Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Causalities Of War

Before I begin today's piece, I want to firmly state that in no way should any of the ruminations I post in this piece be taken as a defense or plea for compassion for the perpetrators of the assaults on the women involved. I do not in any way condone or defend their behavior. I grieve for the women involved, and had I been there in person, would have done what I could to prevent the attacks.
The nexus of cases of Lara Logan, who was sexually assaulted as Egyptians celebrated the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, and the women involved in the lawsuit against the Pentagon for rapes and sexual assaults that occured in war zones, no less, as well as non-combat military functions, draws attention to one of the more odious, bilious parts of a man's psychology.
There is an undeniable connection between aggression and sex.
It seems to be innate, perhaps even genetic. That they combine so easily tells me there's some neurochemical bond that is enhanced in the brain, particularly the male brain.
One is tempted to excuse it by saying that it's genetic, that our deep ancestry, going back beyond our ape ancestors, equates conquest with, well, conquest. In order to diversify the gene pool, one had to look outside one's immediate surroundings, which usually meant incurring on some other male's turf, and that led to fights and the winner usually got the spoils, including sex with more females.
The nature of the beast, as it were. 
That temptation, no matter how right it appears, is wrong (and simplistic, but that's for someone far better versed in paleopsychology than me to discourse upon.) 
We have other genetic predispositions that we are able to overcome. For instance, it's been shown that babies are born with two fears: falling and reptiles. Yet, people skydive by the millions and goodness knows, enough people own snakes and lizards. 
And people have a deathly fear of falling (like me) and reptiles (well...sort of like me). 
What I'm saying is that these behaviors can and should be overcome. And perhaps I'm making too little of the fact that, in the, tens of millions...of men involved in these two stories, a small handful were guilty of not overcoming these urges.
This does not excuse them. If anything, it makes their actions that much more disgusting. Millions of their brothers were able to treat these women as human beings, not playthings. 
But it does point out two things: we've grown a little as a world in the past fifty years and we still have much growth ahead. 
The trigger of violence is what intrigues me in both these stories: men with guns or in a mob or somehow or other over-empowered, will tend to pick on the weaker members of their tribe. First it was television crews in Egypt. These were folks, men and women, who were encumbered by heavy equipment and who were there to cover a story, not because they necessarily supported a cause. The gatherings were violent, angry, passionate. That same passion was sure to fuel other manifestations. 
CBS, in other words, probably should have provided Logan with a beefier bodyguard or contingent. The signs were there. 
Similarly, aggression in the military towards "friends" did not start with the sexual assault these women suffered. Let's be clear on this: the culture of the military is to actively encourage the depersonalization and dehumanization of people, to train the soldier's mind to discard thoughts of compassion and humanity, to kill.
To kill someone is the ultimate act of dehumanization, and the devastation to the mind of the killer is enormous (not ignoring the devastation to the victim). The training a mind has to go through to be able to do that is a process that is guaranteed to dehumanize the soldier.
So again, the warning signs were there, and they were enhanced by the fact that so much discipline among the ranks is in the form of peer-to-peer aggression. The "Code Red", made infamous in A Few Good Men, even just cross-shouting about cleaning the barracks or turning the music down before a sergeant shows up, these are all ways of reinforcing that depersonalization, to force normative behavior.
To conform or be outted.
I realize I open a door to an argument here against repealing DADT or the admission of women to combat roles, so let me say this: there is nothing in this process that cannot be changed at this time. The strategies and tactics of fighting wars have become so depersonalized already, firing from miles if not continents away, that the need to train a soldier to kill face to face, hand to hand, and to do so efficiently and without remorse has been lessened to almost non-existent.
The ironic part of the Iraq and Afghan wars is, the men and women who had the least amount of psychological training, Reserves and Guardists, were the ones who were most on the front lines.
See, here's where a little knowledge is dangerous. It would not surprise me if the bulk of the assaults in this story are by relatively rookie soldiers, still young and still combat untrained (or generally so). My suspicion is, once you reach a certain experience level, you learn when to turn off the emotion chip and when to turn it back on. The combination of hormones still raging, still unsupressed by humanity and maturity, and fear is probably a powerful violence aphrodisiac.
Sadly. Regretfully. Disgustingly.