Sep 23

The following quote epitomizes the gap between what soldiers wish they were, and the modern battle field today:

“Out of every hundred men, ten shouldn’t be there, eighty are are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.” (Attributed to Heraclitus, I have a sneaking suspicion this quote has been mis-attributed; the same page has a common misquoting of Orwell and Churchill. I've read too many popular "clever" quotes that I later find are inaccurate.)

True or not, the above quote has joined “We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would do us harm,” as one of the quotes that make up the military psyche, and ethos of the military. Many soldiers point to this and say "This is what a warrior is. This describes war. This describes me." But this quote doesn't describe war or warriors, at least not in the last hundred years. The warrior, if he ever existed, was long ago replaced by machines, mechanization, and the new modern battlefield.

First, the modern battlefield is one of specialization. Only half of the Army is involved directly in combat duties,  many are human resources technicians, electricians or repairmen. This battlefield is a battlefield of naval aircraft carriers; where one person's entire job is changing food and drinks in the vending machines. Is a vending machine operator a warrior? (One could make the argument this is a great thing, that we have isolated our "real fighters," according to the quote, in the combat roles. But of course, there is no "warrior" test.)

Second, modern weapons commit massive violence on a massive scale that is often random and unpreventable. They do not distinguish between warrior and non-warrior, fighter and non-fighter, nor can the warrior defend himself from those weapons the way he could sword and spear. The modern battlefield is a battlefield of cruise missiles, guided bombs and TOW missiles; a battlefield made up of IEDs and mortar shells. When soldiers ran over the trenches in World War I, the machine gun bullets didn’t distinguish between warriors and the rest. There is nothing the warrior could have done to prevent his death. Often, there is nothing he can do today to prevent the IED exploding. (Again, you could argue the soldier could prevent IEDs by winning over the local population with great counter-insurgency, but this also goes against the common view of the "warrior" and certainly isn't what Heraclitus meant.)

Which gets at the point behind this quote. There is a rugged individualism, a sense in which the warrior (and by extension every soldier who reads the quote and sees themselves in it) controls his own destiny. His skill and bravery alone will win the battle. But in the random capriciousness of bombs from the sky, this just isn’t true. One man can't, and won't make the difference.

Third, distance destroys the warrior. How far away can a soldier be from a battlefield and still be considered a soldier? Is the bomber pilot a warrior? Do his remote bombing make the difference in the battle? What about the analyst sighting targets safely in a Super FOB, does he make the difference? What about the Sailor who fires the cruise missile? The pilots flying predator drones in Nevada consider themselves soldiers, but I don't think anyone would call them warriors. At least not on the same level of the soldiers Heraclitus was talking about.

When did the warrior die (or at least stop making a difference)? Certainly he was dead by World War I and II; two wars fought in such numbers, no individual made a difference. Bullets, killing thousands in Antietam, fired at near random did not distinguish warrior and fighter. Once the bullet was invented, the warrior knights were killed; once armor was invented, peasant warriors were slaughtered. The impact of the warrior pales in comparison to the impact of technology. Perhaps, if the quote refers to the inventor of the long bow and the bullet, it would be accurate.

I said in the beginning “if the warrior” ever existed. Michael recently forced me to read a section of John Keegan's A History of Warfare, and his description of the phalanx style warfare of the Greeks--the age in which Heraclitus wrote--is a model of randomness. Two phalanxes crash into one another, then poke and spear at one another to find a gap. Once the phalanx is cracked, they push through, and the phalanx disperses, and everyone runs away. And once again, the warrior doesn’t make a difference, the weakest link does.

Jun 29

Why do I fight?

Every soldier agonizes over this question at least once before they enlist or deploy; at least, I hope they do. I certainly did.

I heard the drums and marched off to war. I led soldiers in a war zone. I told them to kill and I risked my own men’s lives.

Still, I struggled with violence and still struggle to understand why I fought. To fully understand violence I must fully understand myself. After having posted for a few weeks, I feel the need to put my blog, On Violence, in context.

So, why do I fight?

I joined ROTC for many reasons, none substantial, without confronting the issue of violence. Then, during my MSIII year, I first learned about Just War theory. Put too simply, Just War theorists says some wars are just and others are not. It is an ethical framework that allows nations to defend themselves. Wars should be wars of self defense, only as violent as they need to be—options of last resort. Created by Christian theologians, Just War theory bridged the gap between the peaceful nature of the Bible and the cruel reality of life. As I sat in class learning this theory, I realized that, despite our leadership’s assertion to the contrary, Just War theory didn’t mesh with U.S. foreign policy.

Any logical, unbiased follower of Just War theory would not have allowed the Iraq War. We acted preemptively, incorrectly and without adequate authority. As my class discussed the theory, I stood intellectually alone on this issue. Everyone in the classroom agreed that Operation Iraqi Freedom was a just cause.

Yet, here I sit, having deployed to Afghanistan and prepared to go again; or to Iraq, if needed there. So, why do I fight for a cause that I don’t believe in? When I accepted my commission to become an officer in the US military, I prepared for the fact that I could deploy to Iraq. Though the war was unjust in our initiation, the war would continue whether or not I deployed. Just War theory has a second critical dimension that I could defend: waging a war in accordance with Jus in Bello.

“Jus in Bello” means that during a conflict an army must discriminate among legitimate targets—civilians and combatants—and limit the violence where ever possible. I interpret it like this: a military at war — and ours is no exception — has the potential to do many horrible things. The line between horrible and honorable is leadership: Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers.

An officer leads, develops and exemplifies the moral character of his unit more than any other soldier. The top brass, at any level, can either lead his unit ethically or he can let it slip into moral decay. As an officer, I look back proudly and say that I tried to save more lives than I took. That is why I fought and fight.

