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Why Young Men Go to War (medium.com)
152 points by 67726e on Apr 16, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 214 comments



I forgot who said it, but it went like this: "If people recognise the banality of war, there will be no more wars."

Of course its not that simple, but we, I suppose especially us techie boys (us because I am one), think that an M1 Abrams tank, a F-15 airplane or a Sig Sauer rifle are, well, cool. We also think uniforms look good. And we dream of being heroes, especially when we are young.

It is, of course, nonsense. All these machines, while technologically interesting, are basically just ugly tools to end lives of other humans. I suppose the glamour and pride only work as long as you believe it does. And so forth.

Of course we need some weapons to defend ourselves, (one might argue our nuclear weapons are more than enough already), because who knows may come and attack, sure. But, yea, I think I just want to say, stop glorifying all this stuff.

It gives me hope that one of the most popular computer games ever, Minecraft, is not a war game. :)


>If people recognise the banality of war, there will be no more wars

It's not that wars are seen as heroic, or religious differences and other such BS.

A lot of modern wars can be explained as the results of colonialism (either traditional or in its current covert form). Larger countries have interests in exploiting less powerful countries, to get control of trade areas, cheap oil and labor, etc. Of course they say the bring "democracy" etc, even when they leave chaos and hell on their way out (plus some profitable contracts for them).

Before the 60s the did it directly, literally enslaving 7/10 of the world in their "colonies". After that they do it by proxy (e.g. by drawing borders in such a way that establish countries and "nations" that will fight between them so that they can more easily control the area, install lackeys in power, etc.


Wars were fought before western colonization too. Lots of current conflicts have nothing to do with colonization.


This reminded me of the article "The Jihad Cult: Why Young Germans Are Answering Call to Holy War" [1] - after reading it, I got the impression that at least some young men became jihadists because they are basically narcissistic losers whose attempts to be cool via normal and non-destructive means (like becaming famous rapper or kickboxer) failed so they convinced themselves that joining ISIS is the cool thing - they perceive it like courageously fighting with their 'brothers' to enforce God's will... or something like that, they perceive this concept as cool and some of them desperately want back home when they get to Syria and see the grim reality of real ISIS. The whole article is worth reading.

[1] http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/why-young-germany-...


Post-modern Western journalists and politicians are spectacularly ill-equipped to understand and hence deal with, people who actually believe in something, whatever that thing may be.


That's a ridiculous statement.

Any sort of Group of people X is Y statement is very unlikely to be true, but this is more so than most. Western Journalists regularly risk life and limb for what they believe in. In many ways it's like saying the clergy are atheists sure some of them are, but there is strong !atheist selection pressure going on.

EX: Let's cover an Ebola outbreak!


You appear to have skipped a word or two in what I wrote.


Like many people, I don't feel the need to defend politicians ;)


It may also be just a piece of propaganda, especially since it's written by Spiegel.

Somehow all opponents to the pro-US mainstream opinion end up there being narcissists (IS), evil dictators (Putin, Assad) and weak governments (Iraq, Afghanistan, just recently Greece), usually ridiculing them without asking for their motives.

A few months ago Spiegel even had to defend itself openly because people cancelled their subscriptions due to what was perceived as warmongering (Kriegshetze)

My own opinion is that unless media reports positive and negative aspects from both parties (because there is never only one culprit, neither in politics nor in marriage), they cannot be taken seriously.


I predict this might give me a lot of hate, but these people coming back is the worst possible outcome for (not only german) society. I don't believe for a second that at least most of them are not properly unbalanced (or worse) and will do no good to society for rest of their lives. I cannot imagine myself doing something like that, and I was no angel when teen. You can see in all media how war looks like there, so they cannot say they simply didn't know.

They wanted war, let them have it all the way to the bottom with all the (percieved) glory of death. They had chance offered to become members of society they were living in, and they refused. Okay, we should respect that choice, but with all consequences. Younger age is no excuse for such mistakes.


I think it is not fair to claim these young men want war. I think they want to fight for their cause.

Also, it is the United States which created a power-vacuum in the region. Why they did this is still a mystery to me.

I demonstrated in Amsterdam against the invasion of Iraq at the time as it was already clear at the time it was a racket.


No we need weapons to defend others. The USA and UK are in part two of the richest nations in the world because they are physically isolated from threats, we grew, and continue to grow, rich of trade with the rest of the world.

The West has the capacity to be heroic and for a brief period at the turn of the millennium was actually doing that. Kosovo and Sierra Leone were examples of successful military intervention followed up by nation building. Before that the first Gulf War was again a successful intervention.

The cause of peace allows Rwanda, Bosnia and a hundred other regional conflicts and genocide to claims the lives of millions and blight regions. We should not let Afghanistan and Iraq - and really the root problem is Iraq detract from the potential to affect positive change in the world.

Finally it's worth saying that military capability gives humanitarian capability. The recent Philippines disaster saw HMS Illustrious deliver all the spare rice in Singapore in a short space of time along with a number of helicopters as well as fit, motivated, organised and well led teams to assist in disaster relief.


I'm not sure that 1 or 2 successful interventions make a heroic period. And the First Gulf War was a farce. What has occurred in Iraq since is directly related and the stationing of troops in Saudi during the conflict had a profound influence on many, including Bin Laden. Intervention is always complex but this was a disaster.


I'd hardly call over a decade of regional stability a farce. It checked any expansionist tendencies of other regional powers. It helped make a very powerful point to Iran who didn't cause any problems with the Straits of Hormuz for a long while after, to Libya who had been invaded Chad only years before etc.

It was the 2003 invasion of Iraq that kicked off the nightmare and heightened regional and global instability. It was that massive miscalculation which hugely multiplied the number of jihadists and gave victories to radical Islamists.

Remember Iran had been chanting death America for years by that point, religious zealots already hated America and the West.


Regional stability didn't make for a very good time in Iraq if you were a Kurd, had supported the U.S. in any way or if you wanted to eat. Infant mortality went through the roof and the death toll from coalition bombing civilians was also a problem. Regional stability is a phrase that gets used to justify support for vicious dictatorships that suit foreign powers.


"Before that the first Gulf War was again a successful intervention."

Successful? You must be joking or only talk about US and UK side.

First Gulf war was a disaster. The US and UK invaded a country and asked the locals to support them, but then they went away. So Saddam took all the people that supported US and UK and simply killed them.

First GW only served one purpose, to claim hegemony of the US military on the war after the cold war and fall of the wall, that there was only one military ruler in the world.

But it was a disaster form an strategic point of view, killing all your supporters in one country, then killing the other side,thus creating a power vacuum as no educated elite is left, creating a failed state.

Remember that Saddam was a US ally and now we know he asked US what will happen if they invaded Kuwait. The US said it was none of their business. Of course it was.


GW1 militarily was a huge success, Kuwait - a "five feet high nation" in the Lloyd George sense, was defended from aggression from its much bigger, nastier neighbour. The principal of territorial integrity was upheld. The strategic aims were upheld.

It was our business, and should be our business. That's the whole point of things like the UN charter - remember there were a series of UN resolutions condemning the invasion of one sovereign nation by another. Without recourse to more powerful countries keeping the peace what defence do smaller nations have? That was the real tragedy of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the undermining of that moral authority.

You're also trying to have your cake and eat it by saying we shouldn't be involved in other countries affairs and then laying the failure of an internal uprising on the West. It wasn't an invasion where we asked the locals to support us, it was a national revolt (also in the North) as a result of the dictator being seen as weak following his failed invasion of Kuwait.

The USA made a few radio broadcasts, that's not enough to kick off an entire revolution. Iraq was in social turmoil after the Iran-Iraq war and the Gulf War, it was a powder keg waiting to go off.


> The principal of territorial integrity was upheld. The strategic aims were upheld.

Let's be honest, the US cares about those only in there's oil or other goodies involved (see the lack of response to the current situation in Ukraine, where there's little to gain and much to lose for the US).


What were the goodies in Afghanistan, Somalia or Kosovo?


The change in leadership explains the change in response. Obama does not believe the US should have the same role in the world the Bush did.


He's also not stupid enough to put US soldiers within shooting distance of accidentally starting literal World War 3.


"The recent Philippines disaster saw HMS Illustrious deliver all the spare rice in Singapore in a short space of time along with a number of helicopters as well as fit, motivated, organised and well led teams to assist in disaster relief."

Then you can have the same efficient result with a non-military organization. What's so special about them having guns?


The need/want of the US to have their guns all over the planet means they often have people in a position to help.

If they weren't out there defending people/enforcing US interests then they wouldn't be there at all.


Sure, but then it's a bad argument as defense of the military. Their purpose is not to help in disasters, that they happen to be there is secondary.


Well, you didn't seem so upbeat when your ex-allies practiced some 'nation building' on 9/11. Things don't look so heroic when happen in your own backyard, do they?


> us techie boys (us because I am one), think that an M1 Abrams tank, a F-15 airplane or a Sig Sauer rifle are, well, cool.

Speak for yourself only.

As a child Ive seen artillery in action, MiGs XX dropping bombs close to basement "us techies" were hiding it, those things are not fucking cool.

It would be so fun one day for you to experience an F15 dropping its load on your village or an M1 Abrams tank, firing its guns towards your house, then lets see if you think those are cool.

In general Americans are far far far from any war, and far far back in history to have any meaningful experience of it. Hollywood takes it lightly, it is entertaiment, for Americans, but "not so much" for lets say Europe.


I get what you're saying, but your tone here is pretty hostile here and you don't seem to acknowledge that the point you're making is in perfect agreement with the post you're responding to. You quoted him just before he said, "[This] is, of course, nonsense."


The way Americans treat war and violence as entertainment is disturbing to him, as he has been at the other end of it.

I've read an interview of a war correspondent that after witnessing war can no longer enjoy war entertainment, as it is disgusting to him.

I think hostility towards an attitude that takes inflicting death lightly, for entertainment is justified.


Understood. But that is actually scrrr's point. But scrrr was making it in a way that explains why people who have not experienced war and violence use it as entertainment.


Did he edit his comment after you replied? I totally agree with what he said to GP: "don't include me in your 'we think war machines are cool.'" That's bad form in general, doubly so on this touchy subject.


Is a train cool? A Saturn V rocket? A 3d printer?

I think so.

The same factors that make machines cool remain intact regardless of the application. Furthermore, there's much more kinetic energy involved when you're trying to take something apart quickly than when you're trying to carefully build it, and more still when someone else is trying to keep the thing intact. Is a controlled demolition cool? If not, why do people watch?

Nobody is arguing in favor of violence. The comments here are recognizing some of the reasons why war seems cool, especially to the young and especially to men.


Stating something first and then negating it in the same comment is a pretty weird way to make a point.


Basically an oxymoron. Shakespeare loved them [1]

[1] http://kerbev.hubpages.com/hub/shakespeare-oxymorons


There is a big qualitative difference between the conflicts in Europe and the wars waged by America. Wars in europe are nationalistic, vicious and leave deep scars even decades later on. It's fair to say we still haven't recovered from the scars of the 2 WWs and are still suspicious of each other. The US army is worldwide police. Their soldiers are basically heavily armed "policemen" who execute missions in exotic countries. That's why hollywood sees war as fun, technical an inhuman.


This heavily armed "policemen" line and that they are the "world police" is just the kind of propaganda the world should believe. There is no evidence that any of their wars, were actually fought with some noble goal in mind. In particular they are not some impartial law abiding, benevolent enforcer of rules, but break international law with reckless abandon. They also facilitate crimes of vicious dictatorships with covert and overt support.

American Sniper is the perfect example for how Hollywood presents wars. While some European and American intellectuals and artists doubted that after the Holocaust and WW II that any of that could be depicted without trivialization. Spielberg and others happily just did that.


I'm a US fan myself - I love the culture - but its people are being misled continously by the powers that be (military industrial complex tag-teaming with a handful of media moguls).

As so often the case it's about money and power (e.g. oil). Where was the police during the Rwanda and Dafur genocides? Even the UN kept relatively silent in contrast to how horrible those were.


I went in the army because at the time, I had big dreams and no clear path to them. I thought joining the army and doing a hard training would teach me something about achieving goals.

I went to war because I was in the army and wondered what was the point of being in the army if you don't go to war. After doing my training, deploying in Afghanistan was the logical follow up. Why train so hard just to stay home.

After the mission, I left the army. Partly because life back into garrison was boring as hell, partly because I felt I had lived all that was to live in the army and it was time for the next phase in my life.

At least my original goal is sort of achieved. The army and all the things I lived at that time have equipped me with a confidence that has since helped me achieve milestones toward my life goals. In retrospect, the three decisions I enumerated were sound and being my young self again, I would do the same.


The army is the reason young men go to war. That's what I infer from your comment at least.

What other institution is so organized, so marketed, so respected, as the army?

What other institution will take you in and dedicate the same level of attention and money in guiding you?

What other institution does all the above with as low of a barrier to entry?

To some extent, the army provides the same benefit as a cult. They are there to fill your void when you feel it most. Guiding you to a path of adventure, excitement, and mostly, fulfillment.


Luckily in most other developed western countries it carries no prestige to be part of the army outside of certain low income / right wing / uneducated circles. To the point where the majority of university students would never consider dating someone who went to the army. While there was still conscription, if you didn't chose to do alternative civil service, you were in the minority and considered suspect.


To the point where the majority of university students would never consider dating someone who went to the army

But they would never consider dating street sweepers or shop workers or manual labourers either, or anyone else they see as beneath their social status as "university students", despite relying on those people every single day of their lives. It's pure class snobbery, and this is why many people hold "students" in contempt.

Fortunately most grow out of it when they graduate.


now sir, you got this one wrong. for intellectually based people (let's assume most college people are), dating with somebody you don't have that much to say is meaningless and frustrating experience. same goes for (most) guys too.


The military attracts plenty of geniuses just like any other large organization. Simply by not admitting the least capable the Army ends up significantly higher IQ than the average high school. Meanwhile 39% of 18- to 24-year-olds and 65.9 of those who graduate high school were enrolled in college, so it's not all that selective.

PS: Yes, this means that large numbers of smart people don't think the way you do.


If that is the point the OP is trying to make, then why single out the military? And all that nonsense about the "right wing" (clue: militarism is equally distributed throughout the political spectrum).


Well I'm speaking of the political spectrum in the German army "http://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article109241172/Welt.... According to the linked article 70% are close to the CDU, which can be considered right wing, 14 % have extreme right views. I'm pretty sure similar things could be said about other armies in Europe.

Since the American political spectrum is skewed so far to the right, that it's ridiculous it might be true that American soldiers have views more representative of the population.


I'm not really sure what this has to do with street sweepers, shop workers, manual labourers, or military personnel? Would you care to elaborate?


Saying this applies to most developed countries is a big claim. My own personal experience in the few European countries is the opposite, that being in the military was great for picking up girls.

Obviously your own experience differs, but you must be careful in applying that to an entire continent. Not to mention the absurdity of university students looking down on soldiers, many (almost all in my unit) of whom will hold degrees themselves.


> My own personal experience in the few European countries is the opposite, that being in the military was great for picking up girls.

As the popular proverb in Poland goes, "za mundurem panny sznurem" - "girls queue up behind an uniform[ed guy; follow him]".


I wouldn't say that about the UK - perhaps because military leadership has traditionally been so closely aligned with our social classes (i.e. if you are posh and go to a public school then you are officer material).

A lot of private (what we call "public") schools have Army/Air-Force cadet groups which are supported by the real armed forces and often have ex-forces staff working in the school.


There is a good chance my view is heavily biased, obviously at one point in every European country the military was held in high regard, regardless of class. My perception is that at least in Germany being an officer is no longer something most young people would aspire to or even consider as a career path. Nor is volunteering for the army considered a particularly attractive option. Obviously other countries might have larger success in indoctrinating the young, US propaganda and Hollywood certainly do a good job at glorifying their military.


That's not true.


[flagged]


You have a very poor grasp of history if you mistake the lessons learned out of two brutal world wars, not to mention the senseless history of violence that preceded it, with some kind of cowardice. Your viewpoint can probably be traced back to some notion of Anglo-Saxon supremacy, that by now has lost its racial undertones and lives on as the idea of American exceptionalism: That somehow the US is a gift to the world and not a country like any other.

The US is just such a young country that it simply either hasn't learned the lesson, or that any kind of political dissent is dissipated or ineffective. Personally I take humility over pride any time of the day.


I'm as against American imperialism and militarism as anyone, but the EU simply has severe problems when taken as a self-defending military power. Namely: most EU countries are not up-to-date on their budget, equipment, and soldier contributions to the CSDP and NATO. This means that most of keeping Europe militarily stable - despite bordering Russia, the Middle East, and North Africa - falls to the American forces.

Meanwhile, Americans are kept in poverty to fund the military force that lets Europe and Japan be generous to their citizens. How just can that be?


It is easy to bash the US and is par for the course on HN but Europeans don't have to believe in Pax Americana to benefit from it. Do you think Poland would be able to relax if their defense was solely by Europeans?


There are actually interesting parallels to Silicon Valley and startups for techies. It is "the place to be", "the place to prove yourself". The cosy safety net of corporate life leaves you with the naggging feeling that you're not quite as good as someone "hacking" at the startup.

The notion isn't new, Shakespeare as usual sums it up:

And gentlemen in England now-a-bed Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.


Not being a native speaker, I can't find a handle on this quote. Can anyone please explain in simpler words what Shakespeare meant?


> And gentlemen in England now-a-bed Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

It's from Shakespeare's Henry V and it's part of the speech given by the titular King to his troops just before the Battle of Agincourt - which fell on St. Crispin's day. The Battle of Agincourt became a major English victory against the French during the Hundred-Year War and led to Henry V being recognized as Heir Apparent to the French crown, and his son, Henry VI, claiming the title of King of France as well being King of England.

In simpler terms the quote is saying that the glory gained by fighting in the battle alongside their King will be so great that any man who could fight who was not there will be jealous and will think of themselves as lesser men when in the company of those who fought.

The whole speech is here - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Crispin%27s_Day_Speech - and well worth reading.


"When you tell other men that you were at this battle, everyone will think you are cool, wish they had been here too and question their own manhood!"


people currently sleeping in England Shall think they were cursed by not being here And feel inferior, when anyone speaks that fought on St Crispin's Day.

Is that of any help?

(some context) This was part of a motivational speech by Henry V, given before the Battle of Agincourt, which took place on St Crispins Day.


Your second paragraph seems callous to me. Going to war for the sake of not wasting one's hard training, so to speak, is not moral. At least as I look at it.

War is horrible and should be avoided at all costs. Sometimes it is justifiable and necessary. War should be a last resort. I wish society had alternate means of accomplishing your first paragraph without resort to the second.


Why is it callous? Why get in the army in the first place, if not to do the work of the army? I'd be hypocritical to join the army with the desire to then avoid operations.

I can understand that people be against war. I don't like violence. I don't encourage violence and certainly do not enjoy wars. But wars exist and as a citizen, you can decide to wish that war magically weren't a thing, or do something about their existence. I did not encourage the concept of war by taking part in it, no more than I encourage system outages when I take part in building or fixing them.

War is not just war. It's not "just going somewhere to kill people". I didn't decide "Oh all that sweat wasted, better kill foreigners to make up for it". I volunteered because I thought I could make a positive influence, if any, by being a reasonable person doing their job in the most humane way I could. Not every soldier is an angry, bloodthirsty, moronic killer. Most of them aren't.

I don't wish to kill an innocent person anymore than you do. I don't wish to kill a guilty person either. But sometimes, participating in a war, or killing a person, is the only way to make the war less harmful, or prevent that person from killing many more.

Avoiding wars at all cost is not a magic bullet against wars. That's my take on it, I might be wrong.


As Sun Tzu said, the greatest warrior is the one who need never fight. While this can be interpreted as a pacifist/moral sentiment, it is really deeply practical: fighting incurs risks and resources, even if victorious. The most effective victories come from a credible deterrent which is never actually used. So I don't think your training would have been wasted by not seeing combat, any more than a policeman's weapon is wasted even if it is never fired.


If only US policemen listened more closely to Sun Tzu.


Interesting, in 'Army of Altruists' David Graeber argues the same thing: many young man enter the army because they want to do good, or for other reasons that are not 'killing'. It's not the core of the article, but it's a very interesting article nonetheless:

http://blogs.uoregon.edu/philanthropy/files/2014/08/army-of-...


You sound like a good person to me, but I do think you're wrong. It would be very hard for you to not see things the way you've described them, without going crazy at least.

It may be best to reject others' opinions, considering what you've done. Just to maintain that sanity. We all lie to ourselves for many things in our lives to maintain sanity. I'm not saying this in any way to be a slight towards you.

I personally think the current wars are actually abusive to those who join. Just because someone signs up to -defend- the nation, doesn't mean the political elite has a right to abuse those people. Since I think the wars are unjust, illegal and doing more harm overall than good. I'd never participate and would never encourage anyone I know to do so either. The best way to end war, which is never the 'right thing' in my mind to refuse to participate. There are -always- alternatives even if the argument coming from the profiting parties don't frame it in such a way that this is clear. Short of having foreign troops as we have them overseas, in your hometown. Then there likely are few alternatives.

Someday, and I think that day is approaching or we wouldn't be automating war, we'll see everyone as the same as us. I'd grab a gun and defend my home in Afghanistan too. I don't blame those people. Just as I'd be a 'terrorist' if the Chinese were in the US today to liberate us. I don't believe in gods or the tooth fairy- but I'd be happy to ally myself with Christian Fundamentalists if it meant preventing some jackass Chinese soldier from blowing up my grandmother's house, raping my wife, or just for simply marching around my hometown like they own the place. Which all of these things happen when you give someone a gun and license to kill.

The whole get-the-bad-guy argument has been proven wrong so many times. Looking at the situation today, Saddam was a great guy who we wish we could put back into place. Now there's ISIS, it's all a huge joke on us.

I don't honestly believe it's about any noble goals though. It's about perpetual war, using any argument at any cost to keep it going. This is the Vietnam they failed to turn into a perpetual goldmine for those who finance it and build the bombs. If you get my overall point here, you'll see I actually Support the Troops better than those who have the stupid bumper stickers or tell you "thank you for your service". The best way to support them is to bring them home where they belong, defending the nation from attack. I can't thank anyone for their service since I don't support the mission, but I also can't bear the thought we as citizens have somehow allowed this to go on for so long.

