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International Politics 37: 345-368, September 2000

o 2000 Kluwer Law International. Printed in the United States

Defeat, National
in International


and the Revenge



Pennsylvania State University University Park, Pennsylvania, USA

Abstract. The complex relationships

between national defeat, and the

resultant humiliation
and compulsion to revenge, constitute a critical
understudied area of international relations. Recent historical illustrations
abound: Russian after the Cold War, the Arabs, France after several defeats,
Germany after World War I, Argentina, etc. The salience of this factor may
also call for critical adjustments to realist and rational choice theories
hinged on assumptions of rational behavior. There is no existing relevant
scholarship directly on this subject. But there are some strands of the literature which, in combination, may form the basis for future research: general works on revenge, territorial irredentism, and military defeat; psychological studies of shame and narcissistic rage; and applications
concepts in the clinical psychology of individuals as possibly applied to
nation-state aggregates.

One of the curiosities of contemporary international relations is that someof its
presumably most important dimensions remain ignored or understudied. Most
notable is the absenceof attention to the interconnection - on a comparative basisbetween defeat (usually but not always military defeat), national (or other levels of
identity) humiliation or shame,and the consequentand resultant quest for compensatory revenge.Whether this involves an outright taboo on the subject of revenge,
as is actually claimed by SusanJacoby in a recent work, is a question to which we
shallreturn.1 Further, whether this is the result of methodological or political bias, or
just becausethesesubjectsappear to be un-measurablein an empirical sense,is also
an interesting point of speculation.
Whether or not subject to actual measurementor empirical research,this subject
lends itself to an implicit model (See Figure 1 below). Amidst obvious complexity,
and begging some definitional problems that will be addressedin the following
analysis,the core of the model is fairly simple. It depicts a relationship between military defeat, the psychological absorption of such defeat by a collective body, subsequent widespreadand persistent shameand humiliation, and a resulting collective
rageand an almost ineradicableneed for vengeance.The model allows for somevariants of defeat, for the nuanced distinction between deep psychological humiliation
and mere revisionism, and the possibilities for alternative responsesother than
vengeance,i.e. withdrawal (acceptance)or internal revolution.

Figure 1: A Model of Defeat, Humiliation,

at individual

and Revenge








Begs questions

Humiliation, Revenge, and International Relations Theory

Humiliation and revenge relate, directly or tangentially, to several important, even
pivotal issues of international relations theory. Indeed, the accepted wisdom associated both with realist and liberal perspectives may confront questions arising from this
analysis. Were revenge seen as a major component of international politics, foreign
policy models based on assumptions of realism, rational choice or rationality, would
be weakened as would notions that have been labeled endism and the obsolescence
of war. In traditional realist or neo-realist models, in the tradition running from
Hans Morgenthau to Kenneth Waltz and others, such psychological issues are simply
submerged or altogether marginalized relative to those involving system structure
and the security dilemma. Morgenthaus brief nod to the concept of revisionism is
the only exception - but, even then, his view of revisionism was absent any mass psychological component, and more or less coterminous with imperialism.2 For the
most part, too, the realist scholarly tradition does not allow much for cultural differences in foreign-policy making - a topic to which I return later.
Psychological factors such as humiliation and revenge at first blush would appear
also to run against the grain of rational choice models with their built-in assumptions about value maximizing and a bias towards economic determinism. Or do
they? Some rational choice scholars might claim, to the contrary, that vengeance can
very easily fit within preference functions and that, indeed, there is nothing to preclude vengeance from being a dominant preference in some situations. They would
claim, in other words, that vengeance is not necessarily irrational, even pathological, as assumed by psychiatrists and psychologists who deal with this subject.

Defeat, national humiliation and the revenge motif in internationalpolitics


Most of all, the humiliation/vengeance syndrome runs against the grain of theses
that, in the modern zeitgeist, fall under the colloquial labels of endism or the obsolescence of war. The central point of endism is that bad things are coming to an
end. Huntington sees endism as manifest at three levels - the end of the Cold War
(indisputable), the proposition that wars among nation-states, or at least among
some nation-states, are coming to an end and, per Fukuyama, the end of history as
such, which results from the unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism and the exhaustion of viable systemic alternatives.3
The related obsolescence of war thesis is closely associated with political scientist
John Mueller and military historian John Keegan. 4 In their writings, one finds the
assumption that warfare among modern and relatively wealthy democracies has
become anachronistic, even unthinkable, to the extent that analogies are drawn with
the disappearance of slavery. In a related vein, the democratic peace thesis claims that,
historically and with few exceptions, democracies have not committed aggression
against each other.5 Further, low politics (trade competition) is said now permanently to have superseded anachronistic high politics (national security) as the central
focus of competition among the major contending powers.6 Additionally, the long
period dating back at least to the 1930s, in which ideological competition has defined
international bloc rivalries, is now seen to have come to a permanent end. The role of
the nation-state is said to be in decline, nibbled at from above by international organizations and multinational corporations, and from below by increased regionalism and
the strengthening of sub-national identities. 7 If these trends are permanent, then the
old tradition of balance of power politics would be dead, in practice and in theory.
Replacing it is, for instance, an image of the emerging international system that centers
on a three-bloc, neo-mercantilist economic competition between a US-led Americas
bloc, a German-led European bloc, and a Japan-led Asian bloc.8 Otherwise, a recent
and frequently reviewed work by Max Singer and Aaron Wildavsky dwells on the coming sharp bifurcation between zones of peace (peaceful economic competition
between the major democracies, singly or en bloc) and zones of turmoil (the
assumption of looming chaos and neo-Malthusian disaster - poverty, AIDS, tribal
warfare, etc.) in the developing areas.9
Endism and the obsolescence of war are not without their critics. But, to the
extent such concepts are prophetic, the revenge motif might be relegated to the
developing world or to areas characterized by Singer and Wildavsky as zones of turmoil. And, indeed, accumulated humiliations in northern zones of peace are more
likely to be worked out through economic competition (as with Japan and Germany)
or conventional and nuclear arms sales (as France and China utilize). But the jury is
still out. Richard Rosecrance has, for instance, by way of partial dissent, characterized
the present period as one of a concert of powers similar to what transpired after the
Napoleonic wars and World War I - a concert likely to break up and lead to a
renewal of big power security rivalries.10
Is the syndrome from shame and humiliation through collective narcissistic rage, to
vengeance, an anachronism rooted in the family structures and cultures of less-thanfully modern societies, of which the Arab - or more broadly, Islamic - world would
be a good example? According to this thesis, modern consumer societies and/or democracies would, by their very natures, be less prone to collective fantasies about revenge.


Robert E. Harkavy

The humiliation/revenge thesisthus raisesquestionsabout realism,rational choice

theory and the basic tenets of liberalism applied to international relations. Such a
contrarian thesisallows for, and often expects, what some might deem irrational
national behavior basedmore on emotions than narrowly defined interests. In the
latter case,it raisesserious doubts about the sustainability of optimistic views on
limiting war and conflict particularly in long-term conflicts and serial wars where
somenations national pride hasbeen wounded.
Recent Historical Examples
The importance of this subject is brought to mind via numerous analysesof the
interminable Arab-Israeli conflict. In such a case,the deep humiliation felt by Arabs
over the lossto Israel of at leastfive wars, hasbeen noted. Given the disparity in rival
populations and the magnitude of the military defeats,such loseshave been humiliating. Immediately after the 1967 war, for instance, The New York Times cited an
Arab sourceassaying:
Tallalsdepressionand subsequentturn toward a more fundamental belief in Islam after the 1967war is, by all accounts, not uncommon. Many people feel that the resurgenceof Islamic militancy in
Egypt dates to that overwhelming defeat...everyone was questioning themselvesafter the war...they kept asking what it was about
our society, our culture, our political system that could pave the
way for sucha defeat.12
Indeed, the recognition of a linkage between suchhumiliation and the subsequent
need for revenge prompted Henry Kissingersstrategy at the outset of the 1973war,
one designed to allow the Arabs a limited victory, even if largely mythical. Such
action was meant to relieve them of enough shame and humiliation to allow for
making peace.Some writers have questionedwhether a permanent Arab-Israeli settlement is truly possible,given the Arabs deep rage over a successionof humiliating
defeatsby Israel dating back to 1948,striking at the core of self-respect,honor, and
pride. This rage may have beenheightened by Iraqs humiliating defeat in the second
Gulf War, even among the massesin Egypt, Syria, and Morocco who, nominally, were
part of the victorious coalition.13
There are numerous other recent examples.During the recent mini-war between
Ecuador and Peru, one Ecuadorian journalist wasquoted assaying that Ecuador is a
nation wounded in its dignity...It is a nation with a defeat complex.14The Argentine
bid to take the Falklands/Malvinas islandsin 1982 was discussedin the context of
historical grievance and national humiliation over foreign occupation of a part of
Argentina. The subsequentlossof the war must have enhanced that Argentinean
humiliation and need for vengeance.15
Not all such examples are contemporary; indeed, this is a classical historical
theme. Barbara Tuchman, in her work on the origins of World War I, The Guns of
August, provides a vivid portrayal of the workings of the related themesof humiliation and revenge with respectto Franceslossof Alsace-Lorraine in the previous war
with Germany in the early 1870s:

