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A matter of definition: What makes a civil war, and who declares it so?

The double standard dynamic is the most powerful in distorting perceptions of enemy images. This is a process whereby people use a different yardstick to judge the enemy's actions or to assess enemy motivations than they use for themselves or for allies. The popular saying that "one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter" is an illustration of this bias. In the words of William Blum, "What our leaders and pundits never let slip is that the terrorists -- whatever else they might be -- might also be rational human beings; which is to say that in their own minds they have a rational justification for their actions. Most terrorists are people deeply concerned by what they see as social, political, or religious injustice and hypocrisy, and the immediate grounds for their terrorism is often retaliation for an action . . ."

In 1947, Allport and Postman published the results of an experimental telephone game. Participants were to convey communications that they had received. One of the initial communications consisted of a picture of a well-dressed white man threatening a poorly dressed black man with a razor blade. In the process of passing on the communication, over half of the white participants transferred the razor from the white man to the black man. We can hypothesize that fear, distrust, hate, prejudice and enmity interfered with both communications and perception. (27) A similar experiment with communication started with the message that "A white man murdered a black man in front of a church at mid day" ended with the last recipient receiving the message that "A black man murdered a while man in a black ally at midnight." These are but two examples from many of distorted perceptions that are closely tied to an outgroup. In addition to the split of good vs. evil described above, there are ten dynamics that characterize these distorted perceptions of the enemy.

Research by cognitive psychologists has documented the pervasiveness of the double-standard bias. Studies during the cold war have shown that American students evaluate Soviet actions more negatively than they evaluate the same actions performed by the United States. "Hawks" seem to have stronger double standards than "Doves," apparently because "Doves" and "Hawks" have different attitudes towards the United States and the Soviet Union. Similarly, when students viewed videotape presenting either a black or white person ambiguously shoving another person, the shove was seen as more violent when conducted by a black person than by a white person. (28)

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Psychoanalysis has laid the foundation for our understanding of the individual's predisposition to war propaganda and enmity. There are three bodies of knowledge that have drawn principally on classic psychoanalytic thinking and contributed to our understanding of the process of enmity on the individual level: Self Psychology, an offshoot of psychoanalytical thinking developed by Heinz Kohut; the Authoritarian Personality Theory, developed by T.W. Adorno and his associates; and Jungian psychology, developed by Carl Jung. Developmental psychology, especially the work of Piaget; the study of prejudice and stereotypes, especially the work of Allport; and Political Socialization Theory are also pertinent to this discussion.

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Merely telling several people that they are now a group leads them to evaluate each other more positively. They will reward each other more, like each other more, view each other's personality in a more positive light and hold each other more responsible for successes and less responsible for failures than they will members of the outgroup. (17) Such an ingroup bias seems to help maintain positive self-image. Another potential reason for people's readiness to categorize the world around them in terms of ingroups and outgroups may be that it makes the environment more cognitively comprehensible and, hopefully, more predictable and safe.

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In this essay I will compare and contrast a collection of different poems by Carol Anne Duffy, Robert Browning, Ben Johnson and Simon Armitage.

The sixth type of enemy is the oppressive, dictatorial enemy, who is a participant in revolutionary wars of liberation. These wars are the antithesis of the greedy, political wars. The oppressed, disenfranchised and powerless find ways to fight a war aimed at overthrowing the occupier, dictator, tyrant, unjust ruler or the elite who dominate and exploit them. Such wars often begin as small, grassroots revolts that gather popular support as the tyrant in power tries to suppress them by brutal means. In building and mobilizing their movement the revolutionaries develop an identity and gain recognition, helping them to topple the tyrannical authority. The revolutionary people have a keen, innate sense of justice and a yearning for freedom. The Jewish rebellion against the Assyrians around 500 BC is an example of this kind of war. American colonists rejected King George III of England; France and Russia deposed and killed their monarchs and their immediate royal families. Similarly Asian, Middle Eastern and almost all African nations have liberated themselves through revolutionary war. South and Central American nations have similarly fought numerous liberation wars, often against military or oppressive elites that rule their countries. Political revolutions have been carried out in the American and European labor movements and in the civil rights and other social movements. Central and South America, as well as Africa, provide numerous models of contemporary revolutionary wars. The Iraqi insurgents in the recent Iraq war have embarked on a liberation war against outsider occupiers. They use tactics that do not confront the superior power of the ruling or occupying army by conforming to established rules of warfare. They use surprise, hit and run, suicide bombing and terror as their major weapons.

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The fifth type of war is defensive war that aims to protect one's country or homeland. The unique characteristic that distinguishes this warfare is that it is always considered to be defensive or for "national defense." The enemy is perceived as a ruthless expansionist, threatening our borders, our people, our ideology, our economy or our future. Most wars in the last century-and-a-half have been perceived by the participants as defensive. Modern wars are rooted in a fearful, beleaguered position to which the appropriate response is the stockpiling of massive retaliatory forces. The United States fought in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam to defend an ally, to "defend the free world" or to defend itself from Communist or other expansion. More recently the United States has gone to war against Iraq twice, ten years apart, under the guise of the defense of the free world from terrorism or the spread of Islam, some say. For similar reasons the Soviet Union invaded Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland in order to maintain a buffer zone against Capitalist Imperialism. Even the Nazis in World War II viewed themselves as defenders of the Aryan race and the lost honor of Germany. These types of wars also contain some of the same underlying characteristics as the holy wars. Troops and civilians alike are conditioned to believe that their country's cause is just, their leaders are blameless, and that God is on their side against the vile and evil enemy "over there." The term "defensive war" can be clarified when it is seen to reflect the way combatants formulate their rationales for fighting and the way they perceive themselves in relation to their opponents. The designation speaks to psychological "truth," not political realities. All modern nations refer to their armed forces and nuclear arms policy as measures of defense. No more "Departments of War" or "War Ministers" only "Defense Departments" and "Defense Ministers." Modern technological society was designed to provide physical and psychological safety. It provides neither. There never has been a clearer example than 9/11 to illustrate how delusional is the sense of safety that modern United State has aspired to. The illusion that two friendly, bordering countries, two vast oceans and supreme technology can keep American safe was destroyed simultaneously with the World Trade Centers in New York City on September 11, 2001. For the culture as a whole war provides a perfect neurotic acting-out of the projection of negative and "dark" feelings. The nuclear policy of Mutually Assured Destruction and the saying "Better dead than Red" are the clearest illustrations of how distrustful and frightened we all have become. From the Palestinian/Israeli conflict to the American and British troops in Iraq, so many are ready to die as long as the enemy dies with them. What is common to all of them is the defensive nature of their reason or excuse to go to war.


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Relatively recent in human evolution, a seventh type of enmity has emerged: the invisible enemy-within in the context of terrorist or guerilla warfare. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War ended the era of two super powers staring each other in the face. Instead, a new global war, the war on terrorism, has introduced in the 21st century. The horrendous and hideous 9/11 suicide terrorists and the equally atrocious suicide bombers all over the world are prime modern example of this kind of war, which often targets innocent civilians, including women and children. Beyond agreement that terrorism aims at inducing terror, no common definition has been found. The terrorist is a covert fighter whose targets are often unarmed, non-combatant civilians. It is an insidious, virtually invisible enemy that cannot be easily identified in advance of the attack. The fact that terrorists do not wear a uniform or approach their victims openly, and the fact that they often mingle freely with their intended civilians victims before they strike, explain why this kind of warfare inspires an enormous fear and terror to entire populations.