Thursday, February 28, 2008

Why I used to be a warmonger...

It is good that war is so horrible, or we might grow to like it.

Robert E. Lee, CSA



I've struggled with militarism for a long time. I find the martial virtues appealing, but I am at the same time shocked, horrified and simultaneously intrigued with the sophistication of our weaponry and military science. Nuclear weapons are sublime in their power and chemical and biological weaponry are so horrible that they make conventional war seem pleasant by comparison.

Wordnet defines militarism as "a political orientation of a people or a government to maintain a strong military force and to be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests".

As an Army brat, I've always thought of militarism more as a personal philosophy than a national one. To me, militarism is the idea that it is virtuous to fight, kill, and even die, for your country.

But fighting for your country typically involves killing people and blowing their shit up. It's undeniable that the experience of combat and killing people does significant damage (short term or long term) to most people's psyches.

Colonel David Grossman in his book On Killing argues that the military works very hard to overcome a combat soldier's natural resistance to committing homicide.

Psychopaths, on the other hand, enjoy inflicting pain on others and do not need much encouragement to kill people for pleasure and profit. This recent Ars Technica article discusses a Finnish study published in the journal Emotion where researchers used electrodes to measure a person's biomechanical response to killing virtual people in video games.

The researchers used the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire to evaluate which members of the research subjects exhibited psychopathic tendencies.

Now, militarists think that killing people in war is a noble thing, indeed, it is an essential test of manhood in their view. But the only people who don't suffer mental damage from killing people appear to be ones with what sociologists would describe as strong psychopathic tendencies.

So militarism is arguably a celebration of psychopathy.

I think the view that killing is virtuous is so central as to go unspoken in the book (and the movie) Jarhead, where soldiers feel robbed if they don't get to personally kill another human being before the end of the war. Get some while you can, Marines!

The United States military is easily the best financed Army in the world and our military's ability to kick ass and take names is impressive. It's easy to forget that when the military is overtaxed because of the no-win situation created by the morons running the White House.

Over at Intel Dump they've been discussing Obama and the 39 man rifle platoon and the fact that many of our troops are carrying AKs and Glocks rather than Army issue weaponry due to ammo shortages and the difficulties of maintaining logistics in a combat theater.

Personally, I'd take an AK any day over an M-16 or M-4. Now, an AR-15 is a fine weapon for police work, home defense, or varmint control, but I wouldn't want to go to war with one. But that's a whole other discussion.

I think the real question is how does America wean itself off of imperialism, state-sponsored terrorism, and the propensity to act as the world's police officer in the post-Bush era.

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