Event / King's College London

Mike Martin: Why We Fight

5 Feb 2019 – 18.00 - 20.30

Saki and Michael Dockrill Memorial Lecture

Dr Mike Martin will make the argument that conflict scholarship, and prevention, must increasingly look to biology and psychology in order to explain the most essential and everlasting question in our field: why do humans fight?

He will draw on the most recent research in those two fields, as well as his own experiences fighting in Afghanistan, in order to outline a radically different framework for both understanding, and working in, conflict: namely that the sub-conscious, emotional drives of status- and belonging-seeking are what drive conflict, rather than conscious, societal-level factors such as religions and ideologies.

Dr Martin will look at some of the implications – both practical and ethical – of adopting this new approach to the study of war, and he will ask whether the advent of new technologies – particularly AI – will render this approach out-dated before it has even become mainstream.


Dr Martin is a former British Army officer trained to fluency in Pushtu who pioneered, designed and implemented the British Military’s Cultural Advisor programme. He subsequently read for his PhD at War Studies (previously he read Biology at Oxford) where 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 Research Fellow at the Department of War Studies, where he is interested in the evolutionary psychology of warfare in humans. This forms the basis for his third book, entitled Why We Fight, published last year.

Professor Saki Dockrill

This lecture is given annually in memory of Professor Saki Ruth Dockrill, who first came to the Department of War Studies in 1983 as a research student supervised by successive Heads of Department, Wolf Mendl and Lawrence Freedman. She went to Yale University as a John M. Olin Fellow in 1988-89 before returning to the Department as a MacArthur Fellow and then in 1992 as a lecturer in war studies; promotion to senior lecturer followed in 1997 and then appointment to a personal chair as Professor of Contemporary History and International Security in 2003. Professor Dockrill was a leading international historian, with four substantial, well researched books to her credit and five edited or co-edited. One of her best books was a study of the defence policy of Harold Wilson’s two Labour Governments, 1964-70, and she made a notable contribution to the revival of Wilson’s reputation as Prime Minister that had begun in the early 1990s.

Professor Mike Dockrill

Professor Mike Dockrill joined the Department in 1971 and remained until his retirement in 2001. He was one of only a handful of staff who sustained the Department for the better part of two decades. In the early 1980s, he met Saki Kimura, a postgraduate student in the War Studies Department, who had her own keen interest in post war European history. Saki went on to make her name as a leading international historian. Both were at the heart of departmental life and did much to promote the study of international history and foreign policy in the department. They inspired a generation of students with their deep knowledge of 20th-century international history and with genial good humour.

King's College London
The Great Hall
King's College London