"[Hillman’s] portrayal of war as an implacable force, a primary element of the human condition, is unsettling." —Publishers Weekly
A Terrible Love of Warby James Hillman
War is a timeless force in the human imagination—and, indeed, in daily life. Engaged in the activity of destruction, its soldiers and its victims discover a paradoxical yet profound sense of existing, of being human. In A Terrible Love of War, James Hillman, one of today’s most respected psychologists, undertakes a groundbreaking examination of the essence of war, its psychological origins and inhuman behaviors. Utilizing reports from many fronts and times, letters from combatants, analyses by military authorities, classic myths, and writings from great thinkers, including Twain, Tolstoy, Kant, Arendt, Foucault, and Levinas, Hillman’s broad sweep and detailed research bring a fundamentally new understanding to humanity’s simultaneous attraction and aversion to war. This is a compelling, necessary book in a violent world.
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A TERRIBLE LOVE OF WAR
By JAMES HILLMAN
THE PENGUIN PRESSCopyright © 2004 James Hillman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWAR IS NORMAL
One sentence in one scene from one film, Patton, sums up what this book tries to understand. The general walks the field after a battle. Churned earth, burnt tanks, dead men. He takes up a dying officer, kisses him, surveys the havoc, and says: "I love it. God help me I do love it so. I love it more than my life."
We can never prevent war or speak sensibly of peace and disarmament unless we enter this love of war. Unless we move our imaginations into the martial state of soul, we cannot comprehend its pull. This means "going to war" and this book aims to induct our minds into military service. We are not going to war "in the name of peace" as deceitful rhetoric so often declares, but rather for war's own sake: to understand the madness of its love.
Our civilian disdain and pacifist horror-all the legitimate and deep-felt aversion to everything to do with the military and the warrior-must be set aside. This because the first principle of psychological method holds that any phenomenon to be understood must be sympathetically imagined. No syndrome can be truly dislodged from its cursed condition unless we first move imagination into its heart.
War is first of all a psychological task, perhaps first of all psychological tasks because it threatens your life and mine directly, and the existence of all living beings. The bell tolls for thee, and all. Nothing can escape thermonuclear rage, and if the burning and its aftermath are unimaginable, their cause, war, is not.
War is also a psychological task because philosophy and theology, the fields supposed to do the heavy thinking for our species, have neglected war's overriding importance. "War is the father of all" said Heraclitus at the beginnings of Western thought, which Emmanuel Levinas restates in recent Western thought as "being reveals itself as war." If it is a primordial component of being, then war fathers the very structure of existence and our thinking about it: our ideas of the universe, of religion, of ethics; war determines the thought patterns of Aristotle's logic of opposites, Kant's antinomies, Darwin's natural selection, Marx's struggle of classes, and even Freud's repression of the id by the ego and superego. We think in warlike terms, feel ourselves at war with ourselves, and unknowingly believe predation, territorial defense, conquest, and the interminable battle of opposing forces are the ground rules of existence.
Yet, for all this, has ever a major Western philosopher-with the great exception of Thomas Hobbes, whose Leviathan was published three and a half centuries ago-delivered a fun-scale assault on the topic, or given it the primary importance war deserves in the hierarchy of themes? Immanuel Kant came to it late (1795) with a brief essay written when he was past seventy and after he had published his main works. He states the theme of this chapter in a few words much like Hobbes: "The state of peace among men living side by side is not the natural state; the natural state is one of war." Though war is the primary human condition, his focus is upon "perpetual peace" which is the title of his essay. About peace philosophers and theologians have much to say, and we shall take up peace in our stride.
Fallen from the higher mind's central contemplation, war tends to be examined piecemeal by specialists, or set aside as "history" where it then becomes a subchapter called "military history" in the hands of scholars and reporters dedicated to the record of facts. Or its study is placed outside the mainstream, isolated in policy institutions (often at war themselves with rival institutions). The magic of their thinking transmutes killing into "taking out" bloodshed into "body counts" and the chaos of battle into "scenarios," "game theory" "cost benefits" as weapons become "toys" and bombs "smart." Especially needed is not more specialist inquiry into past wars and future wars, but rather an archetypal psychology-the myths, philosophy, and theology of war's deepest mind. That is the purpose of this book.
