Book Review - Philip Bobbitt, Terror and Consent: The Wars of the Twenty-First Century

Book Review - Philip Bobbitt, Terror and Consent: The Wars of the Twenty-First Century. New York: Anchor Books, 2009, pps. 672

Reviewed by Lloyd deMause

The Coming Reality of Genocidal Terrorism

Columbia University Professor Philip Bobbitt is author of the splendid 2003 book, The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History, perhaps the most complete book that exists on how states have started wars in the past two thousand years.

His work is essential to psychohistorians - not because he examines motivations for getting into wars, since like most other academics he assumes humans are born with the need for violence and only the shifting of social conditions switches them into wars. If Dick Cheney expresses a "one percent theory" (p. 476) where he states openly that a "preemptive war" must be launched "if there is a one percent chance that a state might attack us," Bobbitt, like other war theorists, never wonders how Cheney's developmental history might cause him to believe such a pathologically violent view of his task in the world. Anyone who repeats such a statement without wondering about its childhood origins can use it as an excuse for the U.S. attacking at least fifty nations around the globe today, surely a pathological task for any national leader.

A similar theory of the violence of schoolyard bullies or homicidal adults would also neglect to ask what made them so provocative and refuse to examine how their developmental history produced their obviously powerful need for violence. But Bobbitt's books are so full of revealing specific details of historical violence that the psychohistorian is able to discover in them myriad aspects of historical motivations that are the central focus of our field.

In this volume on terrorists, Bobbitt provides us with 688 pages of the pathological slaughters of innocent civilians, none for any political goal or for any state ends, all solely because the terrorists are obeying inner voices demanding they kill others and themselves. When Bin Laden vows to "kill 10 million American children" he has no benefit to himself or his fellow jihadists in mind. Although Bobbitt carefully documents hundreds of similar terrorist groups all around the globe acting out pathological violence, he never questions their motivations, instead concluding that "terrorists are neither insane nor irrational." (p. 399)

Yet Bobbitt must be read, since he convincingly shows why the number of people killed in the usual wars between nations have been steadily decreasing in the 21st century and are now about to be replaced by more and more instances of global terrorist violence, "fought by networks of state and non-state actors, where battles are rare and violence is directed mainly against civilians." (p. 147) Some of these hundreds of jihadi groups, educated by their thousands of Web sites and not under the control of Al Qaeda, will in the not too distant future obtain Weapons of Mass Destruction, which they promise they intend to use to inflict genocidal slaughter on the West. Nuclear nations like Pakistan or North Korea are certain to soon sell their bombs to some of the jihadist groups, and the nearly impossible task of the West will be "to detect and capture weapons no larger than a case of beer." (p. 209)

To prevent the use of genocidal nuclear and biological weapons, Bobbitt describes how "the reality of twenty-first century warfare must include armed forces [plus] constabular forces organized along military lines...hybrids of police and military" like the French gendarmerie EGF recently established by the European Union (p. 156), in order to stop "international nuclear weapons trade, which is once lucrative and easily concealed." (p. 458) The costs of these global military police added to the costs of enlarged national armies will be soon be enormous, and again are likely to be financed mainly by the U.S.

Since Bobbitt has no interest in knowing the etiology of terrorist violence, he probably would not be interested in knowing that the jihadi have been horribly beaten, tortured and raped (the majority of both boys and girls) by their families and neighbors and teachers, and that their mothers openly fit them with explosive vests and tell them to kill others and themselves so they can die and be loved by Allah. The solution this pathological early embedding of violence in jihadists will require more than armed forces.

It will begin by requiring changing the horrible conditions of women in these areas of the world, including much economic help to families, plus the establishment of community parenting centers to teach them how to bring up children without abusing them. While this is being accomplished, the only way to keep the jihadist groups from slaughtering millions will be to talk to them, not attack them, with specially-trained Peace Counselors whose goal will be to reveal to them the emotional basis for their belief that they must "kill the enemies of God" [i.e., the Parent].

These tasks, based upon family therapy and psychohistorical theories, should be established by the U.N. or some similar body. Although the denuclearization of nation-states remains an important task, Bobbitt makes a good case for the fact that the current stated task of the U.N. -- "to prevent violence between nations (p. 453) -- is far less applicable to our new century of terrorist violence against civilians. Non-state genocidal violence is a real possibility in the next decade, and Bobbitt's scenarios on what it will look like are crucial to understand if we are to continue to avoid the apocalyptic nuclear scenario that we all hoped had ended with the termination of the Cold War.

Lloyd deMause is Editor of The Journal of Psychohistory, Director of The Institute for Psychohistory and author of eight books on psychohistory.

Explore The Institute for Psychohistory website.

Return to the Primal Psychotherapy Page Index