In war, shared experiences of terror and adrenalin can lead strangers to bond together like family and fight and die for each other. Working on the ground during some of the worst fighting in the 2011 Libyan civil war, Oxford University researchers have produced one of the first attempts to quantify the bonds forged in conflict. Their research affirms something soldiers and people who experience traumatic events together have long understood intuitively, said Brian McQuinn, one of the paper’s authors. ‘It’s actually the experience of going through something as a group. The more terrifying the experience — and war is a gruesome, terrible thing — the more intense that bond is and the more that fusion takes place,’ he said.
Brian McQuinn, a Canadian who worked for the United Nations Development Programme and recently completed doctoral studies at Oxford, spent seven months doing field research after travelling in June 2011 to Misrata, on the coast of Libya. There, he and Oxford University professor Harvey Whitehouse surveyed 179 civilians fighting against Moammar Gadhafi — some on the front lines, and others directly supporting those who were. They asked the rebels to pick one of a series of diagrams to explain how connected they felt to their family, their battalion of fellow fighters and other fighters opposing Gadhafi. Of the 179 people surveyed, 99 per cent said they were ‘fused’ with their family, 97 per cent with their own battalion and 96 per cent with other fighters. Just 1 per cent said they felt the same type of connection to ordinary Libyans who had not joined the fight.
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