Fear and Loathing on the Battlefield
Are humans »born killers« or do they have moral qualms about killing? I examine soldiers and airmen in wars since 1939. One dominant view is that moral qualms are strong, even leading to non-firing. This is not true. Moral qualms are rare, fear is dominant, given the horrors of battle. There are a few »real killers«, but fear is overcome by adrenalin-fueled charging or intense focus on split-second skills, as by pilots. Minimal performance is achieved by repetitive drilling, harsh discipline, and commitment to comrades (»buddies«), higher performance by ideology, as for the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front and communist infantry in Korea and Vietnam. Experience in battle teaches soldiers to keep their heads down, avoiding risks. After 40 days comes exhaustion, »shell shock«, shirking, reporting sick, plus incapacitating physiological symptoms. Fearful overfiring, not non-firing, dominates. Our soldiers must go through hell even if they live!
Michael Mann, Distinguished Research Professor, University of California, Los Angeles