Chapter 2: The Independence of Psychohistory





It has been two years since the founding of the History of Childhood Quarterly: The Journal of Psychohistory. During that short time, it has attracted the attention of both the scholarly and mass media, being excerpted and attacked in the New York Review of Books, Harpers, Commentary, Psychology Today, Human Behavior and the London Times Literary Supplement.(1) Most of the attacks have used the arguments of historian Jacques Barzun in his recent book Clio and the Doctors: Psycho-History, Quanto-History arid History,(2) in which he angrily opposes the notion that psychohistory is a division of history at all, since history, he says, is a narrative discipline telling what happened while psychohistory aspires to be a science focusing on why it happened. The book, and its earlier version as an article in the American Historical Review,(3) have been widely attacked by psychohistorians as containing too narrow a conception of the role of written history. Yet I wonder if Barzun might not in this instance be right and the psychohistorians wrong – if psychohistory is not quite a different enterprise from history, with its own methodology, its own independent tasks, and its own standards of excellence.

Ever since 1942 when the philosopher Carl Hempel published his essay “The Function of General Laws in History,”(4) it has been recognized by most philosophers of history that history cannot be a science in any strict sense of the term and that history can never regard it as


part of its task to establish laws in the Hempelian sense. Written history may, in the course of its narrative, use some of the laws established by the various sciences, but its own task remains that of relating the essential sequence of historical action and, qua history. to tell what happened, not why.(5)

Psychohistory, it seems to me, is on the contrary specifically concerned with establishing laws and discovering causes in precisely the Hempelian manner. The relationship between history and psychohistory is parallel to the relationship between astrology and astronomy, or if that seems too pejorative, between geology and physics. Astrology and geology are disciplines seeking sequential orders in the sky and the earth, while astronomy and physics are not narrative at all, but are sciences attempting to establish laws in their own respective areas. Psychohistory, as the science of historical motivation, may concentrate on the same historical events that written history covers, but its purpose is never to tell what happened one day after another. When the first astronomers came along and found astrologers describing the positions of the stars day by day and trying to explain all the relationships between them, they created a revolution by saying, ‘Forget about the sequence of the skies. What interests us qua scientists is this one dot of light and whether it goes in a circle or an ellipse – and why. In order to find this out, we will have to drop the narrative task of astrology.”

What is more, science never did pick up this task of narration – because it couldn’t Astronomy, even if it finally discovers all the laws of the universe, will still not narrate the sequences of skies, any more than psychohistory will ever narrate the events of this or that period. Psychohistory, as a science, will always be problem – centered, while history will always remain period – centered. They are simply two different tasks.

it does not, of course, follow that psychohistory simply uses the facts historians have narrated up to now in order to construct laws of historical motivation. Like astronomy and physics, psychohistory finds it necessary to conduct its own search for material peculiar to its own interests in both past and present society. Whole great chunks of written history are of little value to the psychohistorian, while other vast areas which have been much neglected by historians – childhood history, content analysis of historical imagery, and so on – suddenly expand from the periphery to the center of the psychohistorian’s conceptual world, simply because his or her own new questions require material nowhere to be found in history books.

Now I am well aware that in claiming the field of historical motivation exclusively for the psychohistorian I immediately run up against the oft – repeated claim by historians that they work with motivations all the time, so there is nothing new in that. I had heard this claim so often in the two decades since I first studied the philosophy of history


that I was finally moved to measure exactly how often historians actually do examine motivations in their works. I therefore kept a tally-sheet as I read 100 history books of varying kinds and recorded exactly how many sentences were devoted to any kind of motivational analysis whatsoever not just psychoanalytic, but any level of attention at all. In no case did this motivational content reach as much as 1% of the book – so the field seemed to be ours by default. What wasn’t pure narrative of one event after another turned out to be mainly the recitation of as many economic facts as possible in the hopes that their mere conjunction with the historical narrative would be mistaken for explanation.

Now anyone who has read any portion of the over 1,300 books and articles contained in the “Bibliography of Psychohistory”(6) will soon realize that psychohistory has reversed this 1 – to – 99 ratio, so that the bulk of psychohistorical writing is devoted to an intense concentration on motivational analysis while the physical events of history are necessarily given quite sketchy background treatment. There is, for instance, only one page at the beginning of Runciman’s three – volume History of the Crusades(7) describing how the participants decided to begin four hundred years of wars, and then several thousand pages devoted to the routes, battles and other events which make up the “history” of the Crusades, A psychohistorian would assume the history, and spend his decades of research and thousands of pages in the most fascinating question for psychohistory – why so many set off on such a strange task as relic – saving. That the historian, when reviewing such a psychohistory, would accuse it of “ignoring” the full history of the Crusades should bother the psychohistorian as little as the accusation by the astrologer that Galileo “ignored” all the other stars in describing the path of one mere planet. It wasn’t his task, and narrative history isn’t ours.

This matter of psychohistory “ignoring” other fields when it specializes is a matter of some importance, since it is so often repeated by historians when criticizing psychohistorical works. In my own work, for instance, I have been accused of being ignorant of economics (although I am the founder and Chairman of the Board of a company which publishes seven professional economic newsletters), of being ignorant of sociology (although I am trained in sociology and was C. Wright Mills’ research assistant at Columbia), of being unable to use statistics (although I earned my living as a professional statistician for five years) and of ignoring political factors (although all my graduate training was in political science). What seems not to have occurred to the critics of psychohistory is that we might choose to focus on the historical evolution of the psyche because only thereby can we reach the unsolved problems of precisely these same fields of politics, economics and sociology, fields which are shot through with unproven psychological as-


sumptions and which have failed to become reliable sciences precisely because of the unsolved psychohistorical problems within them. Professionals in each of these fields recognize this quite well, and even admit it to each other in their journals – it is only historians, ignorant of the shaky psychological underpinnings of the fields from which they uncritically borrow, who imagine there can be “economic, political and social factors” which are somehow apart from “psychological” factors in history. As one instance, it is probably true that my own work on the evolution of childhood was at least partly a response to problems encountered in the theory of economic development, as set forth in such books as Everett F. Hagen’s On the Theory of Social Change: How Economic Growth Begins, where the crucial link needed to produce a take-off in economic development is shown to be just the kind of personality which I was later able to trace in the history of childhood as the result of the “intrusive mode” of parenting. Just as surely is the study of class intimately tied up with evolving psychohistorical patterns of dominance and submission, and the study of power dependent upon an understanding of group-fantasy needs and defenses. The notion that psychohistory somehow “ignores” economics, sociology or political science is possibly the most ignorant charge that could be leveled against it.

