states that despite man’s ability, and internal search for peace, it must be objective and relevant authorities; the state, churches and organizations must ensure that peacemakers outnumber war seekers.

Douglas Fry. Fry strongly indicates that man is not violent in nature; rather, he learns violence tendencies through culture (Fry, 2007). According to him, man is the peace making primate, who has huge potency for peace. He proves this potential by pointing out that history records peace as the norm and singles out violence as unusual. He denounces human nature theorists, who hugely refer to the ancient man as the source of violence to the modern man. He refers to history, which demonstrates that not all ancient societies were fashioned in violence; hence there was the nonexistence of the universality violence in ancient cultures.

Fry states that modern focus on nuclear weapons and other large scale war items does not explain man as innately violent. This is because such items are a recent concept in man’s history, but man is generally a non-killing. However, Fry agrees that man may be aggressive and violent, but culture determines the expression of such genetic or cultural dispositions. Thus, Fry advocates that the society is organized in a manner that upholds peace and allows cooperation (Fry, 2007). To be the peace-making primate, man requires social models that shape cultural orientations towards peace. He advocates that man should emulate those times through history that he has upheld a planetary peace culture and eliminated those, in which war reigned through cooperation between nations and communities.

HowardZinn. His arguments do not focus on the nature of man directly, but bases his analysis on war, its causes, leaders, motives and results that indicate that on a rational scale man is not innately violent. Zinn begins with analyzing the United States history of war; he notes that, in all the instances, key decision makers regarding war make reference to certain ambiguous concepts such as national interest, to justify war (Zinn, 2003). Thus, it is erroneous to sum all the wars that nations have fought and conclude that the citizens of that country or state let alone human nature be innately war seeking. Majority of people are not involved in decisions regarding starting, responding to or undertaking war. He notes that leaders with hidden motives deceive their citizens on the reasons for war. Thus, according to him, man is not violent, but a few leaders make wars happen anyway.

Additionally, Zinn states that among all the wars that the US has fought, its citizens never get the opportunity to hear the true story about war. The heroes record wars for their benefits; this bias makes human beings only partly aware of the facts of war. Thus, if war stories are given by the soldiers, the losers, their children and not the presidents and generals, man is rational enough to seek other alternatives. Zinn concludes that since war hurts everyone, even the victors and their children, man does not seek war logically; he is denied access to information and power to decide on conflicts, but he is not violent (Zinn, 2003).

Ernesto Kahan. Kahan contributes majorly in building the concept of a non-violent society. He does not state man to be non-violent per se; rather, he states that man is a social and powerful being with choices in the face of conflicts. Logically, he states that man upholds peace and the only hindrance is the inability to recognize the immense power of cooperation, understanding and will. Kahan builds his argument alongside evidence of non-violent leaders such as Gandhi, who tapped into the human potential. Kahan (1977) states that man is intellectually and socially endowed to seek higher and superior gains in a conflict situation. He states that man is not merely a biological or genetically being, but one, who makes choices considering moral and intellectual claims to an issue. Evidently, his argument predicates on man’s intellectual ability to rank war and violence as far below other available options and thus seek them. Thus, Kahan concludes than man cannot be innately violent, but one, whose actions are mentally guided towards peace (a superior option).

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