War Opinion

HELEN CALDICOTT: If man cannot overcome his desire to kill, we are doomed

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Studies have provided further insight into the male sex drive and war (Image via Pixabay)

We are racing with great speed towards a nuclear holocaust unless man can conquer his fatal disposition for war, writes Dr Helen Caldicott.

*CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses rape

WHALE WATCHING in the lovely Jervis Bay on the east coast of Australia, the baby whales were leaping out of the water turning summersaults in pure joy as they revealed their white bellies and black backs.

I returned home and realised with horror that not only will this magnificent species likely be eliminated, but so too the spectacular sunflowers that had just opened their gorgeous heads in my garden.

Why do I write this?

We stand on the brink of extinction unaware that our time on this precious lump of rock in the endless universe is almost certainly to come to an end.

Although the Cold War ended in 1989 to the relief of everyone, vast stores of hydrogen bombs possessed by Russia and the U.S. not only remain intact but missiles armed with these hideous weapons stand on “hair-trigger alert” ready to be activated with a press of the button by either the U.S. or Russian president.

Circling the northern hemisphere they arrive at their destinations 30 minutes after launch, during which the targeted country detects the attack and launches its missiles. Nuclear war would take approximately one hour to complete — eliminating, eventually, most life on the planet.

Failing that catastrophe, the human race and our fellow species face other dreadful futures including the rapid advancement of global warming and radioactive elements emanating from nuclear reactors contaminating food chains for eternity — leading to epidemics of cancer, leukaemia, genetic diseases and congenital deformities. However, presently we are racing with great speed towards a nuclear holocaust.

This deleterious situation is treated with ignorance by politicians and the mainstream media who practice psychic numbing as we stumble blindly towards our demise. 

In the past, men have perpetually fought and killed over territorial disputes, religious convictions, tribal animosities, jealousy and sheer stupidity. But unless men stop fighting and killing we are doomed, because any fraught international event could hold the seeds of a holocaust.

For instance, on 9/11 United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM) put its nuclear weapons on the highest state of alert ready for launch because nobody knew what was happening — was it the Russians, or someone else? Nevertheless, the U.S. was poised to blow up the world if necessary. This is apparently routine practice during international crises of unknown origin.

Recently, the world was faced with an ignorant narcissist with his finger on the nuclear button. How come the physicists, engineers and military men who have laced the world with nuclear weapons ready to launch with a three-minute decision time by fallible men – most likely, a U.S. or Russian president – never factored into their equations of probability that an immature, petulant man-baby could hold the seeds of our destruction in his tiny hands?

So, the outstanding question presents itself — is the human species an evolutionary aberrant with a fatal disposition for war?

Equipped as we are with a large neocortex capable of wondrous scientific discoveries – but little psychological maturity – can we now, armed as we are with nuclear weapons, conquer this disposition and stop fighting, or are we doomed? To use an apt medical analogy, the planet is dominated by a particularly virile pathogenic species and that is us. If we cannot overcome and conquer this desire to kill, then we and most other planetary species are doomed.

So why do men kill?

Albert Einstein believed:

'The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything except our thinking. Thus, we are drifting toward catastrophe beyond conception.'

He also said:

'It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.'

When I was 12 years old I asked my father: “Why do men rape women after they conquer a territory and win a war?”

I respected this man enormously who usually provided answers to my questions, but he was stumped this time. It was obvious that the men had waged the war and killed, but what on earth was the animosity towards women?

This raised the obvious question — what is the connection between violence and sex in males?

Why do some men ejaculate when they go into battle? Why do some major league baseball players look at pornography before they play in order to increase their level of aggressiveness? Why does the military work so hard to eliminate sensitive feelings in their recruits and denigrate any effeminate qualities that they may show?

Recent work in 2012 using electrodes to record the activity of single neurons in the brains of male rats, while they interacted with female or male rats, found that the neurons responsible for sex and aggression are located adjacent to each other in the hypothalamus with a 20 per cent overlap. When these neurons are electrically stimulated, the rats instantly engage in mating or violence depending upon the strength of the stimulation.

According to Seymour Benzer Professor of Biology at the California Institute of Technology Dr David Anderson:

'Apparently, the circuitry for sex and violence is intimately linked in the male brain.'

This work has not been repeated in humans, however, it is assumed that the circuitry is similar in other mammalian species.

