Restaging Fetal Traumas in War and Social Violence
Part 4

By Lloyd deMause


The restaging of early trauma, predicated upon damaged neural networks, is thus a homeostatic mechanism of the brain, achieved in the social sphere by nations through wars, economic fluctuations and social violence. Each of us constructs a separate neural network for these early traumas and their defenses, a dissociated, organized personality system that stores, defends against and elaborates these early fetal and infantile traumas as we grow up. The specifically fetal basis of the organization of these traumas is obvious as we become socialized. Children's playgrounds are full of fetal objects, from swings that repeat amniotic rocking to birth tunnels and slides--all used by children who must actually remember their fetal life, since they generally have not as yet been told about where babies grow. Infants cling to pillows and Teddy Bears and watch television programs like "The Care Bears" that feature baby bears with rainbow umbilicuses coming out of their tummies and features an evil "Dr. Coldheart" who tries to push black, poisonous wastes into their rainbow-umbilicuses. Growing children organize fetal games, hitting, kicking and throwing around placental membranes (one, the football, even egg-shaped, that we rebirth through our legs), reenacting birth when passing them through upright legs or vaginal hoops. We likewise relive our birth when we celebrate Christmas as a rebirth ritual, complete with a placental tree and a Santa Claus--a chubby blood-red fetus going down his birth chimney attached to his placental bag--not to mention such thrills as bungee-jumping our rebirth at the end of a long umbilicus or throwing ourselves into mesh pits to be reborn at rock concerts.151 Similarly, all religions contain at their center the Suffering Fetus and its Poisonous Placenta, whether it is the dismembered, suffering Osiris or the bleeding Christ on his placental cross or the dead Elvis, at whose grave a mass veneration takes place beneath a giant placental heart and a soundtrack of him singing the song "Hurt."152 The central religious aim of reuniting with the placenta can even be seen in the origin of the word religion--"re-ligare, " that is, "to unite again."

History as a homeostatic mechanism needed to regulate the emotional disfunctions of the brain is a central concept of my psychogenic theory. I consider it impossible to understand historical events without an understanding of modern neurobiology. For instance, the fact that damaged amygdala function is found in paranoid schizophrenics153 leads one to question if the paranoid mood of nations befo re and during wars may be related to diminished amygdalan functioning which, combined with reduced serotonin levels and other neurotransmitter imbalances, may cause our periodic searches for enemies. The leader's function is, in this view, similar to that of a psychiatrist administering prescriptions for wars and depressions as psychological "uppers" and "downers," designed to restore homeostatic equilibrium in the brains of a nation ravaged by surging hormones and neurotransmitters


Because the fetus's umbilicus is like a pulsing fifth limb and because the placenta is the fetus's first love object, I believe we so deeply experience the loss of our umbilicus/placenta that we walk around feeling we have still a "phantom placenta"--the same phenomenon as the "phantom limb" experienced by amputees154 and are constantly looking for a leader or a flag or a god to serve as its substitute. Just as gods are imagined as beings "from whom all blessings flow," leaders are seen as beings "from whom all power flows." In ancient Egypt, people saved the actual placenta of the Pharaoh and put it on a pole which they carried into battle; it was the first flag in history.'"155 We still ritually worship our placental flag--with its red arteries and blue veins at the end of a umbilical flagpole--in public gatherings. In Baganda, they put the king's placenta on a throne, pray to it and receive messages from it through their priests.156 We do the same when we look to the sky for UFOs-high-tech placental disks--that we hope might have messages for us.157 Lawson has even experimentally correlated UFO abductionscenarios with the actual birth experiences of the abducted, those who had normal vaginal births imagining tunnel experiences during abduction while those who had cesarean births experienced being yanked up by the UFO without the tunnel images.158

The yearning for a phantom placenta, a "poison container," as a leader, and the search for a Poisonous Placenta as an enemy with whom we can fight are the central tasks of all social organizations, prior to any utility it may have. We organize all groups around fantasy leaders as poison containers, ascribing to them all kinds of magical significances, including the power to cleanse our emotions, visualized as polluted blood in accordance with their fetal origin. When the leader appears unable to handle these emotions, when our progress in life seems to involve too much independence and we reexperience our early abandonment by the placenta, we begin to look for enemies to visit our traumas upon."159


War, then, is the final chapter of our restagings of early traumas that we practice in so many of our social activities, from the 18,000 murders the average child sees on TV to the games we play in which we practice the mental mechanisms necessary to turn others into "enemies"--the truth reflected in the saying that "British wars are won on the Rugby fields." It is not easy to get soldiers to inflict our traumas upon others in wars--only perhaps two percent enjoy killing enemies160--so we must train them from childhood how to switch into the group trance state necessary to produce sacrificial violence.

