November 17, 2002
It Takes All Kinds

Unqualified Offerings offers some musings that run strongly against the Zeitgeist :

. . . the essential truth of WWI was that, for every Hemingway or Graves who saw it as the atrocious collapse of a corrupt order, there were other soldiers who had the time of their lives. There were, that is, soldiers who grew too fond of it even though it was hell. You know the most famous of them, Adolph Hitler.

But Hitler couldn't have done what he did without an entire movement of men behind him who had loved the order and cameraderie of barracks life and wished to bring the same ethos to society as a whole. Veteran-led movements to militarize the homefront along Marxist or anti-Marxist lines afflicted every country in postwar Europe. (Ironically, the more overseas colonies you had, like the Brits, the less you suffered, because you had some place to send your at-loose-ends veterans. . . .)

Then again, there are other reasons some men like war, or at least prefer it to peace. When I was in college (early 1970s), moving furniture for Mayflower, I once worked for one day with a man who had just gotten out of the Army and said that his year in Viet Nam had been the best year of his life. The fact that he was working for Manpower as a day laborer may have had something to do with it: his standards of comparison were obviously none too high. But his main argument was pure Epicureanism of the most brutal kind (that would be Aristippan hedonism, if I'm not mistaken). He had been in very little danger, even from mortar attacks, since he worked as a file clerk a long way from the perimeter of a very large base. The pay was low, but room and board were provided, so he could and did spend every bit of his take-home pay on drugs, music, and prostitutes. The drugs were cheap, the music was good, the prostitutes were cheap and very talented, and the food was (he said) better than his mother's. Again, his standards seem to have been fairly low. Camaraderie may have counted for something, though I don't recall that he mentioned it.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at November 17, 2002 03:24 PM

When I was in the service, and later working as a defense contractor, the Air Force and Army (at least) shared a couple of stereotypes of the Marines. Either they were inordinately proud of how much abuse they could take, or they were from such an impoverished (and usually rural) background that they thought the Corps' spartan living conditions were great. Not sure either one was entirely accurate, but the few Marines I worked with seemed rather cheerful about conditions the AF would have considered unacceptable...

Posted by: markm on November 17, 2002 08:51 PM

The Marines consider all the other services wusses. I expect they might defer to the Special Forces and SEALS, but not to many others. They pride themselves on toughness, which among other things means enduring the worst shit of anybody. "Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death I shall fear no evil, for I am the meanest son-of-a-bitch in the valley."

Three sqaure meals a day and a sack has been a draw for impoverished recruits from the days of Marius, if not earlier.

Posted by: Michael Lonie on November 17, 2002 09:55 PM

Finding profitable employment for demobilized armies has been a problem as long as there have been armies. It's one area that I think gets less attention than it should about the post-WWII world. Unlike most wars, the large numbers of newly unemployed, young violent men trained to kill were actually successfully re-integrated into society without particularly harmful effects in nearly every combatant country. Given the size and scope of the war, that feat alone is remarkable.

Posted by: Doug Turnbull on November 18, 2002 02:03 PM

A very depressing appraisal of the military in general (by a Vietnam vet and subsequent war correspondent who is definitely no anti-war/dove type... I think he would merely consider himself a brutal realist) can be found here.

"(1) Men seldom enlist from patriotism. They enlist in time of peace because they are bored, need a job, dream of travel, don't know what else to do with themselves, want to prove their manhood, or have heard lurid tales about the women in Hong Kong. Patriotism is at best an afterthought.

In time of war, reasons again vary. Some enlist to get the service least likely to see combat. During Viet Nam, the National Guard was popular for just this reason. Gutsier men will join because they want to see combat. They simply like the action. Some of these later become correspondents, and go from war to war. A few men, the ones who adhere to the elite commando outfits, carry with them an intense and angry aggressiveness for which they seek a acceptable outlet. They want to kill people."

Anyway, the rest of the article is much of the same. It can seem very grim, especially if you're not of the pie-in-the-sky type who thinks war and armies are unecessary.

Posted by: Russell on November 18, 2002 09:55 PM