by Jalees Rehman
Why do people endorse political violence such as military attacks even if such violence is detrimental to their own self-interests? The US-led war against Iraq was supported by more than 70% of Americans within days of the invasion in March 2003, and even though the support dwindled over the course of subsequent months and years as it became obvious that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and had not posed a major threat to the US. One could surmise that the US public had simply been misled by its government about Iraq’s weapons program and the support was thus based on a rational self-interest calculation. The fear of being eviscerated by the supposed Iraqi WMDs convinced US citizens do approve of the war. The Iraq war came at a tremendous cost: It is estimated that at least two hundred thousand Iraqi civilians have been killed, with even more deaths attributed to the subsequent humanitarian and political crises precipitated by the war. The war also resulted in the deaths of several thousand American soldiers and a far greater number of American soldiers were wounded. From an economic perspective, it is estimated that at least one trillion dollars has been added to the national debt because of the war. This war was clearly against the self-interest of the American people, especially once it became obvious that Iraq did not possess WMDs. It is therefore all the more surprising that 40% of American adults continue to believe the military invasion of Iraq was the correct decision. Is this large segment of American society acting irrationally?
The psychologist Jeremy Ginges at the New School for Social Research in New York has been researching the reasoning behind political violence for more than a decade and recently summarized his work in the paper The Moral Logic of Political Violence. He has carried out psychological experiments enrolling Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlers as well as participants from countries across the world such as Nigeria and the United States, with remarkably similar results. Read more »