Why Men Kill and Why Women Let Them

By Helen Caldicott

Mother and baby whale breeching at Jervis Bay


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Why men kill and why women let them

Whale watching in the lovely Jervis Bay on the east coast of Australia, the baby whales were leaping out of the water turning somersaults in pure joy as they revealed their white bellies and black backs.

I returned home and realized with horror that not only will this magnificent species be eliminated but so too the spectacular sun flowers that had just opened their gorgeous heads in my garden.

We stand on the brink of extinction unaware that our time on this precious lump of rock in the endless universe is almost certainly to come to an end.

Why do I write this?

Although the Cold War ended in 1989 to the relief of everyone, the vast stores of hydrogen bombs possessed by Russia and the US not only remain intact but missiles armed with these hideous weapons stand on “hair trigger alert” ready to be activated with a press of the button by either the US or Russian president. Circling the northern hemisphere they arrive at their destinations 30 minutes after launch, during which the targeted country detects the attack and launches their missiles. Nuclear war would take approximately one hour to complete eliminating eventually most life on the planet.

Failing that catastrophe, the human race and our fellow species face other dreadful futures including the rapid advancement of global warming and radioactive elements emanating from nuclear reactors contaminating food chains for eternity leading to epidemics of cancer, leukemia, genetic diseases and congenital deformities. However presently we are racing with great speed towards a nuclear holocaust.

This deleterious situation is treated with ignore by politicians and the mainstream media who practice psychic numbing as we stumble blindly towards our demise.

In the past men have perpetually fought and killed over territorial disputes, religious conviction, tribal animosities, jealousy and sheer stupidity.

But unless men stop fighting and killing and women who enable them we are doomed because  any fraught international event could hold the seeds of a holocaust. For instance on 9/11 SRATCOM – the US Air Force put its nuclear weapons on the highest state of alert ready for launch because nobody knew what was happening – was it the Russians, or who else? Nevertheless they were poised to blow up the world if necessary.

This is apparently routine practice during international crises of unknown origin. And now the world is faced with an ignorant narcissist with his fingers on the nuclear button. How come the physicists, engineers and military men who have laced the world with nuclear weapons ready to launch with a three minute decision time by fallible men – the US President and the Russian President, never factored into their equations of probability that an immature petulant man-baby could hold the seeds of our destruction in his tiny hands?

So, the outstanding question presents itself – is the human species an evolutionary aberrant with a fatal disposition for war? Equipped as we are with a large neocortex capable of wondrous scientific discoveries, but little psychological maturity, can we now, armed as we are with nuclear weapons  conquer this disposition and stop fighting, or we are doomed?

To use an apt medical analogy, the planet is dominated by a particularly virile pathogenic species and that is us. If we cannot overcome and conquer this desire to kill, then we and most other planetary species are doomed.

So why do men kill?


Albert Einstein

When I was 12 years old I asked my Father “why do men rape women after they conquer a territory and win a war?” I respected this man enormously who usually provided answers to my questions but he was stumped this time. It was obvious that the men had waged the war and killed but what on earth was the animosity towards women?

This raised the obvious question:  what is the connection between violence and sex in males?

Why does the military play pornographic films for the pilots before they take off from aircraft carriers to drop bombs and kill people? Why do some men ejaculate when they go into battle? Why do some major League baseball players look at pornography before they go to play in order to increase their level of aggressiveness? Why does the military work so hard to eliminate any sensitive feelings in their recruits and denigrate any effeminate qualities that they may show?

Recent work in 2012 using electrodes to record the activity of single neurons in the brains of male rats while they interacted with female or male rats found that the neurons responsible for sex and aggression are located adjacent to each other in the hypothalamus with a 20% overlap. When these neurons are electrically stimulated the rats instantly engage in mating or violence depending upon the strength of the stimulation . Dr David Anderson, professor of biology at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute of the California Institute of Technology wrote that “Apparently the circuitry for sex and violence is intimately linked in the male brain.”[1]

This work has not been repeated in humans however it is assumed that the circuitry is similar in other mammalian species.

This is indeed fascinating as the main hormone released during sex and violence is dopamine, a chemical resembling opium or morphine which induces that lovely feeling after orgasm – called the reward hormone.

