“...there is a class of men whose delight is in destroying.”

~ William Blake


“These people want to go to war and kill. It is that simple.”

~ Jeremiah Adler (an AWOL Marine recruit)

8/30/05

YM20

I feel just terrible for not supporting the troops. My admiration for Cindy Sheehan is boundless, but what was her kid doing volunteering to go to Iraq and do those horrible things to people? What was he thinking? Was he deluded or just looking to do a little hellraising or what? Sorry Cindy. Casey shouldered his gun and went to war and got what he went to dish out. It was a tragic outcome, but there was no injustice in it.

I have often imagined that the cause of war might, after all, be soldiers. We pacifists are prone to see them as victims, tossed into the volcano of war as offerings for better corn harvests, or as pawns in the ruthless game plans of the scions of power. But lately, as documentary videos reveal their faces, their t-shirts and their mindsets, we see that they are not such lambs.

It is not the old, the wise, the morally wary through whom rage Freud's libidinal demons. The wellspring of malice, the primal dysfunction, the Dionysian fuse that drives the human experiment, finds in us the course of least resistance, our YM20s. Young men in their twenties. Physically optimal, mentally malleable, impulsive, uneducated, homicidal, it is our male juveniles, not the statesmen who manage them, who channel the frenzies that have shaped the history of our species.

Man is a natural predator, according to this view, given to malignant excess and restrained by intelligence or not at all. The helltide of belligerence, the necrophilous romanticism of soldiery that seizes our imaginations, the will to dominate and extinguish the other, presses upon us from our inner core. It is our children, our "best and brightest," at the prime of their zeal and stamina, who most willingly embody the collective death wish. The devil is in our YM20s. There is a period in our late teens when we stop being cute and become dangerous. It is the hour when our genetic inheritance rushes to the forefront of our being, to the misfortune of everything around us. What do you do with physically optimized, hormonally impelled, mentally incomplete young idiots, driven by juvenile resentment and hostility, cursed with Homeric passions and the brains of chickens, in love with their muscles, ready for any noble cause, itching for a chance to finally wield some power? Hand them a gun and send them deer hunting. Send them overseas.

The training of modern soldiers, it begins to appear, is directive, not motivational. It constrains their lethal behavior more than it urges them to it. We don't ask them to kill. They already want to do that. They have spent the past eight years in video arcades practicing for it, aching for it. They are beyond willing. They are driven. They just need to be aimed, by somebody, at somebody, and granted the nihil obstat go ahead with it.

*****

Just when it looks like keeping Junior out of jail is a lost cause, it is the army that comes to our rescue, seeing an opportunity where society sees a problem. If only we could stop them right there, think the generals. If only we could preserve them from the passing of this libidinal phase, like the castrati of Medieval choirs were shielded from threats to their pure adolescent voices. Immersed in the culture of HOO-AH, sullen teenagers are never required to grow up. Presented with a simplistic fairy tale of good and evil by recruitment and motivational scientists, they become warriors instead of criminals, weapons of coercion for the motherland instead of common thugs. Saturated with the propaganda of HOO-AH, each one can tick off the childish aphorisms that make their violent vocations ok. They are not the sharpest pencils in the drawer to begin with, our soldiers. They are at a level of desperate self definition, not yet mature or circumspect or suspicious of error. And so they are easily transformed to embody the vitriol, the angry spunk our leaders hurl at their international competitors. Their faces, like the James Coburn wannabe mug of General Miller, the Beast of Guantanamo, freeze into the grotesque caricatures of the nasty brats they have nurtured into middle age. Kid's fantasy is promoted to psycho-sexual death wish, slingshot is transubstantiated to bomb.

The profession of militancy draws upon a segment of humanity which is not easy to identify or define. We scrutinize the faces of their random dead as they flicker past on the nightly news. No rich kids. No professors or academics or children of promise. Nearly half look like they are simply opaque killing machines, skilled in sniping but not speaking. A few appear as if they might be thoughtful and intelligent, though I used to believe that of anybody who wore glasses. Some seem to have a sense of humor, though the photos which have caught them in mid grin do not go on to tell us what they were grinning about. Almost all of the people I met years ago in the peacetime Navy were indeed frightening specimens, obscene and violent and obtuse beyond belief, but I was just out of high school at the time, and almost everything frightened me.

“I joined the Army nine years ago,” a sergeant is reported to have told a group of recruits. “because I wanted to go shoot motherfuckers.” The killer in question might not have been typical of his peers, or he might simply have been more plainspoken than most. Certainly the general run of infantrymen is unconcerned with history or human rights or the moral and political philosophies that bring them to various battlefronts to blast the life out of people in free fire zones. But I doubt whether everybody in the military is there for the thrill of the Valkeries. I could be wrong, but from here the volunteer army seems to be split into several main tribes. They are either young working class republicans getting their duty done to make their daddies proud, or ordinary blokes with thinning hair and pot bellies who have found jobs they don't mind doing, or poor people looking for college money and a way out of Dogpatch, or a species of cold-eyed sniper school cum laude whose home towns don't want them back, all converged somehow into a common belief that it is somewhere between necessary and downright satisfying to shoot motherfuckers.

