There are lessons that people can learn from history, especially from states: harmful effects of dehumanization during wartime and aggression in the bipolar world. In this paper, I will demonstrate these lessons using studies of Vietnam and the Cold Wars through the prism of Albert Bandura’s theory. Albert Bandura is a Canadian scholar who graduated from the University of British Columbia, gaining a degree in psychology in 1949. Then he continued his studies at the University of Iowa, obtaining a master’s degree in clinical psychology in 1952.
Analysis of Bandura’s Aggression
Albert Bandura made a significant contribution to social learning studies. In his work “Aggression: A Social Learning Analysis,” the scholar argues that people learn war and other aggression instrumentally, modeling their behavior (Bandura, 1973). According to Jacqueline (2017), “Bandura argues that aggressive behavior is learned through three main processes: imitation, observation, modeling” (pp. 10-11). For the war case studies, it is essential to discuss all the crucial processes in detail.
To begin with, the process of imitation means copying others’ models of behavior. For instance, a child learns to speak and pronounce words by imitating parents’ mouths shaping speeches (Jacqueline, 2017). The observation is the second operation of learned behavior, which stands for watching and memorizing others’ attitudes. For example, infants can study some actions by observing their parents making them: if caregivers act aggressively towards street animals, a child will probably do the same. Finally, modeling the behavior means “using the actions of another as an example of how to form new behaviors” (Jacqueline, 2017). In other words, the emotions and reactions that parents express in front of their children are crucial in modeling youngsters’ attitudes. To illustrate, if caregivers react aggressively towards some situations, a child will also model this aggression and follow it while facing challenges. Thus, aggression is a learned behavior that people are experiencing by imitating, observing, and modeling the actions of others.
Critique of Albert Bandura’s Arguments
While Bandura was writing his works on aggression, Vietnam and Cold Wars threatened the world. However, despite this, the scholar has an optimistic view of aggression in his works. According to Jasqueline (2017), “it says that if we can understand aggressive behavior, we can treat it” (p. 14). Concerning case studies, there are three levels of wars’ causes analysis: individual, group (states, leaders in a group), and system (hegemon, bipolar, multipolar). Thus, Bandura’s optimistic statement on aggression can be applied to the war on the individual or at least group levels of analysis. In this case, the cause of wars can be seen in the individual’s or a group’s aggressive behavior. However, if one will analyze the war on the system level, Bandura’s social learning theory concerning imitation, observing, and learning behavior will be hard to apply.
Another weakness of Bandura’s theory on aggression is that his arguments are insufficient to explain more complex social behavior. In 1986, Albert Bandura itself introduced this sort of critique of “Aggression: A Social Learning Analysis.” Other scholars explained this weakness: “Not all frustrated individuals react aggressively verbally or physically. They react through a wide range of behaviors, starting from resignation or despair to attempts to overcome the obstacles that appear in the way” (Haidu & Vlaicu, 2019, p. 66). Therefore, a frustrated person will react with aggression if only he had learned to do this in his past. However, those who face the same situations and challenges but learned to react in the other way, not applying aggressive behavior, will act differently. This fact can explain some causes of wars (either at the individual’s or group’s levels), but not all of them, because some states’ leaders learned not to react with aggression towards others during their life.
Dehumanization Justifies Aggression: The Vietnam War
Although some individuals want to prevent the war from happening due to learned other from aggression ways of reaction to conflicts, a group of people from the other side may start the military conflict. Thus, Bandura’s social learning theory on aggression can be applied, for instance, to the Vietnam War, which occurred when he was working on the writings. The war in Vietnam, a former French colony, officially started in 1955 when Ngo Dinh Diem rejected Geneva and announced himself as the president of South Vietnam. In the “Selective activation and disengagement of moral control,” the scholar claims that dehumanization, meaning the representation of victims of violent actions as not having a full range of human characteristics, can help justify aggression against them (Bandura, 1990). This exact dehumanization of Vietnamese soldiers took place during the war 1955-1975.
