Sunday, June 27, 2010

“The Masada complex” / “Masada syndrome"

The expression appeared in the mid 70's and was quoted in Newsweek's July 12,1971 p.19 in Stewart Alsop's weekly column. A high official in Washington (a few years later it became public that the official was Dr. Joseph Sisco, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asia) accused Golda Meir, then Israeli prime minister of having a "Masada complex".

The political background of the birth of this expression was US support for the Soviet Union's interest to re-open the Suez Canal, where as Israel, having military units on one side of the Canal did not want to comply with the demand.

A political analyst (Jaacov Reuel) of the Jerusalem Post (August 3, 1971) wrote the following.”the alleged complex, if it exists, is not so much a personal affliction of Mrs. Meir but a national neurosis.." It was an often-returning accusation against Israel by US officials until the Yom Kippur war in 1973 October. At one occasion in March 1973 Golda Meir retorted: "You, Mr. say we have a Masada complex. It is true.we have a Masada complex. We have a pogrom complex. We have a Hitler complex."

To this the Hebrew literary critic Robert Alter responded, "Torch-lit military ceremonies on top of Masada are, I fear, a literal and dubious translation into public life of a literary metaphor and a Prime Minister's subsuming Holocaust, pogroms, and Israel's present state of siege under the rubric of Masada might be the kind of hangover from poetry that could befuddle thinking on urgent political issues."

Besides the concept of the Masada complex in an abstract political sense, there was an attempt to make it operational as a psychological term under the more clinical description of "the Masada Syndrome". A psychology book (Daniel Bar-Tal, Stress and Coping in Time of War, 1986. New York, Brunnel/Mazel p. 34) gives the following explanation: "the Masada Syndrome is a state in which members of a group hold a central belief that the rest of the world has highly negative behavioral intentions towards the group."

By now, the “Masada complex” is used as a synonym suicidal political psychology.

"Explaining Saddam", a the statement of Dr. Jerrold M. Post, MD, Director of the Political Psychology Program, George Washington University presented before the House Armed Services Committee in December 1990, on the brink of the US going to war with Iraq. "Saddam has recently been characterized by Soviet Foreign Minister Primakov and others as suffering from a "Masada complex", preferring a martyr's death to yielding."

Interesting to note that the full sentence in the original context the Saddam text carries a different meaning: - but nonetheless, has no connection to Israel, as it says, “Kuwait is my Masada”.

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