The Joy of Killing

Here's something combat soldiers know but seldom talk about:  kicking ass and killing enemies can be a lot of fun.  They play their favorite kickass jams when they're in tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles.  It pumps them up.

It can be like a narcotic high.  It can even feel liberating.  The context of battle, unified with brothers in arms, enables men (and women) to channel something basic, elemental and seemingly "pure" from within our natures.  We are a violent species.

That's why "news" programs love battle footage.  People at home can share in this joy from the safety of their living rooms, by proxy.  There is a thrill to the kill.

We liberals have a big problem acknowledging this.  We like to think of a world of reason.  We have trouble with what philosophers and theologians call the "problem of evil." We like to think that people are basically good, and we tend to ignore evil, the evil or violence on our own natures and inside all others.

This, fundamentally, is why we are not trusted on matters of national security.  This is really why we lost the election.  Kerry thought that summits and pleasant conversations could bring about a less bloody form of victory over those nasty people (who are not like us, since they are so irrational).  The majority of Americans, whom we disdain as insufficiently enlightened, understand that human nature is a pretty nasty thing (this is why the Christians obsess so much about evil and sin).  They voted by a majority for Bush because they believe he "gets it," that man is not much more than a junkyard dog, and it takes a junkyard dog to win a dogfight.  The majority saw Kerry as a well coiffed poodle.

I'm not saying I agree with this point of view over who was best to win the election, but until we come to grips with the kernel of wisdom expressed by the majority - the understanding of human nature and our inability on the Left to fully acknowledge and address it - we will continue to be a minority party.  The reformation of the Left - the "reality based community" - must come from a full reckoning with the good and the bad of human nature.  Accordingly, we have to take a more realistic view of the world stage, highlighting the threats we face, and devise a foreign policy philosophy and set of priorities that squarely meets those threats.

Because soldiers experience the joy of killing, about which they may have misgivings later on but which they cannot deny, they appreciate that worldviews that avoid or deny the fundamental nature of humans as violent are flawed and dangerous to national security.  It is hard for them to understand how to use force strategically - they know that indecision and hesitation cost lives among their squad members in the thick of battle.  By the same token, we who tend to think more rationally and strategically tend to be too squeamish to use force directly, effectively and violently when force is needed.  

Lincoln only won the Civil War when he fired McClellan (who was loathe to use his massive army) and put the ruthless Grant in charge instead.  Grant used superior numbers like a meat grinder to wear the Army of Northern Virginia down, suffering extremely high casualties along the way.  Blunt, brutal, but effective.  I wonder:  could any defenders of liberty on the Left today ever contemplate such a strategy, even if it meant the end of slavery?

We on the Left, literally, have to get "real" with ourselves, if we are in fact to represent the "reality based community." Until we face the dark lust for violence in human nature, and come to terms with how to save civilization by aggressively defending our security, we will continue to be a cultural and political afterthought during time of war.  

Only when we establish domestic credibility on this score - through the selection of the right national spokespeople, candidates and rhetoric - can we gain the credibility to say the obvious:  that adventures like the current assault on Falluja are pointless and detrimental to our security, since this is not a war of territory that we face across the globe today, but a war of ideology, organization, recruitment and economics.  

We have to defeat the terrorists by targeting them and their organizations - people - narrowly, but more importantly, by promoting democracy and economic growth throughout the world.  And we must recognize that the nature of this war in a media age is such that we cannot win by creating collateral damage on any meaningful scale, by targeting civilian populations, or by seeking to install democracy at the point of a gun.

That means we have a long way to go as a movement.  We have to confront ourselves and the weaknesses of our philosophies: the denial or avoidance of the basest part of our natures as humans.  

Then, we have to show the rest of the country that we "get it," and establish that credibility, probably over more than one election cycle.  

Only then will we be able to criticize more effectively the foolish application of force in ways that defeat our national interests.  

We may be handed opportunities to offer our critique as Iraq becomes Bush's Vietnam over the next four years, but unless we can sketch out an alternate, aggressive and sometimes violent strategy to meet the threats we face, we can never win as a party of "mere" diplomacy during time of war.

The question is, will we pass this test, when opportunity presents itself?

That will be up to you.

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Comments

6 Comments

We have to also acknowledge the fact that Saddam
Now appears to have killed as many as 8 million Iraqis during his reign of terror.

(I also disagree. Humans are NOT programmed to kill. I do not think that getting a rush from killing is normal. We should try to reduce the amount of killing on TV, video games, etc. But then I suppose Army recruiting would be harder.. huh?)

Unfortunately, most of that killing was during the long period that the US supported him as a hedge against Iran. (We even allowed Iraqi companies to buy 'research' supplies like chemicals known to be used in nerve gas, anthrax virus, etc from us.. How soon we forget!)

I can't help but choke when I hear Rumsfeld's quote - made during his now-infamous trip to Baghdad (while he was the defense secretary during the Ford administration, I think) "Saddam is a person we can do business with"

See the National Security Archive's pages on the era..  which includes a photo of Saddam and Rumsfeld shaking hands..

http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB82/

by ultraworld 2004-11-12 08:06AM | 0 recs
Re: We have to also acknowledge the fact that Sadd
The reason why the United States and most of the rest of the world gave money to Saddam was because we didn't want Iran to win the first gulf war(Iran/Iraq war). We could spend forever lists the immoral actions of American durng the Cold War, but we seem to be paying for it now. I would worry less about acknowledging our past crimes than learning from them and preventing futures ones.
by tiberius 2004-11-12 08:33AM | 0 recs
This is perception rather than reality
I don't think you are suggesting we nominate The Undertaker from pro wrestling in '08, but then I'm not sure what your solution is. My solution is buying Fox News and slanting it liberal. Problem solved. Now we just need a mulit-billionaire.
by Gary Boatwright 2004-11-12 11:29AM | 0 recs
What I am suggesting moves along these lines
Why should people vote Dem on national security?

  1. We'll build an effective anti-terror "posse" (I like that language better than talking about "allainces" and "summits, which sound wimpy)

  2. We'll shore up the holes in our domestic defenses without lining the pockets of wartime profiteering corporation like Haliburten, and without detroying the rights of free citizens at home.

  3. We'll use more targeted approaches to going after terrorist cells with force anywhere in the world, wherever we choose, without host-state permission if necessary.  But we will pressure host states with means other than invasion to cooperate and root out their own terrorist cells.  (Trial Balloon:  We'll help create a Global Antiterror Alliance or GATA, to function as a new security allaince along the lines of NATO.  Member states will gain economic development resources if needed and benefit from friendly U. S. trade policies, and states that refuse to cooperate will be subject to GATA sanctions).

  4. If the invasion of another country is necessary at some point, the Democrats will understand what is at stake, weigh all the options beforehand and choose the right approach.  The Democrats are better at nation building than the Republicans are, and unless we want to be stuck in quagmire after quagmire, that matters.  The Dems are better because we'll use American power - all elements of American power - more effectively to produce the actual results we need.

That's a start at some rough ideas.  But I think we gain just as much if not more headway on the credibility issues through derivative issues and symbolic ones.  We need to pay attention to  candidate and spokesperson tone, character, biography, repetition of message and willingness to piss someone off some of the right people .  As Noam Shreiber (if memory serves) points out today at TNR:  

What could Kerry have accomplished by harshly criticizing France's kneejerk obstructionism during the runupp to the war, by pointing out the later discoverd corruption of the UN and of France and Russia by Hussein, and by staying harsh and rough on Saudi Arabia?  If he had, he might have been more credible.  Touting his Vietnam record was useful in small doses but not relevent to the current challnges we face, given the ability of the other side to blunt or netralize his war record by playing up his anti-war record (albeit with many lies)>

by Pachacutec 2004-11-12 12:16PM | 0 recs
That's fine and
probably irrelevant. I'm not disagreeing with any of your ideas. I'm just pointing out that it probably wasn't policy near as much as image that gave Bush a one point four percent mandate.

What was Bush's perscription? Stay the course. What the hell does that mean? Keep screwing up? I'm not trying to be rude, just pointing out that I don't think we lost because Kerry's "plan" wasn't good enough. It's all about image.

We don't need a better plan, we need better ad men (or women) (ad persons?) I give up.

by Gary Boatwright 2004-11-12 12:26PM | 0 recs
Um. . . I agree
In fact, I don't really see much (any?) daylight between what you're saying and what I'm trying to say.  But that may just be due to my failure to convey my thoughts clearly enough.

I certainly don't think that a plan is sufficient.  In fact, in itself, a plan is useless, except if it is delivered in a way, and as part of a more broad tapestry, that illustrates character.  

But the plan itself is not very meaningful.  We already know we have them beat on policy.  That is not our problem.  And that in fact is the essence of my entire argument:  plans don't give us national security credibility.  We have to be willing to communicate - genuinely - in a way that shows that we understand that "evil" exists and that human nature is far from wholly benign and that we have to be nasty and violent to defend ourselves.

Cheers!

by Pachacutec 2004-11-12 12:49PM | 0 recs

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