There were some researches on dehumanization in the Vietnam war. According to the study conducted by McIntosh (2021), military language, epithets, slurs, generics, othering, dehumanization, and necropolitics were taking place during the Vietnam war in order for soldiers to easier killing other people. McIntosh (2021) claims: “in military contexts, such claims bring the full weight of hostile nationalist ideology to bear on impressionable minds, posing as aphorisms to live by” (p. 600). Therefore, there are certain proves to Bandura’s statement about the victims’ representation as not fully humans leading to justified aggression.
Moreover, if there is a process of dehumanization to justify aggression, there should be an attempt to “rehumanization,” because Bandura claimed that after understanding aggressive behavior, people would learn to treat it. Thus, Korean scholars Kim and Park (2019) attempted Vietnamese victims’ “rehumanization” by apologizing. Kim and Park (2019) conducted quantitative research and predicted that a Korean society’s group apology towards the Vietnamese victims “would make them perceive more humanness,” meaning rehumanize them (p. 79). However, contrary to their hypothesis, the apology only enhanced the dehumanization of Vietnamese citizens. Therefore, an apology after threatening other people during wartime can be considered as a possible rehabilitation act, but very carefully, because in some cases, it may only increasing the tension between nations. Concerning the lesson learned from dehumanization in the Vietnam war, one can remember that it is better to avoid deprivation of a person’s human characteristics. It is only a tool used to kill more effortlessly, harming the states’ future relationships.
Aggression in Bipolar World: The USA and China
Nowadays, there is tension between the USA and China because both states are strong economic and ideological actors in the international arena. According to Zhao (2021), “many American politicians have portrayed China as an existential threat to liberal democracy” (p. 4). The same is applied to the Chinese government: they elaborate their own “Chinese dream” (emphasizing nation’s wealth), opposing to the “American” one (focusing on personal wealth). The scholar claims that the relationship between these two actors is similar to those the US had with the Soviet Union during the Cold War in the 20th century (Zhao, 2021). Although it is hard to apply Bandura’s arguments on learned aggression to the system wars, such as this rivalry in the emerging bipolar world, one can consider the US and China as individual actors.
States can learn from the history of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union, which was very close to the nuclear bombs’ activation. The USA and China withstand a distance between each other, perceiving a delicate balance of power because no one can pursue dominance over another. Although the political paths and values of states’ governments are different and populations’ mentalities, the bipolar world is only emerging; thus, there is an opportunity to cooperate. However, Zhao (2021) argues that “as the two largest greenhouse emitters, the US and China have contributed to an environment in which neither could survive if they don’t work together to constrain emissions” (p. 16). Therefore, states learn to treat this aggression they direct towards each other, like Albert Bandura states.
History of states and war studies can teach people some lessons about aggression. For instance, dehumanization during wartime is usually used as a tool to justify murders and violence. Dehumanization (such as during the Vietnam War) may preserve tension in the relationships between the states even in the piece-time, which will be very hard to correct. Although there can be made an attempt of rehumanization through an apology or other means, it would be better not to involve dehumanization in the conflicts. Another lesson can be learned from the aggression in the bipolar world (such as the Cold War), which may lead to the increased threats of global problems and the inability to cooperate. Thus, according to Bandura’s theory, states should learn to treat their aggressive behavior in order to solve global issues and prevent military conflicts.
Bandura, A. (1973). Aggression: A social learning analysis. prentice-hall.
Bandura, A. (1990). Selective activation and disengagement of moral control. Journal of Social Issues, 46(1), 27-46. Web.
Haidu, F. A., & Vlaicu, C. (2019). Psychological Theories of Aggression. Critical Perspective.
Jacqueline, A. (2017). An Analysis of Albert Bandura’s Aggression: A Social Learning Analysis. Macat Library.
Kim, H. J., & Park, S. H. (2019). Ingroup’s Apology For Past Wrongdoing Can Increase Outgroup Dehumanization. 한국심리학회지: 문화 및 사회문제, 25(1), 79-99.
McIntosh, J. (2021). ‘Because it’s easier to kill that way’: Dehumanizing epithets, militarized subjectivity, and American necropolitics. Language in Society, 50(4), 583-603.
Zhao, S. (2021). The US–China Rivalry in the Emerging Bipolar World: Hostility, Alignment, and Power Balance. Journal of Contemporary China, 1-17.