Read about the theory

War Theory

 

Thanks for visiting the site and taking the Peacetest survey. The test results refer to the general tendencies in a group and are not true for every individual. Don’t be disturbed if your score was low. But take some time to think about how you answered.

The questions are deliberately vague, and they don’t really give enough information for a skeptical reader to reach a decision about whether military force should be approved or not. If you agreed with many of the statements about when you would approve the use of military force, you may be “programmed” for a process known as moral disengagement.

Moral disengagement occurs when you begin to tell yourself that the use of violent force is excusable. By convincing ourselves that the use of force is justified, we disengage the moral standards that restrain aggression in everyday life. When moral restraints are disengaged, “normal” or “good” people may be capable of savage atrocities. They can behave violently with a clear conscience.

In studies of individual and group violence, moral disengagement has been shown to strongly influence our willingness to inflict suffering upon others. Education about moral disengagement can help us all learn to be more skeptical of the arguments that we may use to tell ourselves that violence is justified.

For example, a number of questions ask when you will accept the use of “military force.” Unless their people have been attacked, contemporary leaders rarely call for “war,” but they may promote the use of military force to resolve specific conflicts. The introduction to these questions (“When would you accept the use of your nation’s armed forces?”) invokes the process of euphemistic labeling, in which acts of violence and their consequences are referred to with terms that make them acceptable. “Use of armed forces” is a euphemistic label for war, i.e., organized mass killing, terror and destruction of property. People who resist moral disengagement are extremely reluctant to accept mass killing no matter how it is labeled. They will be very skeptical about the arguments or excuses that leaders might use to obtain support for the use of military force.

People who resist moral disengagement will tend to say “Not Sure” or “Disagree” to the statements on this survey.

In a survey of more than 2,000 people in the USA before and after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, the level of agreement with some questions on this test was strongly related to their support for immediate military strikes on suspected terrorist camps overseas. Most people who were surveyed did not believe that precision missile attacks will avoid harm to civilians. Dehumanization increased after 9/11, but many resisted the tendency to describe their enemies as “animals.”

Survey Explanation

The statements on the survey are designed to test your vulnerability to specific processes of moral disengagement, as explained below.

Some people say, “War is necessary to settle conflicts between nations.”

Is war necessary? That question has been debated for centuries. Albert Einstein believed war can be ended by human ingenuity. Sigmund Freud believed that the human tendency toward violence will never be contained and that, unfortunately, wars will always be seen as necessary for settling conflicts between nations.

Albert Bandura of Stanford University, perhaps the most influential psychologist alive today, believes that our tendency toward violence can be curbed by the human capacity for moral conscience. We have the capacity to decide for ourselves whether wars are necessary or not.

In the USA, up to half of the men in recent surveys agree with the statement that war is necessary. But in Finland, less than 20% of the men who were surveyed agree that war is necessary. In peaceful Costa Rica, fewer than one in ten believe that war is necessary. Is war necessary? The decision is ours to make.

Mechanisms of Moral Disengagement:

The statements in this survey asked why or when you would accept the use of your nation’s armed forces (e.g. army, navy, air force, etc.) and each statement measures a different mechanism of moral disengagement.

Mechanism: Distortion or minimization of consequences

 

These statements concern the moral disengagement process (or mechanism) known as distortion or minimization of consequences. In this process, violence is excused when its effects are minimized either through negation or through the use of euphemistic language (using a technical term to mask over the fact that it describes the killing of civilians as in for example “collateral damage”), at least in the mind of the person who is doing the excusing. But harm from warfare cannot be easily limited. In practice, innocent deaths are usually unavoidable, and destruction of military targets cannot be accomplished without wider damage. The safer our soldiers are, as in for example high-altitude bombing or long-range missile attacks, the greater the risk to innocent people living or working in the targeted areas. A person who resists moral disengagement will not believe that a war can be waged without deadly mistakes and unintended consequences.

Mechanism: Moral justification

 

These statements concern the process of moral justification in the use of force for the protection of national interests. The use of military force is given a worthy purpose that makes it acceptable. A person who resists moral disengagement will not support the use of force in these situations. Notice the question says we “might” be attacked. Pre-emptive or “first strike” attacks cannot be justified unless the threat is absolutely certain. What about threats to our economic security? When foreign problems threaten economic security, military actions may make things worse. Leaders should try to find long-term peaceful solutions that actually can solve the problems.

