Essays/Papers on War, Sacrifice and Genocide
For Cause and Comrade: Devoted Actors and Willingness to Fight
This report provides initial evidence that ‘devoted actors’ who are unconditionally committed to a sacred cause, willingly make costly sacrifices—including fighting and dying.
Reframing Sacred Values
People believe that devotion to essential or core values—such as the welfare of their family and country, or their commitment to religion, honor, and justice—are absolute and inviolable.
Azzam, Shiekh Abdullah
Martyrs: The Building Blocks of Nations
“History does not write its lines except with blood. Glory does not build its loft edifice except with skulls, Honour and respect cannot be established except on a foundation of cripples and corpses.”
Bailey, J. & Susman, M.
- Caring Corrupted: the Killing Nurses of the Third Reich (Video Documentary)
Baird, J. W.
To Die For Germany: Heroes in the Nazi Pantheon
“During the Great War, propagandists and poets alike joined hands in exalting the blood sacrifice of the youth of Germany, thus transforming carnage into ethereal national revelation.”
Nazism and War
“Only weeks before unconditional surrender, on April 7, 1945, Donitz called upon all naval officers to fight to the bitter end. Military police and SS units patrolled behind the lines to catch and kill any soldier who might be suspected of desertion.”
Mark of the Beast: Death and Degradation in the Literature of the Great War
“Only men who know how to overcome their ‘personal material egoism’ can understand that war is ‘desirable and holy’—because it brings death, and death welds the individual to the nation (Enrico Corradini).”
Dismemberment and Community: Sacrifice and the Communal Body in the Hebrew Scriptures
“The formation of community is inextricably bound up with violence in the Hebrew scriptures. The first murderer becomes the first city-founder. The first unified action by the tribes of Israel—the first not in response to an external threat—results from the dismembering of a woman’s body.”
Hitler and the Jews: The Genesis of the Holocaust
“Hitler viewed his war against the Jews as a battle for the salvation of the world, a fight to the death that could only end with the extinction of one of the two adversaries.”
- Violence as Sacred Sacrifice (Essay)
Review Essay of Stanley Hauerwas’s Book War and the American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity
The sacrificial metaphor at the heart of citizenship, and inextricably tied to war, has incredible power, all the more so because most citizens are unconscious of its active impact in our lives. Most citizens are blithely unaware of the contradiction between their assumptions regarding “the separation of church and state”—and the deeply religious sacrificial war-culture that so profoundly shapes their understandings of citizenship and the nation.
U.S. War Culture, Sacrifice & Salvation
Lecture given at The 1st Annual IntelliGen Conference on Religion & Violence, April 11, 2015 at Moravian Theological Seminary.
- The Earth-Centered Jew Lacks a Soul (Book Excerpt)
Elshtain, Jean Bethke
Identity, the State and Sacrifice
“The Sovereign may bear a masculinized ‘face’ but the nation itself is feminized, a mother, a sweetheart, a lover. One can rightly speak, as Anderson does, of ‘political love, a love that retains the fraternal dimensions of medieval caritas,” but incorporates as well a maternalized loyalty symbolized domestically. The nation is home and home is mother. No more than one chooses one’s parents does one choose one’s country and this adds even greater force to the nature of political love. We fall in love early through language, ‘encountered at mother’s knees and parted with only at the grave,” and through this language ‘pasts are restored, fellowships are imagined, and futures dreamed.’”
Faust, Drew Gilpin
The Psychoanalysis of War
“War is a spectacular establishment of a general human situation whereby death assumes absolute value: the ideas for which we die have a right to truth, because death becomes a demonstrative process.”
Frank, Walter S.
The Reality of Battle: First World War, 1914-1918
“In the deeper shelters, old and battle-hardened troops shook their heads. The new recruits with big eyes and quivering bodies were watched with apprehension. Some turned green and began vomiting. Some began sobbing.”
Fritz, Stephen G.
- ‘We are Trying… to Change the Face of the World’—Ideology and Motivation in the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front: The View from Below (Paper)
Frontsoldaten: The German Soldier in World War II
“To serve a Volksgemeinschaft, to believe in Hitler as the German Fuhrer—these were ideals pressed into the souls of German youth. ‘Our freedom was service’: this line from a Hitler Youth song reflected the ideal of devotion to the community—even to the point of death.”
- A reply to my critics: Motives, causes, and alibis (Article)
- Hitler’s Willing Executioners (Book Excerpts)
The Meaning of ‘Sacrifice’ in the First World War
“It was as if the fantasy of redemption through sacrifice—stubbornly entertained by both fighters and onlookers—was fueled rather than quenched by the blood of the fallen, like pouring oil on flames. The whole war can be seen as a collective act of redemptive self-sacrifice—transcendent meaning produced by the relentless flow of blood.”
