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13 February 2008

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William R. Cumming

The "Pursuit of Power" by William McNeil published in 1984 as part of a triology including the impact of pandemics on human history nicely covers the last 1000 evolution of weaponary and why the choices to fund that evolution occur. But this seems a new theme, what is in the psychology of man that triggers destruction. Freud is really substantially repudiated at this point and modern brain chemistry is still evolving by leaps and bounds. Perhaps pills that trigger destructive urges or resist them will be developed but robotics seems to also require policing if rendering death and destruction to civil populations is to be prohibited. Proliferation issues are very complicated and require patience and skill. Destruction with weaponary is much simpler. It remains to be seen whether mankind will evolve or destroy himself by his own inventions.

William R. Cumming

The "Pursuit of Power" by William McNeil published in 1984 as part of a triology including the impact of pandemics on human history nicely covers the last 1000 years evolution of weaponary and why the choices to fund that evolution occur. But this seems a new theme, what is in the psychology of man that triggers destruction. Freud is really substantially repudiated at this point and modern brain chemistry is still evolving by leaps and bounds. Perhaps pills that trigger destructive urges or resist them will be developed but robotics seems to also require policing if rendering death and destruction to civil populations is to be prohibited. Proliferation issues are very complicated and require patience and skill. Destruction with weaponary is much simpler. It remains to be seen whether mankind will evolve or destroy himself by his own inventions.

JohnH

I would argue that the cold, rational killer operating at a distance has become an enormous problem: Bush/Cheney flirting with nuking Iran.

Col. Smith gets to the heart of humanity. Humans' basic instincts tell them not to harm others. The impulse to avoid harm can also be found in rhesus monkeys, who
go hungry rather than pull a chain that delivers food to them and a shock
to another monkey.
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/13/magazine/13Psychology-t.html?pagewanted=1

However, that instinct is overcome once the target is put at a distance, either psychologically or physically. Modern, mechanized war is perfect for creating distance. And so the "civilized Western" public abhors Palestinian suicide bombers, who must operate in close. At the same time it is largely indifferent to Israeli air attacks which cause far greater death and destruction. The same is true of American indifference about air attacks on Iraqi populations. The information is all there, but most of us don't seek it out from the veterans who have actually seen it all.

It also explains how Americans can allow their President to go to war without justification and preside over the deaths of hundreds of thousands. It's all so remote from us.

vicenzo

Pat,

Well done.

I just want to take a moment to thank you for keeping high standards on your blog.

There are several site I would normally read (Larry Johnson's page being the foremost one that comes to mind) that I find myself unable to stomach these days, due to the high volume of election-related screeching taking the place of the core competencies and subjects that are the author's strong suit.

A small thing, sure, but frankly it says a lot about the kind of shop you run.

Gracias,
V

Babak Makkinejad

This reminds me of a long poem of Rumi on the behavior of Imam Ali on the battlefield. When Imam Ali defeated an opponent and was about to kill him, the fellow spit on him. Ali then walked away to calm himself so as not to kill in anger and for the satisfaction of his own ego but, rather to kill for God.

I think Col. Smith is discounting the physical joys of war and blood-lust that is available in the battle field. That joy is also part of human nature.

Curious

Colonel,

you are asking the question backward. It is not that what is the psychology of killing/pre-historic what not. But quite the opposite, is modern effort to prevent war/conflict successful?

Consider during New Orleans Katrina situation. People are quite readily killing each other by the hundred. Ordinary people.

I would argue, we are not as civilized as you think. It doesn't take much to turn US into rwanda, where people start killing each other en masse.

Some creeping sample: minutemen(self appointed border vigilante) , gay killing, ethnically motivated killing, etc are all alive and well.

If a political party in the US decide to ramp up ethnic strife, it will take less than a year using full force of mass media and state apparatus to create situation like Rwanda.

If the economic collapses -10-20%, add media rhetoric, high unemployment, weapons, drugs. We'll be all set.

Add military deployment to solve civil disorder, we have the typical beginning of military losing legitimacy in the eyes of public.

It doesn't take much to bring a country into its knee and create civil chaos.

even you will be quite happy to kill fellow citizen in a hurry.

Walrus

Col. Lang, I'm afraid I'm going to go off on a tangent here.

I think Col. Smith has completely lost the plot - mindless hot blooded violence has always been, and continues to be, one of the defining characteristics of humanity.

Or to put it another way, the veneer of civilisation is very very thin.

I fail to understand what he is complaining about.

I am sick of reading posts by military or former military people (present company accepted) who try and define "The Problem" using the mechanistic reasoning they were taught in the military.

Not that they aren't well intentioned people trying to do good, but they seem to lack the intellectual tools and life experiences to comprehend what they think they are talking about. You can see this best on a website called "Smallwars Journal" where various military folk try to analyze the Iraq war and counterinsurgency to death.

Col. Smith is embarking on a pointless quest, since both states he is talking about have been analyzed to death by thinkers for centuries. Perhaps Col. Smith should find a copy of "The Ik" - which documents from an anthropogical point of view, the downward spiral of a starving African tribe.

Cold blooded killing and inhuman behaviour is a natural state that can be easily induced, as the Nazis, and now the Bush Administration have comprehensively demonstrated.

