Fairy Tales in War and Conflict: The Role of Early Narratives in Mass Psychology of Political Violence

Tuesday 6 February 2024

Moskalenko, Sophia. 2023. Peace Review, February, 1–10.

The article discusses how cultural differences expressed in fairy tale narratives are able to illustrate different cultural groups’ behaviour in high-stress (e.g. conflict) situations. Through identification with the characters and using the tales as models for their significant quests, children enshrine fairy tale reactions into their repertoire of behaviours. These behaviours can still impact their actions in adulthood in the case of high-stress, high-stakes moral dilemmas, especially in war and conflict. This thesis was applied to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, where Russian soldiers’ incompetence was connected to local fairy tale narratives of luck leading to a happy ending. Ukrainian resistance on the other hand was connected to cultural narratives of an underdog succeeding through its wits and will.
The tremendous influence of fairy tales on the actions of adults can help conceptualise the importance of storytelling for children for both conflict and peace. Ethical and moral standards invoked in fairy tales build an underlying layer of behavioural standards for the masses, that can shine through in high-stake situations. This gives a deep value to peace education projects grounded in fairy tales and promotes them as a culturally adaptive learning tool for behaviours. Focusing on the behaviours taught in fairy tales not only allows an improved understanding of people’s actions in war, but also in post-war peace-building and within fights for justice (e.g. in the Ukrainian Euromaidan protests). Looking more deeply into the kinds of actions sanctioned or promoted in fairy tales can help with better understanding and adapting to cultural differences in responses to peace and conflict.


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