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All Quiet on the Western Front is still worth a read as is Dave Grossman’s work ‘On Killing’ – both books describe in detail the process of what happens when the military attempts to stamp the humanity out of people and reproduce them as operatives of the instruments of death.
I’ve read Grossman’s On Killing too. It’s very interesting on how things have changed since WW1. At that time, whenever there was close combat, most soldiers, most of the time, shot away from nearby soldiers on the other side, so as to AVOID harming or killing them. Hollywood films notwithstanding, that was even true in Vietnam. Now it’s not true. Now most of the time soldiers in close combat want to kill.
(In the Israeli army, there has never been any doubt, for most soldiers, about murdering Arabs, armed or unarmed. T-shirts are worn showing cartoon pictures of pregnant women shot in the belly, saying “One bullet. Two kills.” The psychological conditioning involved may relate to why that particular army encourages people to ‘go and see the world’ when they leave. Israel is an exception.)
Why the change in mentality among soldiers in western countries?
One reason has to do with the end of conscription. Conscription ended in Britain in 1960 (after Suez), in the US in 1973 (when the lost US war in Vietnam was coming to an end) and in France in 1996 (after the war against Iraq). In the 1980s, most countries in the world had conscription; there were only a handful that didn’t (Britain, Ireland, Canada, the US and Mexico). Today there’s no conscription in the US, France, Germany, China, India, Britain, Spain, Italy, Poland, etc. etc. etc.
Another reason has to do with specific psychological means used in the armed forces, as you say.
A third reason has to do with the degeneration of culture in society as a whole, where bullying is encouraged (“lolz” anyone? numerous TV programmes, etc.) and people are being desensitised to violence.
Up until recently, people watched US actors mime shooting each other 10 times a day on TV, but they rarely saw any blood or wounds. Now the level of depicted violence is much higher. See for example Game of Thrones – the increasing non-recognition of a boundary between rape and consensual sex, a pregnant woman getting stabbed in the belly, youngsters being ‘trained’ in how to murder people, etc. Go to Yahoo any time and you will get encouraged to watch short video clips showing ‘Baby Falls Under Train’ or similar.
Abu Graibh is the west. Abu Graibh is Hollywood.
Grossman indicates his disgust at how the mass media continually keeps those who consume it suitably primed to explode into legally sanctioned fury at the hands of the military.
He also points out that our innate revulsion at slaughtering one another diminishes with distance and technology – hence the creation of real time military game operatives who can do a shift in front of a screen, delete (via drone attack) anyone unfortunate enough to make it onto the Pentagon’s disposition matrix hit list, and then go to wherever they call home.
With great respect for your well written comment B I have to question your argument that soldiering has become more brutal, and this might also question the selection of evidence to support your standpoint.
Soldiering has always been a bloody business – witness the atrocities committed during the Boer War, the brutality of the Black and Tans in Ireland, Then we have the Spanish Civil War where the 90,000 Muslims from North Africa who were recruited by Franco easily exceeded the brutality of Isis. The difference being that Franco’s allies did not record their atrocities on You Tube. And think of the atrocities during the Second World War where government censorship ensured that not too much was recorded about allied revenge on the Nazis. Think of the Russian revenge in occupied Berlin.
Worthy of consideration are the complaints from US combat soldiers in Afghanistan that rules of engagement limited their ability to defeat the Taliban. Whether this is true or not most serving soldiers did follow these rules and attempted to follow a doomed policy of using the military as community workers to win the hearts and minds of the Afghans.
Sure there have been atrocities in recent wars, but it is worth remembering that media coverage of warfare has never been so intense and that crimes committed by serving soldiers have been highlighted and the trials extensively covered by the media largely hostile to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I am suggesting that media amplification of brutality, well recorded as you point out, makes it difficult to conclude whether brutality has increased or decreased.
On a lighthearted note – but highly relevant – I recall songs we sung in the school playground after WW2 containing the repeated line ‘Our soldiers shoved their bayonets up the German’s arseholes’. Just imagine what the Diversity Officials and the media would do if that were sung about the Taliban today.
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