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Author's Note:
This essay is part one of my final for my first international relations class. It's written in response to a quote from the book Why Nations Go To War by John Stoessinger. If you are interested in international relations or the topic of international conflict, I'd suggest you'd check it out, it's an amazing book. The quote I'm responding to is rather lenghty so I won't include it here, but any response on the format and arguement would be appreciated because I'm not really sure how I feel about this essay right now. Thanks!


John Stoessinger makes the point that on the eve of the outbreak of war, there is a fundamental misperception on both sides about the power of the opposing nation. He states that the cure for war is war, although there may be more to curing war than respect for each nation’s military capabilities. In fact, the cause of the misperception of power is what really must be exterminated to end the loss of human life in the struggle between nations. This cause is the misjudgment of other cultures, particularly on the part of leaders in the sectors of public service such as members of the media, military leaders, and politicians. Because we are covering the political aspects of misunderstanding of other cultures, this response to be limited to the latter two positions of power, although the first is equally important (especially in democracies) because of it’s ability to effect public opinion. If the problem of misunderstanding foreign cultures is not addressed, the “lessons of reality” taught by war will not be lasting.
The essential problem surrounding the misunderstanding of opposing cultures is rooted in human socialization in the form of the need to belong to a group. That need for social belonging requires that the members defend the integrity of the group and its members. The members of a group will bond through the common validation of a set of beliefs that will be defined as “good” to justify the group’s existence and validate its members’ actions. This presupposes an opposing set of beliefs and (or) an opposing group, which may or may not truly come into conflict with the group itself. This “enemy image” creates a perception of the opposing ideology as the negative to the group’s necessarily positive self-image. A perfect example of this could be the perception of Marxists during the Cold War. Since capitalism and communism were both at opposite ends of a spectrum, any member of one ideological viewpoint would see those of the other viewpoint as the enemy of their good intentions for the world. This perception would become exasperated by the power struggles and madness of Joseph Stalin, further entrenching communism as the “enemy of free people everywhere”. Similarly, Kaiser Wilhelm developed a firm enemy image of Russia. He imagined quite clearly that the czar had been deceiving him throughout his mediation of the Serbian conflict, when in fact the czar had simply attempted to bluff his way out of a confrontation between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. In fact, the czar did not want to see war. However, the Kaiser had given his oath of protection to Austria-Hungary and therefore was bound to his allies, with whom he blindly placed his trust in leading directly to his distrust of Russia despite the overtures of goodwill from Czar Nicholas the Second. In fact, the foreign minister and the chief of staff of Austria-Hungary took the offensive. Both were compelled to deal quick blows to Serbia to preserve the prestige of Austria, which was quickly fading in the light of foreign advances and victories. In effect, they pursued war as the only way to hold on to the image of their formerly respected social group, in this case, their nation (Stoessinger, 4-11). The need to preserve the group’s perceived integrity despite growing opposition and obvious injustice is also apparent in the collapse of Nazi Germany. The military officers were bound to Hitler because his vision for the future of Germany justified the brutal actions they had committed. If they abandoned this justification, they would have to face what they had truly done; therefore they followed Hitler to the end. This commitment on the part of the people is a good psychological example of the commitment that individuals will surrender to a group that they identify with and feel protected by.

In the society, leaders play a fundamental role in protecting the ideals, identity, and integrity of the group. More than most other members of the group, they are pressured by those around them to support and defend the group from accusations of foul play or injustice, regardless of the reality, in order to inspire continued support for the group. This is particularly the case for democratically elected officials who need to maintain an image of innocence and adherence to the beliefs of their constituents (oftentimes abstract ideals like freedom, equality, and happiness) to be reelected. So, the leaders are elected by the constituents, become involved in the mechanisms of self-preservation (both self-interested and in the support of a united, contented nation), and then pass along the rhetoric of nationalism they pick up along the way. A good example of this is provided in the chapter of Why Nations Go To War that deals with President George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein. Stoessinger points out the way that the President first shrouded his campaign against Saddam as a crusade against supporters of al Qaeda, then a quest for weapons of mass destruction, and finally as a necessary removal of a terrible dictator. These changes all attempted to hide the fact that in reality the President was on his own holy war against Saddam in a display of misplaced aggression. Instead of targeting and capturing the members of al Qaeda, or attempting to understand the terrible collision between the Middle East and the United States, President Bush wrapped the issue in terms of righteousness and patriotism. A detailed investigation of the people that influence the President both professionally and personally would most likely surface several individuals that held strong beliefs about the situation with the Middle East and it’s implications in the battle between “good and evil”. Of course, the President perceived and presented the United States and its allies as the “good” and classified Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as part of the “axis of evil” (Stoessinger, 276-284). This assumption is void of understanding, or at least guilty of greatly oversimplifying the complex elements behind the actions taken by each of the individual nations. Whether it is a simplification aimed at pacifying the voters or a genuine representation of the beliefs of the Administration, it is indicative of the misunderstanding of the importance of culture on the actions of nations and their leaders with it’s blatant disregard of the cultural factors present in each of these cases. This sort of blindness will only serve to continue to infuriate foreign nations and break down the lines of communication between cultures that are vastly dissimilar and it will certainly not help the people of the world to avoid conflict.

As armed conflict becomes less and less appropriate for national governments that face the possibility of mutual destruction (as seen in the Cold War), war may indeed become less overt. However, as this becomes the norm, what kind of new expression of conflict will emerge? Economic muscle has become an increasingly important way to control opposing elements, as has the business influence of leaders from opposing countries. In the absence of true understanding and honest work towards mutual peace, new forms of oppression will become popular. Already, the rising power of non-government organizations is challenging the traditional barriers of national borders. Terrorists have a unique ability to move in ways that a traditional government cannot, and without cooperation between the nations of the world, we are all susceptible to their attacks regardless of what group we may identify with. Perhaps non-government organizations gain support from the growing divisions that are arising on the international scene and the apparent ineffectiveness of governments in creating peace. When the moderate path seems to be going nowhere, often people will turn to more extreme and nontraditional ways of getting what they need. This could mean abandoning national identification to a terrorist cell, or even to an international corporation. However, these groups seem to thrive off of conflict, inequality, and the submission of competitors. The only method that will truly allow the world to know peace is not by learning respect for one another’s military power, but for one another’s culture.


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"God grant me distraction."
-Zampano


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