The threat of nuclear annihilation has stimulated us to try to understand what it is about mankind that has led to such self-destroying behavior. Central to this inquiry is an exploration of the adversarial relationships between ethnic or national groups. It is out of such enmities that war, including nuclear war should it occur, has always arisen. Enmity between groups of people stems from the interaction of psychological, economic, and cultural elements. These include fear and hostility (which are often closely related), competition over perceived scarce resources, the need for individuals to identify with a large group or cause, a tendency to disclaim and assign elsewhere responsibility for unwelcome impulses and intentions, and a peculiar susceptibility to emotional manipulation by leaders who play upon our more savage inclinations in the name of national security or the national interest. A full understanding of the “enemy system” requires insights from many specialities, including psychology, anthropology, history, political science, and the humanities.
Attempts to explore the psychological roots of enmity are frequently met with responses on the following lines: “I can accept psychological explanations of things, but my enemy is real. The Russians [or Germans, Arabs, Israelis, Americans] are armed, threaten us, and intend us harm. Furthermore, there are real differences between us and our national interests, such as competition over oil, land, or other scarce resources, and genuine conflicts of values between our two nations. It is essential that we be strong and maintain a balance or superiority of military and political power, lest the other side take advantage of our weakness”.