No. I don't pretend to know what makes all rebels, terrorists, bombers, school shooters and beltway snipers do what they do. I do think there is a common thread that ties the actions of these people together. This morning I found the writings of an MIT political science professor that intrigued me. Roger Peterson's first work focused on Lithuanian resistance to Soviet occupation. That's what caught my eye. The MIT faculty page describes his research as follows:
"Petersen's earlier work (Resistance and Rebellion: Lessons from Eastern Europe) concentrated on violent networks. A second strand of research studied motivations and emotions behind ethnic violence and culminated in Understanding Ethnic Violence: Fear, Hatred, and Resentment in Twentieth Century Eastern Europe. Petersen's more recent major research, culminating in a book entitled Western Intervention in the Balkans: The Strategic Use of Emotion in Conflict, again deals with emotions but with a different focus. Here, the goal is to understand how political entrepreneurs strategically use group emotions within the contours and constraints of conflict. Most recently, Petersen has begun another major set of research working with practitioners returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The primary goal is to identify which social science theories apply to 21st Century insurgency."
Peterson believes that most academic analysis tends to focus on rational theories that are too straightforward and simple to explain why people turn to violence to address real or perceived wrongs. His research led him to suggest that the emotions of fear, hatred, resentment and rage can provide a deeper understanding of why individuals turn to violent resistance and rebellion. (Actually those four emotions describe the state of political discourse in America pretty well.) Of course Peterson's theory is more nuanced and developed than what I just described. I have yet to read and digest what I have found. The first twenty pages of his first book are available here. A review of his first two works in Lituanus, the Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences is here. An interview with Peterson addressing the Iraqi resistance is available here. Peterson made an interesting point in the conclusion of a Naval War College case study on the Iraqi insurgency. It's the same point that I and Colonel Lang have made many times.
"Our study also leads to some speculation. Given the uncertainties and high costs of other strategies, we anticipate that the robust decapitation capability embodied in JSOC will be an enduring institutional legacy of this war for the U.S. military. The killing of Osama Bin Laden further enhances its prestige. Its effectiveness, including potential counterproductive aspects, remains hard to evaluate given its secrecy and unknown interaction with conventional COIN. Its similarity to network-centric warfare enhances its attractiveness for many in the U.S. military. However, it risks putting the tactical problems of targeting ahead of resolution of the local and regional political issues. A potential major risk is that SOCOM will continue to under-invest in "non-kinetic" SOF who specialize in foreign internal defense and unconventional warfare missions because of the prestige and wealth accruing to JSOC flavor of direct action. These might be just the sort of low profile, intelligence intensive, relationship building forces you want to engage with +/-2s, especially during the period of waiting for interests to align."
I want to end this post on a more personal note. It is a story of the only mass murderer that I have personally known. Perhaps Roger Peterson's theory will shed some light on this incident.
Prior to the Newtown tragedy, the worst mass murder in Connecticut happened in my hometown in 1977. Lorne Acquin, a Canadian indian, (I can't remember the tribe) killed his foster brother's wife, her seven children and another visiting child with a tire iron. He then set the house on fire. It was a time of great sorrow in Prospect. The funeral mass for Cheryl Beaudoin and her children was held at Saint Anthony's church and was attended by a large part of the town, both Catholic and Congregationalist. The Old Prospect Cemetery Association donated burial plots beneath a towering old maple tree for the family. They are surrounded by the graves of veterans of the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars… as well as the graves of my mother and little sister. I was already in Hawaii at the time, but I bet the walking procession of eight caskets to the old cemetery across the road from the church probably looked like something from another century. Everything I heard from those events spoke of compassion. I did not hear a cry for vengeance against "Uncle Lorne." There were more questions about what could have driven him to committing this horrible act and what could we have done to prevent it.
I knew Lorne Acquin. I knew him more as a dark protector of his younger brother. He was the subject of some of my first schoolyard fights. He was a "troublemaker" but only a few degrees more so than myself. His world and his mind broke. He is now in prison for the rest of his life. There was no death penalty in Connecticut back then. I have no idea what goes through his mind today.