When the Times Literary Supplement attacks the Journal for “seeing behind every action a hidden motive,”(8) all one can answer is “Of course! Action is simply behavior, and since only psyches can have motives, motivation, hidden or not, must be examined in and of its own right to give meaning to all action.” historians habitually skip this examination, as when A. J. P. Taylor describes why Hitler did not intend to go to war in 1939:

Many however believe that Hitler was a modern Attila, loving destruction for its own sake and therefore bent on war without thought of policy. There is no arguing with such dogmas. Hitler was an extraordinary man; and they may well be true. But his policy is capable of rational explanation; and it is on these that history is built . . . In considering German armament we escape from the mystic regions of Hitler’s psychology and find an answer in the realm of fact. The answer is clear. The state of German armament in 1939 gives decisive proof that Hitler was not contemplating general war, and probably not intending war at all.(9)

The sleight-of-hand involved in this way of writing history is never to examine the actor’s actual motives at all, but simply to conclude from looking at material reality, here armaments, what his motives were. That this eliminates the possibility that Hitler might have intended war re-


gardless of the state of his armaments is simply overlooked. Historians are presumed to be unable to ‘do psychology,” which is “mystical” anyway, so they are forced to accept the most “rational” explanations . . . “and it is on these that history is built.”

These and many other reasons integral to the logic of psychohistory lead me to believe that it will sooner or later be necessary for psychohistory to split off from history and form its own department within the academy in much the same way that sociology broke off from economics and psychology from philosophy in the late 19th century. As a matter of fact, there is a real sense in which psychohistory never was the exclusive or even the major possession of history departments: the majority of the books and articles in the ‘Bibliography of Psychohistory” were written by scholars who were not professional historians at all, and this is also the case for the articles written for the Journal the contributing editors of which include psychiatrists, political scientists, educators, psychologists, psychotherapists, humanists and anthropologists as well as historians. Only a minority of the subscribers to the Journal are in fact historians. Courses in psychohistory are being offered today in many different departments, and even when offered in the history department they are likely as not conducted jointly by a historian and a psychoanalyst. Therefore my suggestion that separate psychohistory departments should be established is less a schismatic device than it is a move to unite the fractured parts of psychohistorical inquiry, so that all those who are really in the same field can communicate with each other, rather than their being minorities in separate departments and thinking of themselves as “political psychologists,” “psychoanalytic sociologists,” “applied psychoanalysts,” and soon. The choice of problems – not the material studied – defines the discipline, and all these scholars are working on the same kinds of problems.

In uniting these many fields, psychohistory would, it seems to me, for the first time make some sense out of the crazy – quilt pattern of separate disciplines presently studying “the psychology of society.” It would assume, of course, that “psychohistory” is not a narrower term than “psycho-social,” and that in fact the term “psycho-social” is simply redundant, since the “social” is not “out there” but only “in here,” in the head. The usual accusation that psychohistory “reduces everything to psychology” is philosophically meaningless – of course psychohistory is reductionist in this sense, since all it studies is historical motivations. Only when the “social” is admitted to being part of the “psychological” can the paradigm for psychohistorical study be recognized as follows:


Besides defining the three divisions of psychohistory, this paradigm does two things that distinguish it from the other social sciences, particularly sociology. First, it reverses the relationship between physical and psychological reality, so that instead of material progress setting the pace of history and somehow dragging behind the psyches of its actors, human psychology is made primary setting Marx on his head and Hegel back on his feet – and material reality is viewed as primarily the outcome of man’s decisions, past or present, conscious or unconscious. Secondly, the major basis for historical change is the interrelations of persons, not forgetting the relations between generations, and man is viewed for the first time not as homo faber but as homo relatens.

There are other differences in psychohistory that are only now becoming apparent. First of all, as a science, psychohistory proceeds not by patient accumulation of piles of facts, but by first defining problems interesting to its own internal development, then formulating bold hypotheses from available evidence to solve these problems, and finally attempting to test and disprove (not prove – – proofs are for high school chemistry students) the hypotheses from new evidence now painstak-ingly acquired. In fact, psychohistory has a double burden of proof, for it has to conform not only to all the usual standards of historical research, but it must also be psychologically sound – unlike the usual shoddy psychology now found in every historical journal which makes one want to shout at every page. “But people just don’t work that way!” This double burden of proof will require its own special kind of training, of course, with thorough grounding in the full range of tools of historical research and developmental psychology, since both are essential to the job of cracking open the clam – shell of historical motivation.


It is of course quite true, as historians have pointed out, that psychohistory has no special method of proof that is unavailable to the historian or to any other discipline for that matter. Like all sciences, psychohistory stands or falls on the clarity and testability of its concepts, the breadth and parsimony of its theories, the extent of its empirical evidence, and so on. What psychohistory does have which is different is a certain methodology of discovery, a methodology which attempts to solve problems of historical motivation with a unique blend of historical documentation, clinical experience and the use of the researcher’s own emotions as the crucial research tool for discovery. Let me give a personal example to illustrate this.

