A Victimological Approach to Causes of War

Joachim Reuss & Dominik Prodöhl

Institute for Interdisciplinary Basic Analysis on Causes of Violent Conflicts

Chur & Biel, Switzerland

This paper was published in the Canadian Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 23, 2-3 (1991), pp.37-48.

Table of Contents:

1. Victimological principles and typology
2. VP-characteristics at (inter)national level
3. The most frequent subforms of D- and U-state
4. VP-state as a war precursor
5. Interpretation of results
6. Relevant peace issues under the victimological aspect -- example Europe


Victimological research has found aggression to be "attracted" and escalated by forms of inferior traits, behaviour and status.

At the level of nations, we found their pendants to be long-term external unsuccessfulness (U-state) and long-term internal discord (D-state); these strongly interrelate and add up to the state of victimological predisposition (VP-state). This suggests to employ the latter as an indicator in a heuristic approach to causes of war.

An analysis of the few decades respectively preceding 17 major wars shows that each of the wars followed a distinct VP-state of the final loser. Generally interpreted, the latter prepares the soil for either of the main forms of fatal collective victimization : Those by war and/or by famine. Both mainly affect the respective lower social strata.

Like any approach mainly based on empirical case studies in history, this investigation cannot predict the degree of deterrence or "braking" -- versus a major war -- by ABC arms. Owing to the high threshold, latent crises in the recent decades didn't escalate beyond conventional wars in "third-world" countries.

Some explanatory details and arguments were omitted in this description. (A more comprehensive version of the text and of empirical confirmation by Table 3 can be obtained from the first author.)

1. Victimological principles and typology

A summary of these should be stated proceeding from results proven in interpersonal victimology. In order to cover both sides of the social spectrum, we introduce two categories: The victimologically predisposed, named VP; and the victimologically "immune", named VI (cf. Table 1).

VP victimologically predisposed category ("attracting" aggression)
VI victimologically "immune" category
D case of internal discord at (intra)national level
U event of external unsuccessfulness at (inter)national level
D-state state of long-term internal discord at (intra)national level
U-state state of long-term external unsuccessfulness at (inter)national level
VP-state D-state and U-state mutually interrelated and superimposed

Table 1:   Abbrevations and meaning of repeatedly used terms.

The VP category bears traits which are forms of poor frustration tolerance/low stress resistance, which again result in long-term unsuccessfulness. According to Schuh [1], the typical victim even bears criminogenic inclinations.

The VI category possesses great frustration tolerance and stress resistance, proven e.g. by forms like high self-control, patience and/or "disarming" charme whenever adequate, which result in long-term success.

The VP traits described above engender antipathy and make victimization latent; the nature of this predisposition can be summarized thus:

  1. By subconscious, "unintended" mistakes made in (re)action, the victim provokes -- and/or "agrees" to -- victimization. [2]
    "Accidental" self-injury, or self-destruction by any addiction also suggest a high share of the subconscious in becoming a victim : Self-victimization indirectly contributes to victimization by others.

  2. There is also a significant overlap in the population of victims and direct victimizers; and both are mostly of low social strata (especially in fatal victimization). [3,4]

  3. As their traits hardly alter, VP repeatedly become victims: The recidivous victim is thus the pendant to the recidivist criminal. [5]

2. VP-characteristics at (inter)national level

At the national level, the efficacy of victimological principles is expanded and modified by the following details:

Yet these peculiarities rather amplify the efficacy of victimological principles at (inter)national level:

These principles can be summarized in a modified analogy with 1., 2., and 3. above:

  1. Internal discord of a nation (analogous to latent self-destruction) may escalate to civil war, which often "attracts" foreign intervention.

  2. A distinct overlap of victims and direct victimizers exists e.g. on both sides of the battlefront:
    Front-line soldiers represent a disproportionately high share of the VP category. (Ancient battle patterns already favoured the front position of the lower social classes -- symbolized e.g. by the initial position of chessmen).

  3. Repeated victimization of VP is also verified in history: Table 2 presents 17 series of wars respectively lost by the same nation. The (mathematical) probability for the lengths of these series to occur by random equals .06; hence revictimization at international level is significant. Yet this connection means an only partial answer as to the causes of war; it does not account for the remaining questions: Which situation precedes the respective first war of a series, and the residual 30% not occurring within a series ?

number of
collective denotation: lasting
from ... till:
same loser:
Series of armed conflicts of ancient Mediterranian nations ( "E"=Egypt ) :
campaigns of E vs. Nile Delta -2885 ... -2863 Nile Delta
campaigns of E vs. Nubia -2663 ... -2273 Nubia
campaigns of Theben vs. central E -2112 ... -2061 central E
Hyksos' Wars vs. E -1709 ... -1659 E
campaigns/wars of E vs. Hyksos -1580 ... -1558 Hyksos
campaigns of E vs. Nubia -1638 ... -1522 Nubia
wars of E vs. Syria & Mesopotamia -1539 ... -1460 Syria
Persian Wars -490 ... -449 Persia
Punic Wars -264 ... -146 Carthage
Macedonian Wars -215 ... -116 Macedonia
Series of armed conflicts within and near Europe :
Swiss Independence battles/wars 1315 ... 1499 Habsburg
wars of Turkey vs. Venetia 1423 ... 1573 Venetia
Lithuanian defense wars vs. Moscow 1488 ... 1522 Lithuania
wars of France vs. Reich in Italy 1521 ... 1544 France
Silesian Wars 1740 ... 1763 Austria
World Wars 1914 ... 1945 Germany
Israel-Arab wars 1948 ... 1973 Arabs

Table 2:   17 series of major campaigns/wars with the same respective loser.

A general solution of this problem is approached by searching the common denominator of the victimological principles. We find the two main forms, which "integrate" (1)...(3), to be the D-state and the U-state (cf. Table 1). Both are defined as long lasting, with an order of magnitude of a decade (as to be substantiated further below). They constitute the VP-state, and have the following properties in common: