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Emotions and Warfare: The Social Dynamics of Close-Range Fighting  

Siniša Malešević

Emotions play a central role in warfare. Nearly all soldiers who encounter combat zones experience intense emotional reactions. Some of these emotions are negative, such as fear, panic, anger, rage, or shame, while others are more positive, including pride, elation, joy, or exhilaration. These emotional responses are usually characterized by physiological and psychological changes that affect the bodies and minds of soldiers facing close-range fighting encounters. Researchers have documented a number of physiological effects that accompany intense emotional reactions on the battlefield, including hormonal increases, heavy breathing, increased heart rate, dilation of the pupils, and the loss of urinary control, among others. These similarities in biological responses have led some scholars to make generalizations about the inherent uniformity of emotional reactions on the battlefield. However, recent studies indicate that emotional dynamics in the combat zone are more complex and flexible. In particular, much contemporary historical, sociological, and anthropological scholarship shows that the emotional responses of soldiers are highly variable and context-dependent. Although some physiological reactions are present in many battlefield situations, they too, like psychological effects, tend to be specific to time and place. In other words, there are pronounced historical and cultural differences in the emotional responses of soldiers in combat zones. Facing the same realities of the close-range fighting, soldiers tend to display different emotional reactions and these reactions are more variable as the cultural and historical contexts change. Military organizations have become aware that emotions are central to the behavior of soldiers on the battlefield and they continue to devise new methods to control and shape the emotional reactions of soldiers.