NBC's Mitchell: 'What Is It About Testosterone That Gets Us Into War?'

In what was a twist of "Blame America First" attitude into one of "Blame Men First" both NBC's Andrea Mitchell and Newsweek's Evan Thomas, on Thursday's Andrea Mitchell Reports, used pop psychology to dissect the causes of past and recent American wars, with both of them citing insecure men as a key reason. Mitchell even pondered: "What is it about testosterone that gets us into war?" On to promote his new book The War Lovers, Thomas, specifically referring to the Spanish-American War, noted it was a time of "masculine insecurity...Everybody had to run around with guns," and added: "This, you know, sort of comes and goes."

Since Mitchell introduced the segment mentioning that "Americans continue to fight two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq" and called the Thomas book "relevant" one has to wonder if both she and Thomas think the past administration, in part, initiated the current actions in the Mideast out of some deep, psychological desire to fight, just for fighting's sake. Mitchell even seemed to be suggesting that point, in her plug of the Thomas book, as she offered: "I'll let the readers...draw their own conclusions about men in our recent history and their role in getting us into wars." [audio available here]

The following is a full transcript of the segment as it was aired on the June 3 edition of MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Reports.

ANDREA MITCHELL: As Americans continue to fight two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq of course, a prominent historian has taken a closer look at how American leaders get us into war. Evan Thomas of Newsweek joins us now, author of The War Lovers. Evan let's talk about some of your research and how what you've learned from history can really teach us about the way decisions are made today. Why did you focus on the particular leaders you focused on? What was it about Theodore Roosevelt and William Randolph Hearst and Henry Cabot Lodge that tells you so much.

EVAN THOMAS, NEWSWEEK EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well countries have a way of getting swept up with war fever. You know it, wars may be awful, but we forget and the fever has a way of returning. I chose those characters, Teddy Roosevelt and, and Hearst and Lodge because they're wonderful characters. I mean they're just fun to write about. But they all embody this, this kind of natural desire that man has to get himself involved in wars.

And some wars, you know obviously absolutely necessary. World War II is something we had to fight. But other wars are not. And the Spanish-American war was a war of choice. There were some good reasons to do it. But mostly the United States just felt like having a war in 1898 so they got into one. And there's a, I think, a fascinating tale to be told about it so I looked at those characters.

Most people know about Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill and all that. But they've probably forgotten about Henry Cabot Lodge certainly, who was the first real imperialist in the United States. And Hearst who kind of invented sensational journalism, yellow journalism as it was called. Also known as crime and underwear journalism. And he, you know, he was the first publisher to really embrace war as a way to sell newspapers. There have been a lot of publishers since. 

MITCHELL: There certainly have. I mean these characters are so colorful. They, they leap off the page. It's a very exciting narrative and certainly relevant. When you talk about the Spanish-American war, one of the things you wrote is that "Scholars have described the Spanish-American War variously as a blow for empire; as an act of economic aggression; as a bid for post-Civil War reconciliation; as the expression of gender insecurity; and as a kind of national psychic outburst. To different degrees, all of those forces came into play. But what interests me is the human dynamic, the eternal pull of war on men." And it is men -- not to be too gender specific here -- but there, there is a male factor here.

THOMAS: Yeah!

MITCHELL: I've we seen it in our own recent history. What is it about testosterone that gets us into war?

THOMAS: I mean look you can - Elizabeth I, Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, I mean there have been some pretty tough women out there fighting-

MITCHELL: Okay I'll grant you those.

THOMAS: -fighting, fighting wars. But yes I think, you got a point. And this particular war that I wrote about. There were, all these guys were obsessed with their virility. Their manhood. Their letters, Teddy Roosevelt's letters are full of concern about showing that he's a man. There was a weird kind of masculine insecurity in this period. Everybody had to run around with guns. And this, you know, sort of comes and goes. Not all periods are like this. But in this period it was really, really true. The men were a little bit afraid of the women. I have some, some interesting women in my book, their wives by and large, who are formidable in their own way. But the men just had his need and, and I think many men, in many ages, in many times have had this need to test themselves in the greatest test of all, which is when other people are trying to kill you.

MITCHELL: And of course, I'll let the readers, and I hope they flock to this book, which is terrific, draw their own conclusions about men in our recent history and their role in getting us into wars. But the role of the press, what could be more relevant than William Randolph Hearst and the role of the press. Remember The Maine. I was just looking at one of the things you've written about what happened with that exercise. "As Hearst later told the story he called in and learned that the Maine had been blown up in Havana Harbor. 'Good Heavens!' Hearst exclaimed. 'What have you done with the story?' An editor replied that the story had gone onto page one. Hearst asked, 'Have you put anything else on the front page?' 'Only all the other big news,' was the reply. 'There is not any other big news,' Hearst afterward claimed he shot back. 'Please spread the story all over the front page. This means war.'" It doesn't get any clearer than that, does it Evan?

THOMAS: I know it doesn't. Well you know journalists. We always talk about journalistic bias. You know whether we're liberal or conservative and all that. The real bias in journalism is for conflict. And the greatest conflict is war. And even anti-war journalists, on some level, like war. It sells. Not just for commercial reasons but it gets the blood running. It is hard to cover. It is exciting. It is drama. It has great consequence. Journalists, whether they admit it or not are drawn to war.

MITCHELL: Thank you so much Evan Thomas. The War Lovers, it's a fascinating read and congratulations on a great, another great look at history which reads, of course, like a novel.

THOMAS: Thank you Andrea.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.