Defeat, national humiliation

and the revenge motif in internationalpoli~ics


Through returning prosperity and growing empire, through the

perennial civil quarrels - royalism, Boulangism, clericalism,
strikes, and the culminating, devastating Dreyfus Affair - the
sacredanger still glowed, especiallyin the army. The one thing that
held together all elements of the army, whether old guard or
republican, Jesuit or Freemason,was the mystique dAlsace. The
eyesof all were fixed on the blue line of the Vosges.A captain of
infantry confessedin 1912that he usedto lead the men of his company in secretpatrols of two or three through the dark pines to the
mountaintops where they could gaze down on Colmar. On our
return from those clandestineexpeditions our columns reformed,
choked and dumb with emotion.16
Thomas Scheff quotes Gambettas legendary advice to the French about this
defeat: Speak of it never, think of it always,which he calls a counsel of obsession,
denial and bypassingof shame.17He also arguesthat Francessenseof shameand
loss,and its needfor revenge,wasa primary, albeit rarely acknowledged,contributing
causeof World War I.
These themes are almost omnipresent in discussionsof contemporary affairs.
With a US-Japanstruggle for global economic hegemony looming a few years ago,
some analystsquietly worried that Japansdefeat in 1945 lay just under the surface
(in what was,we should not forget, a war without mercy, ashighlighted in the title
of one recent widely read book). l8 One study of nuclear proliferation attributes
French aggressiveness
in sellingweaponstechnology to a need for compensation in
relation to a long string of national defeats,from the Napoleonic wars to Algeria.9
So common are these themes that they may not be dismissedeasily or entirely as
Sometimes,the need for vengeancefollowing a defeat may be displacedon other
objects,or time-delayed. In the aftermath of its defeat by Iraq in 1988,much of Irans
animus was directed against the US or the West. Only many years later did Iranians
begin, publicly, to mull over the reasonsfor their defeat againstwhat normally would
have beenthought of asa weaker foe.20
Not all casesof humiliation/revenge involve military lossesby nation-states.
Indeed, they may not involve contests between nation-states or national identities.
Some sub- or supra- national identities may be strong enough to provide the basis
for collective shamerequiring vengeance.And, sometimes,defeatscan be of a sort
other than outright or easily identified military losses.The seemingly endlessspiral
of defeat and revenge involved in the struggle between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda
and Burundi is but one of many examplesin connection with ethnic, tribal or religious wars in the Third World. Others can be seenin Northern Ireland, Kurdistan,
the Caucasus,the Peruvian mountains, and Afghanistan.
Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the caseof ex-Yugoslavia, where one is
reminded constantly of the roots of Serb bitternessand humiliation that originated
with the Serbsdefeat by Ottoman Turks at KosovaPolje, and with the Jasenovicconcentration camp in World War II. 21 The current and much discussedIslamic rage
againstthe West (perhapsyet to be expanded to a clash of civilizations b la Hunt-


Robert E. Harkavy

ington) is obviously connected to a history of humiliation, defeat, and dominance by

the West, culminating in Desert Storm. Much of that rage is openly couched in the
rhetoric of revenge. 22 Indeed, one of the major Arab terrorists of the recent period
utilized a nom deguerre that meant father of revenge.*3
Asian leaders in recent years have hinted often at a psychological requirement for
overturning centuries of humiliation rooted in racism as well as defeat and domination, usually accompanied by the prediction that the next century will be Asias century - there is more than a hint of revenge in that. 24 Latin America has long seethed
with resentment of the Yanquis from the Colossus of the North, although most of
the regions nations (Mexico is an exception) have never suffered a military defeat at
the hands of the US. Visitors to the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem will see a
vivid exhibition of German primary school books in the 1930s which focused on the
theme of the dolchstoss (stab in the back) attributed to Jewish anti-war leftists
towards the end of World War I, deemed by the Nazis responsible for Germanys
defeat and humiliation and, hence, requiring revenge.*5 Thomas Scheff also underscores this point, stating that Hitlers appeal lay in his public being in a chronic state
of humiliation over Versailles.26
Some of the examples of humiliation/revenge are deeply rooted in past centuries,
and constitute examples of the permanent effects of defeat. French Canada is a good
example. That problem is not merely a matter of minority status within Canada, various esoteric (to an outsider) constitutional issues, or a desire for a more solidly rooted national identity. Rather, French Canada psychologically confronts its own humiliation by military defeat in I759 - a defeat also associated with ethnic cleansing.
Growing discussions about the role of national humiliation and revenge in Russia
are also worth noting. Article after article in press coverage of the late 1990s into 2000
portrays Russians susceptibility to appeals rooted in the shame and humiliation of the
loss of the Cold War and its status as a superpower. Added to these momentous shifts
was shame over losing the first war in Chechnya and shame produced by the need for
Western economic aid.27 Indeed, much of the current policy debate in the US - particularly as pertains to the eastward extension of NATO - is centered on the perceived
dilemma of security policy practicalities and a desire to push forward European integration versus what some see as the danger of piling on - i.e., of further humiliating
the Cold War loser to the point that it may strike back and seek revenge.
Concepts and Definitions: From Humiliation to Revenge
The causal nexus between humiliation and revenge, with an arrow between them
running from left to right, is my principal interest. A bit of terminological and definitional confusion may surround these and related terms. On the left side of this equation, so to speak, are humiliation, shame, defeat, and loss. On the other side of the
equation are revenge and vengeance, plus retaliation, payback, tit for tat and, perhaps, revisionism and irredentism. These are no mere quibbles; instead, some fairly
important nuances may be masked by these terms, the discussion of which can shed
light on important causal relationships.
The meanings of defeat and loss would appear to be self-evident if we leave aside
questions about the depths, frequency, and other dimensions of such an occurrence. In

D@at, national humiliation and the revenge motif in internationalpolitics


defining humiliation, Websters Dictionary employs cognates such as humbling and

mortification, and goes with to reduce to a lower position in ones own eyes or in the
eyes of others. Shame is defined as a powerful emotion excited by consciousness of
guilt, shortcoming or impropriety, and further refers to disgrace and dishonor or
(in verb form) to cover with reproach or ignominy. The key definitional fragments
for revenge are to inflict harm or injury in return for, to vindicate by avenging, and
vindictive retaliation. Vengeance seems defined a little more strongly: punishment
inflicted in return for an injury or an offense, retribution . . . often, passionate or unrestrained revenge. With great violence, force and the like. The term with a
vengeance is noted here as reflective of the underlying force involved.
There may be a scale here, with vengeance at the one extreme and revenge close by.
Retaliation does not appear to capture the meaning sought here, because it is more
redolent of the tit for tat familiar in a game theoretical context, i.e., involving shortterm or transitory matters, devoid of much deep emotion (such as retaliating to the
imposition of a tariff with one of your own). Vengeance, however, captures a deeply
rooted and primordial rage associated with humiliating defeat, leaving a nation or
other identity group seething in mass hatred.
Convergent Strands of an Emergent Literature on Humiliation and Vengeance
Several disparate and otherwise seemingly unconnected strands of social science
literature are germane to the study of humiliation and revenge. In recent years, several major works have appeared which come at the subject from different angles.
Together, they provide the basis for a more serious look at the revenge motif in international relations. We must still confront a dearth of badly needed basic data, and
daunting methodological problems that render truly empirical work in this area a
difficult proposition. Nevertheless, various strands within expert literature can be
Two important works devoted explicitly to the concept of revenge
as an historical, religious, legal, literary and psychological theme,
require our attention; in one case, the analysis is more centered on
the individual level and on criminal behavior than on the application to international relations. In the other, a split exists between
an emphasis on domestic and family situations and two cases
involving national shame and vengeance.
A second theme is evident in a major work on territorial irredentism, mostly involving the study of lost wars, but centered on
ethnography and the geography of borders and largely devoid of
related psychological content.
Third one can identify several works on military defeat and misfortune, in the context of how nations adjust strategies and tactics
after losing - or winning - wars, works that touch on the problem of national humiliation and revenge.
Two recent studies are a fourth touchstone within the social science
literature on the nexus between personal and national identity - on
identification theory. These books probe questions about collective