There are, of course, many excellent studies of aggression, predation, genetic competition, and violence; works on pack, mob, and crowd behavior; on conflict resolution; on class struggle, revolution, and tyranny; on genocide and war crimes; on sacrifice, warrior cults, opposing tribal moieties; on geopolitical strategies, the technology of weaponry, and texts detailing the practice and theory of waging wars in general and the analysis by fine minds of particular wars; and lastly, always lastly, on the terrible effects of war on its remnants.
Military historians, war reporters long in the field, and major commanders in their memoirs of wars from whom I have learned and respectfully cite in the pages that follow have offered their heartfelt knowledge. Individual intellectuals and excellent modern writers, among them Freud, Einstein, Simone Weil, Virginia Woolf, Hannah Arendt, Robert J. Lifton, Susan Griffin, Jonathan Schell, Barbara Tuchman, and Paul Fussell, have brought their intelligence to the nature of war, as have great artists from Goya, say, to Brecht. Nonetheless, Ropp's wide-ranging survey of the idea of war concludes: "The voluminous works of contemporary military intellectuals contain no new ideas of the origins of war.... In this situation a 'satisfactory' scientific view of war is as remote as ever." From another more psychological perspective, Susan Sontag concludes similarly: "We truly can't imagine what it was like. We can't imagine how dreadful, how terrifying war is-and how normal it becomes. Can't understand, can't imagine. That's what every soldier, and every journalist and aid worker and independent observer who has put in time under fire and had the luck to elude the death that struck down others nearby, stubbornly feels. And they are right." But, here, she is wrong.
"Can't understand, can't imagine" is unacceptable. It gets us off the hook, admitting defeat before we have even begun. Lifton has said the task in our times is to "imagine the real." Robert McNamara, secretary of defense during much of the Vietnam War, looking back, writes: "we can now understand these catastrophes for what they were: essentially the products of a failure of imagination." Surprise and its consequents, panic and terror, are due to "the poverty of expectations-the failure of imagination," according to another secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. When comparing the surprise at Pearl Harbor with that of the Twin Towers, the director of the National Security Agency, Michael Hayden, said, "perhaps it was more a failure of imagination this time than last."
Failure of imagination is another way of describing "persistence in error," which Barbara Tuchman says leads nations and their leaders down the road to disaster on "the march of folly," as she calls her study of wars from Troy to Vietnam. The origin of these disasters lies in the unimaginative mind-set of "political and bureaucratic life that subdues the functioning intellect in favor of "working the levers." Working the levers of duty, following the hierarchy of command without imagining anything beyond the narrowness of facts reduced to yet narrower numbers, precisely describes Franz Stangl, who ran the Treblinka death camp, and also describes what Hannah Arendt defines as evil, drawing her paradigmatic example from the failure of intellect and imagination in Adolf Eichmann.
If we want war's horror to be abated so that life may go on, it is necessary to understand and imagine. We humans are the species privileged in regard to understanding. Only we have the faculty and the scope for comprehending the planet's quandaries. Perhaps that is what we are here for: to bring appreciative understanding to the phenomena that have no need to understand themselves. It may even be a moral obligation to try to comprehend war. That famous phrase of William James, "the moral equivalent of war" with which he meant the mobilization of moral effort, today means the effort of imagination proposed by Lifton and ducked by Sontag.
The failure to understand may be because our imaginations are impaired and our modes of comprehension need a paradigm shift. If the ponderous object war does not yield to our tool, then we have to put down that tool and search for another. The frustration may not lie simply in the obduracy of war-that it is essentially un-understandable, unimaginable. Is it war's fault that we have not grasped its meanings? We have to investigate the faultiness of our tool: why can't our method of understanding understand war? Answer: according to Einstein, problems cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that created them.
You would expect that the war-wise, the masters of war, like Sun Tzu, Mao Tse-tung, Machiavelli, and Clausewitz, would have come to conclusions about war beyond advice for its conduct. For them, however, it is a matter of practical science. "The elements of the art of war are first, measurement of space; second, estimation of quantities; third, calculations; fourth, comparisons; and fifth, chances of victory." Long before there were glimmerings of modern scientific method, that mind-set was already applied to war. The empirical mind-set is timeless, archetypal. It starts from the given-war is here, is now, so what's to do? Speculations about its underlying reason, and why or what it is in the first place, distract from the huge task of how to bring war to victory. "No theorist, and no commander," writes Clausewitz, "should bother himself with psychological and philosophical sophistries." Even though the rational science of war admits the obvious, that in "military affairs reality is surprisingly elusive," it omits from its calculations the elusive-and often determining-factors such as fighting spirit, weather, personal proclivities of the generals, political pressures, health of participants, poor intelligence, technological breakdowns, misinterpreted orders, residues in memory of similar events. War is the playground of the incalculable. "As flies to wanton boys, are we to the Gods, / They kill us for their sport" (Lear 4.1.39). A key to understanding war is given by the normality of its surprisingly elusive unreason.