May 25

During my last visit home the inevitable happened, a fight broke out. From our stools in the corner of our favorite bar, my friends and I watched two young men rage at each other, throw glasses and then punches until a bouncer broke it up. I wondered, who was to blame for this fight?

From what I’ve seen, most post-bar fight scenes are the same. Both sides plead innocence. Whoever swings first accuses the other side of some lesser physical contact, like a shove or they claim that the other guy was “coming at me.” Each side will accuse the other of being overtly aggressive, like he "got up in my face." Both sides will justify themselves by saying their opponent was “talking trash.” Frequently, the classic justification is the “other guy” called their female companion a bitch, or some other derogatory comment.

Each side in a bar fight appeals for innocence through inevitability; be it the other person’s verbal or physical actions, most fighters believe they are justified in their actions. Yes, I am taking fist fighting to legalistic, academic extremes but the point remains: in the vast majority of fights, neither side believes they were in the wrong. At this point, three possibilities could be true:

    1. One side is at fault.
    2. Neither side is at fault.
    3. Both sides are at fault.

Usually only the third option makes sense. People who get in fights tend to get in fights frequently.  Few people are this honest about their intentions. When asked, it is insults and perceived “disrespect” that motivates people to start brawling. The vast majority of people do not get in fights; the difference is when the average person is “slighted” they don’t use it to justify fighting. Therefore, when it comes to bar fights, both sides must have some degree of blame.

Why this meditation on bar fights? Because when soldiers and upper level brass talk about the Global War on Terror, they tell us, "We had this fight thrust upon us." Or as President Bush called the Global War on Terror, "A war we did not start."

I have ignored opportunities to fight before, could America have ignored the terrorists? Could we have treated them as criminals instead of starting a Global War on Terror? If we can metaphorically get in a bar fight, can we metaphorically walk away?

Iraq tells an oddly similar tale to a bar fight. More than misperceived aggression, it was America’s first preemptive strike.  We had dozens of options about how to respond to Iraq that did not involve war. We had no impending threat; we had a justification to fight and we took it.

Often, the police give up on assigning blame on calls about fights and declare them “mutual combat.” Police officers understand a truth about fighting: each side is to blame.

May 11

I spent a long time thinking about what to write for our first true On Violence post. Whether to write something clever on a topic obliquely related to my overall search, or write about the core of my beliefs about violence.

We’ll start at the beginning, with definitions. Search a textbook on philosophy or an anthology of philosophical writings and look for references to Violence. You will see concepts like force or the metaphysics of action, but rarely Violence. In most regards, Western Philosophy has all but ignored Violence since Plato. Violence exists as a variable in philosophical equations, but never as the equation itself.

Since Western Philosophy has not provided a definition of Violence, I proceed to the next logical step: Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. Webster’s Dictionary provides this gem:

vi-o-lence n. 1. swift and intense force: the violence of a storm. 2. rough or injurious physical force, action,    or treatment: to die by violence. 3. an unjust or unwarranted exertion of force or power, as against rights or laws: to take over a government by violence. 4. a violent act or proceeding.

Even armed with these definitions, I still barely know what violence is or, more importantly, what it means to our society. As I read, re-read and ponder this definition, I see that I am probably trying to write about something between definitions two and three, with definition four simply a restatement. The second definition provides the key word that gets to the heart of violence, “injurious.” Violence causes pain, suffering or injury.

Definition three provides a key detail, but one that makes you slap your head in frustration as another philosophical can of worms is opened. Using “power” in an “unjust” fashion defines all sorts of violence in society, from the most obviously unjust to the grey areas. The unjust examples are clear: a man beating a child; a group of Southerners in the fifties lynching an African-American; the holocaust. But when does Violence become just? The U.S. invading Iraq or Al Qaeda bombing the World Trade Center both have proponents claiming the justice of their actions, depending on their definitions of justice and their differing points of view.

I will define Violence as both the second and third definitions. Violence at its rawest is the second definition; some action/treatment/behavior that causes pain/suffering/injury. This is violence as action. The third definition strikes at the philosophical definition we need though—the reason Violence strikes an emotional chord in humanity. It gives violence larger meaning; as a concept, it has philosophical weight. Because it is unjust, and unfair, violence is detestable.

May 06


Man abhors it.

Society condones it

Humanity perpetuates it.
As if by not looking, somehow it will go away.

An odd looking word if you stare at it for too long, as we have been creating this website.

By violence, we mean killing and injury. War and crime. Injustice and injury. We will define it later but for now we mean all violence, in all of its horrific forms.

Violence, our subject.

...and an anecdote

My freshman year at UCLA, to fulfill a GRE requirement, I took the General Education Cluster: Life and the Cosmos. One guest lecturer, a physicist cum philosopher, questioned our class about causality, asking whether or not causation existed in our everyday lives. It boggled my mind that someone could even ask that question. Eric related an anecdote to me about a fellow student in one of his discussion sections in college. The student announced to the class that he had proven philosophically that he didn’t exist. Eric remarked how much easier non-existence would make paying rent.

We bring these examples up for one reason. While On Violence will discuss the metaphysics of Violence, we will not discuss the metaphysics of reality and of existence. We feel no need, at this time, to contribute to the debate over metaphysics but feel compelled to analyze violence, and its impact on our world.

The above anecdotes feature characters (truly, there isn’t a better word for them) who would discount the entire basis for this site. We will ignore metaphysics, and even deeper ethical questions -- at least in the beginning. We choose to ignore them and we presuppose reality’s existence. We feel silly for even having to add this caveat to the first post on our website.

Violence exists, and so does this site.