If political influence wasn't strictly measured by our bank accounts in our society, you'd never had a war to fight.


I'm curious. You seem to be saying that one cannot avoid every fight (the Chinese stuff in your post) and that one can avoid every fight ("There are -always- alternatives even if the argument coming from the profiting parties don't frame it in such a way that this is clear.")

This seems to be a bit contradictory. I'm also curious how it meshes with your personal experience.


I tried to clear that up with this, "Short of having foreign troops as we have them overseas, in your hometown." I was trying to convey that there is always an alternative unless it's out of self-defense.

If the Chinese were in the US today, I'm not sure we'd have much choice. I'm also not sure the people of the mideast have much choice either. Does anyone seriously expect them to embrace our "help"? It's asinine and insulting to their (and our) intelligence. It's unfathomable to me that anyone over there wouldn't be taking up arms against 'us'. It should be radicalizing the moderates. What a gift that was for the extremists. The money, lives and hatred created was senseless. Our troops and their population are deeply invested in a conflict that didn't need to happen. Well, except on their side. They had to fight us once we setup shop in their country. These wars are a business venture transferring wealth from the citizenry to those colluding with the gov't, not a noble cause.

It meshes with my personal experiences quite well. Unless someone takes a swing at me, I don't fight. I get by well with this principle. I'm never in jail and never standing in front of a judge, and no one gets hurt unnecessarily. I think the same principle would do our nation-state a lot of good.

You can't say it's a response to 9/11 (a "swing at us"). Because if this were about stopping Islamic-sourced terrorism, we would've invaded Saudi Arabia first, foremost and long ago. It was a response to nothing, it was an excuse.


briliantly put in many ways... one could possibly say an analogy for Iraq - some friend of a friend of a friend overheard something noone else believed - that a guy (let's say convicted felon who served his sentence) in next town has a gun in his basement. no idea why, but imagine you feel the urge to dispose of this "threat", maybe because you're a military nutjob, or anything else. it doesn't matter that many guys in his neighbourhood have the same weapon, and many more.

you try to rally your neighbours and friends to have a raid group. unsurprisingly, your german and french friends are against armed storming of someone else house based just on some overheard rumours (), rest is at least hesitant. you say something along "fk you puies" and storm the house with only friend you are left with - that british fella that you have so much in common with. Long story short, you kill the guy unarmed, don't find any weapon whatsoever and burn his house in the process to ashes. After that you refuse to move from his property, stating you need to keep that neighbourhood protected and invite other armed people to join you.

Sorry if I missed some important stuff, and of course this describes only beginning, with all the current mess being result of these (probably intentional) mistakes. If anyone still thinks US is viewed anywhere as a good guy in this war, then NO - there are only bad guys. Personally, ISIS would still have to work hard to match all US-directly-caused civilian casualities in Iraq. It doesn't matter much if someone is beheaded, blown to pieces or machinegunned while going to work, does it...

() - that Bush speech in UN was really horrible, I recall it quite well, saying to myself - and they want to screw up another nation completely based on THAT???


>It meshes with my personal experiences quite well. Unless someone takes a swing at me, I don't fight. I get by well with this principle.

Oh? And what would you do if you came across someone beating a child to death? Just watch and wait for him/her to take a swing at you before intervening?


I normally wouldn't respond to someone being downvoted, but I genuinely want to help people like yourself see this another way. The child beating scenario is a hypothetical. A 1:1 mapping with today's situation is that this child would be in Shanghai. I could fly over and try to save that child. Or, I could rely on those people that are surrounding the child already to have a more vested interest than I do as someone on the other side of the globe.

Am I to fly around the world, saving everyone? Is that even possible? What about the children not immediately near me, but closer than Shanghai? Haiti or Mexico for example. I think the people in the Shanghai region have more responsibility to save that child than me. When we did try to save that child in Iraq, we ignored the child in Haiti, Mexico and here at home too. And so many unintended consequences (like the region assuming: oh, the US is here, we'll do nothing now). People are good across the globe, it's naive to think we're the only one interested in saving children. Unfortunately it's usually a political ruse than a genuine interest to help. Instead, the children here, Haiti and Mexico either have no oil, or are already under US political control- so the industrialists in bed with the gov't don't care about children beaten there. That's the real answer.

Also, does anyone honestly believe the people of Shanghai -want- our help saving their beaten children? Just about as much as we want the Chinese coming to San Francisco to save our children in need.

Hypotheticals are good for making points easier to get across. But I wouldn't accept an overly simplified hypothetical like yours without qualifications. The way you framed yours lines up with how the war profiteers want the argument to be framed. I mean, Shanghai is a big enough city that you know for a fact that there is literally a child being beaten there, right now. There's many good reasons you're not buying a ticket personally to go find that child and save him or her.

You could say, "the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Well then, best order your ticket now. Think about those reasons why you aren't doing that. Those are the same reasons we shouldn't be sending guys with -guns- over there either to "help". If you do this exercise you'll understand how absurd the whole thing is.


It was not a metaphor. You said you would never fight unless someone took a swing at you. If you walked down the street and spotted a person beating another helpless person to death, would you stand by and do nothing because you had not been attacked?

Also, drop the condescending tone in your response about 'helping people see another way'. I gave you a simple hypothetical and you dumped a page of text without answering it because you didn't understand a simple question. You're not helping at all.


I did answer you, very clearly. If you understood my response you'd know that I would help that person. The issue is that your supposition has no correlation to the wars in the mideast and US involvement at all.


Yet you're happy with going into the Iraq war because you were bored and wanted to do something "positive" with your life? You have no regrets about going into an immoral war that should never have happened?


I didn't go to Iraq, I went to Afghanistan.


It could be a callous viewpoint, but intent certainly matters. Just going to war to use your training is wholly callous.

But take any of the recent genocides (Rwanda) or even ISIS - innocent people are unquestionably being killed. A soldier hears about this in the news, prepares every day to stop large forces like that, and instead is being asked to stand down. The media obviously plays a large role in shaping the perspective of horrors being done in the world, and I wouldn't argue war is the solution to all but a few problems. However, it is fairly straightforward and morally defensible that innocent people would be alive if other people were killed, and soldiers are prepared and ready to kill.


Keep in mind that the average war kills as many civilians as it does combatants. War is not precise, despite what we are told. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilian_casualty_ratio


But luckily the US is changing that by re-defining who is or is not a civilian.

Last I checked the official stance was that any able-bodied adult or adolescent male in a war zone is considered an enemy combatant in official statistics.


Innocent people are unquestionably being killed, but the US shocked and awed plenty of civilians back in the day. And its actions did cause a major civil war. So it all depends on what you think of the deeper reasons behind wars, and of how much civilian leaders have considered the consequences of their actions. The problem is that wars are rarely waged to protect innocents, they are an answer to strategic considerations.


"But take any of the recent genocides (Rwanda) or even ISIS - innocent people are unquestionably being killed."

Yeah, take that. What you don't talk about is that what we call ISIS today was US best friend just months ago. They were called euphemistically "moderate rebels fighting for democracy in Syria" and they were supported economically and with weapons by the US and Saudi Arabia to kill innocent people there(and put a puppet state in place).

Of course they took the weapons and crossed the border to occupy Iraq, as the failed state the US created made it so easier than fighting against a well organized, and Russia supported army.

Media creates your perceptions based on their own interest. If the news come from far away, media has total control of shaping your emotions, as you don't have family, friends, eyes or ears in the place.


The situation is quite a bit more complicated and nuanced than how you present it here. The whole mess is made up of a plethora of parties with differing ideologies and priorities. Ascribing the formation of ISIS to the US lacks any real thought on the subject.


"Your second paragraph seems callous to me. Going to war for the sake of not wasting one's hard training, so to speak, is not moral. At least as I look at it."

Don't waste good.


I was a military wife for a lot of years. Also, my dad was career military and fought in two wars.

When you get trained to deal death, yes, you tend to become somewhat callous.

Being exposed to that culture helped me effectively combat a serious medical condition. I don't think it is somehow inherently evil.


A quote from "This Kind of War: The Classic Korean War History"

"The single greatest weakness of a free people is always their moral doubts."


War is horrible and thus starting a war should be avoidable at all costs - it should be a last resort, but this recommendation applies to the politicians and country leaders.

For the trooper, it's entirely differnent - assuming that a war exists already, the choice is about which bodies get sent there, and not wasting your training is a reasonable argument. Once a war exists, joining it usually contributes to it's end; if the other things are somewhat comparable, a shorter war is less horrible to everybody (especially local civilians) than a prolonged war, and you get a shorter war by winning with an overwhelming force.


If no one joined then the war would end much more quickly.


Society does have alternate means of accomplishing the first without the second - there's the Peace Corps/Americorp, getting a job, starting a business, volunteerism, doing a Ph.D.

Not all paths are appropriate for all people, though.


"Callous" is probably an imprecise word choice for the sentiment you're trying to communicate. And anyway it's not necessarily immoral to go to war for this reason depending on how you perform the calculus, e.g., depending on how much government money went into training and considering most soldiers don't kill others, it might be morally permissible.

I also doubt that the commenter would wholly support going to war or that he would seriously disagree with any of the assertions in "your second paragraph". But life is hard, and people have to try to achieve their goals and form a coherent narrative out of things. You might do better to reconcile a critique of the military with the fact that people in the military are not all bad or in the wrong.


> Why train so hard just to stay home.

Yeah, better use those muscles and brains to kill people across borders. That's the spirit!


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No. Somebody doesn't have to go, for most wars, and certainly not for the wars the US has started recently. Existential threats may require war, but the US doesn't face any right now.


No, nobody has to go, there's no actual need for war unless actual soldiers come marching on your homes. Which has like NEVER happened in the US (and who would dare anyway!). And it's not like US Allies are in deep danger either. Most of the current wars are of the "preventive" nonsense type.


"Sometime they'll give a war and nobody will come"

~ Carl Sandburg


How did you have a choice about being deployed?


I volunteered.


Having been in for 20 years now, I definitely agree with Junger, there is an innate element in young men trying to prove themselves. I think YCombinator appeals to a similar desire.

I was performing an autopsy yesterday when the med student, the photographer, and the assistant started talking about guns. Their gusto was impressive. I felt no need to partake, but I think that was attributable, at least in part, to the fact that I have far more experience with weapons than any of them. But I acquired those experiences by satisfying the same desire they, to some extent, haven't. How do you break that chicken-egg problem?

Alternate rites of passage, I would think. We need more of those. Is there a way to facilitate young men helping on start-ups earlier in their careers? Maybe before college?


Exactly. I went to a sad war to piss off my parents. One Grandfather had delivered letters. Another had been in the 10th Australian Light Horse Regiment of the Australian army and last great horse led assault of the First World War.

I could not rebel by taking drugs. Both my parents went to wars. My parents had been famous journalists. My mother had broken the the story of the Heroin problem of the Australian army. My dad broke countless stories. All wars are nasty. I went to Sarajevo in the 1990's. This was a war of the break of communism (in a way) of Yugoslavia. This was a war that was accessible from a 3 hour flight form London.

