The German publication Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung publishes an interesting and highly relevant interview with neuropsychologist and military violence expert Thomas Elbert, who has witnessed many military conflicts, including in the Congo, Rwanda and Afghanistan. "NI" gives the most interesting fragments from it.
The level of brutality that our team has repeatedly encountered in the course of their work, whether in eastern Congo, Rwanda or Afghanistan, made me wonder: how can it be that people from different cultures become outright bloodsuckers? That they torture their victims by cutting off lips, noses, ears, and mutilating their genitals?
About hunting instincts
The desire to hunt, including the thrill of hunting people, is part of our nature, as much as we hate to hear about it. We call it appetizing aggression, when the desire for violence, hunting, fighting motivates action. In war, this can be downright deadly. It's the positive excitement that a lot of the fighters I've talked to get in a fight and they want to experience it over and over again. This creates a murderous spiral of violence to the point of "combat psychic trauma," or extreme bloodlust.
About sexual violence
Violence can be sexually stimulating. Colleague Hesch pointed out to me that Albert Camus describes in one of his novels how a fighter pilot dropped a bomb to blow up a group of men. He then described how the blood under the pilot "bloomed like a rose". This turned him on so much that he got an erection and started masturbating on the plane.
About the causes of violence
It is important here whether a person was subjected to violence in childhood and adolescence. Repetitive mental and physical abuse during growth often lowers the threshold for deterring abuse, as evidenced by numerous cross-cultural studies. In addition, during the war they will also threaten me from the rear, i.e. they can shoot me if I desert or refuse to shoot. You don't fight alone, you fight in a group. There is a huge social pressure, incl. and when it comes to participating in massacres. Those who are especially cruel, acquire a higher status in the group: it is you who sow fear and horror.
If you read the reports of the Second World War, you will find out that not only the Germans raped Soviet women, but Soviet soldiers of German women, but also Americans, for example French women, although they were allies. When moral barriers are broken against outsiders, they are difficult to rebuild elsewhere.
About the role of age
When children between the ages of twelve and sixteen are sent to the front, as in the Congo or Uganda, it happens from time to time that these children perceive the first murder as a positive experience - also because their moral and value framework is not yet so strong, and political connections are unclear. But, of course, there are also child soldiers who get sick after the first kill. For example, a boy from the Congo told me about this nausea. But then, according to the boy, he talked to a friend, and he said: "You must drink the blood of your enemy." The boy did this, and it became easier for him to kill further.
You turn off empathy by dehumanizing the enemy, turning him into a parasite, demonizing him
Torture and murder of other people require not only the overcoming of moral prohibitions, the perpetrator must also not empathize with the victim. Anyone who uses violence must purposefully regulate their empathy and dehumanize the enemy. This dehumanization, coupled with an increasingly desirable aggression, leads to the ability to kill the enemy not only without sympathy, but also with lust.
About military propaganda
Well-delivered propaganda is a powerful weapon. All military propaganda is based on lies. Remember when the Americans attacked Iraq on the grounds that Saddam Hussein had biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction. People who have not been traumatized by war or who have not been victims of violence usually deal with ruthless images of war. This does not dull, but, on the contrary, strengthens the feeling: “Immediately stop this war!”
About collective psychosis
After all that I have experienced and understood in war zones, the basic assumption that the world is steadily improving has been shaken. In a collective delusion, no matter how culturally highly developed a society may be, it is capable of monstrous deeds. Violence provokes more violence. I agree with Einstein that in unusual circumstances the lust for violence is easily sublimated into "collective psychosis" on both sides.