War demands a leap of imagination as extraordinary and fantastic as the phenomenon itself. Our usual categories are not large enough, reducing war's meaning to explaining its causes.
Tolstoy mocked the idea of discovering the causes of war. In his postscript to War and Peace, widely considered the most imaginative and fullest study of war ever attempted, he concludes: "Why did millions of people begin to kill one another? Who told them to do it? It would seem that it was clear to each of them that this could not benefit any of them, but would be worse for them all. Why did they do it? Endless retrospective conjectures can be made, and are made, of the causes of this senseless event, but the immense number of these explanations, and their concurrence in one purpose, only proves that the causes were innumerable and that not one of them deserves to be called the cause." For Tolstoy war was governed by something like a collective force beyond individual human will.
The task, then, is to imagine the nature of this collective force. War's terrifying prospect brings us to a crucial moment in the history of the mind, a moment when imagination becomes the method of choice, and the sympathetic psychologizing learned in a century of consulting rooms takes precedence over the outdated privileging of scientific objectivity.
As a psychologist I learned long ago that I could not explain my patients' behavior, nor anyone's, including my own. There were reasons enough: traumas, shames and miseries, defects in character, birth order within the family, physiology-endless causes that I imagined were explanations. But these possible causes gave little understanding that seemed to depend on something else, reasons of another sort. Later on, I learned that this division that baffled me in practice-explaining and the method of science on the one hand and, on the other, understanding and the approach of psychology-had already been made clear by German thinkers from Nietzsche and Dilthey through Husserl, Heidegger, Jaspers, and Gadamer. Ancestor to them all was the Neopolitan genius, Giambattista Vico, who invented a "new science" (the title of his book of 1725) in revolt against unsatisfactory explanations of human affairs that rested on Newton's and Descartes' kind of thinking.
Vico thinks like a depth psychologist. Like Freud, he seeks to get below conventional constructs into hidden layers and distant happenings. Causal reasoning comes late on the stage, says Vico. The basic layer of the mind is poetic, mythic, expressed by universali fantastici, which I translate as archetypal patterns of imagination. Thematics are his interest, whether in law or in language or in literature-the recurring themes, the everlasting, ubiquitous, emotional, unavoidable patterns and forces that play through any human life and human society, the forces we must bow to and are best generalized as archetypal. To grasp the underlying pressures that move human affairs we have to dig deep, performing an archeology in the mind to lay bare the mythic themes that abide through time, timelessly. War is one of these timeless forces.
The instrument of this dig is penetration: continuing to move forward with insight to gain understanding. "Understanding is never a completed static state of mind" writes the profound philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. "It always bears the character of the process of penetration ... when we realize ourselves as engaged in a process of penetration, we have a fuller self-knowledge" He continues: "If civilization is to survive, the expansion of understanding is a prime necessity." And how does understanding grow? "The sense of penetration ... has to do with the growth of understanding."
War asks for this kind of penetration, else its horrors remain unintelligible and abnormal. We have to go to deep thinkers with penetrating minds, and these may not be the experts on war with wide experience or those who breed their theories in think tanks. The fact that philosophers have not put war in the center of their works may be less a sin than a blessing, since what philosophy offers best to this inquiry is less a completed theory than the invitation to enjoy hard thinking and free imagining. The ways philosophers' minds work, their ways of thinking are more valuable to the student than the conclusions of their thought.
Archetypal patterns of imagination, the universali fantastici, embrace both rational and irrational events, both normal and abnormal. These distinctions fade as we penetrate into the great universals of experience.
Excerpted from A TERRIBLE LOVE OF WAR by JAMES HILLMAN Copyright © 2004 by James Hillman . Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
James Hillman has written more than twenty books, including The Force of Character and Re-Visioning Psychology, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
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James Hillman has captured the essence of our cultural love of war and the consequences of continued collective participation in the myth of our righteous perception.