Rape and war have been intimately involved forever. But to give some concrete examples –

When the Russian soldiers invaded Germany after a long and hideous war involving the deaths of millions of people on the Russian front, they set about raping every woman in sight, including pregnant women, old women, and women who had just given birth. Gang rape consisted of queues of 9 or 10 men at a time. They included all manner of men from drunken louts to idealistic austere communists and intelligentsia. Natalya Gesse, a close friend of Andrei Sakharov and a war correspondent said it was an army of rapists attacking every German female from 8 to 80. One leader of a tank company boasted that ”two million of our children were born in Germany.” As Susan Brownmiller wrote, rape is the act of a conqueror aimed at the “bodies of the defeated enemy’s women? They also raped nuns, Russian, Polish, and Ukrainian women. At least two million German women are thought to have been raped, many multiple times.[2]

During World War 11 Japanese soldiers forced up to 200,000 women into prostitution – they were called “comfort women” – comfort for whom, the male soldiers who needed their orgasms?

On New Year’s Eve in 2016 gangs of 30 to 40 men robbed women and brutalized them sexually in Cologne Germany. Most of these men were immigrants from countries where sexual violence is a common problem. It is well known that gang sexual assault often spontaneously erupts within large and unruly crowds, thus releasing dopamine triggered by sex or violence in the male brain.

83 women were sexually assaulted by 100 American Navy and Marine Corps in Las Vegas at the so-called Tailhook scandal.  There was a horrific sexual assault upon Lara Logan a CBS correspondent and many other women by frenzied men in Tahrir square during the celebrations of the one year anniversary of the demise of the Egyptian dictator, Hosni Mubarak in 2011.[3]

Other recent examples of rape and violence include the Boko Haram, Muslim extremists in Nigeria who abducted 276 school girls and used them as sex slaves in 2014.

A recent study performed in China provides further insight into the sex drive and war.

111 male students were shown 20 full-body color photos of women, half of them viewed attractive females while the rest looked at unattractive women. They were then asked questions about wars or trade conflicts with three countries that had hostile relationships with China. 21 of these boys who looked at the attractive women demonstrated willingness to go to war with these countries while the other 18 suggested peaceful solutions to the conflicts.

Another group of young men were shown photos of women’ legs and then had to react to words related to war and trade They responded faster to war words when primed by women’s legs. Chang et al, who performed the experiment, suggested that the results show a mating-waring association in the male brain, because successful fighters had of course greater access to women in the country they conquered.[4]

Now in contrast let’s look at how women react to stress.

A landmark study was conducted in a lab in the University of California LA in 2005 when two women researchers noticed that when there was an altercation in the lab, the women came to work the next morning, cleaned the benches, made coffee and bonded in friendship, in general calming things down, whereas the men secluded themselves as they fumed alone in their offices. Until that point researchers had almost solely concentrated on measuring the hormones of men under stress while totally ignoring the other half of the human race assuming they would respond similarly. Dr Laura Cousin Klein and her fellow researcher decided to measure the hormone output of each sex during such episodes.

To their amazement there was an outpouring of oxytocin in the women, the female hormone that is secreted during lactation which has a calming and nurturing effect upon behavior – oxytocin is called the “tending and befriending” hormone. As well, estrogen enhances the effects of oxytocin. This calming effect does not happen in men because they secrete testosterone in response to stress which also reduces the effects of oxytocin.

Extrapolating from these findings further studies proved that caring for children and other women in general, and social relationships tended to decrease blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol causing women to consistently outlive men. In fact, a Nurses Health Study performed at Harvard Medical School showed that the more friends a woman had the more likely she would be to be joyful and experience fewer physical incapacities as she aged. [5] [6] [7]

[1] Joan Arehart-Treichal, March 03, 2012, Psychiatric News, Researchers Find Link Between Aggression, Sex in Male Brain.

[2] Antony Beevor, Berlin: The Downfall 1945, Viking Penguin

[3] The Explosive Mix of Sex and Violence, Psychology Today, January 26, 2016

[4] Sex and Violence: Is Sex at the Psychological Root of War? Tom Jacobs, Miller-McCune Magazine, Alternet, March 30, 2011

[5] Taylor SE, Klein LC, Gruenewald TL, Gurung RAR & Updegraff JA, “Behavioral Responses to Stress: Tend and Befriend, Not Fight or Flight” Psychology Review, 107(3): 41-429

[6] GearyDC, FlinnMV. Sex Differences in Behavorial and Hormone Responses to Social Threat: Commentary on Taylor et al. Psychology Review, 2002 Oct:109(4): 745-50; discussion 751-3

[7] Cousino KleinL, Corwin EJ Seeing the Unexpected:How Sex Differences in Stress Responses May Provide a New Perspective on the Manifestations of Psychiatric Disorders. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2002 Dec;4(6):441-8 https://www.nature.com/news/2011/110209/full/news.2011.82.html









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