Robert E. Harkavy

moodsand actionsand the extent to which one can legitimately utilize concepts applicable to individuals to gauge the behavior of
national or other aggregates,i.e., the problem of isomorphism and
Fifth, a significant body of writing in psychiatry, much of it years
ago, focusedon the conceptsof narcissisticrage and shame-rage
cycles, claimed to underpin neurotic individual vengeance and
. A small literature on comparative political culture and comparative cultural psychiatry is a sixth strand, raising the crucial issueof
whether some peoples or nations may be abnormally prone to
shameor humiliation - and hence to compulsions to vengeance
- in turn rooted in family and small group relations and patterns,
or historical tribal behavior.
Some recent work in sociobiology suggestsa seventh strand that
involves decreasesin testosteronelevelsafter individuals are defeated in sports contestsor suffer a lossof social status.This raisesan
intriguing question about the applicability of such patterns to
nations in the aftermath of defeat, although researchingsuch matters for large populations and in historical retrospective confronts
obvious impediments.
Finally, socio-psychologicalresearchand writing, past and present,
has dealt with nationalism, patriotism, group loyalty and the wethey phenomenon.
Each of theseis discussedin more detail below.z8
Works on Revenge
SusanJacobyswork, Wild Justice, is one extant social sciencework devoted explicitly to the study of revenge(Scheffs is the other). 29As noted, it makesonly occasional references to international relations, being largely devoted to the interplay of
revenge and justice as an historical problem largely cast in legal and religious terms.
Jacoby reviews the historical record of the revenge motif as expressedin literary
works and embeddedin legal systemsand associatedcodesof legal ethics in Ancient
Greeceand Rome, the Bible, and Europe sincethe Medieval period. Sheaddressesthe
popular fascination with revengeexpressedin literature, film and theater, referring to
the popularity of revenge as a theme in modern massentertainment.30 Indeed,
Jacoby refers to the semi-pornographic fascination with revenge themes in literature and drama, noting that 17th Century revengethemesin English tragedieswould
strike a familiar chord in connection with any number of contemporary works. A
late 1990sfilm that appearedmore than a decadeafter Jacobysbook - Sleepers, featuring Robert DeNiro - epitomizesher point.
Jacobyseemsto agreewith Karen Horney and others to the extent that vengeance
is discussedas an archaic, illegitimate and neurotic emotion and activity - . . .the
sick vestige of a more primitive stageof human development.31Vindictiveness is
seenas neurotic and, although the urge to retaliate may be universal, it is deemed

D@at, national humiliation and the revenge motif in internationalpolitics


unhealthy. In domestic systems, retributive systems, i.e., the courts, are claimed to
remove the burden of revenge from individuals; otherwise, the religiously inclined
are advised to look to a higher authority to provide retribution,
In the interstices of her analysis, however, Jacoby makes some points interesting
and germane for this discussion. First, she concedes that, certainly in the modern
world and even when compared to recent centuries, a virtual taboo exists on the subject of revenge. In a related vein, she notes the paucity of literature on this subject in
psychoanalysis, although that discipline would appear clearly suited to the exploration and explanation of the theme of revenge. This would seem all the more so in
view of the pervasive importance of the vengeance theme in Greek mythology. In
summary, she says that a taboo has been attached to the subject of revenge in a century that has witnessed the fearful union of mass vengeance with technology, a reference to Nazi revenge against the Jews as manifested in the Holocaust.32
By extension, one might speculate that the taboo Jacoby perceives in connection
with domestic legal systems has been extended to the field of international relations.
One might argue that, to the extent that liberal analysts project the normative illegitimacy of revenge onto the field, a defacto taboo does, indeed, underlie the study of
international conflict. And, whereas Jacoby and others may decry the emotion and
practice of revenge in domestic systems where courts may provide surrogate avengers
of sorts, no such authorities exist in the anarchic international system - except, perhaps, the occasional war crimes tribunals such as Nuremberg and The Hague.
Literature on Irredentism
The recent publication of at least one major edited work on territorial irredentism
by Naomi Chazan coincided with growing interest in ethnic politics.33 This volume
provides concepts and historical context of several waves of irredentism after its
emergence as a distinct process. Such an emergence occurred when issues of state
formation and national awakening converged over the delineation of political boundaries.34 Those waves have occurred, respectively, during the latter part of the nineteenth and the early part of the twentieth century; after World War I at the time of the
Paris Peace Conference; during the decolonialization process after World War II; and,
again, after the Cold War in conflict-prone areas of the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
Several related definitions of irredentism exist. One has to do with attempts by
existing states to annex adjacent lands and the people who inhabit them in the name of
historical, cultural, religious, linguistic, or geographic affinity? Alternatively, another
view asserts that intrinsic to the notion of irredentism is a tension between people and
territory, between politics and culture - indeed, between symbolic and instrumental
aspects of international relations.36 Such competing definitions, exhibit tension over
the relative importance of people versus territory, and over the centrality of the nationstate which demands that territory be seen as a part of national heritage.
In the Chazan volume, a number of case studies are provided: Alsace, post-World
War I boundary problems in Europe, irredentism in Germany since 1945, Turkey,
and Africa in toto in the wake of the decolonialization process. In many but not all of
these cases, defeat in war accompanying humiliation and striving for revenge all have
been involved. And, the authors in this collection stress the sentimental and subjec-


Robert E. Harkavy

tive features of irredentism. The contribution on Turkey notes that Pan-Turkism is

evidently romantic and emotional,37 while another contributor dubs irredentism
the atavistic call of the wild of modern nationalism, which recalls the instinctive
urge of humans to define their territory in the sameway that animals do, although
not by the samephysical means.38
Generally speaking,however, Chazansvolume doesnot employ the languageconceptsof clinical psychology, particularly those that have to do with identity or identification theory, to which we shall return. The psychology of revengeis little noticed.
But the importance of the psychology of loss,humiliation, and (at least asit is perceived) physical dismemberment, however, is implied - sentiments at the heart of
the humiliation and vengeancetheme.
Some current examples underscore that point. Americans have some difficulty
in understanding the persistent obsessionof mainland China about the reincorporation of Taiwan, perceived at all levels of Chinesesociety ashistorical dismemberment following from earlier defeats by Japan and, in a senseby the US, which
undertook to maintain Taiwansseparation from China at the outset of the Korean
War. For many Chinese, the Taiwan problem is symbolic and expressive of past
humiliations and defeat.39 Likewise, in the Middle East, Israels existence is, for
many if not most Arabs, a concrete symbol of their past defeats and humiliations,
first at the hands of the West in general, and then by Israel after World War II. In
both cases,irredentist claims on territory appear to be closely linked to heartfelt
feelings of the nations physical mutilation. Irans feelings about Persian Gulf
islandsevoke similar metaphors; likewise, Iraqs irredentist emotions about Kuwait,
Pakistans about Kashmir, Nagorno-Karabakh in the eyes of Armenians, and
numerous other cases.Many of these casesare linked to historical memories of
military defeat and national humiliation.
Volkanswork, focused on group identity and self esteemand emerging from Eric
Ericksonsearlier pioneering work, addresses
the problem of territorial lossand irredentism. He avers that a physical border, psychologically speaking,is like a second
skin around a group, the piercing of which can causeunbearablemassanxiety.40

