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[] War and Panic


by Richard A. Koenigsberg

War arises as a response to panic; fear of penetration; anxiety that one's
nation might disintegrate. War is undertaken to quell anxiety: Do unto
others before they can do unto you. Warfare seeks to reaffirm the
invulnerability of the body politic. 

Acts of war are designed to create "shock and awe:" to make manifest the
power of one's nation. Warfare unleashes and releases destructive energy
that had been latent. Acts of massive destruction constitute a demonstration
of collective virility. 

War is designed to produce shock and awe--not only in the mind and heart of
the designated enemy, but also in the minds and hearts of one's own people.
Warfare seeks to establish that one's nation still exists: "And the rockets
red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our
flag was still there." 

Panic inspires and intensifies patriotism as people bind to one another and
their leaders. People bind to the nation and its leaders in the expectation
that they will obtain protection. Citizens imagine that their leaders are
hovering over them--like God in heaven. People idealize and submit to the
nation and its leaders in return for the protection that they imagine is
being provided. 

As panic diminishes, people begin to awaken from the nightmare of history.
Dangers that seemed substantial and imminent seem less real. Thus begins the
process of recollection in tranquility. As reflection begins, ambivalence
toward leaders can become overt. It becomes possible to express doubt and
anger toward those who required submission as a precondition for protection.


Dr. Richard Koenigsberg's groundbreaking writings on the Psychology of War
are available as on-line publications. Papers currently available include: 


<> HERE or visit:


When the fantasy of a good nation under threat pervades the atmosphere of
society, criticism of the nation and its leaders seems impossible. People
are consumed by the fury of nationalistic fervor. As long as leaders are
contained within the aura of a sacred object under siege, leaders can
require submission and obedience. 

When threats no longer seem imminent, anxiety subsides and sober reflection
becomes possible. The nation has survived. The climate of hysteria cools off
a bit. The autonomous self begins to challenge the self that had embraced
submission. People scratch their heads. What had been going on? 

Perhaps the condition of panic that generates war is most intense or acute
for a nation's political leaders. Should a threat become reality, the leader
will be held responsible. Should the nation be attacked and wounded under
the watch of the leader, he will forever be remembered in the history books.
War is undertaken based on fear of shame or humiliation. Warfare is
motivated by the leaders' desire to avoid eternal shame, a negative form of

Threats to the invulnerability of the nation produce anxiety, but also
exhilaration. Anxiety itself is a form of exhilaration. Shared anxiety
functions to reunite the fragmented (multicultural) body politic. People
imagine they are "at one" with one another. The population bonds together in
order to punish the enemy, exact revenge, and to produce a display of

In the war atmosphere, the idea of the country engulfs society and paralyzes
thought. The collective body focuses upon punishing someone for wounds the
nation has suffered, and protecting itself by preventing other acts that
might cause death and/or humiliation. The people, identifying themselves as
a nation, seek to recover a sense of invulnerability by killing the
designated enemy. 

As panic subsides--and national omnipotence proves to be an
illusion--awakening begins. What happened? Why did this occur? Leaders that
seemed indispensable begin to lose their aura of invincibility. Facts can be
viewed in a new light. The facts are not different, but anxiety is less
intense, as the weight of the nation no longer crushes peoples' thoughts. 

It's not that people know something that they did not know before. What
becomes knowable was known all along, but repressed. "The intellect is
soft," Freud said, "but it will not rest until it has obtained a hearing."
Gradually, ambivalence emerges toward those who compelled submission. The
self awakens to pose questions: What were we afraid of? Why did we give in
so easily? Why were we so willing to abandon our freedom and autonomy? 

Orion Anderson
email: oanderson -!
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