MEN HATE WAR TOO
By Barbara Ehrenreich
Francis Fukuyama marshals the familiar evidence suggesting that males, in our species and others, are more prone to violence than females ("Women and the Evolution of World Politics," September/October 1998). Despite the current academic bias against "essentialist" or genetic explanations of behavior, this evidence shows that males are indeed more likely to fight, murder, loot, pillage, and, of course, rape than females. The question remains, however, whether this apparently innate male predilection has much to do with the subjects that concern Fukuyama -- war, international relations, and politics.
If Fukuyama had read just a bit further in the anthropology of war, even in the works of some scholars he cites approvingly, he would have discovered that there is little basis for locating the wellspring of war in aggressive male instincts -- or in any instincts, for that matter. Wars are not barroom brawls writ large, but, as social theorist Robin Fox puts it, "complicated, orchestrated, highly organized" collective undertakings that cannot be explained by any individual impulse. No plausible instinct would impel a man to leave his home, cut his hair short, and drill for hours under the hot sun. As anthropologists Clifton B. Kroeber and Bernard L. Fontana have pointed out, "It is a large step from what may be biologically innate leanings toward individual aggression to ritualized, socially sanctioned, institutionalized group warfare." Or as a 1989 conference on the anthropology of war concluded, "The hypothesis of a killer instinct is . . . not so much irrelevant as wrong."
In fact, the male appetite for battle has always been far less voracious than either biologically inclined theorists of war or army commanders might like. In traditional societies, warriors often had to be taunted, intoxicated, or ritually "transformed" into animal form before battle. Throughout Western history, individual men have gone to near-suicidal lengths to avoid participating in wars -- cutting off limbs or fingers or risking execution by deserting. Prior to the advent of the nationalist armies
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