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Defence Lecture: Why do we fight? Evolutionary neuroscience meets conflict studies by Dr Mike Martin

Dr Mike Martin, Visiting War Studies Fellow, King’s College London

Date/Time: Tuesday 16 February 2021, Note: 6.30pm start

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Hosted and introduced by Dr Martin Farr

Political scientists often argue that ideas and values cause people to sacrifice themselves for the groups that they live in – be they bands of hunter-gatherers, or nation states. But this runs up against evolution, which is about survival and reproduction of the individual. Dr Martin will explore the theory that certain subconscious desires drive people to fight in wars, and what is more, enjoy doing so. He will argue that morals, religions and ideologies, and the cognition behind them, actually limit warfare by helping humans build larger social groups.

Mike's book 'Why We Fight' is available to buy online at: - Newcastle University 25% off discount code: WHYWEFIGHT25.


Dr Mike Martin is a former British Army officer trained to fluency in Pushtu who pioneered, designed and implemented the British Military’s Cultural Advisor programme. The programme took Pushtu-speaking British officers and trained them to build relationships with local notables and then leverage those relationships to understand and influence the society in which the UK military was operating. During this period, he also worked as an advisor to four commanders of the UK’s Task Force Helmand, advising them on local national population dynamics.

Mike subsequently read for his PhD at King’s College London in War Studies. He wrote an oral history of the conflict in Helmand province, Afghanistan from 1978-2012, which he later turned into a critically acclaimed book, An Intimate War.

Mike is currently a Visiting War Studies Fellow at King’s College London, where he writes and speaks on conflict, and comments in the international media, often about the causes of conflict, or about Afghanistan.

Live Q&A:

The lecture will be followed by a live Q&A with the speaker. You can submit a question in advance by sending an email to or during the event using YouTube Live Chat or via Twitter @InsightsNCL.

This event will be hosted on YouTube, registration is not required.