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Our Nuclear Weapons Warriors – Are They Rational? Are They Sane?

Is our acceptance as normal of grotesque acts committed by our leaders not more evidence of collective psychopathology?

On 15th November, 2014, Mr, Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, was in Canberra addressing the Australian Parliament. He was flaunting his aggressive macho/militaristic credentials. His speech included the following words.

“For the first time since the 1970s, the UK is expanding our presence east of Suez, opening diplomatic posts across Asia.”

“Our economic prosperity underpins our national security and we are using it to modernise our armed forces with the most modern equipment – new fighters; new hunter-killer submarines; renewing our nuclear deterrent; type 26 global combat ship, the world’s most advanced frigate; and two new aircraft carriers, the most powerful the Royal Navy has ever put to sea in its history.”

This demented boast simultaneously betrays a long since discredited imperialist and empire building mindset, and lists a series of items which are costing British citizens countless billions of pounds. Trident renewal alone costs one hundred billion pounds (£100,000,000,000). The two aircraft carriers are so hopelessly expensive that even this reckless government acknowledges that they will be building aircraft for one of them only! An aircraft carrier with no aircraft! This vast militaristic profligacy is taking place at a time when the only major threat to the UK is from the greed and irresponsibility of bankers. And at a time when social services are being cut and the poor squeezed because of lack of funds!

The Psychopathology of Leaders

In the past, the populace would just dismiss this sort of behavior as “crazy” and get on with their lives. Now it is beginning to be addressed much more seriously. We think of the duck adage – “If it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck it probably is a duck.” Similarly, if our leaders sound as though they are mad and if they act as though they are mad, they probably are mad. Witnessing the way the members of the United Nations “Security Council” (!) cling to their nuclear arsenals, each one capable of destroying billions of people, surely must make us wonder.

One prescient and well-qualified individual who is taking this matter very seriously is David Owen, a doctor of medicine who did research into neuroscience before becoming an MP for 26 years, and serving for a spell as foreign secretary. In 2002, he began to write and speak on the effects of serious illness in heads of government – including what he called “hubris syndrome.” This brand of debilitating mental illness was recognized by Bertrand Russell who referred to the damaging consequences of those suffering from the “intoxication of power.”

David Owen published The Hubris Syndrome: Bush, Blair and the Intoxication of Power in 2007 and a more comprehensive book entitled, In Sickness and In Power: Illness in Heads of Government over the Last 100 Years, came out the following year.

Hubris Syndrome commonly occurs in people with no other mental illness. It is an acquired personality change occurring in people in power. David Owen lists 14 signs and symptoms which are possible in defining the condition. Among these are “conflation of the self with the nation or organization; use of the royal ‘we’; an unshakable belief that a higher court (history or God) will provide vindication; restlessness, recklessness and impulsiveness; and moral rectitude that overrides practicalities, cost and outcome.”

Do any individuals spring to mind?

Owen points out that hubris is “..often associated with a distinctive form of hubristic incompetence of which the appalling failure to plan for the aftermath of the invasion [of Iraq] is the prime example.”

It is under the fingers of leaders showing this level of incompetence that we have put the nuclear button. At all times they have the power to start a global nuclear war. This arrangement is made, we are told, to make us feel secure! How sane is that?

Owen and others have set up the Daedalus Trust which funds, in part or in whole, research (first subject to peer review) with a view, among other goals, of encouraging interdisciplinary studies on the detrimental effects of exposure to power, and into the avoidance of reality and the growth of a “yes” culture. The insanely hubristic have to exist in a compliant and passive culture if they are to get away with their excesses.

Others have alluded to the way the leaders of the West dice with starting World War III which will see the end of us all. Andrew Gavin Marshall is a Research Associate with the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG). In an article entitled “The Logic of Imperial Insanity and the Road to World War III” he writes, “The prospects of a new global war are increasing with every accelerated military adventure. The primary antagonist in this theatre of the absurd is without a doubt, the United States.”

We live in a time of relative peace were it not for the compulsive belligerence and incompetence of the leaders in the West. The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) is the world’s leading think tank for military affairs. The US-led war in Afghanistan, says IISS, using uncharacteristically blunt language, is “a long-drawn-out disaster.”[1] The report tells us that the presence of western troops in Afghanistan is actually fuelling national resistance.

Charles Mercieca Ph.D. is President of the International Association of Educators for World Peace. In an article entitled, Addicted to War: Is there any Cure? he writes that when the US became the sole world power,“.. instead of using its resources to eliminate so much human suffering in the world as revealed in hunger, diseases of every kind, and homelessness, in addition to others, this nation embarked on one of the largest military build-ups in history.”

He states that the US has a “serious vicious addiction [to war]” and that “Addiction is a disease, which may become fatal unless properly controlled.”

Professor Francis A. Boyle at the Puerto Rican Summit Conference on Human Rights delivered a powerfully argued talk entitled, American Militarism Threatening To Set Off World War III. He pointed out that the US’s “unlimited imperialism” was evidence of “an urge toward expansion which knows no rational limits…”[my emphasis]

Winslow Myers, the author of Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide heads an article about the US “War on Terror” with the title, “The Madness of Endless War.”. This madness is despite the fact that “the peoples of the earth are overwhelmingly against war.”