Upon arrival I phoned both of my parents courtesy of of a CNN satellite. But I was lucky. Somebody pointed a gun at the car I was driving and missed. Another day somebody pointed a gun at the tank I was hiding behind. They missed.

The weird part of this story was that I was escaping the production of a violent computer game which I was meant to be helping with in the marketing. Where I went was very scary. In the computer game you never missed. In real life you just partied.

All of this to piss my parents off. Am I mad. The weird bit, was that marijuana was cool in my parents eyes, but war was not. There was neither the understanding in why I went, or why the war had happened by anybody. I still feel cut off by this war.

I lost the war. I started to believe that there should be no distance between the developed and developing world. But in the end no matter how strange the first world was that the developing world people will still fire guns at you. Having said that. I have more true friends in the developing world than the developed.

What makes me feel sad is that us as humans are basically the same.


"there is an innate element in young men trying to prove themselves. I think YCombinator appeals to a similar desire."

being young, male and bottom of the totem-pole, a place where you are valued, relied on, protect and protect others why wouldn't a kid see this as a great option. Junger makes the point a number of times that as a 17-26y/o you are 6 times more likely to be killed than F or other M in different age groups. You are physically safer in the services.

"Alternate rites of passage, I would think. We need more of those."

Second that. What ROPs will youngsters choose without some element of danger though, to prove themselves? I'm convinced the danger element/risk seeking and success is bound tightly with ROP. That was my youth, though I'd been well trained in calculated risk.


Perhaps, but I really don't know if that would solve it either. I've done rather well thus far in my career, and continue to do so. Yet something feels missing, I don't know what, but I still have some recurring desire to enlist. That the whole software thing - and this is something I've been doing since a very young age - is not enough. That I should be doing something _more_.


Try rock climbing/mountaineering. Being in the wall few hundred meters above the ground, your mind doesn't care if there is securing rope tying you to last quickdraw or not. You will be scared. You will be bathing in adrenaline. You will have to muster all your courage to move forward, to climb higher, to reach the top. Again and again.

You'll get all the excitement army guys get in deployment, without screwing you up and becoming permanent mental cripple. In fact, it will make you a better person in many many ways. Guaranteed.


Interestingly enough, crime is perpetrated mostly by young men also.


I'm stunned to realize how important youth to adult transition, rite of passage are important.


They join the military for a variety of reasons, which may or may not have involved any feelings about any conflict at hand much less the media. The reason they go to war, however, is because of old men.


>is because of old men.

This is a typical modernist redaction of the will to violence that is common to young men. Past societies found ways to incorporate, normalize, redirect, celebrate that will - now we pathologize it. This is because we think we can mutate the human condition into something better.


I don't think that's accurate, if we're discussing what actually motivates military deployments. There are exceptions, but in most wars the enlisted men themselves have not been the ones chomping at the bit to be sent to war. Rather, they were sent by older men serving in government, who did not themselves participate in the fighting, often over considerable dissent from the rank and file. In some cases, such as the U.S.'s participation in Vietnam, the wars were exceedingly unpopular among the young people actually sent to fight them.


I don't think that's an entirely accurate depiction, given the article. I believe this is strictly in a modern context, and given that every soldier, sailor, Marine, and airman is a volunteer, it misses the point. We can point at Cheney and Rumsfeld and Halliburton, but as the article states, this robs every service member of his or her agency.

The reason every one of my friends from high school went to war is because they wanted to. Some wanted to serve their country, defend it's freedoms. Some wanted to spill blood. I very nearly went down that path myself, and some nights I wonder why I didn't. Sometimes I think it's not too late. Perhaps they were hypnotized and lack free will, maybe our NJROTC instructors indoctrinated them in a way that didn't have an affect on me. Why is it so pervasive?

I'm young, make a killing writing software - something I've loved doing since a young age - and yet I can't help but think I should enlist (I simply lack the desire to complete my degree, so getting a commission is not a reality). I lust for the thought of besting other young men, I want to win, I want to be the one standing when the dust settles. Maybe it will sate that appetite, maybe it will give me some appreciation for the world that I lack. Who is to say? I don't feel the desire to go out and slay my fellow man, except in that one specific context.

I shared the article because it rang very close the home, and I suspect it would for each and every one of my friends.


If someone joins during a war, I agree, they are usually doing that of their own accord, modulo a few people who maybe felt they had no other economic/etc. choice. But that's not that many people, which is why the U.S. military started having recruiting problems after they launched the Iraq and Afghanistan wars: many people who had previously signed up now regretted it, and the supply of new volunteers dwindled.

My own experience with classmates is quite different, but it sounds like it's a few years prior, so it might already be out of date. Around when my friends and I graduated high school (~1999-2000) the military was seen as a reasonable career path with a primarily deterrent and strategic role, and a fairly low chance of offensive deployment. And the reserves were seen as a last-ditch force that would effectively only be called up if the U.S. or a NATO ally were invaded. Many of my classmates who entered around then signed on for this mission, and didn't agree with subsequent decisions made by the political branches to change their role. The "stop-loss orders" of 2002–03, in which they were not allowed to discharge at their originally agreed discharge date, and the calling up of the reserves for something that did not really fit the prior understanding of how reserves would be used (both done as desperate measures to make up for volunteer numbers absolutely tanking), were particularly unpopular, and at that point many no longer felt like they were still volunteers. I feel myself like I dodged a bullet by not going that path (I had talked to a recruiter in 1999, who painted a fairly appealing story about technical careers in the military).


We certainly have a time difference, I was born in '93, so we all came of age throughout the war, and by the time we graduated (2011) and could enlist, the war had raged and begun to wane. The cards had fallen, and anyone with half a brain could look at the facts for what had happened. My view of the US, by that point, had morphed from that of a patriot to that of a dissident. Given the NSA revelations, I could almost say I have a hatred for our government, but the military seems to represents something else.

To this day I feel bad for those who fought in Iraq (2003), because I think many (most?) were duped. Yet that urge remains. Perhaps the years of recruitment tools disguised as video games and the notion of the "warrior" were just far too ingrained in my head, but I entered high school (in fact, I started in middle school in a pre-JROTC program to get a head start over the others) dove head first into the NJROTC program with the intent to get a head start on enlistment. I ate that shit up! Ultimately, after a series of (un)fortunate events, I walked out of high school with a jaded outlook and a full-ride scholarship, so enlistment wasn't in the cards. I don't quite know just what it is that keeps enticing me, maybe it's a desire for a fresh start, maybe I'm a bloodthirsty baby-killer, or maybe it's biological. It's probably a mix of many things, but I can't help but think there is a desire to prove oneself as a man. I'm very introspective, but I just cannot put my finger on what it is.


That makes sense. I think in the '90s there was more of a difference in how people thought of "the military" overall, vs. the special forces specifically, which is where you'd get the dropping-in-somewhere-from-a-helicopter-and-shooting type action. The special forces were definitely a fascination for many, but I think more of some kind of theoretical fascination. I'm not sure I know anyone who seriously pursued it, in part because it seemed pretty unlikely as a career path, like becoming a "black bag" style CIA spy or something. More of kind of an idle fantasy than a serious source of indecision. (Obviously some people did, since special forces existed.)

The ones interested in the "regular" military I remember thinking of it as more like a kind of adult boy scouts: a good place to develop some self-discipline, physical fitness, ability to work closely with teammates, etc., and maybe gain useful skills depending on your specialty. All the while doing some kind of vaguely patriotic duty deterring China simply by existing and maintaining/flexing some advanced technology. But going to an actual hot shooting war wasn't really the goal. The idea was to do your tour of duty, get honorably discharged, and then either get a job, or go to college on the GI bill. Either way a military tour probably would look good on the resume. Some people also had more specific interests, usually having something to do with technology (but maybe this is because of who my friends were), e.g. if you want to work on nuclear-powered ships or advanced jets, the military is where they are. The recruiters really played up the tech angle when visiting my high school, almost downplaying the "military" aspects. I guess they have probably changed their pitch in the intervening years...


I think that hits the nail pretty well. The handful of older adults I know who went into the service did it for those exact reasons, wanted to fly, wanted to go to college on the GI bill, wanted to become a surgeon but couldn't afford medical school, etc. I think part of this modern situation, is that the armed services have done an amazing PR job in the past decade and a half. We've gone from the notion of a citizen soldier to this warrior notion. You're no longer doing your duty, conscripted and fighting an evil empire. You're joining up to be a warrior!

Something that just came into my head is that, out of my male friends, all but a two went Army/Marines with one going Air Force and the other going Navy, and my male friend who went Navy wanted to be (and is) a dental tech. A cursory check of Facebook confirms this, and interestingly, of the women I know from school who went into the service, all but one went Navy (the odd woman out went Marines). I think that notion of "Adult Scouts" and a stepping stone still applies to the Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force to large part, no airmen or sailor is doing night raids in an Afghan village, you might get someone aiming for a Corpsman or a forward observer, and of course SEALs or Pararescue, but those are a small part of those branches.


It's a pity that this cycle repeats itself so often. "The army is cool, they fight wars. My army won't fight but I'll still get to feel cool.". My dad fell into this trap too and got stuck going through a war. But ultimately it really is their own fault. They did agree to kill people if told to, and they did lock themselves into being unable to quit even if the situation changed. They also wanted to get the feeling of being associated with the other killers in the army, which they got. So I don't think signing up in a brief moment of peacetime excuses any soldiers of their immoral actions.


> The reason every one of my friends from high school went to war is because they wanted to.

"wanted to"

The thing about being young is that your perspective is fairly narrow. It takes time and experience for your perspective to broaden. I can tell you that my perspective on the military and its recruitment of young adults has definitely changed over the years.

While it is ultimately their choice, I think it's dishonest to act as if we as a nation don't have recruitment officers inside many high schools in this country for the sole purpose of recruiting these young men and women who don't have the breadth of perspective to really make an informed decision.


The good news is that feeling will just disappear as you age.


>if we're discussing what actually motivates military deployments

Sure, but don't try to weave a narrative around the idea that old men are the only ones eager for war.

>Vietnam

Poor timing, poorly managed, generally a waste of time, and therefore unpopular, yes.


Past societies found ways to incorporate, normalize, redirect, celebrate that will - now we pathologize it.

Any examples? Blood sport and dueling comes to mind, though I am skeptical of their desirability. Perhaps the latter might be reinstated as a voluntary contract for consenting adults, but it's treading a fine line.


Or if you go back further raiding, blood feuds, and that sort of thing. The formation of states with their monopolies on violence was a huge change in the human condition. We certainly gave up something fundamental to the human condition when we decided that personal vengeance was anathema. But still, I think it was a good trade.


Consider the cultural norms of old European sword nobility. Soldiers, particularly those that saw combat, aren't treated at all in the same way today as they were 100, 500, 1000 years ago. Pre-axial religions were more to my point than axial-age, universalizing faiths like Christianity, Buddhism, Islam. For example, human and animal sacrifice.

A different example not centered on violence: carnival.

>though I am skeptical of their desirability. Perhaps the latter might be reinstated as a voluntary contract for consenting adults, but it's treading a fine line.

