Surprise, surprise: War evokes a homicidal phenotype.

(9 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

The broad outlines of basic animal motivation are easily stripped to bare bones: food deprivation motivates food seeking, sleep deprivation promotes sleep, sexual stimulation promotes reproductive behavior, and the prospect of imminent death by predation induces fear and anger which evoke defensive and offensive attack behaviors.  

Of course, when these existential dominant drives are not on the psychic regulatory and operational front-lines, other subordinate drives, such as curiosity and orienting and re-orienting reflexes, i.e., the careful examination of objects of thought, may successfully compete for operational space.  

Conversely, nothing obliterates subordinate drives such as curiosity and reasoned inquiry like the induction of primal homicidal mania.  

Thus, when Glenn Greenwald’s interviewee, former soldier and Iraq vet Josh Stieber, says that the massacre of Iraqis by the Apache gunship soldiers is “normal” under the circumstances, and anyone put in similar conditions of war would behave in a like manner, it should strike a deep chord of truth within us.

Here’s a very rough and select transcript, with apologies for any infidelities:

This is the nature of war.  There’s a lot of things our society doesn’t want to think about, like how our meat gets processed.  The video brings to the forefront the dirty work that goes on in war.  If people are shocked by what they are seeing, then they should be a lot slower to say that this is the answer, especially if our stated goals are to bring freedom and democracy to the people of Iraq.  If you’re shocked by it, then the means to that end seem extremely counterproductive, and hopefully this video is bringing up that gap in logic; is this how we accomplish the noble goals that we are saying we are?  And speaking as a veteran, thinking about how the nature of the dialog is turned back, some people look at how horrible these soldiers are, that they are cold, heartless murderers, and they are pinning it all on the soldiers, without realizing that probably most people put in that situation would act similarly, and we should re-direct our anger and our judgment toward those soldiers and look at the system that is saying this is what we need to do and this is how we want  to accomplish our goals..that means helping those soldiers put in this situation heal when they get back…those are the situations and events they are going through, and it goes all the more to say, what does “support the troops” mean?  It doesn’t mean don’t criticize them, it means acknowledging this is what war looks like, and if you want it, it means really supporting the troops when they get back and helping them heal, and thinking about other ways of solving our problems than going about it in this way.

Josh Stieber makes many excellent points.

Homicidal behavior in soldiers is commonly emblematic of war.  Frequently being shot at or continuously fearing being blown to bloody bits by roadside bombs or rocket propelled grenades evokes the homicidal phenotype.  

Cold-heartedness and even bloody glee seen and heard in the video is simply evidence that, details aside (who touched their gun first, or if there even happened to be any guns within reach at the moment), winning a perceived death match is powerfully rewarding, even if the perceived death match is highly asymmetrical.  As a national strategy to promote peace and democracy, it’s simply nuts.  Either way, homicidal mania produces a “gap in logic,” one that only appears more shocking to those not on the front lines.    

Viewing homicidal conduct in war as aberrational instead of as a human universal is not only implausible to reason, it simply isn’t empirically true.  

At the official policy level, a decision was made to shock and awe, and use that as a selling point.  The news media were entirely embedded in this mission, whereas the entertainment media were titillated voyeurs to torture in shows such as “24.”  The popular support for war was immense, and one can still to this day incessantly catalog the sheer homicidal hatred for an entire region of the world, regardless of reason:

If it had been up to me, Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo, Tehran, Mecca, Medina, and Jakarta would have been made glass the day after 9/11.

Or put more simply:

If I could push a button and make them all dead, I would.

I witnessed a similar homicidal mania at the populational level in the Atlanta airport in the Fall of 2005 returning home from a conference.  The airport travelers noticed a large group of camo-uniformed soldiers on the upper mezzanine shipping out for Iraq and burst into raucous cheering and applause.  It was an ardent, emphatic, and almost inflamed outburst of enthusiasm, particularly in light, and perhaps because of the fact that the war was dragging on longer than expected, the Abu Ghraib photos had been published, and the legitimacy of the war had been seriously undermined.  It was as if the shame of ending a misbegotten outburst of homicidal mania would be greater than the shame of finishing it “victoriously,” and so that shame had to be vehemently shouted down in a passionate display of approbation.

It reminds me of Christopher Hitchens’ dirty little pre-war secret:

A dirty secret is involved here. From the US point of view, the present regime in Iraq is nearly ideal. It consists of a strong Sunni Muslim but approximately secular military regime. All it needs is a new head: Saddamism without Saddam. Mesopotamia means “between two rivers,” and we are, like Macbeth himself, “in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.” The United States had at least a hand in the coup that brought Saddam to power. It encouraged him in his attack on Iran and in the filthy war that followed. At the very time of his worst conduct in Kurdistan, Washington was his best friend. When he plotted to straighten the Kuwaiti frontier in his favor, he was given the greenest of lights. This is a record of continuing shame. However–and one cannot underscore this enough–these, too, were all interventions in the affairs of Iraq. And if there can be interventions one way, in favor of the regime, there is at least a potential argument that an intervention to cancel such debts would be justifiable.

The chilling airport atmosphere felt just like a mass recognition of how steeped in blood we were and a decision to finish the job on that basis!  Engage in further shameful acts to correct or ameliorate past shameful acts.

Isn’t that the same place we are in now, both in Iraq and elsewhere?

If we can induce mass homicidal behavior by threatening the population, identifying a merely plausible target of retaliation, and going to war, what does one suppose happens to the individuals actually in battle and chronically fearing death?

There’s nothing aberrational about Haditha, Fallujah, or soldiers randomly firing on civilians on the highway to maintain a buffer of safety between their vehicles.  Torture and abuse were policies, standard operating procedure.  Dilawar was kicked to death just because some soldiers wanted to get in their licks.  His cries to God were cause for hilarity, an incentive to further abuse, and ultimately death.

Read the testimonials from soldiers themselves (via John Caruso)  to tell you all you need to know, and then read corroboration from General Stanley McChrystal.

From the Daily Mirror:

“There was no dilemma when it came to shooting people who were not in uniform, I just pulled the trigger.

“It was up close and personal the whole time, there wasn’t a big distance. If they were there, they were enemy, whether in uniform or not. Some were, some weren’t.”

Describing the scene during combat Richardson admitted shooting injured soldiers and leaving them to die. He said: “S***, I didn’t help any of them. I wouldn’t help the f******.  There were some you let die. And there were some you double-tapped.” Making a shooting sign with his hand he went on: “Once you’d reached the objective, and once you’d shot them and you’re moving through, anything there, you shoot again. You didn’t want any prisoners of war. You hate them so bad while you’re fighting, and you’re so terrified, you can’t really convey the feeling, but you don’t want them to live.” And despite there being no link between Iraq and the September 11 attacks Richardson admitted that it gave him his motivation to fight Iraqis.

“There’s a picture of the World Trade Centre hanging up by my bed and I keep one in my flak jacket. Every time I feel sorry for these people I look at that. I think, ‘They hit us at home and, now, it’s our turn.’ I don’t want to say payback but, you know, it’s pretty much payback.”

Perhaps if someone in Richardson’s family is ever killed, he can go pick someone at random off the street and torture them to death; that would really give the killers their “payback,” wouldn’t it?

Note also the phrasing: “I don’t want to say payback.”  Just like “I hate to say ‘bragging rights’.”  The reticence is telling.  These are the dirty little truths that lie behind all the elevated rhetoric and noble words.  These are the things you’re not supposed to admit are lurking in the shadows, so that you won’t disrupt the elevated fantasies of the cheerleaders for war.

And let’s not forget many similar soldier confessionals from the Winter Patriot conference:

“She was carrying a huge bag, and she looked like she was heading toward us, so we lit her up with the Mark 19, which is an automatic grenade launcher, and when the dust settled, we realized that the bag was full of groceries. She had been trying to bring us food and we blew her to pieces.”

There used to be a site called “nowthat’” where soldiers would display the most hideous photos of war trophies.  The now defunct site was a veritable museum of carnal horrors posted casually in exchange for access to porn sites.  If you never had the opportunity to visit, it looked like this:

Six men in beige fatigues, identified as US Marines, laugh and smile for the camera while pointing at a burned, charcoal-black corpse lying at their feet.

The captions that accompany these images, which were apparently written by soldiers who posted them, laugh and gloat over the bodies. The person who posted a picture of a corpse lying in a pool of his own brains and entrails wrote, “What every Iraqi should look like.” The photograph of a corpse whose jaw has apparently rotted away, leaving a gaping set of upper teeth, bears the caption “bad day for this dude.” One person posted three photographs of corpses lying in the street and titled his collection “DIE HAJI DIE.”

This is but a sampling of the homicidal mania evoked by war.  It is simply unacceptable to view homicidal mania as an aberration of war, because (a) it is simply not true, and (b) falsely treating homicidal mania as an aberration, rather than an expected outcome of war eases the war-mongers’ path to war.

Now, the truly culpable homicidal maniacs are telling us the Iraq war was a horrible mistake.  


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  1. This is what is wonderful about Docudharma.  Thank you.

    • banger on April 10, 2010 at 16:30

    The fury and callousness of the average American is what makes war. The glee after 9/11 when “something” happened that would removed the aching restraints that kept that inner desire for mass killing at bay was so obvious. Suddenly “we” were free to  unleash the inner barbarian which we had been feeding and nurturing with violent entertainments.

    I knew back then it was only a matter of time and said so. Americans, as a whole, love violence, guns, slaughter. It is one of our main cultural traits. Look at the language we use. War on drugs, war on poverty, war on terror and so on. War and fighting is a nasty business. Most of us know this.

    This is why there was so little interest in getting to the bottom of 9/11–the average person didn’t want to know it was a hoax.

  2. to such broad generalizations.  All soldiers do not turn into homicidal maniacs, and I think the ones who do have been prepped for it by the military.  By all militaries, who indoctrinate them, whip them up, and send them into harm’s way armed to the teeth.

    A while back, I read a truly chilling piece written by Stan Goff, over at “The Feral Scholar”.  He was in one of the special forces, and he wrote with brutal honesty about the internal, dehumanizing subculture of these units.  At least from his point of view, it takes a lot of indoctrination and reinforcement to make, and keep, a sane person calloused to killing other human beings.  He broke out of it, with help, to become a complete pacificist.

    The insane are always with us, of course, and it’s apparent why people who are inclined to be brutal or homicidal would gravitate to the military.  In much the same way pedophiles gravitate toward activities with children.

    And we do have our “patriotic”, pro-war fools subcultures in this country.

    Still, haven’t most of us been in situations that frightened and threatened us without turning into murderous beasts?

    And I wouldn’t be surprised at all to discover that most units that go “rogue” have just one or two strong-willed and insane (by my definition) instigators, and that most of the soldiers would never have committed atrocities on their own initiative.  That’s how vigilante groups and lynch mobs work.


  3. … the transformation of ordinary people into terrorists is also an entirely natural consequence of the system.

    some people look at how horrible these soldiers terrorists are, that they are cold, heartless murderers, and they are pinning it all on the soldiers terrorists, without realizing that probably most people put in that situation would act similarly, and we should re-direct our anger and our judgment toward those soldiers terrorists and look at the system …

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