At least two clinical experiments have also demonstrated this:

The Stanford Prison Experiment (http://www.prisonexp.org/faq.htm)

And of course there was the Milgram Experiment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment)

People brought up in secular humanist democratic traditions can easily do inhuman acts.

Frankly Col. Lang, after a week without food, and with a little misgovernment thrown in, I would expect that an American city would look exactly like Rwanda.

DeLudendwarf

I never cease to be amazed when I drop by to read here.

Great write.

I'll drop this link on the training of Close-In Organized Killers. It's a good read too.

Old Bogus

I came into combat arms kinda by accident. I was a "chemical laboratory specialist" whose MOS was unusable in Viet Nam. In frustration, I volunteered to be a helicopter door gunner (The repo depot at LBJ had sent me to the 1st Aviation Brigade to get rid of me; I'da been more useful in a POL company, I later learnt.). I was assigned to a "slick" with some very minimal training and off I went.

But this experience gave me some insight into human nature in war zones. And outside them. Much of our company was black but the crew chief I related to best insisted they were "niggers" as were the 5th Dimension singing group. Other than his bigotry toward blacks (only), we got along fine being both slightly insane and asking for the hairiest assignments.

Then one of our "slick" gunners managed to get into the gun platoon. After an heated engagement, he came around bragging about how "his" gunship had a confirmed kill of a VC with like 20 holes in him. My crew chief and I were both appalled at his getting a woody over this.

My liberal sensibilities still boggle at the dehumanization US soldiers employ to make killing another human OK. Every war employs slang terms to make the opposition less like us.

I still recall my one "personal" engagement of known combatants in a fire fight in the A Shau Valley. Unfortunately an M-60 isn't an accurate sniper weapon. At least one non-combatant suffered from my response to three muzzle flashes as our aircraft made an unscheduled landing. I still worry if a guy, possibly enduring forced labor, died or ended up in the NVA A Shau MASH unit so I could silence three riflemen who had nothing to do with our problem. They did quit shooting . . .

isamu

"The real revolution in the bow-and-arrow was the English long bow."

LOL, eurocentrism.

Because crossbows and recurved composite bows didn't change anything.

rjj

Walrus, wrt "The Ik".

Do you mean "The Mountain People" by Colin Turnbull?

Walrus

rjj: Spot On! Looking for my copy now. His earlier work on the Congo pygmies was "The Forest People" which is a more uplifting read than the trials of the Ik.

rjj

To hell with uplift. I think the Ik have more to tell us about ourselves than the Forest people.

rjj

uh oh, hope that didn't need one of those smiley things.

I liked them both, but the Ik stayed with me.

mike

It is time to bring back swords and espontoons. Or...if you want to kill people from 15,000 feet above, then replace the pilots with robots.

mike

Cold War Zoomie

DeLudendwarf,

Thanks so much for linking to Jim Webb's article.

Whenever I hear arguments that women can't handle combat, I think of the interviews of Soviet women on the Thames Television series "The World at War" (narrated by Larry Olivier). Many Soviet women faught for the "motherland" all the way to Berlin as foot soldiers. I think the close-in, up front units were all-woman whereas behind the lines units, such as anti-aircraft batteries, were integrated.

There could be different cultural issues that mean we cannot translate Soviet successes from over 50 years ago into our own forces. Plus, Soviet Russia was in dire straights - they needed every able-bodied person to fight.

All I'm saying is that we should always view these things with an open mind as much as possible. Women *can* fight as the Soviets showed. But what conditions existed to allow them to be successful, and do those conditions apply to us and our culture?

Sidney O. Smith III

Great insights from Col. Smith as he describes the two psychological states.

If I may speculate…perhaps the greatest danger to the world is when the two psychological states merge or, alternatively, if the second psychological state leads to the first.

The second psychological state may characterize the very intense,primal, and emotional swirl that surrounds racial or ethnic violence and it perhaps is triggered in part from collective memory. Because of technological advances, it is very easy today for a tribal, ethnic, or racial group to segue to the first psychological state, which is more premeditated.

So how does a group segue from the second to the first psychological state? Sometimes it can be done behind the veneer of validating racial violence in the name of “religion”.

The race experience is very intoxicating and powerful. It emboldens and empowers. It conveniently divides the world into the chosen and the unchosen. But it is not the same as the religious experience, at least from what I have read. And in the historical catalogue of man made catastrophes, the race or ethnic experience masking as the religious experience has produced some of the most horrific suffering ever known.

So, as an example, it wouldn’t surprise me if Dr. Strangelove, as an ethnic nationalist, would read Psalm 149 to legitimate pressing the “launch” buttons. He or she (ah, to be gender neutral!) would assure the people that it would lead to the euphoria of Psalm 150 -- a messianic era -- when in reality it is a racial experience that will only lead to Planet of the Apes.

Of course, if not Psalm 149, then all the world’s religions are replete with passages that would lead to the same “euphoria” of unleashing weapons of mass destruction. It is a universal phenomena.

So the progression would go something like this: second psychological state, first psychological state, launch. 2-1-0.

A neoconservative (Christian or Jewish) may read this comment, point a finger, and accuse me of being a “devil’s advocate”. Perhaps I am, but I’d probably respond that he unconsciously just articulated the "esoteric" office of Strauss.

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