Lessons of Lost Wars

Lossin war compelschangein military doctrine and strategy. One recallsthe generalization in the military history literature that winners stand pat while losersreview
their failures and innovate in the expectation of future conflicts. In particular, a significant literature follows Germany and France through the Napoleonic Wars, the
France-Prussianwar of the early I87Os,and World Wars I and II. Similar accounts
have followed the progressionof the severalArab-Israeli wars, in the late I94Os,1967,
1969-70, 1973,and 1982.Both of thesesituations of serial war are suffusedwith the
themesof defeat, humiliation, and vengeance.
Recently, Eliot Cohen and John Gooch have written a book on Military Misfortunes, which is an analysisof military failures.41 In it, they point out that one main
reasonfor Israelsseemingintelligence failure to predict the I973 Arab onslaught was
a lack of empathy among Israelsleadersfor the Egyptians and Syrians need to overcome past feelings of shameand damaged national honor. This deeply wounded

Defeat, national humiliation and the revenge motif in internationalpolitics


sense had to be addressed even at the price of still another defeat for the Arabs, for
whom the status quo was psychologically unbearable. Failure to take into account the
revenge motif then became a prominent cause of intelligence failure (not only with
respect to the Arabs, but also the Soviets, who responded to the humiliation of their
weapons in 1967 by introducing whole new classes of weapons into the conflict).
Individual and National Identity: The Issue of Anthropomorphism
By far the most important and daunting methodological and conceptual problem
in the study of national (rather than individual) vengeance is how to apply the conceptual baggage of individual or small group psychology to nation-states, or other
collectivities. This raises the issue of anthropomorphism.
Of course, that issue can be
raised in various contexts of international relations - for instance, when preference
scales are attributed to the nation-state. But, somehow, the issue seems particularly
difficult dealing with irrational
states of mind involving vengeance, more than
when rational behavior may be attributed.
Such a methodological issue is not new in the application of social-psychological
concepts to foreign policy. Indeed, it was cited as a major obstacle to research and
understanding long ago by S. E. Perry, Herbert Kelman, and Otto Klineberg - all
pioneers in the application of psychological concepts to the study of international
relations.J2 More recently, this issue has been addressed head-on in a full-length
treatment by William Bloom.43 In it, Bloom engages in a lengthy exegesis of what he
refers to as identification theory, drawing variously upon the works of Sigmund
Freud, George Herbert Mead, Erik Erikson, Talcott Parsons, and Jurgen Habermas.
Bloom avers that, in making statements such as France declared war on England,
an implication is made that entire populations have a joint attitude. Further, he notes
that, by making such statements, academic integrity and intellectual credibility are
severely strained, and that this strain is due to the lack of theory which in a methodologically coherent way explicates the relationship between a mass national population and its state.44 He looks to the possibility of a psychological theory - what he
calls identification theory - giving the mass national population of a state just such
a theoretically coherent status.
Bloom recognizes that the lack of any theoretical status for the mass national population became more apparent with the advent of the behavioral revolution in the
study of international relations in the 1960s. In particular, he notes,
the language of anthropomorphism
in which nation-states
apparently coherent personalities acted and reacted on the international stage...along with such notions as national honor: national
prestige, and national character, was shown up as having little if
any explanatory power and certainly no methodologically coherent
internal logic45.
In what then becomes a lengthy and complicated analysis, devoted to a variety of key
areas of international relations theory, Bloom further attacks what he calls the individual-aggregate problematic. He draws on an essay by J. David Singer,46 in which Singer,
first having delineated certain attributes of the international system, proposes the use
of three psychological variables - personality, attitude, and opinion - said to interact


Robert E. Harkavy

with the system.Singeris then discussedand quoted asfollows,providing a good summary of the methodologicalissuesinvolved:
In other words I would hold that the aggregationof individual psychological properties provides a quite sufficient basefor describing
the cultural properties of the larger social entity which is Xomprised of those individuals. He repeated further on that, The
position taken here is that the cultural properties of any subnational, national or extranational system may be described in a
strictly aggregativefashion, by observing the distribution and configuration of individual psychologicalproperties.47
Bloom concludes that there is no psychological theory which precisely explains
how to argue coherently from the individual to aggregategroup or massbehavior,
which explainspolitical integration and mobilization,48 and cites political psychologistssuch as Kelman and Fred Greenstein ashaving been acutely aware of the need
for a coherent psychological theory which could be applied so as to aggregatefrom
the individual out to the group.49 Particularly germaneto our central focus here on
collective feelingsof humiliation, shame,and vengeanceis his discussionof the work
of Erik Erikson - specifically, Eriksonswork on the individual need to protect and
enhanceego identity, and the projection or aggregation of that problem to a more
collective basis.
Bloomsanalysisis echoedby Harvard psychiatrist John Mack and by the sociologist Thomas Scheff. Mack discusses
the collective psychologicalforces in the study of
history and collective myths, and further notes that there is no equivalent at a
group or collective level to the superegorestraints which can operate at an individual
level to curb hostile or violent impulses.50He refers to the difficult methodological
problem of finding a sound, conceptual balance among the relevant insights of individual and group psychology - in a field where realities are multilayered and compelling.151Scheff, on the samewavelength, admits that in claiming an isomorphism
between interpersonal and international relations, I realize that I challengean article
of faith of modern social science:that structure and processat the societal level are
fundamentally different from those at the level of persons,asDurkheim claimed, is a
reality sui generis.52
Narcissistic Ragein Psychiatric Literature
Moving back to the specific subjectof humiliation and vengeance,it is noteworthy
that in psychiatric literature, the clinical term narcissistic rage is most commonly
used. It provides the link between, on the one hand, shame and humiliation aggregatedto the collectivity of the nation - and on the other, aggressiveness
vengeance.According to Heinz Kohut, 53this actually involves a spectrum describing
relative degreesof such rage, culminating at the extremes to what the author seesas
the neurotic and dangerousstate of chronic narcissisticrage.54Hence, this spectrum is seento run from the deepestand most inflexible grudge of the paranoiac to
the apparently fleeting rage reaction of the narcissisticallyvulnerable after a minor
slight.55 (The author is mum, however, on whether there really is such a thing as a
narcissisticallyinvulnerable person, and whether such a person could really cope in

Defeat, national humiliation

and the revenge motif in internationalpolitics


most human environments.) Thosein the grip of a narcissisticrage are said to show
total lack of empathy towards the defender.56Chronic narcissisticrage is deemed
one of the most pernicious afflictions of the human psyche - either, in its still
endogenousand preliminary form, as grudge and spite; or, externalized and acted
out, in disconnectedvengeful actsor in a cunningly plotted vendetta.57
Kohut elaboratesin this context on the metapsychologicalposition of shameand
rage,which he callsthe two principal experiential and behavioral manifestations of
disturbed narcissistic equilibrium, and notes, in this regard, narcissistic rage
belongsto the larger psychologicalfield of aggression,anger, and destructiveness.58
Anticipating one of our later-to-be discussedresearchproblems, he alsosuggeststhat
the narcissisticallyvulnerable individual respondsto actual (or anticipated) narcissistic injury either with shamefacedwithdrawal (flight) or with narcissistic rage
(fight):59 beggingthe important question of why and when either of thesetwo alternative responses
Thesequestionsare addressedby Mack, Volkan, and Scheff aswell. Mack, in discussing collective psychological forces in the study of history, stressescollective
myths, the pain of their histories, the accrued grief of the centuries, the problem
of historical grievances, and the rise and fall of national self-esteem.60Scheffs
emphasisis on unacknowledgedor bypassedshame,and on prestige asa codeword
for honor and the avoidanceof shame.61

Comparative Cultural Propensity to Shame, Humiliation,


Kohut joins other psychiatrists and other social scientists by asking whether
propensitiesto shameand humiliation, and to narcissisticrage,and hence to vengefulness,may be more strongly evidenced in somecultures than in others, just asthey
may be more strongly evidenced in some individuals within thesecultures. In some
writings, this is perceived as derived from deeply rooted cultural legaciesof family
structure, child-rearing, and genderrelations. The psychiatrist H.W. Glidden and the
political scientistLeonard Binder (the latter writing about Egypts political culture in
an edited volume devoted to the comparative aspects of that subject) have, for
instance, characterized Arab societies as intensely suffused with propensities to
shameand humiliation. Binder actually refers to Egypt asa shameculture, one with
a deeply rooted masstendency for conformity in relation to fear of shaming.62Glidden applied this explicitly to the Arabs hitherto incapacity or unwillingnessto make
peacewith Israel,absentthe psychiatric terminology of narcissisticrage:
Failure to conform, however,brings shame.Shameis intenselyfeared
among the Arabs, and this fear is so pervasive that Arab society has
been labeled a shame-oriented one. This contrasts sharply with
Judaismand with WesternChristian societies,which are guilt-oriented. It is to be noted, however,that in Arab termsshameis not defined
asthe commissionof an act condemnedby the value system;instead,
it meansthe discovery by outsidersthat a given individual or group
committed suchan act. Hence there is an intenseconcern with and
catering to outward appearancesand public opinion that many
observershavenoted asbeing characteristicof the Arabs.63


