What Do Studies On Individual Motivations For Violence Contribute To The Analysis Of War?

3431 words - 14 pages

Introduction

Any debate concerning war should not overlook the reality of violence and the effects that the latter produces both on its victims and its perpetrators. Unexpectedly, a large part of the literature concerning war and peace focuses exclusively on the international or national level, analyzing the struggle between the political parties that engage in a conflict. As Paul Richards (2005: 3-4) has argued, war is a social project that it is organised by people for political ends and does not happen solely because certain external conditions have been fulfilled (e. g. demographic pressure or lack of natural resources). Therefore, while the examination of the macro-political and geopolitical factors is certainty fundamental to understand the causes of many wars, it seems inadequate to explain the motivations which bring many individuals to embrace weapons and participate in them. Understanding a conflict implies considering "what people do, and how they do it" (Richards, 2005: 11), thus the practise of war and peace.

This essay will try to uncover some of these motives, focusing especially on the experience of child soldiers, and taking the Democratic Republic of Congo as a case example. Focusing the attention on the experience of the young soldiers appears particularly important due to their widespread presence in many recent and contemporary "warscapes" (Nordstrom, 1997).
The first part of the essay will give a broad explanation of the "greed vs grievances" debate that has influenced many scholars in their interpretations of the ends and motives of violence. The second part will be devoted to critically analyse the conventional discourse, which depicts youngsters involved in conflicts as merely victims of war. In doing so, some common assumptions will be contested in order to demonstrate that children are not individuals without agency. The third part will instead envisage the main motivations that bring many young people to enrol voluntarily in armed groups, and the symbolic meanings that certain macabre acts of violence perpetuated by them could convey.

1. "Greed" vs "grievances" The appearance of extremely violent conflicts during the end of the twentieth century - as in Bosnia or in Ruanda - brought some scholars to develop the idea that these "new wars" were somehow different from the old ones. In particular, the apparent lack of political motivations and the extensive violence enacted against civilians created the perception that what we were witnessing was a new kind of "barbarism" (cf. Richards, 2005; 9). Thus, the perpetrators of violence were pictured as irrational individuals mobilized by "ancient hatred" (Kaplan, 1994) resulting from their different ethnic affinity.

More recently, in the attempt to acknowledge the rationality of those who take part in these conflicts and identify the causes of their outbreak, a large part of the literature has focused on the "greed vs grievances" debate. Advocates of greed a...

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