The Cause of War: Stoessinger’s Misperception Framework

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The Cause of War: Stoessinger’s Misperception Framework
By Anthony Marchitto

Political Violence has been affiliated with governments and nations since the beginning of political history and plays a huge role in the causes of Wars around the world. What causes leaders to declare war? Many philosophers have based their studies and theories on this question; many have different perspectives. One philosopher, John Stoessinger, has expressed his theories on the causes of war through what he calls his “misperception framework.” Stoessinger shows great interests in the personalities of world leaders; he is less impressed with the roles of abstract forces such as nationalism, militarism, economic factors, or alliance systems as the causes of war. He views misperception as the sing most important precipitating factor in the outbreak of war. His framework is based on four parts which describe the environmental and psychological factors that leaders reflect on throughout their campaign. First off a leader’s image of themselves; there is a extraordinary consistency in the self images of most national leaders on the brink of war. Every leader confidently expects a victory after a brief and triumphant campaign were this common belief in a short decisive war is usually the overflow from a reservoir of self-delusions held by the leadership about both itself and the nation. Second a leader’s view of the character their enemy portrays. Distorted views of the adversary’s character will help precipitate a conflict. Third is based on a leader’s view of their adversary’s intentions toward their self. When a leader on the brink of war believes that their adversary will attack shows a high percentage of the start of a conflict. War becomes a virtual certainty when both leaders shore this perception. Lastly when a leader views the adversary’s capabilities and power it is depicted as the most quintessential cause of war. This is not the actual distribution of power that precipitates a war but the way in which a leader thinks that power is distributed; this misperception is most disputed today.

The novel Why Nations Go to War by John Stoessinger gives a great understanding and depiction of the misperception framework towards the causes of war. Specifically the chapter, “A Greek Tragedy in Five Acts gives an extensive outline of the psychological and environmental factors which leaders have to act upon while making their decision towards war. This chapter outlines the presidencies of Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Landon Johnson and Richard Nixon and their decisions which implemented the usage of the misperceptions towards the Vietnam War. The misperception framework is mainly seen in the first three acts of Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy through there direct involvement in the approach of Vietnam to the war itself where Johnson and Nixon come into power while the war is already in full swing. Between these five presidential campaigns we are able to analyze the reasons for each decision made and how the psychological and environmental factors of the time effected these decisions to reach the conclusion of the underlying question; what causes war?

The Vietnam War was far in the future at the time Harry Truman stepped into office but his decisions led to the foundation of misperceptions forcing America to commit to the Vietnam War. America has always had the psychological view of itself being the dominant power in the world no matter what the circumstances entailed. In an environment where China was known as a community which America shared positive relationships with began to crumble. China became a part of the communist movement and quickly betrayed America, turning Indochina into a hostile environment for the U.S. Truman understood what was at stake, according to Stoessinger, “Truman saw a deadly enemy at work in Southeast Asia; he was eager to keep the French in Indochina” (Stoessinger 106). Truman observes his adversary’s...
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