Robert E. Harkavy

Numerous writers on the interminable civil war still raging in Afghanistan have
observedthe deeply embeddedAfghan cultural traditions of retaliation and revenge.
Kohut, meanwhile,in discussingthe work of Ruth Benedict, refers to the propensity
toward narcissisticrage in the Japanese,attributed to their methods of child-rearing
through ridicule and the threat of ostracism and to the sociocultural importance
which maintaining decorum has in Japan. Benedict is quoted as noting that in
Japan, sometimespeople explode in the most aggressiveacts...They are roused to
theseaggressionsnot when their principles or their freedom is (sic) challenged...but
when they detect an insult or a detraction.e4 Benedict doesnot, apparently, attempt
to project theseclaimed national attributes from the individual to the collective level
much lessto national behavior. Seeminglymissingin the literature is a discussionof
casesat the other end of the extreme, i.e., those of cultures or nations deemed relatively lessinclined to collective narcissisticrage and vengeful behavior. Might this
apply, for instance, to more modern or liberal or democratic cultures, or to
thosewith a history of successfuldiplomatic and military endeavors?
Gliddens article, almost alone in the literature, posits a causal relationship
between family and tribal structures, culturally basedvalue systems,collective shame
and humiliation, and the compulsion to revenge.65He posits, ingroup solidarity,
stemmingoriginally from Arab tribal values,is probably the most salientcharacteristic of the mechanics of Arab society.@jFurther, this ingroup solidarity is said to
demand a high degreeof conformity and therefore imparts a strong authoritarian
tone to Arab culture and society. In that connection, Glidden refers to the prevalence
of an other-directed personality in Arab culture, said to be characteristic both of
Arab tradition and of the outlook of Islam. He then proceedsto discussthe role of
shameand conformity in Arab society, asfollows:
Conformity brings honor and social prestige,and it alsoensuresfor
the individual and his group a secureplace in society.As long as the
individual conforms, the other membersof his ingroup and its allies .
and clients are bound to help him advance his interests and to
defend him unquestioningly againstoutsideforcesand agencies...
Why is this fear of shameso powerful among the Arabs?Shame
destroys one of the key elementsin the Arab prestige system: the
ability to attract followersand clients. (Arab society is and alwayshas
beenbasedon a systemof client-patron relationships.)Sinceamong
the Arabs the identification betweenthe individual and the group is
far closerthan it is in the West (indeed, it may be saidthat the group
is the individuals alter ego). The consequences
of shameare therefore much more widespreadand complex than in Westernculture.67
Glidden relates this analysisto the matter of vengeance,specifically, the requirement for revengeagainstthe Jewsfor the history of Arab defeat. He statesthat for the
Arabs, defeat does not generatea desire for peace;instead it produces an emotional
need for revenge,and this needis deepenedrather than attenuated by each successive
defeat.68With referenceto Bloom, et al, regarding the issueof anthropomorphism,
Glidden suggeststhat the first thing to note is that sincethe Arab value systemis a
group- and not an individual-based one, it is not possiblefor the individual Arab

Defeat, national humiliation and the revenge motif in internationalpolitics


states to dissociate themselves from the Arab collectivity any more than the individual
can dissociate himself from his clan.@ Hence, he concludes that all Arabs and their
governments are driven to eliminate the shame that had been visited on them and
the other Arabs by their defeats by IsraeL70
Because Gliddens analysis is near sui generis in the literature, particularly with
respect to its focus on revenge, one wonders about its more genera1 applicability, perhaps to situations involving Arabs and/or Islam. What, for example, does it tell us
about the future of Iranian need to extract vengeance against Iraq, given that Irans
defeat in 1988 involved the large-scale use of chemical weapons against the Iranian
army? What about Pakistans compulsion for revenge against India, given the backdrop of the 1971 defeat that led to the creation of Bangladesh? Further, what is the
applicability to Bosnia, Chechnya or, for that matter, Ireland, Japan or Peru? And, in a
reversal of the standard analysis of humiliation and vengeance in the Middle East,
one writer - Jay Gonen, in his Psychohistory of Zionism -has characterized Israeli
bravado and machismo as a function of the humiliation of the Holocaust, also
requiring a kind of psychological vindication, if not outright revenge.71
Americans, even the social scientists among them, may less easily comprehend
these problems. The US collective psyche lacks a strong shame component. Even
Vietnam was a mere pinprick, and collective shame could easily be assuaged by the
knowledge that the North Vietnamese could easily have been beaten by an all-out
effort. Pearl Harbor probably caused more shock than shame, but it did give rise to a
vengeful response. But, overall, Americans have been spared this kind of deep national trauma, and they may not easily understand it elsewhere.72
Sociobiological Research and Socio-Psychological Literature on Nationalism
Approaching this subject from different disciplines and a different level of analysis, recent work in sociobiology has measured declines in testosterone levels suffered
by individuals after athletic defeats such as tennis and chess, or as a result of loss of
social status.T3 This refers back to Mazurs biosocial theory of status, which hypothesizes a feedback loop between an individuals testosterone level and his or her
assertiveness in attempting to achieve or maintain interpersonal status or dominance
rank.T4 Winning raises testosterone levels, losing decreases it; this is further claimed
to explain, in part athletic winning or losing streaks, or the alternations between hot
streaks and slumps on the part of baseball players, among others. Whether such
phenomena could be attributed or applied to international politics and victory or
defeat in war may be far from trivial.
Finally, an extensive social-psychological literature on the roots of nationalism has
long focused on individuals and small interacting groups, often involving laboratory
experiments and surveys of college students. This approach has ramifications for the
role of attachments, national and group identities in cognitive development, ingroup versus out-group loyalties, the denigration of outside groups, individual and
collective images of others, the role of reference groups in enhancing individuals
self-esteem, and negative self-identities. This literature has been surveyed by Daniel
Druckman, who dwells on the extent to which groups and nations provide security
and safety as well as status and prestige in return for loyalty and commitment.


Robert E. Harkavy

Druckman seems focused on symmetrical

research that analyzes the asymmetrical
humiliation, and revenge.75

rivalries, and does not reveal small-group

relationships involved in defeat, shame,

Relationships Among Disparate Strands of Analysis

The foregoing seven or eight somewhat disparate strands of literature and analysis, laid out separately, may have heuristic utility, pointing the way to further
research. How, then, in a theoretical or conceptual sense, do they combine to inform
scholars intent on moving the subject forward to more empirical analysis? That is
not easily answered. The key, however, lies in finding a way to bridge the levels of
analysis problem all too familiar in international relations.
The literatures on revenge (Scheff, Jacoby), bio-social status (Mazur, et al), and
narcissistic personalities (Kohut, et. al.) are obviously focused on the individual level
of analysis. Literature on the comparative cultural aspects (Glidden, et. al.) is directed, if only implicitly, at the nation-state level, i.e., at comparative national behavior.
The literatures on nationalism (Druckman, et. al.) and on irredentism (Chazan) and
on lost wars (Cohen) involve aspects both at the national and systemic levels, primarily the former, treating the nation-state as a unitary actor with imputed psychological
characteristics. Tying this all together, the works on individual and national identity,
focused on the issue of anthropomorphism
(Bloom, Perry, et. al.) attempt to provide
a bridge over this conceptual divide.
How Could this Subject be Researched?
How, then, could this subject further be subjected to empirical analysis, to move
beyond the merely heuristic? No database exists, and historical data would be
acquired only with great difficulty since subjects (people) are gone and, even for wars
a decade or two old, the topic has become stale.
This subject would require individual level analysis via survey research in nations
defeated at war, perhaps with time series analysis to gauge the progression of vengeful
attitudes at intervals beyond wars end. Psychological analysis as pioneered by Robert
Lane in New Haven might be particularly appropriate here as objective responses in
such a sensitive and threatening area might be difficult to obtain.76 Content analysis of
statements by leaders or of the press in relevant nations would be very valuable in contemporary analyses of historical cases, but here the bridge would have to be established
between public or mass attitudes, and those attributed to a nation via its elite. And,
such research would require native country specialists, in most cases with requisite language skills and an ability to interpret country-specific attitudes.
A Research Format for the Study of Humiliation/Revenge
The relationship between shame, humiliation, and vengeance may be fairly complex,
particularly because the variety of defeat may be the underlying cause of shame or
humiliation. Just looking at the various types and levels of loss and defeat may help us
to assemble questions that may act as a guide to research in this area.