The madness of war was underlined by Pope Francis in a speech in September this year when he called war “madness” and “irrational,” and said its only plan was to bring destruction. “Greed, intolerance, the lust for power…. These motives underlie the decision to go to war.”

Our leaders know that people do not want war; that the vast majority of people want to live in peace. So to satisfy their lust for the use of aggressive force and get citizens to comply, they simply lie.

Baroness Manningham-Buller, the former head of Britain’s domestic security service, MI-5, testified to the UK’s Chilcot enquiry that the Iraq War was generated by a farrago of lies and faked evidence from the Blair government. A farrago of lies from a man who apparently believes himself to be living by Christian principles surely points to a significant degree of psychological dysfunction to say the least.

In the US, the leaders terrify the citizens into complicity with their aggression by positing vast and immediate threats. Hence the “War on Terror” and the build-up of the most powerful military force the world has ever seen. Michael Eigen writes of the “manipulation of psychotic anxieties.” Michael Eigen is widely acknowledged to be the finest, most profound psychoanalytic writer of our time. He writes “It seems to me after two world wars, the shift towards madness was inevitable…..Now we can add pervasive psychopathy to the pie. For our own moment of history has as a guiding light, the calculated, psychopathic manipulation of psychotic anxieties. We have just seen one of the great power grabs in our nation’s history, certainly the most amazing in my 70 odd years, a basic weapon being manipulation of catastrophic dreads. Bodies are paying for it and, I believe, the psychic health of nation.” [my emphasis]

Modern psychopathology is not confined to our leaders. Entire populations are infected. Collective Psychopathology can clearly be perceived in the West.

Collective Psychopathology

In the democratic West we can have militaristic leaders brandishing weapons of mass destruction only if they are not condemned by the population at large. We permit them to brandish weapons of mass destruction, namely nuclear weapons; weapons that could virtually wipe out life on the planet. This implies that the mental dysfunction is not confined to the leaders, but is prevalent in the population.

Richard Koenigsberg is a social psychologist who has been writing and lecturing for the past 40 years on the psychological sources of war and genocide. He is the author of four books, numerous papers and articles, and has lectured extensively throughout the United States. In an article on Collective Psychopathology, he starts by reminding us that “Well over two-hundred million people were killed in the Twentieth Century as a result of political violence generated by nations…. It seems as though the world lived through an epidemic, or malignant disease. Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski states that the Twentieth Century was dominated by the “politics of organised insanity.”‘ In the article, he shows how Hitler brought about the destruction of Germany, “What occurred may be understood as a form of psychopathology played out upon the stage of society.” He points out that “German soldiers did not rebel: they went like sheep to the slaughter.”

Koenigsberg suggests that “..Psychopathology is contained within the normal structures of society” and that civilization has a “tendency toward violent self-destruction.” As an example of collective psychopathology, Koenigsberg cites the way the German people followed Hitler even after it was clear that victory was impossible. He points out that in the last four months of the war in 1945, nearly 500,000 German soldiers died each month, “this was probably the most concentrated incidence of mass-slaughter in the history of the human race.” Koenigsberg writes that, “The ultimate behavioral enactment of the fantasy of masochistic submission is group death.”

In the twentieth century, millions died in the Soviet Union under Stalin. Millions died in China under Mao. Millions died in Cambodia under Pol Pot and Millions died in Germany under Hitler. Could all this slaughter have happened if the people themselves had mounted a concerted resistance to their psychopathic leaders? Is there a parallel with our present failure to revolt against the species-threatening actions of our leaders who wield nuclear arsenals? Koenigsberg writes, “During the course of the Twentieth Century, political leaders created mass-movements that had the effect of persuading people to march to the cemetery.” In the Twenty-First Century, the leaders of nine states have built the possibility of a nuclear Armageddon. We have let this happen. Should we not consider whether this is an example of collective psychopathology?

The concept of collective psychopathology is intimately related to certain views about what is “normal.” If a person kills another individual, this is treated as a matter for prosecution. If thousands of people are killed in a war, we accept this because it is “normal” for people to be killed in a war. If most of the people killed in the war are civilians rather than combatants, well, that is “normal” considering the power and mechanization of modern weapons. If a person kills another, this is considered a crime. If a politician starts a war resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands with no good effect as in the Iraq war, this is considered a mistake, not a crime. It is “normal” for mistakes to be made in such matters. After all, a similar mistake was made in invading Afghanistan. No prosecutions are pending. Is our acceptance as normal of grotesque acts committed by our leaders not more evidence of collective psychopathology?

There is currently a stand-off between NATO (together with the EU and the US) and Russia. Both sides have arsenals of weapons of mass destruction which have the destructive power to wipe out most of the life on the planet several times over.
NATO has moved across Europe and now threatens to incorporate Ukraine. This frightens Russia so much that it posits the possibility of a resulting nuclear war. The West fears that Russia is preparing to invade Ukraine. In view of the blatant nature of the provocation of the West and the willingness of Russia to alarm the West further, it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that a tendency to violent self-destruction is at work here; that man’s death wish as posited by Freud is manifesting itself. If this is the case, surely the first stage in preventing disaster is to recognize the nature of what is happening.

Time is running out. We need to find our other drive, the one for self-preservation, and put it in the ascendancy. We will not achieve self-preservation by threatening each other with a nuclear holocaust.


1. ‘Bombshell from London’, by Eric S. Margolis

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