War as a cleansing ritual recreates early terrors staged as a four-act fetal drama:

1. We begin to reexperience our early traumas when we feel too much individuation--wars are usually fought after a period of peace, prosperity and social progress produced by a minority who have had better childrearing, a progress which is experienced as abandonment by the majority whose childrearing is so traumatic that too much independence produces regression.

2. We deify a leader who is a poison container into whom we can pump our frightening feelings, our "bad blood"--you can see this concretely when Nazis stiffly put up their arms like an umbilicus and project their bad feelings into Hitler for cleansing, while he catches their bad feelings with an open palm, standing under a swastika, the ancient symbol of the placenta, on a blood-red flag.

3. We restage our early helplessness, humiliation and paranoia with another nation who needs to act out their violence-minor incidents are experienced as so humiliating that even a holocaust can be worth their revenge--as President Kennedy said during the nearly nuclear Cuban Missile Crisis, "If Krushchev wants to rub my nose in the dirt, it's all over."161

4. We go to war by merging with our early persecutor and restaging our terrors, inflicting our early traumas upon our children--wars are not, as often said, "outlets for human aggression"--in fact, nations usually feel more calm and determined than aggressive as they go to war, just as wifebeating husbands become calm and righteous as they blame their spouses for childhood humiliations and take revenge against them;162 nations experience a manic strength as they fight to destroy the monstrous enemy who is seen as injecting "insidious poison" into their bloodstream.

These four stages can be monitored through fantasy analysis of media images. Whether they can be further confirmed by changes in neurobiological markers--for instance, whether nations reexperience surges in adrenaline and noradrenaline stress hormones that are initially experienced during birth as they prepare to go to war--is yet to be determined.

The imagery of war as a rebirth experience is ubiquitous. Consider just the birth imagery surrounding the nuclear bomb. When Ernest Lawrence telegramed to his fellow physicists that the bomb was ready to test, his cable read, "Congratulations to the new parents. Can hardly wait to see the new arrival."163 When the bomb was exploded at Los Alamos, a journalist wrote, "One felt as though he had been privileged to witness the Birth of the World...the first cry of the newborn world."164 When President Truman met with world leaders at Postdam just before dropping the bomb on Japan, General Grove cabled him reporting that its second test was successful: "Doctor has just returned most enthusiastic and confident that The Little Boy is as husky as his big brother...I could have heard his screams from here..."165 When the Hiroshima bomb, named "Little Boy," was dropped from the belly of a plane named after the pilot's mother, General Groves cabled Truman, "The baby was born." Even the survivors of the Hiroshima explosion referred to the bomb as "the original Child."166 Similarly, when the first hydrogen bomb, termed "Teller's baby," was exploded, Edward Teller's telegram read, "It's a boy."167 Obviously nukes are felt to be powerful babies--perfect avenging fetuses. With them, our revenge for early traumas can now be infinite. War finally can destroy every "bad mother" on earth. One can see why Truman, hearing that the word's first nuclear bomb had just been dropped, exclaimed, "This is the greatest thing in history! "168


Just as effective as sacrificing mothers and children in wars is the internal, institutionalized wars against mothers and children that nations conduct as social policy. Economic recessions, for instance, hurt and kill more mothers and children as sacrificial victims than most wars.169 As in foreign wars (external sacrifices), policy wars against mothers and children (internal sacrifices) are regularly conducted during periods of peace and prosperity. These internal wars parallel the regressive images we have been discussing; for instance, as William Joseph found in studying the 1929 and 1987 stock market crashes, images of dangerous women proliferated in the media, indicating that the time for internal sacrifice was near.170

In America today, in a time of peace and prosperity, dangerous women images have multiplyed in the media, and reductions in food, welfare, education and health care for women and children have become the national goal of the mid-90s. Since it is prosperity and threats of intolerable individuation that trigger the restaging of trauma, it makes psychohistorical sense that America today--the most prosperous and freest nation of any in history--has more women and children living in poverty than any other industrialized nation, and is in current good economic times cutting all kinds of aid to women and children. In New York City, 39 percent of the children are on welfare; in Chicago, 46 percent, in Detroit, 67 percent, and welfare reduction legislation is everywhere being proposed.171 With the largest Gross Domestic Product of any nation at any time in history, current American legislation anticipates cutting nutrition assistance for 14 million children, Social Security for 750,000 disabled children, Medicaid for 4 million children, and cuts in school lunches, Head Start, child protection, education, child health care and aid to disabled and homeless children, what the president of the Children's Defense Fund describes as "an unbelievable budget massacre of the weakest."172 Sen. Moynihan, calling the new legislation "an obscene act of social regression that visits upon children the wrath of an electorate," predicts the cuts in Aid to Families with Dependent Children alone will put millions of children on the street."173 A decade ago, New York State decided to dump its mentally ill into the streets, and people today take no notice as they walk by them every morning, digging in garbage cans. We may soon be walking by and not noticing that women and children have joined them, while denying that we have purposely put them there to suffer for our prosperity.

