Do You Have the War Gene?

In the United States, July is summer and Independence Day—a day born of a war. Was the war necessary? U.S. history classes say it was. But is war inevitable? Is it part of human nature or is it genetic? If it’s genetic, does everyone have it? Do you have the war gene?

US Army soldier on duty. Does he have the war gene?

Humans have the capacity for aggression, for violence. But why? Is it inborn? Then, why would any of us want or seek peace? Is there a peace gene, too? If war isn’t genetic, when did war become a thing to do?

The First War

“The first war in recorded history took place in Mesopotamia in 2700 BCE between Sumer and Elam.” ( But it was not the first war. There are pictographs of armies at war dated to about 3500 BCE. Archeologists have found evidence of war in cemeteries and evidence of conflict and multiple violent deaths dating as early as 12,000 B.C. War definitely existed far back in human history.

War Defined

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, war is “a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations.” So if it’s between states and nations, does that mean it couldn’t be genetic? 

The Warrior Gene

There isn’t a simple answer. The so-called “warrior gene,” monoamine oxidase A (MAOA), has been studied as a possible cause of violence. MAOA was identified in 1993 in a large Dutch family that was notorious for violence. Media picked up the story. Soon, MAOA acquired the nickname the “warrior gene.” The studies were terribly flawed, not conclusive, and hardly complete. There’s been very little study of this gene’s presence or absence in women. 

Behavioral or Genetic

Aggression is not a single trait, or an easily described behavioral system. It is not a thing that has evolved as a package, but rather it is a suite of behaviors that has a dynamic and complicated range of expression.

Psychology Today

You see, there are two camps that study violence. Both declare they study violence to seek peace. One camp believes that violence in humans is innate, part of our genes. The other camp believes that the humans capacity for violence is linked to societal and cultural pressures, and abuses sustained in childhood.

Both sides have legitimate claims. Historically, 70 societies never had societal violence. Person-on-person violence, yes, but no sign of a fighting between two large societal groups. It looks like war started after humankind began relying on agriculture. When they claimed a piece of land as theirs and relied on it to feed them, it became something that must be defended. It also became something someone else may have wanted for themselves.

Could it be that these new agricultural societies experienced a genetic change. Did a war gene appear? That would be difficult to determine until we know more about what genetic make up is a precursor to war. 

Is it in the Gray Cells?

In a recent study, the brains of violent criminals were scanned. They scanned criminals who committed murder, those who did other violent crimes, and those who did “nonviolent” crimes. The scans showed that the gray matter  of a murderer is significantly different than that of a criminal who committed other acts of violence.  

The study of the murderers isn’t a study of war, but it’s interesting to consider when one attempts to explain why humankind goes to war. If there is a war gene, does it need to be triggered by the societal and cultural influences?  


If the societal and cultural influences are solely responsible for wars, are we creating inevitability by waging wars? We know children survivors of war have emotional scars. Do those scars trigger the war gene?

Is the war gene what makes some people heroes? But, there are people who are not warriors and still do heroic things. Do they have a different genetic makeup?

If mankind has a war gene, does that mean war is inevitable? Must we return to hunter-gatherer societies to have a lasting peace? If there is no war gene, what if it’s our belief that war is inevitable that makes war inevitable?

What if we could create soldiers with the war gene? Should we? Or, should we attempt to eradicate the war gene from the human race?

This “chicken or the egg” question may mean that both sides are partly correct. What do you think? Is war inevitable? Do you know someone you suspect has the war gene? Do you have the war gene? 

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