25 December 2006

Peace on Earth

Wars will stop when men refuse to fight.

--Albert Einstein

In a previous post, I asked if the U.S. was a warlike nation. I didn't draw a distinction, however, between the governments and the population at large. Granted, one could make an argument that for citizens under rule of a form of representative government, there is no difference. And it's commonly stated that warfare is an endemic part of human nature. Add it up, and the equation calculates to a sense that we are a "warlike nation".

However, the matter is not as simple as it seems when considering our civilization.

First, let's examine the notion that human nature favors war. To most human beings, killing another is an abominable idea. Even most soldiers are skittish about killing the enemy. So much that military instruction has embraced advances in psychology to lessen this natural aversion.

Studies of the killing of human beings by human beings are scarce with even less interest shown by the public or the media. Probably the best source of information on this subject is the book by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, On Killing, and the associated web site, "Killology Research Group." I would encourage any of you that are interested in this subject to take a look at that book and the articles at the web site.

According to Col. Grossman, ordinary soldiers are reluctant to personally and individually kill the enemy. He quotes the statistic that in World War II, only about 15-20% of American soldiers actually fired their weapons at the enemy. Similarly, in both the Civil War and World War I, there are indications that most non-professional soldiers elected to not actually try to kill the enemy. In fact, Grossman claims, ordinary humans experience a high stress level when put in the situation of having to kill other humans at close range which results in high degree of psychological trauma. It should be pointed out that of those who do their best to try to kill the enemy, there are many who kill for pleasure rather than just duty. Hopefully, those that get pleasure from killing are the professional soldiers and not employees of the Postal Service.

Two things have considerably corrected this situation to the point where most modern soldiers do, in fact, try to kill. One is the imbedding of the modern individual, from childhood, in a sea of violence in the form of movies, television and games, where killing humans is as routine as swatting a fly. The other is that the military has changed its training program to more effectively create a "killing machine" from the clueless civilian recruit.

By the time the Vietnam conflict came along, the conditioning programs (the military training as well as the unintended consequence of massive exposure to violent films and games throughout their young lives) was so successful that the percentage of soldiers that fired at the enemy had risen to 95% (see page 250 of Grossman's book).

Also, up close, face to face with another human being, the act of killing is often confronted in squeamish fashion. Not so when bombs are lobbed from great distances. When the carnage and destruction is hidden from view, one is more eager to inflict harm on unseen, nameless victims, where the realm seemingly shifts into something that more resembles a video game than war.

Governments embark upon propaganda campaigns and outright deceit to move nations to war. Our side is just, their side is vile barbarians. We are told that our cause is for truth and justice, their way is one of domination and enslavement. Even in "just wars", the opposing nation or alliance is demonized as subhuman evildoers. Just about every single war in the history of the United States has featured government deceit to justify a campaign for war.

Citizens are urged to submit in blind obedience to the state's edicts. That because our leaders pronounce so, reason and judgment are to be abandoned, and to question hawkish motives is akin to being unpatriotic. Individuals comply to satisfy the group.

I am no pacifist, and certainly recognize that at times, it is necessary to go to war to institute justice or save the oppressed. The choice for war is a heavy one, and it is depressing to see it packaged as a slick marketing campaign. Profits flow to corporate heads and government officers (who go in and out through a revolving door and some still own significant shares in the companies they headed that reap incredible gains from the business of war) while a stream of young Americans meet a tragic fate amidst a gushing river of slaughtered innocent civilians.

You may know this about the different ratio of civilian-to-military deaths in war, how in World War I, ten military dead for one civilian dead; in World War II, it was 50-50, half military, half civilian; in Vietnam, it was 70% civilian and 30% military; and in the wars since then, its 80% and 85% civilian.

My Christmas wish, this season and those forthcoming, is that we would band together and refuse to fight. Because while our leaders may be terrible war mongers, I believe most of us are not.

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