Moral Disengagement in “War Fever”: How Can We Resist?

  • Alfred L. McAlister
  • Brittanie Wilczak


This chapter reviews selected research on social psychological factors underlying the phenomenon of “war fever,” which is defined as dangerous ways of thinking that justify the unnecessary use of military force, evade responsibility, minimize perceived consequences, and dehumanize enemies, leading to popular support for national actions that are later regretted. Data from several studies show that the construct of moral disengagement, from social cognitive theory, explains both differences between populations and changes over time in their support for attacks on other nations, e.g., the increased support for military actions against Iraq by US forces following the September 11, 2001, terror attack there. Data from two studies show that persuasive communication about moral disengagement can provide psychological “inoculation” to induce resistance to war fever. Illustrations of how moral disengagement was lessened in the crisis surrounding proposed attacks by Western nations against Syria in 2013 are presented, followed by recommendations for future research and for systematic training of leaders in the fields of negotiation and reconciliation to help national populations resist war fever in the future.


Moral Disengagement Military Force Military Action Moral Justification Military Spending 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Professor of Behavioral SciencesUniversity of Texas School of Public HealthDallasUSA
  2. 2.Doctoral StudentUniversity of Pittsburgh, School of Public HealthPittsburghUSA

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