That's fine, but you need to realize that this viewpoint is about an ideal societal arrangement and doesn't accord with the entire range of human desire.


I'd wager that there was also a higher per capita distribution of soldiers back then. That there was a consistent ethos as to their treatment is dubious.

It's interesting you mention a century ago. Here is a prime example of the good treatment soldiers received back then, on top of the involuntary experimentation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonus_Army

Human sacrifice certainly might be an ideal arrangement. Though I'm not sure which meaning of ideal - one of optimal efficiency, or one of opposition to reality. If young men really are so bloodthirsty and violent and this should be celebrated, voluntary blood sport is probably the best bet.

Ultimately, avoidance of gratuitous death is a good thing.


You talk of past societies as if they were less at war. I'm not sure you should use the argument of the romanticized past. Pretty sure it would fall under one of those common fallacy: "Golden Age Fallacy" or "Appeal to tradition fallacy".


> because of old men

Erm, Because of old, blood-thirsty politicians. Do not basket all peace-loving old men along with them, please.


All cows are animals, not all animals are cows. Most of the war mongering politicians are in fact old men.


I'd say this article is mostly spot on... the assertion that this is male biological urge is probably true. I believe at its core it is a desire to identify oneself as a member of a group of "manly" males and to prove one's worth and garner the respect of the already prestigious members of that group.

This actually plays out in a lot of areas... fraternities, urban gangs, Github, etc. The dynamic of dividing humanity into "insiders" and "outsiders" follows closely as well. That dynamic is used to dehumanize all "outsiders" so that the goals of the group can be placed above morality and ethics.

I believe these things are true because I'm a slow learner and have been suckered into this dynamic more than once... I tried a college fraternity for a short while (after being accepted, rejected it and dropped out of college), fell in with the wrong crowd and did drugs until my eyes rolled so far back into my head that I swear I was able to see my brain (stopped altogether after somewhat harrowing experiences) and joined the US Army to shoot artillery after 9/11 (went to Afghanistan and after I got back became a conscientious objector before being put out administratively with an "honorable" discharge).

In the US, mass media is the fertilizer for mass murder... we teach young men that their number 1 goal is to be manly... and that women are just holes to fuck... and that you need to fuck as many holes as possible to be manly... and that explosions are cool... and that you need to create and survive explosions to be manly... and that streetfighting is cool... and that you need to be in a bunch of streetfights to be manly... I could keep going but I think you all get the point.

If the culture changes men will stop going to war unless they are forced to... while the biological urges described above can be exploited to manipulate peoples' actions, those urges could be channeled to positive actions instead, and they are certainly not a free pass to commit the atrocities that most people just pretend don't exist. This is the area where I disagree with the author if the article... it actually does start and stop with those who pull the trigger


Not politically correct, but essentially the truth about human nature.

These two statements:

1. “War is so compelling that you can even get a room full of pacifists to pay money to be entertained by it.”"

2. "“My sister is a complete and utter feminist and pacifist,” he explains. “She doesn’t see the irony. She’s participating in this wonderful festival … that’s reenacting a battle. Nobody reenacts the Treaty of Ghent. [It] just isn’t that compelling.”"

I find particularly profound.

Any attempt to "window dress" our base nature, is just that - "Window dressing".


The fact that violent quarrelling over resources seems to be a part of human nature seems lost on many people.

I abhor war, but I'm not stupid enough to pretend it can be stopped with an army of unicorns farting rainbows. There are evil, greedy, nasty people out there who love to collect power just for the sake of collecting power.

As colonel Jessop says:

"Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lieutenant Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know, that Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives! You don't want the truth, because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall"

Reading history makes one acutely aware of the fact that orderly and humane societies need walls with men on them, to keep out those who don't wish it so. It's an unpalatable fact sometimes but that doesn't make it less true.

So I respect the role that armed forces plays in my peaceful life, and while I will never support an unjustified invasion of a peaceful country, and I will always dislike war, I understand it's just part of who humans are.


I like watching disaster movies, yet do not support actual disasters.


Yet presumably you recognize them for the natural, if tragic, events that they are? One's support for or opposition to a force of nature is rather irrelevant.


I'm saying that noting that people enjoy war movies and kids play games about war, doesn't mean they support war at all. Disaster movies are liked for the same reason as war movies. There is adrenaline and excitement and suspense. Thinking about how you would react in those situations and discussion with friends afterwards. No one wants to watch movies about boring everyday life.


Well, 66% of the men in WW2 and 38% of those deployed to Vietnam went to war because the government forced them into the military under threat of imprisonment.


They should have stood their ground then.


Well, you can't put millions behind bars.


But you can threaten an individual and everyone else will just mind their own business



Because young man don't have enough experience to understand the world and they cannot see that war is a good business made by rich men. Rich men who would never send their children to war, of course.


While I'm sure there is some truth to this, you do run into the problem that people don't want to admit the mundane reasons they do things sometimes. People join armies all the time because they need a job, but if you ask I'm sure many of them will tell you it's due to a more personal reason or nationalistic pride.

That's not confined to the military of course. It seems almost rude to admit you do your job to get a pay check in many occupations.


This is pretty interesting. I have always thought of war as a political and economic phenomenon. Why try to get by with what you currently have when you can just take what your neighbor has? In some cases it's just cheaper to go beat someone up and get their lunch money than to earn your own.

Junger is saying that war is really emergent behavior: young men are violent, so they are not just willing to go to war, but want to. It's certainly a new perspective to me. I suppose it makes some sense, though it feels to me that wars today are "not what they used to be". Take WWI and WWII. There was mass draft and the country was generally behind these. I am sure there was a great number of people who were unhappy to be drafted, but it seems that here people actually believed in the existential threat to the US.

Then take the Vietnam war. Hugely unpopular. Look at this widely circulated picture of a lighter supposedly carried by a US soldier in Vietnam: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2012/07/10/article-2171404-14....

Now, today our military is volunteer-based and tiny compared to, say, what it was during WWII. Only a small percentage of the population serves, and are pre-selected. Is it then fair to say that all or even most young men want to go to war? It seems to me the answer is no.

So the remaining question is whether war happens because of this emergent behavior or for other reasons. Basically, if we gave that small percentage of young men something better than war, would war stop? Or would we continue to wage war anyways?


The truth about Vietnam is that it is an unpopular war now, and towards the end of it, but when American involvement escalated in the beginning, support was pretty widespread.

When thinking about war, it's better to exclude ww1 and ww2 from the sample as outliers. Of course they are the default war experience and the worst wars around, but they aren't typical.

It's emergent behaviour - it has to be, as it is endemic with human history - I think you're no more likely to stop wars than you are to stop men looking at women's breasts. You can temper the behaviour with morals and ethics but it's ready to surface at the slightest slip of those things.

It's not that young men want to go and start a war, but that some men crave power for powers sake, and it's easy to talk young men into getting involved once a war is in the offing.

Ironically the best thing you can do to temper the behaviour is to let men gather wealth and power via peaceful means, such as commerce and trade. Where this happens they usually don't go into war with their neighbours. Having the majority of the worlds people not under the sway of religion would be a good start as well, but I'm of the belief that religion is hard wired in as well - remove an ancient text and god and people usually start tot replace it with some other belief system anyway. And it would be those belief systems clashes that would probably be the 'cause' of wars down the track.


Agreed with you re. Vietnam. That is a good point.

Not quite agreed on WWI/II. Lots of modern military and foreign policy is based on the aftermath of WWII. After all, that was the last war that the US was involved in. All the ones after that were "operations", and the US never formally declared war on another country since. They aren't typical, yet they are always the ones other wars are compared against.

So war is emergent behavior because some percentage of young men is always available to fight it, and because old men in power are more than willing to send the young men into war. That's at least two different behaviors we've identified so far.

Up until reading this article I had the point of view that war was just too cheap vs alternatives. Want land/power/oil/money/whatever? Just go and take it rather than building your own. And the solution is the opposite: make war expensive. Then again, neither our war on terror, nor the terror attacks on the US and its allies quite fit this paradigm.


My point with ww1 and ww2 is that, if you graphed wars by people involved, destruction, whatever, they stick out of the group by a long way. I think your looking at the picture with too much of a us-centric view. The US is not involved in the majority of wars, at least not directly with men nondescript materials. You're right in that the world wars are all part of the same narrative about destabilisation that leads to other wars - arguably the majority of conflicts around today have roots in both.

But if you look at some more topical wars/conflicts - say the Arab/Israel conflict from 1948-present you see that it's not just about gaining territory but far deeper things (territory is the score, but the purpose is much deeper) plus the military conflicts during this period have been much more conventional with the majority of attacks being primarily military. Lately it has gone more asymmetrical and terrorism v conventional military but initially it was tanks on battlefields. Again other conflicts in the he second half of the twentieth century were far make typical wars in that they were relatively localised, didn't involve things like carpet bombing civilian population and didn't involve mass troop movements. Even Vietnam and Korea, wars with direct US involvement, had a fraction of the men deployed as compared with Ww2.

Also, it's a good point about making the cost of a war prohibitive - we have the means to do this now - but the costs of a war don't usually fall onto the main aggressors on all sides. Typically it falls onto the soldiers, refugees and ordinary citizens. If powerful countries were prepared to apply the costs of war to those who start them, the incidence would go down. But you spiral into an eye-for-an-eye retaliation which is a worse mess.


Really spot on. Just one thing - according to Rene Girard religion is a way to control and confine aggression. It controls aggression by aggression in a very dangerous way - but at the core it is a 'social technology' with the goal of limiting the outcomes of conflicts. I believe that theory has a lot of truth in it.


It is frightening to see some people on this thread saying how they feel an urge to go to war because they "want to best other men" or "want to win".

One way to counteract that could be actively practicing nullifying one's ego. Everyday, do one thing you really dislike, and stop doing one thing you really like and can do. People need to get over this ridiculous idea that all their desires must be sated.


Lacking context, that sure does sound scary, but it isn't thirst for bloodsport alone, but the added desire to stop those intent on doing the same to others, especially innocents. The notion of sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs.


A lot of that desire is basically buying into government propaganda, and that is even more problematic.


I don't buy into government propaganda to a large degree. I'm fiercely critical of my government. But you clearly have your preconceived notions, so I'll leave you to it.


It may be frightening but it is a very natural urge. Most people use sport and competition as an outlet for this. Personally I think the idea of trying to nullify our innate desires is a a lot scarier.


Participating a war means participating murder, torture and rape. If that's what it takes to be a man, I'll pass.


I sometimes entertain myself with the thought, that respect for military and disdain for prostitution should be reversed: the job where you are trained to kill effectively is glorified, the job where you give love (physical at least) is frowned upon.


Murder yes that's sort of the point. Torture and rape are not required.


Is there a documented case of a war that didn't result in any torture and rape?


I doubt it.

However, a man (or woman) could go to war to defend their country against an aggressor and do so effectively without torturing or raping anyone. However, they pretty much have to be prepared to kill people... Indeed many modern armies will investigate and eventually punish rapists and torturers whilst they giving medals for doing lots of killing...

So 'murder' (or killing people) is a necessary condition for fighting a war. Rape and torture are neither necessary nor sufficient.


Point accepted, I forgot to consider defending against outside invaders.