For the past decade, I have been intensely interested in the small but growing literature on the causes of war which has begun to be produced by social scientists of many disciplines. I had long ago discovered that historians, wrapped up in the specifics of one particular war or period, were little interested in generalizing on their narrative. In fact, it seemed as though historians used the words “desire for power” as terminations of thought, as though the sight of millions of people organizing themselves for years in order to gobble up millions of their hostile neighbors at enormous sacrifice to themselves was the most transparent of human actions, requiring no explanation of motivation whatsoever. Those few historians who went beyond their narrative jumped immediately into economic “explanations,” something not too difficult to do, since no war failed to have an economic dispute hanging around somewhere nearby. But they simply never got around to asking why war was the means by which this or that economic dispute was resolved. Neither did they seem to notice that the war was in fact never economically beneficial, and that when the leaders were deciding to go to war they simply never bothered to sit down and draw up a list of economic objectives, assign them a dollar value, subtract the costs of the war, and come up with a “war profit statement” (the very rationality of such an act makes it laughable). Yet the historians continued to pour out whole libraries describing economic conditions prior to wars, never bothering to examine the actual words and actions of the leaders who made the decision to go to war to see if all those economic factors actually had any causal effect on their motivations.

I was as little able to make any sense out of other kinds of historians’ explanations for war, which were not only psychologically naive but often as not logically contradictory. Given “diplomatic” causes, opposite conditions were supposed to cause identical results, World War I having been caused by the “inflexibility” of the alliance system, so that when one little fight broke out all of Europe was dragged in, while World War II was caused by the “over-flexibility” of the alliance sys-


tem, allowing Hitler to pick off one country after another without fear of bringing in others. Similarly “social” causes were cited with contradictory results: the cause of France’s going to war with Austria in 1772 was the revolutionary turmoil within her borders, while her war with England in 1803 was caused by the end of revolutionary turmoil, thus allowing her energies to be turned outward.

My own studies of the causes of war centered on the actual motivations of those who made the decisions, and of those around them who created the climate of expectation which allowed them to carry the decision into actuality. During the past year, I collected a large stack of photocopies and notes on the actual words of leaders and others during the times the decisions to go to war were being made a task which is not as simple as it may sound, since historians generally remove from their narrative much of the most important material a psychohistorian needs to determine motivation, such as personal imagery, metaphors, slips, side comments, jokes, scribbles on the edges of documents, and so on, and these were not too easily recovered from their original sources in a limited time span. Still, at the end of the year I had accumulated a wide range of material, and had even learned from it a few new things about war.

The first thing I learned was that these leaders seemed to me to be less father-figures in the Oedipal sense than garbage-disposal directors, being expected by those around them to handle huge amounts of projected emotions which the individuals were unable to keep bound by means of the usual intra-psychic defenses. Large groups seem to present a different level of problem to the psyche than interpersonal relations, so that intrapsychic defenses become less effective and the psyche is thrown back on modes of relating that prevailed in preverbal infancy, when problems were handled by projecting them into the mother’s body and re-introjecting them back into one’s own ego. The individual relates to a large group with similar massive projection devices, and delegates leaders and other role-players to assist him in this task. This process is continuous throughout the history of all large groups, and requires specific group-fantasies to carry it out and to defend against the primitive anxieties that result. One group-fantasy leaders are expected to carry out is to find places to dump these huge quantities of projected emotions, what I took to calling external and internal “toilet-objects.” That the emotions thus dumped were of infantile origin goes without saying, but to my surprise I found that they seemed to come from all levels of the psychic organization, so that in 1914 German leaders could call the Serbs not only “regicidal” (Oedipal), which one could understand, but also “poisonous” (oral), “filthy” (anal) and “licentious” (phallic).(10) Once the leaders had designated which countries were to be the toilet-objects for these projected emotions, the emotional dumping


could continue as a regular part of the political system, and it was then the task of diplomacy to see to it that these now-dangerous objects were fully controlled, in the same manner that little children, favorite toilet-objects for adults, are controlled by being now “chastised,” now “brought to their knees,” now “taught a lesson,” and so on. As long as these external toilet-objects did not threaten to get out of control, war could be kept at a distance, and “diplomacy” seemed to work.

But something always seemed to happen to disturb the delicate process of emotion-dumping, and a group-process began which inexorably led the way to war, even when all those concerned seemed to want to avoid it. This “helpless drift” toward war was the predominant emotional tone for every war I was studying, so that it seemed as though some extremely powerful group-fantasy was being acted out which even the most powerful of leaders was quite helpless to change once it got rolling. To use a German example once again, Kaiser Wilhelm II, who had been encouraging Austria-Hungary to go to war with Serbia, was so startled when Serbia agreed to virtually all of Austria’s excessive de-mands that, having announced that “every reason for war drops away,” he gave orders for Vienna to be told to be conciliatory. But the pull of the group-fantasy was too great. His subordinates acted as though they simply did not hear what he said, and the war began anyway. As Bethmann-Hollweg remarked at the time: “All governments . . . and the great majority of their peoples are peacefully inclined, but the direction has been lost, and the stone has started rolling.”(11) War seemed to be a group-psychotic episode, with patterns of thinking, levels of imagery, and degrees of splitting and projection that are usually only found in the limited psychotic episodes of individuals, but which are temporary and which sooner or later appear quite incomprehensible to those same people. The manic optimism and inevitable under-estimation of the length and severity of the war, the increase in paranoia as to the motivations of the enemy [an “index of paranoia” has even been constructed and graphed (12)], the total absence of awareness that in going to war real people would actually die, these and other seeming irrationalities are all indications that a powerful group-fantasy is being acted out. But just what this relentless group-fantasy was completely stumped me. Some controlling process held together all these images and insights that I had picked up from the material in front of me. But I had no idea what it was, and why it seemed so compelling to all the participants.

As in previous cases when I had been bewildered by the material before me, I was convinced that personal defensive reasons were behind my inability to find an answer, and I tried many ways to break my de-fenses down. I attempted to identify with those leaders on whom I had the most complete material, reading every biography from Napoleon to Hitler that I could get hold of, trying to listen to their “free associa-


tions” to the events around them. I immersed myself in the mass of material for weeks at a time and analyzed my dreams each morning for my own “associations” and defenses. Nothing seemed to work. I was com-pletely stuck for several months.

