How do people maintain humanity during wars and genocides? Despite its importance, this question receives scant scholarly attention, perhaps because of the overwhelming aspect of war. The generally-accepted wisdom is that war brings out the worst in humankind, pitting us against each other. "War is hell," Sherman famously noted, and even wars most clearly-designated "just" nonetheless inflict massive cruelty and destruction. Since ethics is concerned with discovering what takes people to a morally superior place, however, one conducive to human flourishing and happiness, studying what helps people survive genocidal and wartime trauma becomes an extremely valuable enterprise.  A Darkling Plain (2015 by the senior author) addressed this scholarly void by analyzing stories from survivors of genocides and similar atrocities - from the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust to the Khmer Rouge - to suggest how emotions influence our ability to survive such political calamities with our moral integrity intact. This initial work asked how we assimilate wartime trauma and construct a meaningful life afterwards. It revealed six critical psychological factors: identity and belonging to a larger group, such as family or political entity; the ability to establish self-continuity; fatalism and hope; cognitive stretching; the conceptualization of happiness; and the particular assignment of blame and guilt. In this talk, Baldwin and Monroe will step back from these empirical findings to speculate about the emotional component of wartime survival, and ask how the emotions influence the ability to survive with moral courage and integrity.

 

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