I dislike when people try to say they don't have a political agenda and are "neutral" observers. All media has a political dimension, and even if you aren't trying to beat people over the head with it, it would serve you well to acknowledge your leanings. Even Frederick Wiseman, the creator of the "Film Truth" school of documentaries happily acknowledges that he could never be unbiased.

However it seems especially absurd to say he has no political agenda in his films, and in the next breath criticize two common political narratives.


I really enjoyed this article. imho The quest/test for manhood theme is one of the most dominant in our media, yet it is also kind of a taboo topic. Breaking Bad and Fight Club come to mind, where "castrated" protagonists fight back for their manhood... The Big Lebowski is, among many themes, about how different people prove their masculinity in different ways too. The whole damsel in distress genre... Also, movie/tv male comic relief is often portrayed as asexual or incredibly dorky.


Because there are army recruiters in american high schools...

This for me was an unbelievable experience as a German, where if the army would be involved with any kind of school it would be a major scandal. But while in high school in america it was normal to be propagandaed on during your lunch hour.


Perhaps there is some historical reason for this.


Both sides can learn something from history.


What history could a western country have to be the only one to recruit for the army in schools?


A country formed through revolution which only fights its wars overseas.


The day after the Pearl Harbor attack my grandfather literally dropped everything he was doing and enlisted. Why? A visceral disgust that resulted in a sense of responsibility, or duty to take action. I know a lot of people who did the same after 9/11. War is dumb but a strong military is necessary, and I'm sure others here can explain the game theory behind it all.


My opinion is probably as invalid as the author's or most anyone else's... but I can't let a couple things just sit.

Just because some closely related primates display something we can interpret as war doesn't mean you can then assume there is some related, unavoidable instinct in homo sapiens. This is a poor argument that highlights the author's own bastardized interpretation of evolution. It's 2015 and those are chimps, in 2015. We are not chimps. This line of argument is very weak.

Overall, his self-consciousness is barely containable and I'm having trouble being objective based on this. It sounds like intelligent people tell him he's wrong, but he's got the facts and the platform, so he's right. He can't strongly defend his ideas. He just likes to say everyone on the right and left is crazy, absurd, and/or wrong - obviously. But there's no follow-through. He knows. He was there, and he's telling you. He's read something about chimps and has an opinion about innate differences and their implications for society. This echoes personalities I've known who self-affirm from exactly the lack of external affirmation they seek. He seeks to define the boundaries of the discussion to suit his conclusion, then accuses others of not being able to have an honest discussion if they wouldn't agree to it since they argue that it is no space for an insightful discussion. Catch-a 22.

Why is there no mention of the incentives for the 14%+ of women in the US military? That's a big enough number to do a study to see how many of them are trying to find "manhood" and compare it to the boys.

They should have a question in the discharge process: "Did you find manhood during your service?"

As an aside, I'd be interested to see an Ask HN: "How many people have you killed on the field of battle?"


I'm glad you said this; I feel much the same way. There's all sorts of fallacies and pop culture theories throughout the article, though the author is a competant writer.

One of the ones that really bothered me was the assertion that we should be respectful of the decisions that these young men make - despite the decisions of young adults rarely being taken seriously by society, regardless of the context.

As for 'men are clearly wired for war', well, no they're not. As a demographic, they have to be trained hard to take a life (in person at least). Plenty of men can do that, but to suggest it's an innate wiring is just plain wrong.


I agree, too much of this is hyper contextual. Given America, given young men, given the current socio-political context, given the current economy, etc. Why do those young men in that exact context decide to go.

All of it seems mostly anecdotal interpretation. It's all as accurate as a grandmother's remedy for the cold.


Related question: is there an elite conspiracy to keep the USA at war? "There has been no decade in which the USA has not been at war."

http://www.loonwatch.com/2011/12/we-re-at-war-and-we-have-be...


Was there a Papist plot to keep Europe at war? Between the establishment of the papacy in Rome and the downfall of Napoleon, there had been no decade that Europe was not at war.


you're probably american, so you're forgiven for this ignorance, but europe consists of +-50 sovereign states. Even now with EU (that doesn't contain many states), declaring a war is always matter of a given nation.

Apples to ants...


The GP said between the establishment of the papacy to Napoleon, so he's speaking about events well before there were 50 sovereign states in Europe or an EU.


> "The male response to war is an evolutionary adaptation that clearly works for our species."

> "It's a left-wing version of the Christian right rejecting the theory of evolution," he says. "I mean the far left is also now rejecting the theory of evolution, which is just insane."

The left wing, whatever it's worth, is certainly not rejecting the theory of evolution. Just because men are evolutionarily predisposed to go to war doesn't mean that not wanting them to go to war is rejecting the theory of evolution. Evolution only shows us what is. (In the case of evo-psych, it's usually more like what may have been.) Meanwhile, it's our job to figure out what ought to be, and to defer to evolution on that point is nothing but intellectual laziness.

Just because men choose to go to war doesn't mean that they are not also victims of a social order that glorifies war and gives them a warped idea of what it means to be male. These can both be true. Politics always takes advantage of pre-existing psychological propensities, but it also reinforces them and reshapes them to its advantage over many generations. In fact, most questions in the form of "did X cause Y or vice versa?" in politics and sociology can be answered as "duh, it's a feedback loop."

Humans are subject to evolutionary pressures like any other life form. But one of the major differences between us and other animals is that we can recognize when our biology predisposes us to participate in evil, and counter it with our intelligence and strength of will.

If evolution is taking us places where we don't want to go, we have the intelligence and technology to give the middle finger to evolution and shape our own destinies. That includes telling young men that they no longer need to kill other men in order to be acknowledged as upstanding members of our society.

EDIT: An earlier version of this comment included the following rant, which was meant as an aside. But too many people seemed to think that it was my main point, so I'm moving it to the end.

> "I don’t put any political agenda into my work. I think the right wing tends to idolize soldiers—you can't talk about them critically in any way. The left wing went from vilifying them in Vietnam to seeing them as victims of a military-industrial complex." He laughs over the phone. "Both views of soldiers are just absurd."

It's funny how every time I hear someone say they have no political agenda, or that they are neutral, they almost always go on to devote the vast majority of their effort to criticizing the left wing. Maybe they secretly endorse the right wing, or maybe they think the right wing is not even worth criticizing. In either case, I find this fascinating.


The rejection is not in not wanting men to go to war, or in favouring any particular social order, but in denying innate sex differences.

According to Junger, these theories are strongly rooted in academia, and particularly the social sciences.

“I have friends who are anthropologists and primatologists and evolutionary psychologists … [who are under] an enormous amount of pressure to generate data that shows that all gender differences are cultural.”


> “I have friends who are anthropologists and primatologists and evolutionary psychologists … [who are under] an enormous amount of pressure to generate data that shows that all gender differences are cultural.”

You would think that, no matter what your goals for the roles of gender (or sex) in society are, you would achieve these goals best by deliberately seeking out and investigating the properties of the underlying biology (and culture) with the utmost of academic and intellectual integrity, and only afterwards pushing for the policies you prefer to realize that world. Then you would have the advantage of using a position of Enlightenment, instead of Ignorance.

Maybe in a few more generations when people look back at us the way we look back on the Victorian era.


> "You would think that, no matter what your goals for the roles of gender (or sex) in society are, you would achieve these goals best by deliberately seeking out and investigating the properties of the underlying biology (and culture) with the utmost of academic and intellectual integrity, and only afterwards pushing for the policies you prefer to realize that world."

That is how it is supposed to work, but reality is never so clean.

One of the best modern examples of doing it backwards (starting with a conclusion, and then working backwards from there), is so called "intelligent design"/"creation science". Many different groups and movements are guilty of it, but the ID scene is relatively unique in the lengths that they went to present themselves as legitimate scientists. See: Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitzmiller_v._Dover_Area_School...) Those nutjobs insisted that they were real scientists, despite the glaring contradictions with their nonsense and the scientific method.

His comparison was rather apt.


ID was nuts because it tried to present itself as a description of the past.

But if you're trying to issue prescriptions for the future (i.e. what kind of world do you want to create?), there's nothing fundamentally wrong about first identifying where you want to go and then cherrypicking biological and psychological traits to manipulate in order to get there. It would be just like writing a program to get the results you want.


Descriptions of the past are not nuts. History, the legitimate peer-reviewed study of history, does the same. Evolutionary biology tells us much about the past, as does much of physics. None of that is problematic.

ID was nuts because of their flawed methodology.

> "But if you're trying to issue prescriptions for the future (i.e. what kind of world do you want to create?), there's nothing fundamentally wrong about first identifying where you want to go and then cherrypicking biological and psychological traits to manipulate in order to get there."

Do not confuse policy forming / social engineering with science.


Actually, I agree with you.

What I meant is that ID used an inappropriate methodology for what it purported to do, but the same methodology might be appropriate in other contexts such as social engineering.


Are blacks less intelligent than whites? How many jews were really killed in the holocaust? These are absolutely not settled questions but what university will allow that kind of research? Who will publish it if the results support something that's illegal to publicly state? Even academics put their careers ahead of integrity when it would result in losing their career as well as being widely condemned.


Personally I find the entire "the holocaust was only about Jews" meme appalling. Yes, it disproportionally affected Jews, but it also affected a lot of non-Jews (as well as people who did not self-identify as Jews). Presenting it as a purely Jewish tragedy is disrespectful to all the non-Jewish victims.

The more important thing is that it was about humans. Humans did these things to other humans. You should not feel any better about what happened if you're not personally related to any of those who caused the suffering than you should feel any less offended if you're not personally related to those who suffered.

The Holocaust was a failure of humanity. As was every single genocide before and after that particular one. Turning it into a "Nazis killing Jews" story allows us to artificially distance ourselves from what happened: "I'm not a Nazi, so why should I care?" or "I have nothing against Jews, so what does it have to do with me?" ("I only hate gay people").

In Germany we have a huge problem with this. We pretend to have dealt with our history, but we vehemently oppose the idea that the "monsters" who committed that "great evil" were normal human beings. As if that would somehow make them innocent. It does quite the opposite, actually: acknowledging that it was "just" humans doing those things to humans can help us understand what made ordinary humans "like us" end up doing something that horrible to other ordinary humans.

We're actually seeing something similar with East Germany: because everybody knows East Germany was an "Unrechtsstaat" (literally the opposite of a "Rechtsstaat", or "state of law", but also implying "organized injustice") their mass surveillance and censorship was fundamentally different from our mass surveillance and censorship. There's absolutely nothing we could learn from them because by definition we're nothing like them and any attempt to portray East German life as anything other than constant suffering and oppression "trivializes" the injustice of its government.

Creating taboos around these problems doesn't solve them, it just hides them. The US hasn't solved its racism just because the current president has darker skin. Acknowledging physiological differences between sexes or even ethnic groups isn't sexist or racist. Treating people unfairly because of these differences (or assumptions about the extent of those differences via stereotype pigeonholing) is.


I have a (lefty) colleague who sincerely believes that testosterone does not significantly affect personality[0].

I understand that human history has been overwhelmingly male dominated, and that this has undesirable consequences and side effects. I think these effects and ideas should be counteracted "with prejudice"[1] to use a policing term.

