Man as a Time Bomb

The psycho-historian Lloyd DeMause on the Kosovo War

An interview with the "Basler Zeitung"

Basler Zeitung
In psychoanalysis, conflicts and neuroses are often expressed in dreams. How do you recognize that a country is about to go to war?
Lloyd DeMause
We analyse the media, especially the visual signals, since they represent the nation's dream work. You can see group fantasies building up in front page pictures, caricatures and headlines. Right now you see a lot of pictures with sexual connotations, weapons and violent fantasies.
Basler Zeitung
In your opinion, what is happening in the minds of the Americans, to make them go to war in Kosovo at this moment?
Lloyd DeMause
If there hadn't been the conflict in Kosovo, we'd have found another hornet's nest. Somewhere in the world there's always a conflict building up that the Americans can pounce on according to their needs. So the question is, what are our real motives? Because early on in the Kosovo conflict we had a number of negotiating options. But from the very beginning Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright insisted on a NATO operation, and didn't want a UN solution in which other Slav countries would have taken part. That was apparently what caused the breakdown of the negotiations in Rambouillet. Clinton needs this war. In his period in office he's managed to bomb more countries than any other US President before him. But these are unconscious decisions. If we analyse the nation's group fantasies, we see that they were sending signals to the White House and the President acted them out. It seems that Clinton's role in America is to provide us with victim fantasies. He even made himself a victim, voluntarily, when he had an affair before everyone's eyes. So at last we had someone onto whom we could project our own guilt fantasies. If he'd then been thrown out of office, we wouldn't have this war at the moment.
Basler Zeitung
All the same, the Serbs have been carrying out a brutal policy of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo for a long time, and negotiation couldn't change it. Isn't that enough to justify the NATO intervention?
Lloyd DeMause
Even if you accept that 1.5 million Kosovo Albanians are being held hostage by a madman there - and there's no question that Milosevic is mentally disturbed, as are the Serbian police and the KLA, who are also brutally attacking and raping civilians - bombs are completely wrong tactically. Just imagine that a senior American policeman is negotiating with a bank robber who has taken hostages. The policeman wouldn't fire bombs at the robber if he wanted to get the hostages out alive.
Basler Zeitung
So you believe it's simply arbitrary that the Balkans are the site chosen for the current American involvement?
Lloyd DeMause
The USA and also Western Europe have been stirring up a conflict in Eastern Europe because we have systematically ignored the problems. We have already sunk 500 billion dollars into the NATO intervention. Can you imagine what we could have done in Eastern Europe with this money, or even a fifth of it? We could have set up a kind of Marshall Plan, as happened in Western Europe in 1945, to help the countries there to develop democratic institutions.
Basler Zeitung
Nonetheless there is an important difference: in 1945, Germany was defeated and leaderless. The Allies could impose their reconstruction programme unconditionally. But Milosevic hasn't been defeated. Until recently the other countries were sitting at the negotiating table with him and for many people he is still a key figure in any peace settlement.
Lloyd DeMause
But in 1989 Milosevic was still a nobody. No, the real reasons for war lie in family relationships and in the need to be forced to repeat the violence experienced within them. The Balkan countries with their medieval family structures and discipline are breeding grounds for violence. Defuse Man, the time bomb! By using Marshall Plans and every possible form of humanitarian aid. That is the only solution for this region. Instead of that, Albright and her hangers-on are insisting on war. It's a completely different mind set. And where does it come from? From the fact that in America, in Germany, in England and in France people beat their children and impose order on them through force. We still prefer to settle things by violence than by peaceful means. We have to learn at last to avoid war by helping the people who want to force us into war.
Basler Zeitung
So if Milosevic is really just a scapegoat for our unconscious fear, what are the real problems?
Lloyd DeMause
I have studied wars and their causes for over 40 years and I've come to the conclusion that it's not a question of economic problems. Statistically speaking, four times as many wars begin, and ten times as many people die in them, during periods of economic stability than during periods of economic weakness. Wealth, economic growth, individualization and social freedom lead to war. I admit that it's hard to believe. So is the the assumption that Milosevic is a mother substitute, a target for our rage, so that we want to knock him off his pedestal. It's pure revenge fantasy. I'm certain that, if we were to execute Milosevic tomorrow, there would be four of his successors there the day after, and they would be worse than him and they would be supported by two thirds of the Serbs, who want a strong man as their leader. The more you look at the dynamics of wars, the more you realize that they're about inwardly-directed acts of revenge and not about the solution of economic conflicts.
Basler Zeitung
Isn't it very cynical to interpret the Kosovo war as merely the psychological wailing of frustrated mother's boys?
Lloyd DeMause
I find it even more cynical to say that we're fighting the war to help the poor Kosovars. What kind of help is that, when we bomb their country but apparently don't give a thought to how we will care for the three-quarters of a million refugees who have been forced to flee by the war? Those people are now sitting in refugees camps and are starving. At the moment it would cost about 100 million dollars to care for those refugees properly. Instead of that we've just decided to spend another 13 billion dollars on extra war machinery. It doesn't make any sense.
Basler Zeitung
What will be the result of war in the Balkans? If it doesn't help the Kosovars, will it at least help the Americans to abreact what they fear in their fantasies? Will it help Clinton's domestic politics?
Lloyd DeMause
Certainly Clinton will emerge stronger politically, as indeed have all Presidents who have sent our boys into war. After the bungled invasion of Cuba, JFK said, "I only have to lose another two wars and they'll make me God." I don't know if we'll really send ground troops into Kosovo, but I'm afraid we will. War is sexually exciting. War renews the sexual potency that we've lost in our group fantasies.

Lloyd DeMause is Director of the Institute for Psychohistory, founder of the International Psychohistorical Association, and editor of the "Journal of Psychohistory".

02 June 1999