This is indeed fascinating as the main hormone released during sex and violence is dopamine, a chemical resembling opium or morphine, which induces that lovely feeling after orgasm — often called the "reward" hormone.

Rape and war have been intimately involved forever. But to give some concrete examples:

When Russian soldiers invaded Germany after a long and hideous war involving the deaths of millions of people on the Russian front, they set about raping every woman in sight, including pregnant women, old women and women who had just given birth. Gang rape consisted of queues of nine or ten men at a time. They included all manner of men from drunken louts to idealistic austere communists and intelligentsia.

War correspondent Natalya Gesse, a close friend of Soviet and Russian nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov, said it was an army of rapists attacking every German female from eight to 80. One leader of a tank company boasted: "Two million of our children were born in Germany!”

Feminist historian Susan Brownmiller observed that rape is the act of a conqueror aimed at

'...the bodies of the defeated enemy’s women.'

Russian, Polish and Ukrainian women, including nuns, were also raped. At least two million German women are thought to have been raped — many, multiple times.

During World War II, Japanese soldiers forced up to 200,000 women into prostitution — they were called “comfort women”. Comfort for whom? The male soldiers who needed their orgasms?

On New Year’s Eve in 2016, gangs of 30 to 40 men robbed women and brutalised them sexually in Cologne, Germany. Most of these men were immigrants from countries where sexual violence is a common problem. Gang sexual assault often spontaneously erupts within large and unruly crowds, thus releasing dopamine triggered by sex or violence in the male brain.

Eighty-three women were sexually assaulted by at least 100 American Navy and Marine Corps officers in Las Vegas at the so-called Tailhook scandal

There was a horrendous sexual assault upon CBS correspondent Lara Logan by frenzied men in Tahrir Square in 2011, during the celebration of the fall of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. A year later in Tahrir Square, on the anniversary of this celebration, many women were sexually assaulted again by male gangs. Other recent examples of rape and violence include those by Boko Haram, Muslim extremists in Nigeria who abducted 276 schoolgirls and used them as sex slaves in 2014.

study performed in China provides further insight into the male sex drive and war.

One hundred and eleven male students were shown 20 full-body colour photos of women — half of them viewed typically attractive females while the rest looked at unattractive women. They were then asked questions about wars or trade conflicts with three countries that had hostile relationships with China. Twenty-one of these boys who looked at the attractive women demonstrated a willingness to go to war with these countries while the other 18 suggested peaceful solutions to the conflicts.

Another group of young men were shown photos of women's legs and then had to react to words related to war and trade. They responded faster to war words when primed by women's legs. Chang et al who performed the experiment suggested that the results show a mating-waring association in the male brain because successful fighters had, of course, greater access to women in the country they conquered.

Now, in contrast, let’s look at how women react to stress.

A landmark study was conducted in a lab in the University of California in 2000 when two women researchers noticed that when there was an altercation in the lab, the women came to work the next morning, cleaned the benches, made coffee and bonded in friendship — in general, calming things down. Whereas the men secluded themselves as they fumed alone in their offices.

Until that point, researchers had almost solely concentrated on measuring the hormones of men under stress while totally ignoring the other half of the human race, assuming they would respond similarly. Assistant Professor of Biobehavioural Health at Penn State University Dr Laura Cousino Klein and her fellow researcher decided to measure the hormone output of each sex during such episodes.

To their amazement, there was an outpouring of oxytocin in the women — the female hormone that is secreted during lactation which has a calming and nurturing effect upon behaviour. Oxytocin is called the “tending and befriending” hormone. As well, estrogen enhances the effects of oxytocin. This calming effect does not happen in men because they secrete testosterone in response to stress which also reduces the effects of oxytocin.

Extrapolating from these findings, further studies proved that caring for children and other women in general and social relationships tended to decrease blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol, causing women to consistently outlive men.

In fact, a Nurses' Health Study performed at Harvard Medical School showed that the more friends a woman had, the more likely she would be to be joyful and experience fewer physical incapacities as she aged.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst   

Are full of passionate intensity.


Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   

The darkness drops again; but now I know   

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


~ William Butler Yeats

If you would like to speak to someone about sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online.

You can follow Dr Caldicott on Twitter @DrHCaldicott. Click here for Dr Caldicott’s complete curriculum vitae.

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