How Far Would You Go to Prove a point?

war and human nature

We’re two decades off a century since the second world war.

And while there have been some wars in between, it’s inevitable that no other war comes close to the impact it had on the world at large.

It’s no secret that war says a lot about human nature. In Losing the War, Lee Sandlin refers to a term used in Viking war stories that speaks of the inhumane nature of warriors during a long ongoing battle.

“The Vikings knew, for instance, that prolonged exposure to combat can goad some men into a state of uncontrolled psychic fury. They might be the most placid men in the world in peacetime, but on the battlefield, they begin to act with the most inexplicable and gratuitous cruelty. They become convinced that they’re invincible, above all rules and restraints, literally transformed into supermen or werewolves. The Vikings called such men ‘berserkers’. World War II was filled with instances of ordinary soldiers giving in to berserker behavior… Eugene Sledge once saw a marine in a classic berserker state urinating into the open mouth of a dead Japanese soldier.”

Terrifying, to say the least.

On War and Human Nature

What I (and most of you) know about war is gotten from books. Maybe a veteran you’re related to occasionally tells you stories. All in all, chances are you’ve never experienced it. Either as a victim or in the line of duty.

The uncontrolled psychic fury Sandlin talks about is alien. Not that you can’t imagine what it must be like to be in battle for so long that the mind can no longer take it. You can to a certain extent. You’ve just never experienced the consequences of witnessing what human beings are capable of when pushed to the limit.

This is where you read about rotting dead bodies in rat-infested trenches, these same trenches being used day after day in warfare. Acres of agricultural land burned down and destroyed. Produce gone to waste and nations forced into food rationing. Cities turned into rubble. Immediate widespread poverty. Lost innocent lives. Darkness. Despair.

After the complete surrender of the Germans and the Japanese, Sandlin writes that “In the wild celebrations that followed nobody crowed, ‘Our enemies are destroyed.’ Nobody even yelled, ‘We’ve won.’ What they all said instead was, ‘The war is over.’ That was the message that flashed around the world in the summer of 1945: the war is over, the war is over.’”

Relief. That was the first thing people felt. It’s over. The bloodiest war in all of human history is over. We can finally live again. Learn to love again.

It wasn’t that immediate, of course. The effects – economic, psychological – were still present years later with one of the factors that influenced the said magnitude being the technology. Progress in communication and intelligence with the development of the radar. Enhanced precision through the invention of guided missiles. And, of course, the “star of the show,” the atomic bomb, where Feynman played a role in the Manhattan project.

The 21st-Century Man

Time is a healer. And through the years that have passed, we are now at a period where it’s arguably the best time to be alive in history. Diseases like diarrhea and polio which were unimaginably fatal years ago are treatable and manageable today.

Most families are no longer having 6+ children for leverage and/or labour. That if two die during childbirth and another two die before their fifth birthday, the remaining two would, hopefully, be able to live a full life. Or if all of them magically survive past their fifth birthdays, the small family farm will finally be able to garner more produce compared to the previous year due to the available labour.

Not to mention that the number of deaths caused by war today is extremely low. Peace has prevailed in most parts of the world.

This is a good thing, of course. But here’s one thing you should always remember; never underestimate the capabilities of the human being.

In the 20 years between WWI and WWII, the difference in technological innovations was already quite significant. It’s now 2021. Trying to imagine the difference today is wholly incomprehensible. Not to mention the ignorant, narcissistic state of the society we make up. ( on narcissism)

We are not immune to war. If anything, we are more vulnerable to it today. And while we all hope it won’t ever get to that point, a self-examination of one’s own thoughts and actions is always constantly needed.

You don’t want to know how far the 21st century man would go to prove a point.

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