Dejzat, national humiliation and the revenge motif in internationalpolitics


As noted above, we may be talking about an actual military defeat or a functional

equivalent. Egypt and Syria in 1967 and 1973, Iran in 1988, Argentina in 1982, Germany in both world wars may be cited as examples of clear-cut military defeat. But
even here, there may be important distinctions. Otherwise, the Soviet Union as represented by Russia suffered a non-military defeat at the end of the Cold War, with
resulting narcissistic injury to the Russian people that is now becoming apparent. Or,
as previously noted, numerous ex-colonial peoples, now independent, may suffer
from various levels of shame and humiliation related to long-term subjugation that
may or may not so easily be related to discrete and identifiable military defeats. Further, some situations of territorial irredentism may also not so easily be related to
military defeat, although they may have come to represent, psychologically speaking,
various levels of dismemberment and territorial mutilation, with consequences in
the areas of shame and humiliation, or at least, some level of frustration.
The extent or depth or type of defeat may be very important in determining the
level of resulting humiliation. The Arabs in 1967 and Iraq in 1991 suffered overwhelming, humiliating defeats of the kind that produces lasting shame. In both cases,
before-the-war boastfulness (enemies were going to drown in their own blood) was
followed by almost comic-opera levels of military performance, widely interpreted
throughout the world as something akin to cowardice that, subsequently, was to produce high levels of shame. 7 In the case of Iraq in 1991, as noted, there is some evidence that this shame was shared on the Arab street even in some countries that
nominally were part of the US-led victorious coalition. Particularly in 1967, a defeat
was absorbed by the side that had an overwhelming numerical advantage as well as
asymmetrical levels of international support and weapons supply, all the worse at the
hands of a people that historically had been considered inept in military matters. It is
that combination of factors that led to the shame and vengeance syndrome so well
described by Glidden.
Volkans work suggests the need for further attention to what he refers to as chosen traumas, i.e., powerful historical memories or images associated with major
defeats and humiliations.78 For Greek Cypriots, this means the defeat in 1974; for the
Arabs, above all the 1967 war; earlier for the French, the 1871 loss of Alsace and Lorraine; and, later, for the Germans, Versailles. For the Serbs, it is Kosova over 600 years
ago. One recent article, in discussing the growing anti-Americanism
of Chinese
youth, portrayed the vivid symbolry involved in the memory of the Opium Wars and
the humiliation by the British (representing the West) as long ago as 1848.79 Research
on such chosen traumas, either via survey research or in-depth interviews, might
reveal the roots and depths of historical national humiliations.
Some military defeats might leave the defeated sides honor at least partially intact.
Both the German and Japanese armies in World War II were widely adjudged, even
by Western military experts, to have been superior to allied armies on a man-to-man
basis. They were ultimately defeated in long and hotly contested wars by overwhelming numerical superiority on the part of their foes. But the psychological impact, at
least in part, may have been equivalent to that upon an underdog football team that
plays a good game and comes close to an upset - a kind of moral victory - which
at least minimizes shame. There is a spectrum here. Argentinas defeat in 1982 was


Robert E. Harkavy

similar to that of the Arabs in 1967 - a horrendous, shameful embarrassment after a

big rhetorical buildup. Pakistan, in 1965, fought a larger foe to a near stand-still;
hence, even though defeat may have been looming at the close of the war, Pakistan
may have been left with a feeling that it had fought well, certainly nothing about
which to feel ashamed. Further, the factor of surprise may be important, having to do
with nations losing wars they had expected to win, even to win easily.
There is another hypothesis worth noting in this regard. Kohut has stated, with reference to an individual, that the narcissistically vulnerable individual responds to actual (or anticipated) narcissistic injury either with shamefaced withdrawal (flight) or
with narcissistic rage (fight). 80 Implied in Kohuts statement is the idea that these
responses are somewhat optional, or that given individuals might respond to the same
level of humiliation with either response, whether randomly distributed or, more likely,
as a function of personality structure. Years ago, in discussions of this matter with the
late Harold Lasswell, he provided another possibility. His view was that a person or
nation undergoing an overwhelming defeat where, most importantly, there did not
appear any reasonable chance of ever getting retribution or revenge, would likely
become withdrawn, apathetic and submissive. 81 Even in a situation where an overwhelming defeat had been absorbed, the presence of reasonable hope for a comeback
and reversal means vengefulness is likely to be a normal psychological response.
This may, for instance, account for the behavior of the Arabs throughout the conflict with Israel, during the whole of which time they have felt that their numerical
superiority would some day be translated into victory, even if preceded by numerous
intermediate defeats. Germany after World War II, on the other hand, might be cited
as a case where there must have appeared almost no hope for winning another round
against what now would be, in addition, nuclear-armed foes such as Russia and the
US. Hence, few manifestations of vengefulness have appeared, at least on the surface.
Of course, others would argue that guilt over the Holocaust and Germanys broader
role during the Nazi period might have precluded that type of response.82 Post-Cold
War Russia, where all signs of the humiliation/vengeance syndrome appear to be in
play, would appear to be another case where there is sufficient hope for a turnaround
to produce a response of revenge, not withdrawal.
Whether the humiliation of the defeated - and hence its compulsion to revenge has resulted from serial defeats may be important. The Arabs were defeated by Israel in
multiple wars without a compensating victory. France went down against Germany, or
combinations in which Germans wer involved, in 1870 and 1940, and would have been
defeated by Germany in 1914 if it had to go it alone. Pakistan has been bested, to one
degree or another, in three conflicts with India, though only the last of these was decisive. But, the point is, defeat and humiliation may become cumulative.
Whether a nation loses a war that it has started, or one where it has been the victim of aggression, may also be important, notwithstanding
difficulty in defining
aggressors and victims in war. Germany, Japan, the Arabs, Iraq all lost wars they had
begun, by most peoples calculations, and the shame of losing such a war (presumably begun with the expectation of success), may be all the greater.
The factor of social distance between foes, and/or the degree of hatred or condescension involved may also be a factor in determining the level of shame and humili-

Defeat, national humiliation and the revenge motif in internationalpolitics


ation that follows defeat. Various wars may be compared to what John Dower called
the US-Japan Pacific War: a war without mercy, with obvious racial overtones, and
between peoples of vastly different cultures as well as races.83 These factors may be
present in the Arab-Israeli conflict, just as they were, relatively speaking, absent in the
European wars of this century and also the Cold War. The vengeance factor may or
may not vary accordingly.
Finally, there is the factor of time, which may be related to some of the cultural
factors discussed above. How long does it take before shame and humiliation associated with a defeat fades away, at least to the point where it no longer requires a
vengeful response? And, how does that relate to, for instance, the magnitude and the
level of embarrassment of defeat? In the case of the Arabs narcissistic rage vis-a-vis
Israel, for instance, Glidden sees an almost open-ended time frame. Hence, according
to Glidden:
As for the element of time, the Arabs consider it to be of little account
in the quest for vengeance, which to them is an integral part of what
they conceive of as justice. There are vendettas among the Arabs
that have lasted for centuries, as all students of the Near East are
aware. In Islamic law, the question of the conduct of Islam in defeat is
regarded as an anomaly and is almost totally ignored. Those few
jurists who did deal with it maintained that the battle would be
resumed no matter how long the Muslims had to wait.84
The impact of defeat in war and the accompanying humiliation may be examined
in some related contexts. For instance, there is the long-standing generalization that
internal revolutions tend to follow military defeats. That thesis has been applied to
France after its defeat in the French and Indian wars in the 176Os, Germany and Russia after World War I, Argentina after the Falklands War, and many others.85 Some
have pointed to the connection between the Soviets debacle in Afghanistan and the
subsequent collapse of the regime. Indeed, some have also pointed to the connection
between Americas debacle in Vietnam and the accompanying domestic disarray,
even if well short of a revolutionary situation.
Heretofore, we have surmised a rough equivalence, psychologically
between defeat in wars and resulting humiliation, and humiliation derived from
colonial domination and racial oppression as per Franz Fanon. Druckman, however, posits an alternative view in discussing Latin America and the concept of xenocentrism:87 or, the situation in which dependent countries under-value themselves
and over-value their dominators. Such an inward-turning,
negative self-identify was
also discussed by Volkan in the context of masochism and the turning of aggression
inward in anticipation of further danger and humiliation.88
One major recent work has pointed to a possible connection between defeat and
the need for revenge as a driving force behind nuclear proliferation. This may, of
course, be a merely pragmatic response to defeat, the psychological effects notwithstanding. India appears to have reacted to its defeat by China in 1962 with a drive
towards nuclear weapons.89 Ditto Iran after its defeat in 1988 in which it was on the
receiving end of chemical weapons. Concerning Pakistan, in the period after its
defeat by India in 1971, Burrows and Windrem describe the public hero worship