I don't think counteracting the horrible facts of the past should include re-writing scientific facts we now know.

0. Perhaps it is prejudice and incorrect teaching that leads me to think that testosterone has effects on personality, if so, please correct me.

1. I mean that women and men (and others) should be considered morally, politically, socially, and economically equal (and probably some others); any argument to the contrary can be discounted immediately.

I personally think that men and women (and others) are "not the same" emotionally or physically, but that these differences are A GOOD THING.


The science is much less settled on the link between testosterone and personality than you think.

Some interesting discussion of it here: http://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/cognoculture/testosteron...

It's hard to tease out what behaviour is culturally learnt and what is caused by innate biological differences. Folk wisdom about testosterone is just one example. The downside is that these "biotruths" are used as justification for discrimination.


Sure, but there's a lot of people who basically claim that the massive hormonal and genetical differences between the genders have no impact on personality, behavior and interests.


The evidence from studies into testosterone suggests that those people might actually be right or at least the hormonal differences between the sexes (and between members of the same sex who suffer hormonal imbalances for whatever reason) are not as important in defining personality, behaviour and interests as folk wisdom would hold.


I've mostly seen the opposite results, that testosterone makes a massive difference.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19175758 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21338606

I'm interested in learning more, can you link to some studies?


> “I have friends who are anthropologists and primatologists and evolutionary psychologists … [who are under] an enormous amount of pressure to generate data that shows that all gender differences are cultural.”

This documentary is really interesting in that regard: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVaTc15plVs

It's a Norwegian documentary from 2010 about "Why do girls tend to go into empathizing professions and boys into systemizing professions? Why does the labor market become more gender segregated the more economic prosperity a country has?"

A lot of the scientists interviewed didn't even bother to consider evidence that innate sex differences exists.


Human sexual dimorphism? Ridiculous. Humans aren't animals.

Funny how the far right and far left so often suffer from the same defects if you look close enough.


The very definition of "cultural" is in dispute between the right and left wings. The right wing typically operates on a narrower definition of "cultural", which goes hand-in-hand with their emphasis on individual responsibility. The left wing operates on a much broader definition, which goes hand-in-hand with their emphasis on collective responsibility.

The social sciences tend to gravitate towards the latter because who doesn't like scope creep? (The right wing, on the other hand, seems to restrict the scope of the social sciences by slicing off a large chunk of it to the biology department.)

I personally prefer the idea that something can be both biological and cultural. Pretty much any change that happened to us in the last few tens of thousands of years is both biological and cultural. Unfortunately this idea doesn't seem to be popular among those with stronger ideological commitments one way or another.


"Having no political agenda" often turns out to mean agreement with/uncritical acceptance of the dominant political agenda. The status quo is perceived as a natural order or default state of the world, instead of the result of the current distribution of influence and the ideology of those in power. Thus proclaiming "neutrality" is often in fact a statement of conservativism / siding with the currently privileged / rejecting any motive for progress. If you (fail to) calibrate your world view like that, criticizing the progressive left or at least equating the left and the right-of-what's-mainstream as equally unnecessary/hysterical/dismissable "extremes" follows.


I think he is alluding to the military forced by the left wing to attempt to have equal number of both sexes in every part of the military, when as a result of evolution, males are physically stronger and will be more suitable for some roles in the military than females and should therefore form the majority in some roles, and in others where only the strongest are selected, all of the roles, because the strongest males are stronger than the strongest females.

I think that's what he meant by "I mean the far left is also now rejecting the theory of evolution, which is just insane.".


Do you have a link for "the left wing" demanding a 50% gender quota in the military?


I do have a link for Kara Hultgreen, the first female F-14 fighter jet pilot. She was the best possible female candidate for the role, however, due to [political incorrect sentence], she made mistakes where other male pilots would have been disqualified. Due to political pressure to include females in more military roles, the military pushed her to continue even when she didn't want to. During one flight, she made a mistake while flying the jet, and she died as a result.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kara_Hultgreen

The Center for Military Readiness (CMR) suggests that Hultgreen "may have been the victim of a flawed policy" which overlooked her mistakes in training, two of which were similar to those that caused her death.[2] The Navy conceded that the material on which the CMR based its report was "largely accurate".

An Accuracy in Media report quotes Cmdr Tom Sobiek, commanding officer of Fighter Squadron VF-124, as saying of the 4 female pilots in his squadron that "the women are going to graduate regardless of how they performed" and reports that "the Navy was in a race with the Air Force to get the first female fighter pilot".[7]

I concede there is no 50% quota and should not have written "equal number" in that sentence.


Yeah, I took it as a very topical jab. That stuff has been in the news a lot recently.


> It's funny how every time I hear someone say they have no political agenda, or that they are neutral, they almost always go on to devote the vast majority of their effort to criticizing the left wing.

I see tirades on both sides. I think you're right that the conservative side of the equation is probably guiltier, but you don't have to look far to find liberals doing the exact same thing.

People like to think of their position as the neutral position. I think it's as simple as that.


> it is certainly not rejecting the theory of evolution. [...] Evolution only shows us what is. [...] Meanwhile, it's our job to figure out what ought to be

I'd take this a step farther, and argue that the author's "doing otherwise is rejecting evolution" framing is actually a rather common "Christian right" paradigm.

There's a biblical mindset which constantly intermingles "The revelation is truthful" with "The revelation indicates the proper path". The author is assuming the inverse relationship: "If you don't like it, you must not believe in it."

It's a type of normative fallacy, because you can't naively search-replace "bible text" with "science paper". They are qualitatively different kinds of claims about the world.


What about the people who have the mindset where "The thing is not desirable" means they must deny at all costs "The thing is truth", and lose their empathy as a result? If you can't see through the people' perspective and find out what they want, how will you persuade them not to do what you don't want them to do? YC's motto is "Make something people want" after all.[1] The war reporter has traveled into a war, mingled with soldiers, and came back to share his experience, to tell us what is. And here you accuse, without having met him, of having a "fundamentally "Christian right" paradigm.". If you were more accepting of the truth of his experience, you'd be explaining what things men could do instead to differentiate themselves from women and achieve the manhood they so desire, instead of going to war.

[1] http://paulgraham.com/good.html


I agree we should be able to give evolution the middle finger. But I disagree we can do so in any effective way in the timespan of 5 years, unless we somehow hit the Singularity by then. You overestimate man's intelligence and strength of will. I mean in general, let alone people with IQs in the 80s. Until we actually have either the knowledge and technology to do genetic engineering or mind uploading so that we can make modifications against living human mind architectures, or as a longer-term solution the sustained political will to do eugenics (the kind where we don't kill everyone impure or force people not to have sex, just the normal kind we do with every other plant and animal species besides humans where we restrict what breeding outcomes are available), we will remain slaves to our adaptions, with the most intelligent and self-reflecting among us only slightly more able to control themselves. From a predictive standpoint, knowing through evolution what is can tell us that, barring eugenics in some form or another, there's no way we can get to what ought to be for certain values of what ought to be, and so many attempts by liberal-minded people predictably fail while wasting resources and upsetting the social order. The best we can do now is take what is and align the incentives for the greatest amount of people so that things can be relatively stable and peaceful until we get to the point we can truly give evolution the middle finger. When I look at the culture that kick started the industrial revolution through a liberal lens, I see a lot of evil people with a twisted social order. But from a non-liberal lens, I see order, order instead of chaos (the inverse of what I see when I look at the typical results of liberal interventions through a non-liberal lens) and I see aligned incentives, and I wonder if that sort of society is what it's going to take to get to the Singularity.


Good points, but who said it had to be done in 5 years?

I was thinking more like 50 years, or maybe even 250 years. Without some sort of eugenics or singularity as you said, it will take a long time and a lot of effort to work around a psychological trait that has been ingrained in us for thousands of years. This is exactly the kind of progress that takes place most effectively at funerals.


>The left wing, whatever it's worth, is certainly not rejecting the theory of evolution. Just because men are evolutionarily predisposed to go to war doesn't mean that not wanting them to go to war is rejecting the theory of evolution.

There is definitely a bias in academia against explaining why the world is the way it is in biological terms. Look at what happened to Larry Summers. Watch the Norwegian documentary Hjernevask (Brainwash) (it's on the net with English subtitles). The psychologist Robert Plomin said this in an interview:

>‘My very first conference was by this old guy Leon Kamin, the author of a book called The Science and Politics of IQ,’ says Plomin. ‘Kamin came back to academia just so as to stop this pernicious stuff about genetics entering psychology.

>...Then he started saying: “We’ve got to stop this talk of genetics now!” And I realised it didn’t matter to Kamin what was true. He believed in what he called “science for the people”, which was what he thought it would be useful for the people to know. I mean, that killed me because it was Kamin and these elite Harvard professors deciding what’s for the people! The idea was that science should serve politics.

http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/8970941/sorry-but-intell...

Suggesting that violence may have a biological basis is a taboo for many people. For example, consider this commentary on a recent study on Chimpanzee violence. The popular explanation has been that the reason they do it is because of human interference, not biology:

>Prof Frans de Waal, an animal behaviour expert from Emory University in the US, said the new study was an important contribution.

>"I'm very glad they're publishing this," he told BBC News. It answers a "long, long history of resistance", Prof de Waal explained, to the idea of natural, inter-community violence in chimpanzees.

>"It has always been contentious - we've had meetings where people screamed at each other.

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-29237276

If those on the left are fine with accepting evolution, then why would the biological explanation have a long history of resistance? Why would it be contentious?

Plenty on the left do deny/ignore evolution when it comes to topics in human society.


Be very careful in deciding which behaviors are innate differences and which are cultural. You'll want to do comparative anthropology or inject half your subject with hormones if you want to start talking about it on a scientific basis. I recall reading about a study where they took a bunch of women and injected half with saline and the other half with testosterone. For each half they then told half the women that they had been injected with testosterone and the other half that it was saline. In a later negotiation task the women who had been told they'd received testosterone but who hadn't were noticeably slower to come to an agreement and the group which had received testosterone without knowing it reached and agreement faster, with the other two groups in between.


Timing of this article is interesting: Yesterday I watched the prescreening of "The Water Diviner". It is the story of an Australian father looking for his 3 sons killed during the Gallipoli Campaign in Turkey in 1915. As the father of a young son, his story resonated with me.

Young men might have an excuse, but we, older men, should know better. Even when we didn't live through a war, we should be smart enough to understand its realities, its destructive power, its cruelty. We must stop wars before they start. None of it is worth a young man's life.

We should teach our children how ugly weapons are and how valuable life is.


I think the central question - what is it to be a man (or human) - is a question worth trying to answer.

I disagree with the author when he states the West doesn't really have an answer - sure, the answer isn't in the back of a textbook. One might even reasonably conclude there exists a multitude of answers - some of which probably conflict.

Here are some examples -

Pedestrian - acquire a skill, get a real job, marry, have kids. Clearly serving the profit motives of others - cultivate expensive tastes. Macho - pursue dangerous hobbies, enter a risky profession - which for some reason excludes cab drivers and convenience store clerks.

If I had to offer a guess, I might say, "Assume responsibility for yourself."


It is funny how the whole argument of masculinity is based on the American experience. A good control study would be somewhere where male rites of passage still exist, but men also still go to war (most conservative Asian societies for example).