Has it always been so?

Perhaps something inside us nostalgically clings to the Golden Rule. Getting conscripts to fire at the enemy, to aim their rifles at the hearts of other human beings and purposefully erase them, has not been uniformly easy through history.

"On Killing," an informationally useful work of prurient scholarship by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, focuses on the response of military science to the reluctance of soldiers to kill people in actual battlefield conditions. Confessing with some chagrin that he has never personally killed anybody, Col. Dave proceeds with the avidity of a Civil War aficionado to meticulously, lovingly catalog and document the history and psychology of warfare from the standpoint of its central act, sanctioned homicide, techniques for overcoming human resistance to it, and the personal and societal effects of it. Oddly, rather than exploring the question "Why do we kill?", Dave enquires into the sources of our inexplicable resistance to killing. Of the failure of soldiers to embrace the task of filling enemy bodies with hot lead he seems to ask "What's the matter with these kids?"

Col. Dave describes the cleanup following the Battle of Gettysburg. 27,574 muskets were recovered from the battlefield, he reports. "Of these, nearly 90 % (24,000) were loaded. 12,000 of these loaded muskets were found to be loaded more than once..." Why, he queries, given the fact that 95% of battle time was then given to the task of reloading one's musket, did so many soldiers flee or perish without firing their rounds? The aversion to terminating their own kind, opines Cap'n Dave, outweighed the thorough and repetitive training these young innocents had received. The preponderance of "non-firers" and infantrymen who, in the privacy of their personal gunsights, simply shoot over the heads of their targets, was a problem for the military until, beginning with the Great Wars of the 20th century, modern solutions were introduced. The counterproductive moral qualms of isolated soldiers were neutralized by sending them into battle in small squads, interactive teams of three or four men, each tasked with part of the killing equation. One guy relays commands from his radio, another does the targeting, and yet another performs the sniping, each in full view of the others. The kill ratios are far better with artillery crews than with solitary conscripts at the mercy of the seditious whisperings of their inner Jesus.

Alaric The Visigoth, whose intercranial voices told him to sack Rome on behalf of Christendom in 410 AD, seems to have received different whisperings, not unlike George Bush the Lesser who sacked Fallujah in 2004 AD. Altogether unconcerned with Jesus were the Mongols, who swarmed across Asia and Eastern Europe in the 13th Century living on mares milk and hamsters and mayhem. They were more of an all-volunteer army in which every YM20 of fighting age participated, probably because for them belonging to a murderous horde was indistinguishable from being a grownup. So the jury is out on Cap'n Dave's thesis. Perhaps in heterogeneous societies only a minority are drawn to the music of cannon fire, whereas in tribal cultures where independent thinking is rare wars and young men are made for each other. Today in strange America some run toward it, some from it, following the cultural mitosis that perennially asserts itself inside the human family, rednecks and hippies, the zoning lines between the City of Life and the City of Death.

Of course the mind keeps returning to all the dead people, whose rites of passage have been voided. Those being shot are not, as in gentlemens' wars of days bygone, other soldiers or comparable armies. They are the YM20s of defiant citizens, guerilla militiamen of an outraged populace, defending their communities against Johnny and his fellow invaders, just as Johnny would do if the Turks invaded Dubuque. They don't care if they die. When they die, their kid brothers will take their place. Every day you shoot ten terrorist motherfuckers, several thousand have their 18th birthday. Islamic people have a longer history of being willing to die than we do, and they are better at it. If suicidal YM20s are the currency of war, they are likely to outspend us.

If we had put half the energy that we have dumped into the logic of war into the logic of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood or the logic of Jesus H. Christ (as opposed to his supposed voice in the heads of lunatics) we would be driving solar cars today. The answers are dog shit obvious.

The human race is not divided into good guys and bad guys. Terrorists are good people who have been brought past the vanishing point of hope and whose only access to power is to collapse into annihilative outrage. War creates terrorists faster than it destroys them. The longer you engage in guerrilla war the nastier the environment becomes. Only total war, as the great conquerors knew, does not in fact strengthen your enemy. If you have the will and the resources to do it, you can simply carpet bomb them, exterminate their soldiers and families and barnyard animals, kill every last one of them until there is not one left to remember what you have done.

Every creature harbors a terrorist within, fully armed, fully motivated, ready to go. We defeat foreign terrorists on their own soil by going home. They are pacified by the restoration of their dignity, by the arduous and sincere cultivation of friendship. Less easily subdued are the terrorists inside our belligerent farm boys, our malicious politicians, ourselves.

*****