Robert E. Harkavy

devoted to scientist A.Q. Khan, father of the Pakistani bomb, who is seen as personally representing that nations transcending of defeat and humiliation via nuclear

The relationship betweennational defeat, humiliation, and revengeis crucial to an

understanding of international relations. This relationship has received far too little
attention becauseof inherent research obstacles,problems of anthropomorphism
and isomorphism, and a virtual taboo on discussionsof revenge in modern liberal
societies.There is no data base.Some survey data might be compiled, none of it
retroactive. Small sample,in-depth interviews might be assayed,either or both with
decision-makersor the public at large.
Quite probably, moving this subject forward will require detailed casestudies by
country specialists(combining the efforts of political scientistsand psychologists)
who would be able to tap a variety of sources- conflict data, survey research,literary works, the media - in an attempt to produce a balanced picture. Still, such
efforts risk being branded as merely intuitive or anecdotal to the extent solid,
empirical materialsare elusive.Truly comparative researchwill be difficult. Nonetheless,at the very heart of most war and peaceissuesin the contemporary world, the
humiliation and revengepath demandsfurther scrutiny.




Susan Jacoby, WildJustice: The Evolution of Revenge (New York: Harper and Row, 1983).
Hans Morgenthau,
Politics AmongNations,
3rd ed. (New York: Knopf, 1961), pp. 54-55.
Samuel Huntington,
No Exit: The Errors of Endism: The National Interest, No. 17 (Fall 1989), pp.
John Mueller, The Retreat from Doomsday
The Obsolescence of Major War (New York: Basic Books,
1989); and John Keegan, A History of Warfare (New York: Knopf, 1993).
See, among numerous sources, Bruce M. Russett, Grasping the Democratic Peace (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1993).
Richard Rosecrance, The Rise ofthe Trading State State (New York: Basic Books, 1986).
Keichi Ohmae, The Rise of the Region State, Foreign Afiirs, Vol. 72, No. 2 (1993), pp. 78-89. See also
Daniel Nelson,Threats
and Capacities, Contemporary
Politics,Vol. 3, No. 4 (1997), pp. 341-363.
ttwak, The Endangered American Dream (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993); Jeffrey
Garten, r Cold Peace (New York: Times Books, 1992); and Lester Thurow, Head to Head: The Coming
Economic Battle amongJapan,
Europe, and America (New York: Morrow,
Max Singer
and Aaron
The Real World
NJ: Chatham
Richard Rosecrance, A New Concert of Powers, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 2 (1992), pp. 64-82.
See Gil Carl Alroy, Behind the Middle East Conflict: The Real Impasse Between Arab and Jew (New
York: Putnam, 1975); and Robert E. Harkavy,
After the Gulf War: The Future of Israeli Nuclear
Strategy, T!re Washington Quarrerly,Vol.
14, No. 3 (1991),PP.
Rise of Militancy
by Moslems Threatens Stability of Egypt, The New York Times (October
1981), p. Al.
This paradoxical
point is discussed in Ahmed Abdalla, Egypt and the Gulf Crisis: Short-Term
Tremor, Long-Term
Trauma, in John OLoughlin,
Tom Mayer, and Edward S. Greenberg,
eds., War
and Its Consequences: Lessons from the Persian Gulf Conflict (New York: Harper Collins, 1994), pp.

Defeat, national humiliation










and the revenge motif in internationalpolitics


Two Leaders Seek Laurels Along Peru-Ecuador

Border, The New York Times (February 9,1995), p. A6.
See for example Lawrence Freedman, Britain and the Falklands War (Oxford:
Basil Blackwell, 1988),
chapter 2; and Virginia Gamba-Stonehouse,
Signals of War: The Falklands Conflict of 1982 (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1991).
Barbara Iuchman, The Guns ofAugust (New York: Dell, 1962), p. 47.
Thomas Scheff, Bloody Revenge (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1994), p. 87.
John W. Dower, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (New York: Pantheon Books,
William E. Burrows and Robert Windrem,
Critical Mass (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994), pp.
Authors private conversation with Shahram Chubin, noted Iran scholar. See also Chubin and Jerrold
D. Green, Engaging Iran: A US Strategy, Survival, Vol. 40, No. 3 (1998), pp. 153-169.
Robert D. Kaplan, Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History (New York: St. Martins, 1993).
Samuel Huntington,
The Clash of Civilizations,
Foreign Affairs, Vol. 72, No. 3 (1993), pp. 22-49.
The thesis of an all-encompassing
Islamic rage and its threat to the West is countered in, among
other sources, John L. Esposito, The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).
Portrait of Pan Am Suspect: Affable Exile, Fiery Avenger, The New Yark Times (December
24, 1989),
p. Al; discussing Mohammed
Abu Talb, whose nom de guerre is Intiqam,
revenge. Others have
noted that the names of various Arab terrorist organizations
are often redolent of the vengeance
theme, as noted in Harold Glidden, The Arab World: American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 128, No. 8
(1972), p. 100. Glidden notes organizations
with names like Vengeance
Partisans, Youth for
Revenge, etc.
The lingering humiliation
in China over past defeats by the West is noted in Life and Death in
Shanghai, Time (June 8, 1987), p. 47, with reference to the British bombardment
of the Chinese
coast in 1840.
This may be even an older theme than many people realize. One article has pointed out that, earlier,
the Jews were blamed for the humiliation
visited upon Germany
by Napoleon. See Emil J. Fackenheim,Germanys
Worst Enemy, Commentary,
Vol. 90, No. 4 (1990), pp. 31-34.
Scheff, op. cit., p. 118.
Among numerous items, see The Zhirinovsky
Bombast and Barbs but Devout Believers, The New York Times (April 5, 1994), p. A12; William H. Luers, Dont Humiliate
The New York Times (January 30,1989), p, Al 7.
In addition, Donald Kagan has initiated a discussion of the role of honor
in international
affairs, a
theme closely linked to the concerns of this paper. See Kagan, Our Interests and Our Honor, Commentary,Vol.
103, No. 4 (1997), pp. 42-50.
Jacoby, op. cit.
Ibid., p. 8.
Ibid., p. 7.
Ibid., p. 362.
Naomi Cha d n, ed., Irredentism and InternationalPolitics
(Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1991).
Ibid., p. 142.
Ibid., p. 139.
Ibid., pp. 139-140.
Hedva Ben-Israel, Irredentism:
in Chazan, ed., op. cit., p. 33.
This writer spent a brief two weeks lecturing in China in 1995, and was stunned at the extent to which
Chinese people at all levels of society, most of whom appear very well-disposed
towards Americans,
would react with an extreme level of emotion when the subject of Taiwan, and US support for it, arose.
This emotion is not often analyzed or understood in coverage by the American media.
Vamik Volkan, Ethnonationalist
Rituals: An Introduction,
Mind and Human Interaction, Vol. 4, No.
p. 10.
Eliot Cohen and John Gooch, Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War (New York: The Free
Press, 1990). See also Charles Fair, From theJaws ofvictory
(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971).