That the group-fantasies behind the current cuts in benefits for women, children and other dependent people are identical to those I have been discussing can be easily seen in any of the current vampire movies featuring bloodthirsty mother figures or in the words of those in Congress who say welfare recipients are "bleeding us dry" and "sucking the blood out of our country." As Presidential candidate Sen. Phil Gramm said, "If we continue to pay mothers who have illegitimate children, the country will soon have more illegitimate than legitimate children," all feeding off of him, a scenario that is his projection of the needy baby Phil demanding "MORE!" Bad, sinful babies are now felt to deserve to be punished as scapegoats for the country's guilty prosperity; in fact, during every period of prosperity and peace in our history (such as in the 1850s and the 1890s) there has been a movement by the wealthy to stop welfare for "the undeserving poor." This has nothing to do with saving money; each time "moral decay" and "a breakdown in family values"--code words for fear of freedom-are discovered anew, conditions that can only be changed by "ending dependency"--code words for hurting children, symbols of our own dependency needs. And if our current war against women and children, hidden behind our "balance the budget" crusade, precipitates another recession, so much the better; the threat of prosperity and our fears of individuation will end.


Although my conclusions about the early origins of war and social violence are quite depressing, an awareness of the facts about the causes of violence is enormously hopeful. For if early traumas are the cause of war and social violence, then radically reducing these traumas can be reasonably expected to reduce violence and social domination. If, rather than continuing the millennia-old historical cycle of traumatized adults inflicting terrors upon their children, we try kindness instead, helping mothers and children rather than abandoning or punishing them, we will soon be able to end our need to reenact our traumatic memories on the social stage. Let me tell you how this radical reduction of violence is possible in our society today.

You will recall the evidence I cited earlier that when babies are unwanted and have birth complications they will, when they are teenagers, have four times the rates of violent crimes. If this ratio holds for most restagings of early trauma, then reducing this trauma to a small fraction of what it is today can be expected to save approximately 75 percent of the cost of social violence. I estimate the yearly cost of American social violence, external and internal sacrifices combined, to be over $1 trillion per annum, adding up the cost of most of the military, the interest on the debt, which is all for recent wars, most of the criminal justice system, the loss of life and property in crime, and so on. The savings, then, would amount to 75 percent of $1 trillion, or $750 billion per annum. The only question is: How is it possible to eliminate early trauma and child abuse, and what would it cost to do this?

The answer to this crucial question is no longer merely theoretical. A decade ago, a psychohistorian, Robert McFarland, M.D., reasoned that if my psychogenic theory of history is right, he should be able to improve both the health and the wealth of his community in Boulder, Colorado by reaching out to every new mother before her baby was born and help her to welcome and then parent her child, a task society usually believes does not require help from the community. An entire issue of our Joumal of Psychohistory, entitled "Ending Child Abuse," was devoted to the results of McFarland's experiment--which has since been replicated in Hawaii174 --describing such activities of his center as outreach to new mothers, prenatal services, parenting discussion groups, baby massage courses, single mother help, fathering courses, puppet shows, how to discipline without hitting, psychotherapy referrals, and so on. All these are provided on a shoestring budget, mainly with volunteer help, using local resources. By providing this prenatal and early childhood help in a Community Parenting Center, child abuse--as measured by physical and sexual abuse reports, hospital records of injuries, and followup studies--has been drastically reduced in the area serviced by his center.175 No new mother wants to reject or abuse her baby, the formula for baby battering being, "I had my baby to give me the love I never got; but instead she cried and sounded like my mother yelling at me, so I hit her." What McFarland and his associates found was that providing new parents with help and hope simply allowed their underlying affection to replace the abuse that comes from fear, abandonment and despair.

The cost? Since McFarland stresses local community resources and volunteer labor, very little. Even when he has expanded the centers to include day care facilities, he expects a local sales tax of one-tenth of one percent to be sufficient to run the entire enterprise, a very small "children's tax" that would represent the community's commitment to invest in their children's future. A similar sales tax in every community in the nation would produce .1 percent times $5 trillion in yearly sales in America or $5 billion a year in tax revenues, about the cost of two of the B2 bombers the military is now building that they admit are not needed.