Mechanism: Evasion of responsibility

(displacement and diffusion of responsibility)

 

These statements concern the moral disengagement process known as evasion of responsibility through displacement and diffusion. A person who resists moral disengagement will be hesitant to justify the use of force by blaming others for a decision, even if it is authorized or supported by a group. When responsibility is diffused, it is easier to accept violence of all kinds — as demonstrated by, for example, the extreme actions of mob violence. While many nations or groups need to be protected, the use of military force may not improve their situation. When nations act together to protect themselves or settle conflicts in or between other nations, all peaceful options should be exhausted before military force is used.

Mechanism: Advantageous comparison

 

These statementss concern a process known as advantageous comparison. First, acts of violence are judged to be more effective than peaceful options for resolving conflict. Second, the harm resulting from the violence is judged to be comparatively less than the harm that would result from a failure to act. The person who resists moral disengagement will be reluctant to end efforts to resolve conflicts peacefully. We may be gambling with people’s lives in an unstable situation. Can we really be sure that the use of force will not actually result in more conflict and suffering in the long term? When violence begins, it often escalates, and the final results may not be safely predicted. Nonviolence requires patience and creativity. In considering the use of force, it is best to be skeptical of cost-benefit calculations.

Mechanism: Dehumanization

 

These statements measure the process of dehumanization. When people are terrorized by bombings or missile attacks, it is natural for them to feel that their enemies are less than human. This tendency is heightened when there are differences in skin color, language, religion and political ideology. When enemies are dehumanized, it is easier for us to inflict suffering upon them.

Military force is not the only option for deterring or punishing crimes against humanity. Diplomatic mediation and legal proceedings of the World Court are preferable to mass killing and destruction. The person who resists moral disengagement will hesitate to use violence, even when enemies do not appear to deserve compassion.

 


 

Kill Theory

Thanks for visiting the site and taking the “peacetest” survey on attitudes towards killing. The test results refer to the general tendencies in a group, and are not true for every individual. Don’t be disturbed if your score was low. But take some time to think about how you answered.

You might ask yourself what these statements measure and, frankly, scores for individuals taking this survey don’t mean much in themselves. However, we are interested in what group attitudes say about group behavior and our research has shown that groups who agree with these statements also show a strong support for violent behavior. In other words, the more individuals, as a group, agree with these statements, the more likely it is that violence will occur in the group.

The theory behind this research is based on Albert Bandura’s concept of moral disengagement.

The questions are deliberately vague and they don’t really give enough information for a skeptical reader to reach a decision about whether killing could ever be justified or not. If you agreed with many of the questions about when killing might be justified, you may be “programmed” for a process known as moral disengagement.

Moral disengagement occurs when we begin to tell ourselves that the use of violent force is excusable. By convincing ourselves that the use of force is justified, we disengage the moral/social standards that restrain aggression in everyday life. When moral restraints are disengaged, “normal” or “good” people may be capable of savage atrocities. They can behave violently while still keeping a clear conscience.

In studies of individual and group violence, moral disengagement has been shown to strongly influence our willingness to inflict suffering upon others. Education about moral disengagement can help us all learn to be more skeptical of the arguments that we may use to tell ourselves that violence is justified.

This means that individuals should be aware of how their opinions are influenced by group attitudes and when presented with vague statements, we should all be skeptical as to how we respond before we have sufficient information to make up our minds.

Mechanism of Moral Disengagement: Moral Justification

The statements in this survey asked for attitudes regarding different justifications for killing. They were phrased in a vague manner, tapping into the mechanism of moral disengagement called ‘moral justification’. Moral justifications operate by disengaging moral restraints against killing, by making the taking of life an acceptable or worthy act, or by invoking emotional responses to opinion statements.

What does this mean? It means that in places where people do not accept justifications for killing, people are actually less likely to get killed.

Thousands of young people and adults were surveyed in many countries around the world to find out whether they believed in the right to kill to defend property, whether they approved if people killed in revenge and whether they approved killing criminals or using the death penalty as a punishment for murder. Murder rates were also calculated for these countries. The results showed that compared to places where people approve of killing, murder rates are lower where people show more mercy by disagreeing with the right to kill for defense, revenge or punishment.

Of course, much more goes into explaining a homicide rate than agreement with our statements. However, this should make us all think about how we respond to vague statements. We should make sure that we understand where our opinions come from and what behavior might be supported by the way groups think.

People who resist moral disengagement are more likely NOT to support justifications for killing. They will tend to answer “not sure” or “Disagree” to the statements on this survey.