Recently by Fred Reed: Soap Opera Over Kabul
There is no hope, I tell you. There are no reasons. We kid ourselves.
In politics we think we do things for reasons. We don’t, except in the details. We do as we do because of what we are. We have wars because having wars is what men do. Reasons are only aftermarket appendages.
Read history. Everywhere, in every epoch, with only the occasional brief oversight, leaders come to power – kings, tribal chiefs, emperors, presidents – and attack anyone convenient. Always, somewhere, there are wars. Depending, the participants use rocks, pointed sticks, arrows, swords, tanks, carriers or Stratofortresses, these artifacts being mere details. A nuclear submarine is just a gaudier pointed stick.
Start where you like. Take Joshua. He attacked Canaan, conquered cities, and put the populations to the sword, men, women, and children. He wasn’t the first and certainly not the last. Assyrians, Romans, Tamburlaine, Genghis Khan, the Crusaders, on and on, through Nanjing and Hiroshima and Nagasaki, business as usual. Indiscriminate killing of whole populations is normal military procedure. Today it is thought proper to justify it in some way – liquidating a city would cause the enemy to surrender, see, saving lives, or something.
This is feel-good twaddle. Humanity has acquired just enough moral sense to be embarrassed about the things it does, but not enough to stop doing them. Dresden and Hamburg were put to the sword, however you name it.
Wars are no more the product of free will than the path of a bowling ball dropped from a bridge. All of history is filled with, almost consists of, men setting out with armies to conquer somebody. It is what men do – men, as distinct from women, who would rather read a book or go shopping. The historical pattern is that men invent everything and build everything, and then blow it all up and kill everybody. The wisdom of this is perhaps subject to question.
Wars seldom have any purpose other than to be wars. The kings of England didn’t need to conquer France, didn’t need France at all – what were they going to do with it? – but they set out to conquer it with hormonal automaticity, ravaging the countryside, bankrupting their own country, sowing misery and death. It’s what men do.
Today the United States is the planet’s major predator, in historical company with Halter, Mao, Stalin, the British empire, Napoleon the French Hitler, the Hapsburgs, Ottomans, the Plantagenets, various Persians, thousands of men leading thousands of armies, all butchering and burning and raping and looting. It is what men do.
We are still at it. We think we have reasons: We are combating terror, or protecting our allies from evil, or disseminating democracy. No, actually. We are doing what is built into our nature. Empires expand like bubbles, collapse like bubbles, fight the rising new empires. The losses in lives and unhappiness and treasure far exceed anything gained, which is irrelevant. We fight because it is a biological imperative. We cannot not fight.
This is unlikely to change. From birth, most of what we do is genetic: the Terrible Twos, sexual jealousy, fear of the dark, the forming of warrior bands (the Marines, the Pittsburgh Steelers, little boys playing cops and robbers). When children reach adolescence the girls become insufferable, the boys wreck cars, and each discovers an absorbing interest in the other. They, we, have reasons, but always the same reasons that come at the same age. “The herd of independent minds,” somebody said.
The appeal of military behavior and paraphernalia is built in. Little boys like to play army, despite efforts to get them to prefer dolls to guns. In the slums the adolescent join paramilitary gangs, the Crips and Bloods, the Vice Lords and Latin Kings, with uniforms (for example, black and gold football jackets) and Ministers of War, membership rituals, hand signs, and territory – and, in true military fashion, they fight to expand their realms. We are as predictable as gravitation.
Our morality is canine. Dogs are friendly and playful among themselves, affectionate with each other and with their owners, but, unless extremely domesticated, instantly hostile to strangers. This makes perfect sense among animals that live as a cooperative group in a hostile wild. It is less practical among countries with nuclear arms.
Humans differ little from dogs. Consider a man working with an intelligence agency in Washington. He may be a sterling fellow, good father, never kick the dog or molest the neighbor’s children, doesn’t shoplift, and in general is a good citizen. Tell him to do the satellite reconnaissance for the bombing of Baghdad and he will do it without a trace of conscience – even though he knows the bombing will kill thousands of innocent people. He may speak of duty, patriotism, and any of various sorts of routine high principle. No, it is just the psychology of the pack, us agin’ them. By nature we care about our fellow dogs, but not about other dogs.
Our instinct, like that of Fido, bends us toward easy enmity toward outsiders. Note how quickly Americans came to hate Moslems (who return the sentiment) even though, as thoughtful commentators have pointed out in exasperation, the haters usually know nothing about Islam, have never met a Moslem, or been out of the United States. Rationally this makes no sense. It does make sense, though, for members of a small hunting band for whom strangers are usually intent on killing you and stealing your women.
This innate hostility toward outsiders explains why all the desperate attempts to impose “diversity” don’t work. People of different colors and cultures don’t like each other. To point out that this is really, truly, seriously stupid changes nothing. It’s how we are.
When feminists speak of “testosterone poisoning,” they are exactly right (though they often seem to suffer from it themselves). Steroid chemistry trumps cogitation. Through all time young males have dreamed of becoming warriors. They still do. Note the gonadal popularity of war movies, of bloody video games, the reverence for “Navy SEALs” (as if there were another kind) and their air of inexorable force-of-nature invincibility. How many men have not fantasized of the night HALO drop from 20,000 feet, rip cord in hand, or rolling in on a hostile target in an F16, pop and pickle and hit the afterburner, or driving a hot space-fighter fighter against Darth Vader’s Death Star, swerving, evading, closer, aiming, aiming….? A professor at Yale might not admit it. He might be lying, too.
Then there’s The Strut, also biologically mediated: The whole alpha-male business of honor, pageantry, sword and codpiece, feathers and gewgaws. In nature movies you have seen the male swamp bird wildly flapping his wings and waving his head around to impress the girl birds. Men are men, no matter their phylum, and women are as programmed as men. They go for the display, in our case for the warrior.
Maybe you were the best lance in a tournament before Edward III. Maybe you are a fresh-caught new Marine just back from boot at Parris Island, heavier by thirty pounds of muscle and killer cocky toward those sorry stay-at-home dweebs you left behind. Either way, the girls will be all over you. We can laugh at it, with reason. But it works.
We are what we are. We do what we do. Therein lies the rub.
Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well, A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be, Curmudgeing Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle, Au Phuc Dup and Nowhere to Go: The Only Really True Book About Viet Nam, and A Grand Adventure: Wisdom’s Price-Along with Bits and Pieces about Mexico. Visit his blog.