The savings, then, 15 to 20 years from now, if we should decide to save our children from early traumas, would be $750 billion per year saved, less $5 billion invested, or $745 billion net savings, enough to end poverty in America. This does not even consider the additional trillions we currently spend on hard-core drugs, gambling, smoking and other wholly neurotic adult activities needed to handle the pain of early traumas, activities which are likely to wither away without their traumatic underpinnings.


We regularly decide to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in technology hoping for future benefits, under the notion that material investments invariably produce prosperity. But Adam Smith was not radical enough when he said the wealth of nations lay in its investment in technology. The real wealth of nations is its children, and investing in their mental health by preventing damage to their brains from early traumatic experiences must accompany investments in material technologies, or else any resulting prosperity will continue to be destroyed in wars and social violence. Perhaps the question we used to ask in the Sixties, "What if they gave a war and nobody came?" wasn't just wishful thinking after all. It may seem reductionist to conclude that all destructiveness is the restaging of early traumas, and that what we must do if we wish to put an end to war and social violence is teach adults how to stop abusing and neglecting and begin respecting and enjoying their children, but this is precisely what the best scientific evidence shows.

Our task, then, is clear and our resources sufficient to change our violent society in the coming decades. All it takes now is our will to act.

Lloyd deMause is Director of The Institute for Psychohistory, 140 Riverside Drive, NY, NY 10024, Editor of "The Journal of Psychohistory," founding President of the International Psychohistorical Association, and author of Foundations of Psychohistory and Reagan's America.

This speech was given as the keynote address at the 7th International Congress of the Association for Pre-and Perinatal Psychology and Health in San Francisco, California on September 29, 1995.

151Alvin F. Lawson, "Placental Guitars, Umbilical Mikes, and the Maternal Rock - Beat: Birth Fantasies and Rock Music Videos." The Journal of Psychohistory 21(1994): 335-354.
152Ron Rosenbaum, "Among the Believers." New York Times Magazine, September 24, 153 1995 p. 50.
153Gavin P. Reynolds, "The Amygdala and the Neurochemistry of Schizophrenia." In John P. Aggleton, Ed., The Amygdala, pp. 561-574.
154Amputees feel pain in the missing limb, a pain which disappears only when the physician provides a "mirror box" that allows the amputee to "see" his phantom limb restored; see U.S. News & World Report, October 2, 1995, p. 78. It is thus reasonable to assume that people join groups to restore their phantom placentas.
155Lloyd deMause, Foundations of Psychohistory. New York: Creative Roots, 1982, p. 289. 156John Roscooe, The Baganda: An Account of Their Native Customs and Beliefs. New York: Frank Cass & Co, 1965 (1911).
157Alvin H. Lawson, "Perinatal Imagery in UFO Abduction Reports." The Journal of Psychohistory 12(1984): 211-239.
158Ibid, p. 218.
159Lloyd deMause, Reagan's America . New York: Creative Roots, 1984.
160Dave Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1995, p. 180.
161Lloyd deMause, Foundations of Psychohistory. New York: Creative Roots, 1982, pp.190, 218.
162 The New York Times, June 22, 1994, p. C11. Most homicides involve "righteous slaughter" in revenge for humiliation; see Jack Katz, Seductions of Crime: Moral and Sensual Attractions in Doing Evil. New York: Basic Books, 1988, p. 22.
163Herbert Childs, An American Genius: The Life of Ernest Orlando Lawrence. New York:Dutton, 1968, p. 340.
164Ira Chernus, Dr. Strangegod: On the Symbolic Meaning of Nuclear Weapons. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1986, p. 86.
165Charles L. Mee, Jr. Meeting at Postsdam. New York: Evans and Co., 1975, p. 29.
166Thomas Merton, Original Child Bomb. New York: New Directions, 1962.
167Carol Cohn, "'Clean Bombs' and Clean Language." In Jean Bethke Elshtain and Sheila Tobias, Eds. Women, Militarism, and War: Essays in History, Polities, and Social Theories. Savage, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1990, p. 41.
168Robert J. Lifton, The Broken Connection. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979, p. 371.
169Lloyd deMause, Reagan's America. New York: Creative Roots, 1984, p. 66.
170William K. Joseph, "Prediction, Psychology and Economics." The Journal of Psychohistory 15(1987): 110-111.
171Lars-Erik Nelson, "Welfare Plan Will Dump Children on the Streets." Liberal Opinion Week, September 18, 1995, p. 3.
172The New York Times, October 23, 1995, p. A15; The New York Times, November 6, 1995, p. A17.
173 The New York Times, November 13, 1995, p. A29.
174Ha'aheo Mansfield, "Hawaii's hana Like Home Visitor Program, A Healthy Start Program." The Journal of Psychohistory forthcoming.
175 The Journal of Psychohistory Vol. 21, No. 1, Summer, 1993.

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