In January of this year, I was reading Business Week and noticed the interview with Henry Kissinger in which he explained that he had learned that “it is easier to get into a war than to get out of it” and that the only case in which the U.S. would go to war again was “where there is some actual strangulation” occurring. This imagery struck me as familiar. It particularly reminded me of something Kaiser Wilhelm and those around him kept saying in 1914, that “the Monarchy has been seized by the throat and forced to choose between letting itself be strangled and making a last ditch effort to defend itself against attack and that a “net has been suddenly thrown over our head, and – . . . we squirm isolated in the net.”(13) I remembered that when I initially read them I was struck by how inappropriate these feelings were, since Germany was in no way strangling and since England, who was accused of throwing the net over her head, was at that time quite friendly toward Germany. Since I was familiar with the many “encirclement” theories with which nations justified their going to war, I was once again tempted to pass off the imagery as rationalization when I stopped myself and said “No! Both Henry and Wilhelm seem quite sincere here. They are reporting to me that it felt as if they were being strangled and that consequently they had to go to war, and for once I ought to trust their feelings and see where they take me.” I once again pulled out my pile of notes, and soon found that this had indeed been the controlling fantasy I had overlooked for so long – – images of being “strangled” and “choked” leaped up from every page I had before me. What was more, the strangulation of war seemed to be caused by a fantasy of being in the birth canal, “unable to draw a breath of relief,” “unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” but nevertheless “against one’s will” beginning “the inexorable slide towards war,” starting with the inevitable “rupture of diplomatic relations,” moving with “naked force” into “the descent into the abyss” and finally “breaking out” into the “war that is the price of one’s freedom.”

Needless to say, I was still extremely reluctant to accept the reality of such an unlikely, even bizarre group-fantasy as “war as birth.” Yet even a provisional emotional acceptance of the basic birth thesis made all the difference in the world to how I proceeded with my research. For one thing, only now could I begin to use my knowledge of the psychoanalytic literature on common birth images in dreams, in which suffocation and claustrophobia always represent being trapped in the birth canal, facts which completely eluded me during the prior year while trying to make sense of the historical material. I had noticed, of


course, that leaders said they felt “small and helpless” during the slide towards war, but had thoroughly blocked out the importance of the imagery. That there was a life-and-death struggle going on for “some breathing space” was apparent as Bethmann-Hollweg told the Reichstag in announcing war on August 4, 1914; “He who is menaced as we are and is fighting for his highest possession can only consider how he is to hack his way through.”(14) But there was also present all the imagery of birth-dreams familiar to psychoanalysts – – choking, drowning, hanging, suffocating, being crushed in rooms or tunnels. In psychoanalysis, these images represent the patient’s attempt to repeat and by repeating to master the fearful pressure of labor contractions and the gasping for air after birth. This reliving indicates that birth traumata are still very much alive in most adults, especially those whose regressive need to re-merge with the mother has been kept alive by inadequate is parenting. Not only have psychoanalysts traditionally found these images in dreams,(16) but more recently Arthur Janov has discovered that patients in Primal therapy regularly have “birth Primals” in which they re-experience their own births in great detail, and with enormous psychological and physical changes taking place after these re-livings.(17)

In somehow trying to make sense out of all these strands of thought, I noticed that it didn’t seem as though reality physical reality – was forcing leaders to feel like strangled babies. Henry Kissinger and the Kaiser were actually no more in danger of war when they began voicing feelings of choking in a birth canal than they had been a year earlier when they did not voice such feelings. What was actually “strangling” the American economy was more the effects of the 1.5 trillion dollars spent on war goods in the previous two decades than the current oil situation, and the notion that little Serbia was actually able to “strangle” central Europe was wholly fantastic. In fact, when I checked my material I found that nations who were actually surrounded, like Serbia herself, or Poland in 1939, did not voice such images, while countries which do say they feel encircled when going to war, like Germany in 1939, do not then say so when the war goes against them and they in fact become encircled (for instance there is not a single birth image in Hitler’s Secret Conversations, running from July 1941 to November 1944). It is group-fantasy a psychic reality, not material reality, which for reasons yet unknown causes nations to pour into their leaders feelings of being strangled in a birth canal, and which causes these leaders to then feel that only the extreme solution of going to war and hacking their way through offers the possibility of relief.

It was now not long before I became aware that wars proceed in the same sequence as birth. They develop out of a condition resembling pregnancy, the air heavy with feelings of great expectancy, what William Yancey, head of the Alabama delegation to the secessionist Democratic


Convention in 1860, before a hushed convention, referred to as “a dormant volcano” which threatened to become “a great heaving volcano.”(18) Soon it seems that “every day is pregnant with some new event.”(19) The nation’s leaders find themselves in what Kaiser Wilhelm termed “the nervous tension in the grip of which Europe has found itself during the last few years,”(20) or what Admiral Shimada in a pre-Pearl Harbor meeting described as a “tight, tense, and trapped feeling” in the air. The nation soon found that it had to “relieve herself of the inexorable pressure to which he has been subjected . . . to extricate herself from the desperate position in which she was entangled . . . to at least gain a breathing spell.”(21) The nation seems to be gripped, as Congressman Brinton said in 1917, in what felt like an “invisible energy-field.” “There is something in the air, gentlemen,” he told his fellow Congressmen, “something stronger than you and I can realize or resist, that seems to be picking us up bodily and literally forcing us to vote for this declaration of war . . . “(22) Shortly thereafter, diplomatic relations are “ruptured,” “the past placed its hand on the shoulder of the present and thrust it into the dark future”(23) and the “descent into the abyss” begins as the nation starts its “final plunge over the brink.”

