eyes on the U.S.

Are Societies 'Bulging' With Young Men More Prone To War? A U.S. History Case Study

Slavery and states' rights are what most say sparked the Civil War. Now a German scholar cites "youth bulge" demographic theory, which ascribes outbreaks of violence to the preponderance of young men in society.

Chinese soldiers in Shanghai (Jonathan Kos-Read)
Chinese soldiers in Shanghai (Jonathan Kos-Read)
Berthold Seewald

The American Civil War from 1861 to 1865 is one of the best-researched conflicts in history. It holds an unrivaled page in American history, not least because the United States of America that rose from the ashes of history's first "total war" was destined to grow into the global force we know today.

The Civil War's implications have interested countless thinkers, as the U.S. that emerged as a single power from the four-year war with its 600,000 casualties would revolutionize the planet's political and economic systems. And now, in time for the 150th anniversary of the war, a researcher has stepped forward claiming to have finally found "the real reason" for the cause of the war.

The origin of the conflict between the northern and southern states is routinely ascribed to economic, political and social forces – "but hardly ever to demographic ones' says sociologist Gunnar Heinsohn, Professor Emeritus of Social Sciences at the University of Bremen.

Heinsohn is a leading proponent of the "youth bulge" demographic theory, with the "bulge" referring to the bottom part of the age pyramid containing ages 0 to 25. If there are too many young males in the group the tendency will be towards violence.

"They will beg for bread, and kill for status and power," says Heinsohn who sees confirmation of the theory today in large parts of the developing world. And in the American Civil War, as well.

When families bleed out

In an article on John Brown that he wrote for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Heinsohn talks about how the fanatical abolitionist attacked a Harper's Ferry arsenal in 1859 so he could arm a slave uprising. Brown would wind up killed along with two of his sons in the attack. Six of his 20 children would later fight in the Civil War. Says Heinsohn, it was only when more and more families had been "bled down" to their last one or two sons that their focus switched from waging battle to fighting for the few lucrative positions the society seemed to offer.

Heinsohn goes on to ask how the foremost U.S. Civil War historian, James M. McPherson, could claim that slavery was the cause of the war when the overwhelming majority of soldiers from the southern states didn't own any? And why didn't the Lincoln administration, which was so generous with blood, show a similar financial generosity and simply pay off the few slave holders?

Abraham Lincoln, the executor of nothing more and nothing less than demographic impulses? Anyone who could believe that is thinking unhistorically. Lincoln, like all others concerned, thought it would be a brief-lived showdown, and that mobilizing a few thousand militiamen would suffice. The war only turned into a blood orgy in 1863 after the Battle of Gettysburg and the fall of Vicksburg when the ultimate outcome – victory for the North -- was already written on the wall.

But these are details. Heinsohn's argument is built on sand, and he apparently doesn't understand the highly complex studies he takes bits and pieces of to flesh it out with. Neither McPherson nor similar-minded historians saw "the" reason for the war in slavery – rather, they saw slavery as a symbol that divided a nation.

Iraq's aimless male youth

The real issue was power. Since the revolution against the British, power had rested in the hands of the slave-owning planter aristocracy in the South, which also imprinted its culture on the nation. But then the North began to get the upper hand economically, and the Republican Party was founded – and its members, according to German historian Michael Hochgeschwender, "wanted to stop not only the spread of slavery but prevent the South from increasing its economic and political power."

Because -- as opposed to today's Iraq and its disaffected young men that Heinsohn brings into the picture -- in the United States of 1860 there was abundant land and a plethora of opportunities. The problem was that the North was not prepared to accept, along with the spread of slavery into the new territories in the West, the hegemony of a dying economic and political class that had a very different culture from its own Yankee entrepreneurs.

Even for southerners who owned no slaves, the slavery system represented a "lifestyle" or the identity of the South. Southern patriotism was based on the rights of individual states, not directives from Washington. Pride, honor, community, and love of country can constitute reasons for people to go to war. And the unbridled capitalism of the North, which had a population of 23 million at the start of the war, drove large parts of American society in a direction that the agrarian south could only understand as a "revolution" that threatened to devour it.

Again: wars have complex origins. And, in the U.S. Civil War, demographics were one of them. No serious historian has ever questioned that. But that has little or nothing to do with youth bulge. The North – not least because it attracted immigrants – had experienced huge population growth that put it in a position to gather large armies and fleets that in the end brought the South to its knees.

The South, whose secession had triggered the war, did not have such resources. Nine million whites lived in the South, and 3.5 million blacks. From the beginning, the Confederates had too few men and too few arms – setting a bad precedent for the fight for lucrative positions in the post-war period.

None of this is meant to deny that, in our era, the millions of young men without jobs, partners or perspectives in China and India -- the results of one-child policies or traditional birth control -- don't add up to a demographic time bomb. A surplus of knights in the Middle Ages exploded into the Crusades. However, the youth bulges in Asia haven't yet manifested as Heinsohnian "demographic weapons." So the bulge-brings-war argument is still little more than theory.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Jonathan Kos-Read

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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