White Feathers and Wounded Men: Female Patriotism and the Memory of the Great War
On August 30, 1914, Admiral Charles Penrose Fitzgerald, an inveterate conscriptionist and disciple of Lord Roberts, deputized thirty women in Folkstone to hand out white feathers to men not in uniform. The purpose of this gesture was to shame “every young ‘slacker’ found loafing about the Leas’ and to remind those ‘deaf or indifferent to their country’s need’ that ‘British soldiers are fighting and dying across the channel.”
War in the East and the Extermination of the Jews
’(Citing Hitler, Mein Kampf): “If during the War 12 or 15 thousand of these Hebrew corrupters of the people had been held under poison gas, as happened to hundreds of thousands of our very best German workers in the field, the sacrifice of millions at the front would not have been in vain.”’
Was World War II the Result of Hitler’s Master Plan? (Excerpt from Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in Western Civilization)
“The conquest of European Russia was for Hitler inextricably linked with the extermination of these ‘bacilli’, the Jews. The racist component was so closely interwoven with the central political element of his program, the conquest of European Russia, that Russia’s defeat and the extermination of the Jews were inseparable for him.”
Himmler’s Speech at Posen, October, 1943
(Speech - Text)
“We had the moral right, we had the duty to our own people, to kill these people who wanted to kill us. But we don’t have the right to enrich ourselves even with one fur, one watch, one mark, one cigarette, or anything else. Just because we eradicated a bacillus doesn’t mean we want to be infected by the bacillus ourselves.”
Himmler’s Speech on the Extermination of the Jews
(Speech - Video)
Pozan, Poland, October 4, 1943 - Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, the second most powerful man in Nazi Germany, speaks to SS officers for three hours in a secret meeting. He reminds his officers of the loyalty he expects in their extermination of the Jews.
Holmes Jr., Oliver Wendell
The Soldier’s Faith
“In the midst of doubt, the collapse of creeds, there is one thing I do not doubt, and that is that the faith is true and adorable which leads a soldier to throw away his life in obedience to a blindly accepted duty, in a cause which he little understands, in a plan of campaign of which he has little notion, under tactics of which he does not see the use.”
Men against Fire: Expectations of War in 1914
“It was the ‘morale & discipline’ of the Japanese armed forces that all observers stressed.”
Political Evil: Killing, Sacrifice, and the Image of God
(Chapter 5 of Out of Eden)
“The willingness to sacrifice for the creation and maintenance of political meanings always appears inconceivable to those outside of the community.”
Torture and International Law
(Chapter 2 of Sacred Violence)
“We have not so much abandoned the practice of torture as shifted its locus. The battlefield is strewn with the disemboweled and beheaded, with severed limbs and broken bodies. All have died a terrible death in a display of sovereign power. To view the battlefield is to witness the awesome power of the sovereign to occupy and destroy the finite body; to stand before the modern, democratic equivalent of the spectacle of the scaffold.”
Library of Social Science
Review Essay of Carolyn Marvin & David Ingle’s Book Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the American Flag
What is really true in any community is “what its members can agree is worth killing for,” or what they can be compelled to sacrifice their lives for. What is “sacred” within a given society is that set of beliefs “for which we ought to shed our own blood.” Warfare constitutes the central ritual allowing societies to enact or demonstrate faith in the nation.
Review Essay of Ivan Strenski’s Book Contesting Sacrifice: Religion, Nationalism, and Social Thought in France
Nationalists attacked the deplorable state of French morale. Intellectuals were derided for “egoism” and “lazy melancholy;” workers for lack of enthusiasm for collective causes. War represented a spiritual force that would “bind citizens into common service for the nation,” incubating a spirit of national unity. Just as Jesus’ death cleansed the sins of humanity, so common soldiers’ self-sacrifices were seen as expiation for France’s sins.
Review Essay of Ruth Stein’s Book For Love of the Father: A Psychoanalytic Study of Religious Terrorism
Collective forms of violence are perpetuated in the name of an ideal that binds the group together and functions to “sanctify the actions of a (collective) perpetrator on a (collective) victim.” Large scale forms of violence are undertaken in the name of an ideal object that can move groups to decree the liquidation of anything that “challenges its validity and superiority.” Forms of behavior deemed criminal on the individual level may be “condoned and encouraged when perpetrated collectively.”
Linderman, Gerald F.
Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War
“The linkage between honor and courage manifested itself in Civil War solders’ frequent referenced to the ‘honorable death’—inevitably the courageous death— and the ‘honorable wound’—inevitably suffered in the course of courageous action.”
Sacrifice and the Creation of Group of Identity: Case Studies of Gallipoli and Masada
“It has often been acknowledged that nations are born of war. Yet recent scholarship suggests that it is not the sacrifice of the enemy that creates a unified group identity, but the sacrifice of the group’s own. This essay demonstrates the truth of this hypothesis on the basis of two primary case studies: the ‘sacrifices’ made at Gallipoli and Masada.”
- A New Scholarly Dispensation for Civil Religion (Book Chapter)
- Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Revisiting Civil Religion (Paper)
- Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the American Flag (Book Excerpts)
- The Totem Myth: Sacrifice and Transformation (Book Chapter)
For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War
“Civil War soldiers wrote much about courage, bravery, valor—the mark of honor. But they wrote even more about cowardice—the mark of dishonor. Most wanted to avoid the shame of being known as a coward—this is what gave them courage. Civil War soldiers went forward into a hail of bullets because they were more afraid of showing the ‘white feather’ than they were of death.”
- SS Thinking and the Holocaust (Book Extracts)
Monnet, Agnieszka Soltysik
Mosse, George L.
National Cemeteries and National Revival: The Cult of the Fallen Soldiers in Germany
“The cult of the fallen assimilated basic themes of Christianity. The exclamation ‘Now we are made sacred’ implied an analogy of the sacrifice in war to the passion and resurrection of Christ.”
Murphy, Raymond E.
- National Socialism: Basic Principles, Their Application by the Nazi Party’s Foreign Organization, and the Use of Germans Abroad for Nazi Aims (Government Document, U.S. Department of State)
- The Status of Hitler Today (Paper)
Porter, Thomas Earl
The Transhuman Soldier: A Comparative Look at World War I and the Iran-Iraq War
With his sacrifice, the soldier transforms the ordinary cycle of existence into something livelier and more transhuman. His sacrifice on the battlefield becomes a creative event to conquer death. He attains a sacred quality with his ability to generate an all-too-superhuman vitality, a sacred death of transcendental reality. The act of sacrifice empowers the self of a soldier against the natural process of demise—and towards the creation of a transcendent entity.
Ricks, Steven D.
Romaniuk, Scott Nicholas
Rubenstein, Richard L.
- At the Dawn of Tyranny (Book Excerpts)
Review Essay of Mark Schantz’s Book Awaiting the Heavenly Country: The Civil War and America’s Culture of Death
The political system of U.S. society in the Civil War era demanded that its citizens sacrifice their lives and commit violence against their fellow countrymen so the nation as a whole could survive. The dominant religious ideology of the time required citizens to voluntarily exchange the mundane world for the heavenly rewards of the afterlife. The individual could achieve the eternal life in heaven and could be commemorated as a hero if he was ready to sacrifice himself.
Seitz, David W.
Silent Thunder: War Memorials and the Break Up of the Collectivistic Motive to Sacrifice
Christianity portrayed Christ’s sacrificial death as the perfect model of righteous action.
Sacrifice, Gift and the Social Logic of Muslim ‘Human Bombers’
To understand Muslim ‘human bombers’, we must see them within the discourse of jihad, but also within that of ‘sacrifices’ and ‘gifts’. ‘Human bombings’ are not, therefore, simply matters of utilitarian military tactics, but are also religious and social as gifts, martyrdoms and sacrifices. This article proposes that we need to pay greater attention to the ‘sacrificial’ designations of these ‘human bombings’ as made by Muslims and which are rooted in Islamic discourse.
Sacrifice: Bad Math, Bad Grammar
Sacrifice means loss, giving up, destruction and death. But, much talk about sacrifice carries on as if this loss, this subtraction, actually achieves addition. The soldier ‘sacrifices’ themselves in battle, but this doesn’t count as diminishment. It actually adds to whatever social body of reference is in play. So, the question is why and how can sacrifice add to the social whole, when, in the fact of destruction and death, it subtracts from the social whole, by removing one of its members from the body of the living?
Swann Jr., William
Szink, Terrence L.
Redirecting Violence: The Finnish Flag as a Sacrificial Symbol, 1917-1945
National flags are essential in making sense of the citizens’ sense of belonging to the nation. National celebrations—as well as the routine, everyday ‘lagging’ of the nation in the media—form a context which shapes peoples’ experience of their environment. National flags represent the shared feelings and values of a collective, forming a link between civil society and the state.