When war is finally decided upon, the feeling is inevitably one of enormous relief. When Germany declared war on France in 1914, it came, said the Crown Prince, as a welcome end to the ever-increasing tension, an end to the nightmare of encirclement. “It is a joy to be alive,” rejoiced a German paper the same day; Germany was “exulting with happiness.”(24) And in America, half a century earlier, when Fort Sumter fell, both North and South experienced the same relief that “something unendurable had ended,” Crowds went wild with laughter, waving banners, being swept up in the excitement. “The heather is on fire. I never before knew what a popular excitement can be,” wrote a Boston merchant, watching the jubilant crowds, and the London Times’s correspondent described the same thing in the South – “flushed faces, wild eyes, screaming mouths” outshouting the bands playing “Dixie.”(25)

If the announcement of war was equivalent to the actual moment of birth, I wondered to myself how far this concreteness of detail could be carried. For instance, would it be too far-fetched to imagine that one might find in the historical material evidence of the actual explosive first gasp for breath of the newborn, usually accompanied by a slap on the back. I did not have to look far for confirmation of my hunch. Searching my notes once again for the actual feelings expressed by those present at the precise moment that war had been declared, I discovered several clear instances where an actual birth explosion had been hallucinated. For instance, when Lincoln issued his proclamation calling for troops to defend the Union, an action recognized by all as the beginning of the Civil War, he retired to his room alone, “and a


feeling came over him as if he were utterly deserted and helpless . – . he suddenly heard a sound like the boom of a cannon . . . The White House attendants, whom he interrogated, had heard nothing . . . He met a few persons on the way [outside], some of whom he asked whether they had not heard something like the boom of a cannon. Nobody had heard anything, and so he supposed it must have been a freak of his imagination.”(26) Similarly, when Chamberlain stood before the British Cabinet in 1939 and announced: “Right, gentlemen, this means war,” one of those present remembered: “Hardly had he said it, when there was the most enormous clap of thunder and the whole Cabinet Room was lit up by a blinding flash of lightning. It was the most deafening thunder-clap I’ve ever heard in my life. It really shook the building.(27) The birth-explosion seemed to take place only after the emo-tional recognition that the birth crisis was terminated – it did not take place, for instance, upon the first actual shooting, at the siege of Fort Sumter. In fact, the birth-explosion could be hallucinated even if the message that war had started was in error. When Hitler in 1938 was handed the message that Czech forces were mobilizing, and it looked as though the long-avoided European war would begin, Paul Schmidt, his interpreter, said it seemed as though a “big drum-bang” had sounded in the dead silence of those few minutes.(28) This birth explosion was so necessary, in fact, that leaders, including both Woodrow Wilson and F.D.R., always carefully delayed bringing their countries into wars until they could feel the exaltation (and exhalation) of the war-cry of birth, As Wilson put it, when one of his Cabinet told him in early 1917 that America would follow him if he led them to war:

Why that is not what I am waiting for; that is not enough. if they cannot go in with a whoop, there is no use of their going in at all.(29)

The more I examined the words of leaders the more I recognized that all of them seemed to realize that war was a group-fantasy of birth against which one struggled almost in vain. During the Cuban missile crisis, for example, it was only after Khrushchev wrote to Kennedy pleading that the two nations not “come to a clash, like blind moles” battling to death in a tunnel(30) that war between them could be averted. Even more explicit is the code-word used by Japanese ambassador Kurusu when he phoned Tokyo to signal that negotiations had broken down with Roosevelt and that it was all right to go ahead with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Forced to invent a voice code on the spot which Tokyo would recognize as meaning that war should begin, Kurusu announced that the “birth of a child” was imminent and asked how things were in Japan. “Does it seem as if a child might be born?” “Yes,” came the reply, “the birth of the child seems imminent.” The


only problem was that American intelligence, listening in, spontaneously recognized the meaning of the war-as-birth code.(31)

The imagery of war as birth seemed to reach back to earliest times. Numa erected a bronze temple to Janus, the Roman god of doorways and archways, and whenever Rome went to war the huge double doors were opened, a common dream-image of birth. Thereafter, whenever a war began, nations borrowed the Roman imagery and declared, as did the Chicago Tribune the day Lincoln called for troops: “The gates of Janus are open; the storm is on us.” Certainly no American war has seemed to lack birth-imagery, beginning with the American Revolution, filled with images of birth and separation from the mother-country and what Samuel Adams termed the fight for “the child Independence now struggling for birth”(32) right down to the Vietnam war, which be-gan as “a swampy hole you got sucked into,” soon turned into a “bot-tomless pit” and a “tar baby” you couldn’t let go of,(33) and ended with a baby airlift.

While some of the symbolism of war is quite open and transparent – – it hardly needs a psychoanalyst to interpret the message General Groves cabled to President Truman to report that the first A-bomb was successful (“The baby was born”) or to see the imagery of the Hiro-shima bomb being called “Little Boy” and the plane from whose belly it dropped being named after the pilot’s mother-still some of the sym-bolism of war only becomes intelligible when one becomes familiar with psychoanalytic clinical research into dreams of birth, Although I was familiar with much of this literature, from Rank’s essay on the birth-trauma to Janov’s extensive work on the re-experiencing of birth during primal therapy I discovered a whole new range of images once I had sensitized myself by reading more extensively in the research on birth dreams. For instance, I discovered a little-known book written 25 years ago by the psychoanalyst Nandor Fodor entitled The Search for the Beloved: A Clinical Investigation of the Trauma of Birth and Pre-Natal Conditioning, a book which was ignored at the time it was published only because it was so far in advance of its time. It includes, for example, a complete description of the violence of “normal” birth methods that anticipates at every point that of Fredehck Leboyer,(34) plus a proposal for psychotherapy to heal the birth trauma that spells out in advance much of the work of Arthur Janov.

One of the birth symbols that Fodor calls attention to is the image – – or rather more often the nightmare – – of fire. According to both Leboyer and Fodor, the neonate’s skin is extremely sensitive, and feels as though it is burning up both during the long hours of labor and immediately after birth, especially when the room is colder than 98F. or when the baby is wrapped in rough clothes.(35) Once this is realized, the historical image of war as a “ravaging fire” is more easily comprehended. More-


over, just as in dreams birth can be symbolized by being caught in a burning house, much of warfare involves simply setting fire to people and things, even when it costs more to do so than the benefit involved, as in the case of the “strategic bombing” of Europe in World War II. War and burning seem so intimately connected that troops are driven to set fire to villages even when the latter belong to those who are supposedly allies, as in Vietnam. The impulse to set people and places afire seemingly transcends any other objective in war.

