Friday, March 25, 2005

War – and Warriors – Are about Killing

Soldiers for the Truth has an amazing article about the brutal nature of war titled War – and Warriors – Are about Killing.
Somewhere along the way to the vicious conflict in Iraq, it seems a lot of people forgot that war is about killing. They forgot that warfare, by its very nature, is about the absolute, resolute application of death-dealing power against an enemy until that opponent either submits or is destroyed. For thousands of years war was understood to be about “kill or be killed” and the “law of the jungle” and the “survival of the fittest.” Tarzan beating on his chest and yowling until the jackals fled their supper is what it was all about.
This, seemingly obvious point, was one of the things I tried to make apparent to those who advocated for the Iraq War under the pretense of a humanitarian mission to relieve the Iraqi citizens from Saddam's vicious rule. But for most of my friends, who are almost entirely under 30, the hell of war was too abstract, and their passion for action was too intense for this to sink in.

The article goes on to discuss the training that turns men into warriors:
Soldiers are trained to be warriors. They are carefully forged and tempered in hot coals and cold steel burnished with tales of valor and glory in an atmosphere where raw power is king and the application of brute force is a virtue. Until lately soldiers started talking about killing the first day of basic training and boot camp when the greatly feared and even more respected drill instructors - D.Is - told the recruits they were next to discover the drawbacks of sudden death if they didn’t listen to the evil-eyed instructors looking at them with malevolent gazes framed in lop-sided grins.

The grizzled, earthy sergeants told their charges in simple terms that a warrior is someone who killed people. The officers were the ones who explained a warrior is “engaged or experienced in war, or in the military life; a soldier; a champion [1913 Websters],” or “someone engaged in or experienced in warfare”, according to 2004, but it really didn’t compute. Only mean did.
So what is a warrior?
My favorite description of a warrior was somebody who is “a lean, green killing machine, a paid assassin in the employ of his country.” Drill Sergeant Villa called me that when I was seventeen and weighed about 130 pounds with my boots on. I was ready to go out and do a back-take-down-strangle-hold “guaranteed to snap a man’s neck like a twig” on the first S.O.B. that crossed my path. He made me a tiger!

In different guises and vernaculars training soldiers for war have used variations of that same theme for at least 100 years. Even before then men were taught to mindlessly move at their officer’s barked commands under a hail of arrows and spears and shot from slings, against galloping walls of crazed war horses carrying armored knights, and into massed musket fire. Anthropologists can probably point back 50,000 years and identify fellows willing to share the same notion in grunts and squawks. In those days warriors probably just picked up a big, ugly rock and smacked the crap out of anybody that annoyed them!

“What is the spirit of the bayonet,” the drill sergeants demanded insanely with eyes bulging and spittle flying from their contorted faces while we young recruits stabbed bayoneted rifles into straw-stuffed dummies and screamed in return, “The spirit of the bayonet is to kill, Drill Sergeant,” we roared, “kill, kill, kill!” It didn’t take too long to get the point across that way.
But as the author, Nathaniel R. Helms, notes- the main stream media tends not to focus on the brutal aspects of war, and when the brutality emerges, for example in the form of videos of U.S. Soldiers killing an unarmed Iraqi, the anchors who sit in their cushy studios fain shock and horror at the scene and try and convince themselves and their audience that this is the aberration in war. But that's just not the way it is- brutality is the norm in warfare.

Helms gives some of his own experiences to illustrate his point:
One time in Vietnam, I watched a Navy corpsman patching up one side of a North Vietnamese prisoner’s head after a comrade had cut his ear off. Meanwhile the same 19-year-old Marine cut the dying prisoner’s other ear off with his K-bar knife. Now that was some seriously inappropriate behavior. It is a good thing that didn’t make the nightly news! The young rifleman collected them on a string necklace he wore around his neck. The dried ears looked like a row of peanuts. Behind the gruesome setting other fellows were enjoying lunch.

Later, I discovered a famous picture of a French “Poilu” in World War I sitting on a rotting German corpse in a fortress at Verdun eating his lunch. Some things just never change.

Gross? Yes. Disgusting? Indisputably! Depraved? Without a doubt! That is what war is and that is what warriors do. It isn’t right, it isn’t condoned and competent authorities don’t encourage it, but degenerate behavior, vicious stupidity, and remorseless cruelty are as much a part of war as bravery, honor and glory. Perhaps even more so! Just ask Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He knows a lot about terror and cruelty.
This fact should be reminded to every citizen of this nation, especially when we are considering sending our soldiers into combat, but as Helms notes the MSM (and I would add- our government) does its best to make sure that this reality never reaches the average citizens television screens. Maybe if the brutal realities of war were allowed to pierce our false senses of moral superiority and safety than we'd be a lot less likely to send our young men and women into the belly of the beast.