Perhaps that is mostly because Junger's documentaries are all around American troops. I also highly recommend Restrepo, and the follow up, Korengal.


Yeah, the whole article, subject matter, and journey he explores is American. It's investigative at its best in that it explores why people make these decisions, and their decisions are strongly rooted in the ever-changing American society.

Tangentially, I might be alone in this, but I consider great journalism to be like great science - it's able to discern the fundamental mechanics of an issue, but they're also notoriously terrible at applying those mechanics in a constructive way. As a result, when a journalist shares their perspective, I put a lot of weight on their analysis and little weight on their solutions.


"Yeah, the whole article, subject matter, and journey he explores is American."

and yet it's universal. By training Junger is a anthropologist and if you read "War" you'll see the stories and themes he explains can be applied equally from Roman to the modern warrior.

[0] http://www.amazon.com/WAR-Sebastian-Junger/dp/B0085RZFDC


I think there's something to being a soldier and obviously masculinity that is universal. I would argue the American military experience - especially the modern American military - is fundamentally different from those that preceded it though. We don't claim tribute, we're not an honor society (at least not universally), we are building an empire, and ostensibly the wars of the country are the will of its citizens. Why Americans fight and American terms of victory are something different than any historical counterparts.


I know Junger more from his books -- The Perfect Storm, Fire, War. His style is gripping, with little details that bring the story to life, and the chapters often end with an emotional punch. He has said he is following the pattern of author John MacPhee, who could make any topic interesting. Junger also critiques his own work ruthlessly, cutting out anything that does not hold his attention when he is tired, fatigued, or tipsy. Only what is left is used, and it shines.


"I also highly recommend Restrepo, and the follow up, Korengal."

and, "The Last Patrol" ~ https://youtu.be/KwOAVSprv64


The only reason I did not add it to the list is that I have yet to see it, and in fact did not know it existed until today, but if it's half as good as the others than it is still better than most.


"if it's half as good as the others than it is still better than most."

Coming home is the hardest bit, this is what O’Bryne, and Junger are showing. A book-end to the original posted (parent) article. What happens when you try to re-integrate into normal society, with the trauma and baggage associated with combat then coming from a place where you put the group first to a place where you put yourself first?

"We" v's "Me".

More reading:

- http://time.com/3594997/battle-scarred-sebastian-jungers-las...

- http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/10/arts/in-the-last-patrol-se...


Wars are planned by rich old men and fought by poor young men.


There is a saying, I can't remember from where, that old men send young men to war because the old men know what war is. I think I'm telling it wrong. The original I heard implied exploitation.

The article is about young men choosing to go to war, in our all-volunteer military, but there wouldn't be a war to choose to enter if the mostly old, mostly white, mostly men in Congress didn't choose to have one.


I think, going to war has much to do with the construction of the male gender. (We're talking seldom about the male side in the gender discourse, but we may be allowed to do so in this context. Please read the following cum grano salis.)

In most cultures and societies males start life on the female side along their mothers. They are special, they are beloved, they are cared for – but they are also objects. When entering adolescence and adulthood, males are essentially losing their identity. They are no more special or unique, they are disposable (as in "women and children first") — and they have to accept this insult. They have to redefine themselves. Moreover, there are some preconditions in most cultures to becoming eligible as a subject. Some of these are related to inheritance, but it really goes a bit deeper than that. So, if they are not born rich or not the eldest son, they are asked to prove they were eligible for being a valued member of society. One way to do so is founding and supporting a family, but there are also preconditions here. To most, the final proof is showing their willingness and to prove being able to "burn themselves" (sometimes literally as in the trenches of war) for societies sake, to accept disposability. (Staying up late coding is yet another way of burning yourself, while not that drastic.) — This may be underpinned by an institution known in some cultures, the institutions of "sworn virgins", where women would enter the male side on the precondition of never returning the realms of female definitions. Ever thereafter they are part of the male side and accepted as males, but they also have to adhere to the socials contracts related to this definition. — Following to this, war is a major means of regaining identity and uniqueness – and becoming an eligible member of society. Small wonder that this often connected with pride.

In my humble opinion, these patterns are also to be observed in the discussion of gender diversity in IT and other male dominated environments. Most of the objections and/or insults against females are rather pretexts or symptoms for a basic mistrust against members who do not adhere to the laws of disposability. (Problems often evaporate as the gender-definitions are crossed by "sworn virgin coders". But this isn't a solution to the problem at all.) In this context, the presence and acceptance of "real females" is a real threat to the construction of these environments. This isn't just a show. It's more about accepting that these are not protected realms of males joined in their attempt to become eligible to the honors of society, accepting that these environments are rather part of society themselves. (So, is coding war? Swallow your pride. Nobody should be forced to burn. Does this align with the structures of business as we know it? No. – Hint: Businesses are not only burning money.)


I was with you until you introduced the need for voluntary "disposability" on the part of males as a requisite to earn a place in society. I don't see self immolation in any form as being respected or admired, in the USA anyway.

I think all adult males don't inherit a natural place in society simply because they are males, the way that females do as mothers. Fatherhood just doesn't fill the bill comparably, perhaps because it's seen as only a part-time vocation. Thus a man must seek other ways to demonstrate his value.

Making lots of money or attaining power are perhaps the chief means to earning respect. But becoming a Warrior is widely seen as a good way to demonstrate the requisite desiderata -- leadership, courage, self sacrifice, inner strength, outer strength, loyalty, stoicism, a sense of purpose, a sense of honor, and more. Having more of these makes you more of a constructive contributor to society. You're a man among men.

Very few jobs or social roles can serve even a few of these components of character. Historically, going to war has been an established and respected way to demonstrate you are indeed made of sterner stuff.

Of course, if your war has a dubious justification or muddied purpose, that will complicate its ability somewhat to define you favorably. Aside from WWII and perhaps WWI, American wars since 1865 largely have been Faustian bargains. The fact that young Amercian men continue to enlist in the service of what are too often Wars of Opportunity indicates that, in our culture, alternative ways of proving your mettle have proven elusive.


There have been attempts to rewrite world history based on statistics of how many young man to "burn" there were in a society at a given time – and it works out greatly. While I do admit that this isn't of that importance in modern societies, I would still maintain that the patterns are still to be observed. Also, war has been one of the first means of making a fortune, with trade becoming another one only in the 18th century or so. Still, we may observe some inheritance here, by the emphasis on the risks involved to justify the wins. (Read Jane Austen's "Persuasion" as a sociological study on the matter and you'll see how the British upper- and middle classes would have imploded under the pressure of second sons around 1800, if there hadn't been the Navy and the Army as means of making a fortune and becoming eligible for marriage. Even more true for the lower classes, but there's no much writing on this.)

As a sidenote, we may observe that the US has undergone some efforts and investments in the past decades to decouple its war force from this logic by the means of technology.


A very interesting Article. It is basically a further explanation of the theories of Gunnar Heinsohn about young men and War.


I've never needed to wonder why they go but I wonder deeply at why they charge into opposing fire.


They only do it in films - to cultivate the heroism that will eventually lead them to charge into fire in practice.

My best guess is it's an implementation of (social-)darwinist beliefs using cultural modelling (aka propaganda).


Perhaps we should encourage young men to join the Peace Core. To find themselves by helping others.


A great documentary miniseries about this topic is War: A Commentary by Gwynne Dyer. In particular, the episode anyone's son will do:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_%28miniseries%29 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DShDaJXK5qo

The episode covers what goes into training young people who enter the marine core. It features candid interviews with drill sergeants and the recruits themselves about their motivations. Well worth a watch.

One of the main points the episode makes is that the job of being a soldier is ultimately about killing and dying, something that doesn’t come naturally to most people. The method for turning young men into soldiers is basic training.

According to Dyer the secret of basic training is that its not really about teaching people, its about changing people. He claims that if you want to change people quickly and radically, you put them in a place where the only right way to think and behave is the way you want them to. You isolate them and then apply enormous physical and mental pressure. i.e basic training. Essentially he claims that basic training is all about brain washing.

In the linked interview Sebastian Junger talks a lot about what it means to be a man. In particular:

“In that kind of environment,” Junger continues. “If you dare talk about what it means to be a man, what you’re saying is men are different from women.”

and

“We aren’t asking, ‘What does it mean to be a human being?’” he says. “‘What’s it mean to be a man?’ Once you have that conversation you offend a lot of academics.”

and

“Men are clearly wired for [war],” he continues. “The male response to war is an evolutionary adaptation that clearly works for our species.”

He doesn't quite claim that young mens desire to go to war has its roots purely in biology but he comes close. Personally I don't buy it.

I think the concept of going to war as a rite of passage, particularly in the USA, is a social construct that’s largely the result of pervasive propaganda. The US military has an impressive marketing budget and aggressively recruits in schools right across the country. In the US, joining the military is not seen as a weird or embarrassing thing to do. In contrast, in my country (Ireland), joining the military is seen as a somewhat odd choice.

What’s interesting about Dyer’s documentary is that it interviews recruits before they go through basic training. Many of them are poor with few job prospects and no sense of direction. The military gives them a sense of purpose and is socially acceptable thing to do.


And the American culture encourages these young men.


Here's a big part of it, and it ain't pretty.

First, while gender may be "a social construct" it tends to recur in similar patterns across most societies. That's not to say that gender roles don't exaggerate the (actually very slight, in biological terms) differences and aren't a source of much injustice. However, there's a recurrent ranking that societies create: high-status men > high-status women > low-status women > low-status men. This is why conversations about gender and "patriarchy" fall flat, it's why feminists and MRAs both have a point, and it's not how things necessarily should be, but it's how things are in at least 90% of the societies that humans create.

High-status men have harems of 10+ wives, in pre-monogamous societies, which means that some men will have zero. Since women have a rate-limiting reproductive resource (i.e. a womb) they have a good chance of getting at least some action. Low-status men don't, because they're the lowest of the low. No one likes them. And in a non-monogamous society, they're recognized as an actual danger. Of course, most young men will start out low in status. When's the last time, in popular culture, you saw a teenage male portrayed in a positive light? Most of the world fears and hates (most) teenage males.

Eventually, the high-status men recognize the threat. They see men who are sex-starved and poor and deprived of opportunities for improvement, but young and fit while they are fading. So they encourage them to raid other tribes, escalate petty conflicts into moral causes, and even glorify the whole thing because it brings the male population down and makes a pre-monogamous society (which would otherwise be unstable and violent) stable for a while.

This pattern is so ingrained in us that we've mythologized it and glorified something that is actually pretty awful. It's also where we get the need to "become a man". Because the gap between high-status (or, at least, realized and mature) men and low-status ones is so severe, we've had to create narratives around it. We've also had to elevate quixotry to a virtue.

You see this not just in war but when the stakes are smaller. Take startups. What do we call those (oddly nostalgic, even if things were awful at the time) narratives about low-status men working 90-hour weeks, debugging others' awful written-to-deadline code, as 0.02%-owners of a startup whose benefits would accrue to high-status men (founders and investors)? "War stories."

As a species, we've had to create this narrative to explain something that we do to each other for Darwinian, reproductive reasons. It continues even in a mostly monogamous and mostly peaceful society.




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