Similarly, Fodor’s book contains many references to another dream image for birth-falling or jumping out of towers. This is, of course, a repetition of the moment of birth itself, which involves falling upside down and activates the baby’s instinctual fear of falling and reflexive hand-grasping. Only if one keeps one’s “inner ear” tuned for this imagery does it become obvious that leaders at crucial moments use the ‘lumping out of towers” theme to convey war-as-birth messages. For instance, just as Japan was deciding to go to war with America, its leaders were presented with a voluminous report containing well-docu-mented evidence that Japan was outnumbered by America in every area of war potential and actuality by at least 10 to 1 and therefore couldn’t possibly win. Since they were in the group-process stage that made the “slide to war” inexorable, Tojo looked at this overwhelming proof that Japan couldn’t win the war and announced: “There are times when we must have the courage to do extraordinary things – like jump-ing, with eyes closed, off the veranda of the Kiyomizu Temple!”(36) Similarly, the French Foreign Minister, at the time of the Munich Agreement, referred to war as ‘jumping from the Eiffel Tower.”(37)

By the time I had finished reexamining my historical material, it had become obvious that all the “innocent babies” killed-and sometimes rescued-during wars were not merely side issues, accidents of war, but rather that babies were the heart of war’s central fantasy. Consider how often wars open with rumors of the enemy “disemboweling pregnant women,” whether by Turkish bayonet or Khmer Rouge wooden stake.(38) Consider how often wars end with “baby-saving” missions, whether by American baby-lift from Vietnam or Nazi Lebensborn projects in Europe, where babies from occupied countries were stolen, measured with obstetrical type instruments for racial fitness, and either killed as unfit or sent back to Germany for raising as Aryan. Consider how often the killing of babies – as in the Calley trial-becomes the emo-tional turning-point of a war, and how once it was recognized that Americans were actually killing babies (which of course they had been doing all the time) the public removed its support from the war. It soon becomes apparent that, as Fodor found in his birth-dream research(39) and as Melanie Klein discovered clinically,(40) breaking out of the birth canal involves simultaneously breaking into the mother’s body, and that


the merging of these two fantasies is the essence of the war-as-birth fantasy in which neighboring countries must be invaded to escape from “encirclement” while at the same time the invader has the need to con-trol and destroy the bad babies in the mother’s body, the hated siblings, the damaged contents of the womb. That foreign countries contained infantilized bad-babies who had to be eliminated – or sometimes saved was indicated by far more than my Kleinian proclivities. The historical material was full of such imagery. For instance, Hitler began World War II not only because he felt Germany needed Lcbensraum, “room to live,” but also because he had to save the good (German) babies in neighboring states and kill the bad (Jewish, Polish, etc.) ones. The blood-ties binding the mother to those babies who were to be saved was clear in the imagery of the opening words of Mein Kampf:

German-Austria must return to the great German motherland, and not because of economic considerations of any sort . . . Common blood belongs to a common Reich. As long as the German nation is unable even to band together its own children in one common State, it has no . . . right to think of colonization …..(41)

But aside from those few good babies who deserve to be saved, most babies are hated occupiers of the mother’s body, and must be eliminated. In fact, even the use of poison gas for genocidal purposes began (in early 1939) with the gassing of mentally ill and deformed children, and only two years later was extended to include Jews and others,(42) all equally bad-babies, all made bad by the very same emotional dumping described earlier in the section on external and internal toilet-objects. For in the end the baby must die after all, and modern war has been quite as effective in carrying out the filicidal impulses of humanity as child sacrifice and infanticide used to be.(43)

Now the point of this side trip into the methodology of psychohistorical discovery is that far more is involved in contributing to a specific moment of discovery in psychohistory than the technical training of the psychohistorian. Certainly both my historical and psychoanalytic knowledge helped – I had to know how to get around in the literature of both fields – but in a more profound sense every moment of my own emotional development led to the breakthrough in recognizing the birth imagery in war. This goes beyond my own obvious interest in the causality of war over the past two decades, and has nothing at all to do with any theoretical bent toward birth trauma imagery, since I was neither a Rankian nor a Janovian. Far more crucial were, for example, the long hours somewhere around the seventh or eighth year of my personal psychoanalysis when I struggled to re-experience and find meaning in dreams of drowning and sinking in a whirlpool or quicksand, or, when my son was two years old, those hundreds of hours I spent with him


pretending we were babies in mommy’s belly, crawling around in the dark under the bedclothes and pretending to fall off the bed crying “Help! Save me!,” because that was the endless game that seemed to give him a strong sense of the pleasure of mastery. Psychohistory, like psychoanalysis, is a science in which the researcher’s feelings are as much or even more a part of his research equipment than his eyes or his hands. Like eyes, feelings are not infallible: they often introduce distortions, and so on, but since psychohistory concerns human motivation and since the discovery and weighing of complex motives can only be accomplished by identification with human actors, the usual suppression of all feeling preached and followed by most “science” simply cripples a psychohistorian as badly as it would cripple a biologist to be forbidden the use of a microscope. The emotional development of a psychohistorian is therefore as much a topic for discussion as his or her intellectual development. That it includes personal psychoanalysis as a foremost prerequisite goes without saying, as in the case of the psychoanalyst. But I think it goes beyond this formal requirement.

I must candidly report that as a result of my own personal contacts over the past decade with perhaps a thousand historians from all over the world, both in connection with the history of childhood project and in starting this Journal, I no longer believe that most traditional historians are emotionally equipped, even with training, to use their feelings as psychohistorical research tools, although there is a whole new generation of psychohistorians just now beginning to write who are able to do so. To expect the average historian to do psychohistory is like trying to teach a blind man to be an astronomer, so averse are they to psychological insight into themselves or their historical material from any school of modem psychology. There are complex historical reasons for this fact, having to do with the differential process of self-selection within the universities in recent decades and with the process whereby departments of history have lost so many emotionally open students to psychology. In light of this fact, whenever I speak to a scholar of the emotional development necessary to make a good psychohistorian and get a blank look of total incomprehension, I try to find a way to leave the subject of psychohistory altogether. My listener usually is in another world of discourse where emotional reactions are not considered crucial to the results.