Robert E. Harkavy
S. E. Perry and A. Stanton, Personality and Political Crisis (Glencoe: Free Press, 1951); Otto Klineberg,
The Human Dimension in International
Relations (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1964);
and Herbert C. Kelman, Social-Psychological
Approaches to the Study of International
in H.C. Kelman, ed., International
Behavior (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston,
1965); and
especially, S. E. Perry, Notes on the Role of National: A Social-Psychological
Concept for the Study
of International
Relations: Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 1, No. 4 (1957), pp. 346-363. See also
Harold Lasswell, The Climate of International
Action, in Kelman, op. cit., pp. 339-353, particularly
the discussion about a Theory of Collective Mood, on pp. 344-346. According to William Bloom,
Personal Identity, National Identity, and International
Relations (Cambridge:
Press, 1990), p. 19, Kelman did grasp the nettle of the crucial issue of the psychological
link between
the individual
and the nation-state,
its pivotal place in any attempt to work towards a
theory of international
Ibid. See, in addition, Richard Berk, Collective Behavior (New York: Richard C. Brown, 1974); Wilfred
Trotter, Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War (Oxford:
Press, 1953); and Neil
Smelser, Theory ofCollective Behavior (New York: The Free Press, 1962).
Bloom, op. cit., p. 1.
Ibid., p. 2.
J. David Singer, Man and World Politics: The Psycho-Cultural
Interface, Journal ofSocial Issues, Vol.
24,No. 3 (1968),pp.
Bloom, op. cit., p. 2 1.
Ibid., p. 22.
Ibid., pp. 22-23.
John Mack, Foreword,
in Vamik Volkan, Cyprus - War and Adaptation:
A Psychoanalytic
History of
Two Ethnic Groups in Conflict (Charlottesville,
VA: University Press of Virginia, 1979), p. XV.
Ibid., p. XIX.
Scheff, op. cit., p. 75.
Heinz Kohut, Narcissism and Narcissistic Rage, The Psychoanalytic Study ofthe Child, Vol. 27, No. 3
(1972), pp. 360-400. Among the useful pieces in this area, most devoted to the psychology
of shame
and humiliation,
are Sidney Levin, The Psychoanalysis of Shame, International
Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol. 52, No. 4 (1971), pp. 355-361; Moshe Halevi Spero, Shame: An Object-Relational
Psychoanalyric Study of the Child, Vol. 39 (1984), pp. 259-282, and A. Morrison,
Ideal Self, and Narcissism, Contemporary
Psychoanalysis, Vol. 39 (1983), pp. 295-318. The latter has a
discussion of the distinction
between the two effects of shame and guilt, and what is referred to as
the hairline distinctions
between shame, humiliation,
and mortification
(p. 261). Also discussed
are narcissistic depletion and loss, shame personalities,
and the severity of narcissistic trauma,
all relevant to our analysis of the underpinnings
of revenge. Perhaps only Blema Steinberg, heretofore, has attempted to tie these themes to political events, as in her Shame and Humiliation
in the
Cuban Missile Crisis: A Psychoanalytical
Perspective, Political Psychology, Vol. 12, No. 4 (1991), pp.
653-690. Also valuable is Christopher
Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of
Expectations (New York: W.W. Norton, 1978), wherein there is a discussion of the narcissistic projection of aggressive impulses outward
(p. 57).
Kohut, op. cit., p, 396.
Ibid., p. 386.
Ibid., pp. 396-397.
Ibid., p. 379. The methodological
and philosophical
problems involved in utilizing a concept such as
shame are discussed in Charles Taylor, Interpretation
and the Sciences of Men, The Review of
No. 1 (1971), pp. 3-51, esp. p. 13.
Kohut, op. cit., p. 379.
Mack, op. cit., p. XIII.
Scheff, op. cit., pp. 3-4,96-97.
Leonard Binder,Egypt:
The Integrative Revolution,
in Lucian Pye, ed., Political Culture and Political
Development (Princeton:
Princeton University
Press, 1965), pp. 396-449. See also David Pryce-Jones,
The Closed Circle: An Interpretation
(New York: Harper and Row, 1989).

Defeat, national humiliation and the revenge motif in internationalpolitics








Harold W. Glidden, The Arab World,American

Journal ofpsychiatry,
Vol. 128, No. 8 (1972), p. 99.
Kohut, op. cit., p. 380.
Glidden, op. cit. The only other useful source that pursues some of these themes, if only implicitly
and absent of explicitly psychological
analysis, is Gil Carl Ahoy, Behind the Middle East Conflict: The
Real Impasse Between Arab and lew (New York: G.P. Putnams Sons, 1975), esp. Chapters 5 and 6. In
relation to these themes, see also Majid Khadduri, The Islamic Conception ofJustice (Baltimore:
Hopkins, 1984).
Glidden, op. cit., p.100.
Ibid., pp. 99-100.
Ibid., p. 100.
Jay Gonen, A Psychohistory ofZionism (New York: New American Library, 1975).
Though there is nothing
in the literature
that specifically
focuses on shame, humiliation
vengeance, there are some socio-psychological
of US foreign policy behavior in a
related vein. See, in particular, Louis Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America (New York: Harcourt,
Brace & World, 1955) in which the author discusses Americas liberal absolutism and the hysteria
the red scare after World War I and again during the McCarthy
period in the 1950s.
Absent psychological modes of analysis, this work focuses on the propensity
of Americans to project
values onto others and to become angry when that is ill-received.
Alan Booth, Greg Shelley, Allan Mazur, Gerry Tharp, and Roger Kittok, Testosterone,
and Winning
and Losing in Human Competition,HormonesandBehavior,
Vol. 23, No. 4 (1989), pp. 556-571.
Allan Mazur, A Biosocial Model of Status in Primate Groups, Social Forces, Vol. 64, No. 2 (1985),
pp. 377-402.
Daniel Druckman,
Patriotism, and Group Loyalty: A Social Psychological
Mershon International
Studies Review, Vol. 38, Supplement
1 (1994), pp. 43-68.
Robert Lane, Political Thinking and Consciousness: The Private Life of the Political Mind (Chicago:
This is noted in Jonathan C. Randal, The Monkey on the Iraqis Back: Hussein Hangs on Amid His
Peoples Growing Bitterness, The Washington Post National Weekly Edition (June 10-16, 1991), p. 18,
wherein one member of the Iraqi Baath Party is quoted as saying that in losing the war, we lost our
dignity as Iraqis, as Arabs and as men and so did the president. According to Randal, the speaker
was reflecting a sense of shame at the Iraqi militarys rapid collapse, the helplessness felt during the
war; etc.
See Volkan, Ethnonationalistic
Rituals, op. cit., p. 16.
Rebels New Cause: A Book for Yankee Bashing, The New York Times (September 4, 1996), p. A4,
wherein a student is quoted as saying: Britain sold opium to China and waged the Opium Wars
against China. That was a great infringement
on Chinese human rights. Yet I never heard of any
apologies being made by your Government.
Likewise, see James R. Lilley, Nationalism
Bites Back,
The New York Times (October
24, 1996), p. A27, wherein nationalist
is discussed as a
rallying cry for Chinese everywhere - from Shanghai to San Francisco, in the context of a century
of humiliation.
Kohut, op. cit.
Authors conversations with Lasswell, circa 1968.
Ian Buruma, The Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan (New York: Farrar, Straus,
Giroux, 1994), discusses the war guilt and post-war pacifism of Germany
and Japan as largely precluding a temptation
to revenge.
Dower, op. cit.
Glidden, op. cit., p. 101.
See David Ggess, Demystifying
the French Revolution,
Vol. 88, No. 1 (1989), pp. 4249, wherein, the flip side of the anti-British
resentment was a growing demand that France, as it
were, pull itself together, rise as a united nation, and take revengefor
past insults and defeats. This
spurred the French intervention
in the American Revolution;
but that was
not enough (p. 46).


Robert E. Harkavy
Franz Fanon, The Wretched ofthe Earth (New York: Grove Press, 1968), with a foreword
op. cit., p. 61.
Volkan, Ethnonationalistic
Rituals, op.cit.,p. 13.
Burrows and Windrem, op.cit., pp. 107- 108.
Ibid., chapter 11.

by John Paul

Address for correspondence:

Robert E. Harkavy, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University, Department of Political Science
164N Burrowes Building, University Park, PA 16802, USA.
Phone: 814-863-0743; Fax: 814-865-3098; E-mail: