Back in 1988 I was 19, on the first year of my military service in the Soviet armed forces (OMSBON of the Ministry of the Interior). We were activated as part of the Nagorno-Karabakh ethnic conflict and dispatched to Armenia. Here’s a picture of my platoon and of my self-unaware but exuberant self.
I was itching for action. I had a new toy – AKS-74U (a tactical version of a Kalashnikov) – and I wanted to play with it. For a righteous cause, of course. I was a dumb ass.
No, to say that is too simple: I was young and immature.
I got lucky: I didn’t get to play.
When I look back at my 19 year old self, I shudder: my consciousness did not belong to me. My mind was infinitely malleable. I was programmable. My body, however, was in peak form! I was… of the perfect recruitment age: military, in a sense, is a form of child abuse with institutionalized bullying/hazing (just read about dedovshina in the Russian military, for example). With all due respect to my brothers-in-arms everywhere, we (the nations) fight wars on the backs of childish minds inside adult bodies.
Here’s a passage from Chris Hedges’ “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” that makes my point:
“I could see the little sprays of dust the bullets threw up from the road. Rebels around me were wounded and crying out in pain. One died yelling out in a sad cadence for his mother. His desperate and final plea seemed to cut through the absurd posturing of soldiering. At first it haunted me. Soon I wished he would be quiet. “Mama!… Mama!… Mama!”
War isn’t the only situation where we posture. Politics is another situation where we posture. Here’s a sobering zinger for you from Chris Hedges:
“Radical politics fills empty lives and provides a potent sense of meaning and purpose.”
Where else do we posture? We posture geopolitically. “For Motherland!” – of course. Why? “Because we are special!”
“[National] myth… disguises our powerlessness. By turning history into myths we transform random events into a chain of events directed by a will greater than our own, one that is determined and preordained. We are elevated above the multitude. We march towards nobility… Most national myths, at their core, are racist… By finding our identity and meaning in separateness the [national] myth… makes communication with our opponents impossible… Once in a conflict, we are moved from the abstract to the real, from the mythic to the sensory.”
Young or old, soldiers or civilians, we are all still children in adult bodies. We are all – most of the time – still too malleable and programmable. We are all still too easily whipped up into nationalistic frenzy. To wake up from our misguided search for meaning, we need dissidents, we need sober minds, we need pattern-breakers, we need rascal sages, we need inconvenient truths. We need to play fewer shoot-‘em-up games that promote reflexively dualistic (us vs. them) thinking. And we need to read more. We need to read books like the one by Chris Hedges that I am quoting from here.
“The ethnic conflicts and insurgencies of our time… are not clashes between cultures or civilizations, nor are they the result of ancient ethnic hatreds. They are manufactured wars, born out of the collapse of civil societies, perpetuated by fear, greed, and paranoia, and they are run by gangsters… Ethnic warfare is a business… Campaigns of ethnic cleansing [are] used to create facts, as it were. The slaughter [is] carried out to give these wars the justification they lack when they begin, to fuel mutual hatred and paranoia, as well as to enrich the militias and paramilitary groups that steal and loot from their victims.” (note: I took out the past tense from this statement)
Here’s one more line from Hedges and one more point from me:
“One of the most difficult realizations of war is how deeply we betray ourselves.”
Of course, we do. Of course, we betray ourselves deeply when we don’t know ourselves. That’s why we posture, absurdly, in search for meaning.
To assure less posturing (and, arguably, less post-service psychological morbidity) I would suggest raising the minimal recruitment age for the military to 25 years of age. I realize my proposal is a total non-starter: there just wouldn’t be enough fodder for the cannons. Why? Once again, I’ll let Chris Hedges explain:
“A soldier who is able to see the humanity of the enemy makes a troubled and ineffective killer. To achieve corporate action, self-awareness […] must be obliterated.”
Last reviewed: 29 Oct 2013