Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Or Maybe His Dudeness, or Duder or El Duderino, if Your Not Into the Whole Brevity Thing

Jim Henley points the way to a millblog entitled, Army of Dude, whose young author (only 22) is both eloquent and insightful beyond his years. Check out this post for a taste. Like Henley, though, I want to focus on this passage from another post in which the author discusses some of his experiences as an Iraq war veteran:
Despite being in a meaningless situation, my life has never had this much meaning. I watch the backs of my friends and they do the same for me. I’ve killed to protect them, and they’ve killed to protect me. For friends and family, being deployed is like being pregnant or surviving a car wreck; everyone is nice to you all of a sudden. People I don’t even know send me kind words and packages from all over. They came out of the woodwork knowing my plight and shared with me heartfelt hope and luck.

The fact that you’re reading this now, dear reader, is a testament to that. Would you have cared about what I thought, felt or did two years ago? This position I’m in, shared by less than one percent of the U.S. population, has given me the distinct privilege of sharing my experiences and ruminations of this war, observations undiluted by perpetually delirious officials like General Petreaus and mainstream media sirens.
In response, Henley observes:
In his narrative poem, Genesis, Frederick Turner includes the passage:
Those who say war is hell tell only half the story - the other half is joy.
There’s something to this. The point is, it’s a problem. War is beguiling. Even those of us who have spent years opposing this war, and the next one, are testament to this. We could be writing every day about tax policy or drug laws or health care policy or Lindsay Lohan. We write about war because it’s important, but also because it’s fascinating. Even as we abhor it we are mesmerized.
While pointing out that humanity has had a long obsession with war, and that many humans actually feel an exhilarating and intense form of elation when in the midst of combat (or vicariously), may not be a novel observation, it is one that is not as widely discussed or acknowledged as it should be. The more we, as a society, are able to recognize the existence of this latent urge to fight wars, the better we might be at applying a corrective layer of analysis that can neutralize this tendency to the extent that it adds extra weight to one side of the debate surrounding questions of war. If we know that there is a part of us all that feels an instinctive pull toward choosing war as a policy option, perhaps we can better police our own emotional/psychological predilections in order to avoid gratuitous error.

I have tried to scratch the surface of this phenomena in the past both here and here. I'll re-post some excerpts from those pieces that are relevant to the topics discussed by Henley. First, something I wrote while discussing the statement by Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis whereby he admitted that it was "fun to shoot some people" in the context of combat:
We as a society, and humanity in general, also share Mattis's views to some extent. Our collective dirty little secret. I remember as a young student being shocked to learn that non-combatant citizens used to attend Civil War battles with picnic baskets, decked out in their Sunday finery. But there I was, fascinated in my own right with that bloodiest of our martial history's chapters. On a more basic level, as a young child I was eager to play games of war with toy soldiers and weapons, and I was certainly not alone in this. It is second nature for young boys across many cultures. Like it or not, there is a flip side to the hard wired morality that instructs humans not to kill - a duality that might make us uncomfortable to acknowledge. From the beginning of the human condition, humanity has been drawn to war with a zeal that surpasses mere curiosity. In the modern setting, picnic baskets have been replaced with remote controls and plasma screens. War is good for the ratings of the major networks. Psychologists noted a certain malaise after Gulf War I that was attributed to the absence of the war and its 24 hour coverage. On some level, shooting people is "fun" for us all.
This, from novelist Doris Lessing:
In times of war, as everyone knows who has lived through one, or talked to soldiers when they are allowing themselves to remember the truth, and not the sentimentalities with which we all shield ourselves from the horrors of which we are capable...in times of war we revert, as a species, to the past, and are permitted to be brutal and cruel.

It is for this reason, and of course others, that a great many people enjoy war. But this is one of the facts about war that is not often talked about.

I think it is sentimental to discuss the subject of war, or peace, without acknowledging that a great many people enjoy war - not only the idea of it, but the fighting itself. In my time I have sat through many hours listening to people talking about war, the prevention of war, the awfulness of war, with it never once being mentioned that for large numbers of people the idea of war is exciting, and that when a war is over they may say it was the best time of their lives....People who have lived through a war know that as it approaches, an at first secret, unacknowledged, elation begins, as if an almost inaudible drum is beating...an awful, illicit, violent excitement is abroad. Then the elation becomes too strong to be ignored or overlooked: then everyone is possessed by it. [...]

When I was in Zimbabwe in 1982, two years after Independence, and the end of that appalling war that was very much uglier and more savage than we were ever told, I met soldiers from both sides, whites and blacks. The first obvious fact - obvious to an outsider, if not to themselves - was that they were in a state of shock. Seven years of war had left them in a stunned, curiously blank state, and I think it was because whenever people are actually forced to recognize from real experience, what we are capable of, it is so shocking that we can't take it in easily. Or take it in at all; we want to forget it. But there was another fact and for the purposes of this discussion perhaps a more interesting one. It was evident that the actual combatants on both sides, both blacks and whites, had thoroughly enjoyed the war. It was a fighting that demanded great skill, individual bravery, initiative and resourcefulness - the skills of a guerrilla, talents that through a long peace-time life may never have been called into use. Yet people may suspect that they have them, and secretly long for an opportunity to show them. This is not the least of the reasons, I believe, that wars happen.

These people, black and white, men and women, had been living in that extreme of tension, alertness, danger, with all their capacities in full use. I heard people say that nothing could ever come up to that experience. The dreadfulness of war was too near for them to be saying, "The best time of our lives," but they were, I am sure, beginning to think that.
And so it goes that there is this same illicit, violent excitement in the air as many pundits and politicians push us forward on the quest to "cauldronize" the Middle East by starting yet another war - this time with Iran (the newest in a long line of Hitler-Nazi-evil personified-irrational- existential threats). The case is as weak or weaker than it was the last time this country was swept away by war fever (see, Iraq) - if not for lack of valid casus belli, then at least for risks and costs involved. It is up to us to resist the siren's call.

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