Why Do We Love War?
My Sept/October 2004 issue of Utne Reader came yesterday, and I found the
following in their "quotes" page (First Thoughts). This was from Sam Ross,
a paratrooper wounded in Baghdad:
I lost my left leg, just below the knee. Lost my eyesight… I
have shrapnel in pretty much every part of my body. Got my finger blown
off… I had a hole blown through my right leg… It hurts a lot, that's
about it. You know, not really anything major. Just little things… It was
the best experience of my life.
I was stunned. Being in the Iraq war was the best experience of his life?
I read it just before some family members were coming over for dinner,
and so I read this quote to my brother-in-law who was part of the Bosnian
army during the Serbian-Croatian-Bosnia war.
He has previously told me horrific stories (I've read plenty too) of the
cruelty and the insanity that gripped their society for years. He said that
there is a bond among his fellow soldiers that is very strong.
I responded, "But why wouldn't the results of such a traumatic experience
not overshadow whatever emotional feelings you had?"
He said, "Well, it just happened, so those feelings are quite strong. But
give him a few years of trying to cope with the blindness and the missing
limbs and the treatment from society (both good and bad), and he will
probably change his feelings."
Perhaps. An army must generate a huge emotional high in order to have its
soldiers willing to sacrifice their lives. There is also the feeling of
being part of a greater unit working for a higher cause. I suppose that
explains, in part, the response to the Vietnam War from John Kerry. Plus,
one's perspective and interpretation of any experience changes over time.
Last week, I saw a documentary on the Nazi War Trials, and my confusion
over trying to understand these men, was still fresh on my mind. And when I
brought this up, my brother-in-law's response was to relate a story about a
man who, on a brief leave from the fighting, came home to find that the
enemy had broken into his house and killed his entire family… father,
mother, wife, children. So incensed was he, he went on a killing spree, and
gunned down hundreds of the enemy. His name became known and feared by
both sides, for here was a man without anything to loose and full of
But I can understand that. I have felt revenge. Granted, I think my
reaction as an older man would be quite different than his, but still, his
behavior can be understood.
What I can't understand is calculated cruelty to innocents. An Nazi order to
"shoot the infants so that both the infant and mother is killed in one
shot" … or even the behavior of the original soldiers who
could break into a home and murder an entire family. That is what I can't
Another brother-in-law had always felt that we, as a society, would
evolve away from war. I had felt that way, as well, for it doesn't take
much intelligence to realize that war is a very inefficient and costly way
of solving problems.
But biological evolution is millions of years ahead of our cultural
evolution, and it doesn't take into consideration the emotional feelings of
the soldiers and their commanders. Men need to fight. They need to defend
their women and their territories. They need to feel greater than
themselves. Without wars, we'd probably have an increase in gangs, which often
have similar sentiments.
But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.
Both Bosnian and German societies were civilized; their population was
educated; their culture was deep. But civilized societies can quickly erode
into a mind-numbing, passionate mudslide of cruelty and barbarism. It
happened there, it can happen here.
We aren't that different.
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