A final illustration will further demonstrate this point. For many years I wondered why I, a radical and anti-nationalist, was nevertheless moved almost to tears when I stood with my son watching a parade with marching bands, The temptation was to shrug off the feeling or to give it a label that would deflect the discomfort, but I was so concerned with this feeling of being swept up by military music that I took to leaving my table at the New York Public Library each time I heard


music from a military band going down Fifth Avenue just to see if I could catch my feeling and locate its power over me. If I seemed a bit odd to associates who were with me at the time, so be it-I had to try to answer this question, which was psychohistorical to its core. It was only after the discovery of the war-as-birth thesis that my mind returned to the question of why the bands moved me so – I now had a hunch that I knew the answer. I took a stop-watch out to the next parade and timed the beats of the band. They occurred at about 110-130 beats per minute. Then I timed some popular music, of the usual soothing quality, on the radio-from 70 to 80 beats per minute. When I checked with my wife’s obstetrician, I found that the normal heart-beat is about 75 beats per minute and that the elevated heart-beat of a woman during a contraction in labor is between 110-150 beats per minute. I obviously was a baby being born while watching the parade, being picked up and carried along by my mother’s heart-beat whether I felt like it or not, and the tears in my eyes were for the impending separation from my mother! Perhaps not the most important discovery in the world, but one thoroughly psychohistorical and though its confirmation might be open to anyone using usual scientific canons of truth, its discovery was only open to the psychohistorian with the quite peculiar personality patterns and even lifestyle necessary for using one’s emotions as tools for the investigation of group-fantasy

All of which is not to indicate that I felt satisfied that I had found the ultimate “cause” of war with the war-as-birth paradigm. Oddly enough, science doesn’t specifically aim at discovering causes – it tries to solve problems interesting to its own internal development, and causes are often the by product of this problem-solving. What I had done by my research was, I think, something even more crucial to psycho-history than finding a cause: I had changed the question I was asking. I had defined a new problem, embedded in a new theoretical structure which I felt could be both fruitful and empirically testable, and I was now able to ask a whole series of new questions such as: Why do na-tions project birth feelings into their leaders at some moments in their histories and not at others? What means are used to communicate these projections? Are these birth images defenses against other psychic con-ditions in the leadership group or in the nation? Were some wars exceptions to the war-as-birth paradigm, and if so what motivational imagery did they substitute for it? Are there differential evolutionary patterns of war imagery? Why do group-fantasies occur in such grotesquely exaggerated slow-motion, taking months and years to act out events that originally took hours, while exactly the same images in dreams are condensed into minutes?

The ability to generate new questions is precisely the hallmark of a science. Physical science expanded so rapidly in the seventeenth and


eighteenth centuries not because scientists were somehow brighter than those around them. In some senses, these early scientists were quite limited in their education and in a wide knowledge of the world around them. The same principle holds for psychohistorians, who hope to succeed where historians have failed by giving scientific explanation to historical motivation. Psychohistorians can achieve this, not because they are smarter than historians but because they conceive of their task in a wholly different way and have access to research tools and scientific models unavailable to the historian. Just as there was no way for even the most learned astrologers to understand the motions of the planets as long as they [1] conceived of their task as essentially narrative – rather than problem-centered, and [2] refused to use a telescope, so even the most learned historian cannot understand the causality of history as long as he [1] conceives of his task as narrative- rather than problem-centered and [2] refuses to use his own emotional-identification capacity in a scientific way at every step in the research process.

Other psychohistorians have, I believe, found ways similar to mine to intensify this emotional-identification and defense-stripping process. Rudolph Binion, in researching his psychobiographies of Lou Andreas–Salome and Hitler, spent several years accumulating mountains of primary source material on their motivational patterns and then locked himself up for months with his evidence and read and re-read every detail until “the pieces . . . all fit together, with the facts all stacked up behind them: this alone carried final conviction.”(44) Henry Ebel surrounds himself with his historical material and “Primals” for hours while free-associating to the material in front of him, in a concentrated effort to reach deeper levels of motivation than the usual reading reveals.(45) All these methods, like my own dream-interpretation to remove defenses against discovery, are attempts by psychohistorians to fashion research tools that, like microscopes and telescopes, give access to ma-terial hitherto denied them. For psychohistory is more a rediscovery than a discovery – – it is a process of finding out what we all already know and act upon. Our discovery of exterior conditions is wholly dependent on how much we can strip away of our interior defenses against recognition of what we are doing all the time. Every person going to war speaks in birth imagery, responds to birth drumbeats, and communicates in birth symbols to others going to war, and every historian fills his books with writing that tells of “the pulse-beat of the coming violence growing louder and faster as the nation moves inexorably to the birth-pangs of war.” We all know it – yet no one knows it. Only the psychohistorian who trains himself to use what is “in here” to discover what is going on “out there” can hope to succeed where so many have failed in understanding and bringing under control those group-fantasies we choose to call our history.


