Richard Koenigsberg wrote <<Nine-million men died and did NOT PASS THEIR GENES ALONG. Human beings often behave in entirely irrational, non-adaptive ways.>>
Irwin Silverman replied <<There is a rich literature in sociobiology and evolutionary psychology on the evolutionary origins of human warfare based on kin and group selection, including works by Alexander, Van den Berghe, Vanahan, Eibl-Eibesfelt, Salter, Richerson, and a number of our own studies. The serious scholar should not dismiss these offhand.>>
Of course Irwin is correct. According to a History Channel documentary a couple of nights ago there were 100,000 suicides by Germans in Berlin when the Russians were taking over, many by officers who felt they could not break their oath to Hitler and surrender, and including Magda Goebbels who killed her six children and self rather than live in a world without National Socialism, and including thousands of child soldiers deployed against Russian tanks. Many interviews with people who survived suggested some of the motivation was a deep sense of honor.
Lest one dismiss "nazis" as just fanatics, another program on the Hitler Channel (some of us call it that because of the number of WWII programs) covered the preparations the British made when expecting imminent invasion by the Germans in September 1940. Mustard gas would be deployed on the beaches (despite Geneva conventions and blow back against civilian populations) and suicide personnel behind the lines (despite the retaliation this would cause to British prisoners and civilians). Churchill was desperately working on sticky bombs that individuals could attach to tanks as they went past in the streets.
I've written about some of this in a 2005 article in Nations and Nationalsim: "Ethnic nationalism, evolutionary psychology, and genetic similarity theory," which cites some of the aforementioned work on kin selection hypotheses.
Many other national groups have produced suicide warriors. The term ‘zealot’ originates in a Jewish sect that existed for about 70 years in the 1stcentury CE. According to the classical historian, Flavius Josephus (1981) an extreme revolutionary faction among them assassinated Romans and Jewish collaborators with daggers; this likely reduced their chances of staying alive. A group of about 1,000 Zealots, including women and children, chose to commit suicide at the fortress of Masada rather than surrender to the Romans.Masada today is one of the Jewish people’s greatest symbols. Israeli soldiers take an oath there: ‘Masada shall not fall again.’
Soldier armies—the Japanese kamikaze, or the Iranian basaji—have committed suicide attacks against enemy combatants.
E. O. Wilson suggested that warfare (and even genocide) only has to happen successfully once evey thousand years or so to provide a huge evolutionary advantage to the genes of the propagators (assuming success) that it could be selected for.
Regardless of which group selection models are eventually proven of use, it seems clear that the human psyche is built to sacrifice for identity groups. Otherwise it would be utterly irrational and unpredictable and so not lawful. Science is about laws and predicability. Humans have an inbuilt dark side as well as a good one. (Original sin.)
PS I can send a pdf of the article if anyone wants one (offline).
Professor J. Philippe Rushton, Ph.D., D.Sc.
Department of Psychology,
University of Western Ontario,
London, Ontario, N6A 5C2, Canada