Reading Death and Sacrifice in the Berlin Völkischer Beobachter
“Poet Wilhelm Ehmer wrote that the tome of humanity would forever feature the story of the German Volk, written in blood as a memorial. Berliners are bearers of the banner of the Reich—to die may be their honorable duty.”
- First World War Casualties (Statistics)
D-Day (June 6, 1944), the Invasion of Normandy: “A moment of unique American sacrifice”
(Audio, John Batchelor Show, WABC)
Michael Vlahos podcast on the John Batchelor radio show: “We had to create—not just a mythic moment—but a moment of unique American sacrifice. We managed to do that. As we look back, it is the great liturgy of the American experience—not just in World War II—but of the America that was born on that day. It’s a kind of high mass of the nation—of the American ethos.”
- Fighting Identity: Sacred War & World Change (Book Excerpts)
Rites of Spring: Sacrifice, Incarnation, and War
The 20th century’s wars—from 1914-1951, and their aftermath—killed perhaps 150 million individual human beings. We casually ascribe this calamity to madness, evil, or the inevitable efficiencies of an industrial economy. Yet I argue that this killing was embedded in the desire of peoples to fulfill—through war—the vision that drove them. This was the paradoxical, unconfessed vision of Modernity—which replaced universal institutions of collective identity (for centuries vested in social order and Church) with a dynamic new alternative.
Terrorism’s Sacred Heart: The Sacrifice
“What makes terrorism so powerful is that it leverages the most powerful of human actions: the sacrifice. For thousands of years, human sacrifice has represented a sacred rite, with many layers of explicit ritual and symbol—in which our most precious loss transforms into our most precious gift. Think of the sacrifice—enacted and memorialized—as the mortar of our collective belief and belonging.”
The Ideology of Sacrifice is Hemorrhaging
In his essay, “The Rites of Spring,” Michael Vlahos stated that War in Modernity was an “extended ritual demanding mass sacrifice in which the literal ‘body and blood’ of millions at once renewed and re-fertilized the nation.” However, this national theology “no longer rules America as it once did.” The fervent faith of a whole nation—leading to sacrifice on the high altar—has been “emptied of belief.”
What Should We Call Fallen Warriors? Review Essay of Kelly Denton-Borhaug’s Book U.S. War-Culture, Sacrifice and Salvation
Denton-Borhaug argues that references to combat deaths as “necessary” sacrifices are drawn from centuries of Christian interpretations of the death of Jesus as required for salvation and transform war into a sacred enterprise devoted to saving the nation from its enemies. She believes that until such language is replaced by more neutral rhetoric, we will never escape the delusion that war is the necessary, even “transcendental,” means to ensure national security.”
Prof. Robert Weiner: The Nature & Impact of WWI
“All the capacity of industrial society—straining at the bit for destruction. One of the French soldiers called it extermination. I call it routinized, mechanized genocide: The genocide of people on their own citizens.”
Gallipoli (1981) - Ending
(Video Excerpt From Peter Weir’s Film)
Several young men from rural Western Australia enlist in the Australian Army during the First World War. This scene depicts the film’s sad ending.
Gallipoli (1981) - Massacre
(Video Excerpt From Peter Weir’s Film)
Depicts the charge at Nek at Gallipoli (August 7, 1915). Anzac troops are massacred by the Turks when they get out of the trench armed only with bayonets. This astonishing scene, according to Michael Vlahos, represents an accurate depiction.
Bitter Wounds: German Victims of the Great War, 1914-1939
“Disabled veteran speaking at a convention in 1930: “Everyone here sensed the demonic quality of the war. It was like some elemental catastrophe, which threw the entire planet into torment. We who have lived through this inferno can never be free from it.‘”
German Casualties of the First World War
“The Great War lasted fifty-two and a half months. Roughly 9,500,000 soldiers, from all nations, were killed, which comes to about 181,000 deaths per month, or about 6,302 deaths every 24 hours. Of some 15.6 million males born between 1870 and 1899, about 13 percent died in the 52 ½ months of the Great War.”
Mao’s Martyrs: Revolutionary Heroism, Sacrifice, and China’s Tragic Romance of the Korean War
“China entered into the Korean War at a critical historical moment: the new Communist regime had just celebrated its first anniversary in October 1950. In military strength and industrial capacity, China was no match for its opponent, the well equipped and supplied United Nations Command (UNC) under the United States military command leadership. What China could rely on was its massive manpower and political propaganda—entrenched in the Marxist doctrine of anti-imperialism and internationalism.”