for Chapter 2

1. Geoffrey Barraelo ugh, “Farewell to Hitler)’ New York Revietv of Books, April 3, 1975, pp. 11-16; “Freud’s Pop,” Harpers, April, 1975, pp.9-10 Gertrude Himmetfarb, “The ‘New History’,” Commentary, January, 1975, pp.72-78; Lloyd deMause, “Our Forebears Made Childhood a Nightmare,” Psychology Today, April, 1975, pp.85-90; “The Baby Killers,” Humeri Be-havior, July, 1974, pp.70-71; Elie Kedourie, “New Histories for Old,” Lon-don Times Literary Supplement, March 7, 1975, pp.24; Gertrude Himmel-farb, “Cho and Oedipus,” London Times Literary Supplement, May 23, 1975, p.565.
2. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975.
3. “History: The Muse and Her Doctors,” American Historical Re”iew 77 (1972): 36-64.
4 Carl liempel, “The Function of General Laws in History” in Herbert Feigel and Wilfred Sellars, eds., Readings in Philosophical Analysis. New York: Appleton-Century &ro fts, 1949
5. Alan Donagan, “Explanations in History,” in Patrick Gardiner, ed., Theories of History. New York: The Free Press, 1959.
6. Lloyd deMause, ed., Psychohistory: A Bibliographic Guide. New York: Gar-land Publishing, 1975
7 Steven Runciman, History of the &usades. 3 Vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1950.
8. Kedourie, TLS, p.3.
9. A. J. P. Taylor, The Origins of the Secorid World War. New York: Atheneum, 1968, pp.216,217
10. Max Montgelas and Walter Schticking, eds., Outbreak of the World War: German Documents Collected By Karl Kautsky. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1924, pp.63, 307, 266,161.
11 Montglas, Outbreak, pp.250 ff. The inexorability of the movement to war, as well as most of the other irrationalities of the war process, is best sum-marized and adequately referenced in Geoffrey Blainey. The Causes of War New York: The Free Press, 1973
12. Ole R. Holsti and Robert C. North, “The history of human conflict” in Elton B. McNeil, ed., The Nature of Human Conflict. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965, p.166.
13. Luigi Albertini, The Origins of the World War ol’ 1 914. Vol.11. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952, p.132; Imanuel Geiss, ed.,Jiily 1914: The Outbreak of the First World War: Selected Documents. New York: Charles Scilbner’s Sons, 1967, p.295.
14. Ralph H. Lutz, Fall of the German Empire 19] 4-1918: Documents of the German Revolurion. Vol. I. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1932, p.1 3.
15. For the vaflous levels of parenting throughout history, see Lloyd deMause, ed., The History of Childhood. New York: The Psychohistory Press and Harper & Row, 1974 and 1975.
16. Nandor Fodor, The Search for the Beloved: A Clinical Investigation of the Trauma of Birth and Pre-Natal Conditioning. New Hyde Park: University Books, 1949, pp.3545.
1 7. Arthur Janov, The Fech)ig Child: Preicritirie Neurosis iii Children. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973, pp.41-81.
18. Bruce Catton, The Corning Fiwy. Guden City, N.Y.; Doubleday & Co.. 1961, p.32.
19. William Eddis, Letters/torn Atrierica. Cambridge, Mass.: harvard University Press, 1969, p.151.
20. Max Montgelas and Walter Sebueking, eds., Out break of the World War: Geririari Docurrierits Collected B>’ Karl Ken tsk)’. New York; O\ford Univer-sity Press, 1924, p.56.


21. Herbert Feis, TheRoad to Pearlllarbo( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950, pp 293, 265.
22. Richard W. Leopold and Arthur S. Link, eds. Protleijis hi Americaii IIA’tory. New York: McKay, 1965, p. 762.
23. Feis, Pearl Harbor, p.293.
24. Barbara Tucliman, The Gutis ofiugust New York: The Macmillan Co.,
1962, p.121.
25. Catton,Friry, p.325.
26. Carl Sandburg, Abraham Luiw lii: The War Years. Vol.1. New York: Har-court, Brace & Co., 1939, pp.236-7.
27. Sidney Aster, 1939: The Alakijig o!~ the Secoid WorM h’ar. New York: Simon and Schuster, 973, p.387.
28. Paul Schmidt, Statist auf diplotiiatis.eher Buhite 192345. Bonn, 1949, p. 413.
29. Joseph P. Tumulty, Woodrote Wilsopi As I Kizot’ 1kv,. New York: Doubleday,
1921, p.235.
30. Robert F. Kennedy, Thirteeii Daj’s: A Aleitivir (f the Cii hat, Missile Crisis. New York: W. W. Norton, 1969, p.89.
31. Toland, Risitig Situ, pp 174-5.
32. Henry Steele Commager and Rieli~ird B. Morris, eds., Tire Spirit o!’Sei’etitv-Six Vol. I. New York: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1970, p.294
33. David Halberstam, The Best atid the Brightest. New York: Random house,
1969, pp.249,601,617.
34. Frederick Leboyer, Birth Without Violetice NY AIt.rcd Knopf, 1975.
35. Personal communication with Dr. Leboyer at t1i~ f irrytown Conference on Birth Without Violence, April 1 9, 1975; Fodor Scar(li pp. 1 6, 93-103.
36. John To land, The Risitig Situ: The Deelitie atvl Fall ol the Japatiese FiJi [‘ire,
1936-1945. New York: Random llouse. 1970 p 112
37. laurence Thompson. The Greatest Treasoti Tilt Utitoki Story of Alittricli. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1968, p 112
38. Robert Sam Anson, “Withdrawal pains,” Ncw Times M£-trch 21, 1975, p.25.
39. Fodor, Search, p. 253ff.
40. Melanie Klein, Narratue ofA Child Atialisis Ntw York: Basic Books, 1960.
41. Adolf Hitler, Afeiti Kampf New York: Reynal & Ilitelicoek, 1939, p.3.
42. Lucy S. Dawidowicz, The War Agaitist The Jews 1 933-1945, New York [Jolt, Rinehart and Winston. 1975, p.132.
43. As I was writing up this article I found that I had encountered the essence of the baby imagery more than a year earlier in The First Part of the Reiclatioti ofMoses the Sot; ofjehoshar (Fort Lee, N.J.: Argonaut Books, 1973, pp. 58-9, 102, 106) in the brilliant aphorisms of Henry l.?bel describing how “Dresden, Berlin, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were also niade chokewomb hot-wombs” and how “men wonder at the calm bestiality with which the Nazis murdered babies and infants and children. But that wis the whole point. The helpless adults they butchered were equally ‘children’ to them. If they baby phagged as hard as they could, then perhaps they wouldn’t be baby phagged themselves. lf they pushed more babies into the chokewomb hotwoinb, then perhaps Mama would spare THEM.”
44. Rudolph Binion, “Hitler’s Concept ofLehetisraitti,,” Ilistory of CiliUhood Quarterly: TheJourtialofPsyeh0h~.t0ri 1(1973): 196; “My life with Frau Lou” in Perry Curtis, ed., Vie !1istoriat;’s Workshop. New York: Knopf, 1970, pp.293-306.
45. Henry Ebel, “Primal therapy and psychohistory” History of Childhood Quarterly: The Joitrnal of Psychohistory 2 (1975): 563-70; and Vie First Part of the Revelatioti of Moses the Soti oJ~ Jelioshar.