August 15, 2003
Where can anyone begin to detail the consequences of war? Prominent or insurmountable losses compile and historians duly record them. But the "little" tragedies of which personal hells are made, these may so easily be forgotten. Even worse, they may never be fully known, except perhaps by a very few.
The impact of war may be terrible. Many may suffer immediate pain, horror, destruction and death. But the legacy of war may just as easily be absences: things which never were, or things which were lost to those who go on afterwards. A friend's hand, dead. A contribution never made. A composed state of mind never regained. These "little" things are tremendous things to some human world called a person, yet they are so difficult to really know.
In order to understand war, we must try to appreciate the real effects of war in scales both sweeping and individual — for the sweeping developments come down to the individual, where they are really felt. Only this way can we understand war as humans suffer it, not as it is supposed to happen. We must not balk at this basic education demanded by the mission of fighting future war simply because war disgusts, or because of any other disincentive.
Some of the classifications of the terrible effects of war thus summarized below will be further investigated in later parts of this series, along with some of their causes, cofactors, symptoms and remedies:
Also see: Selected Sources, Additional Reading and Inspirations below
Deaths and Casualties
If the compound works of associates make economic markets and other cultural collaborations, the compound works of allies against adversaries differentiate warfare. War is a cooperative activity by definition — but unlike economics, also inherently a most uncooperative activity, implicit with hostility. "Warfare" certainly implies killing to us, and that is the typical consequence of wars we know. But not all killing comes from war; war is not just equivalent to killing, and need not necessarily entail it. What then makes the difference?
The foremost theorist of modern war, Carl von Clausewitz, claimed that war is an extension of politics by other means, the contest of political will of one group versus that of another, especially the nation-states with which he was concerned. This is certainly the assumption made by those people who prepare, support and engage in war for governments. But Clausewitz was wrong, or at least myopic and limited in his view. In kind and character the activity of war, like any other social activity, expresses cultural beliefs and values shared by a group, only one subset of which produces organized, politicized wars, much less conflict of the Clausewitzian sort, the large state wars mobilizing large numbers for large causes. 
Clausewitzian or not, war as we moderns usually know the word means the conflict of numbers, not individuals alone or few. And war as we know it may extend toward maximum investment and commitment, the "total war" of Clausewitzian theory. War with that tendency implies killing, very much killing as a matter of course, something which will hardly change, despite any discussion of non-lethal means in recent years, until the social construction of war itself changes and war means something else with different effects.
"A single death is a tragedy. A million
deaths is a statistic."
In a very real sense, modern war is killing by the numbers, the death of statistics. Its immediacy is in danger of being lost. To go further, its immediacy typically does get lost to many people in the modern era. Individuality gets swallowed up in mass armies and "greater" causes. Distance from the killing aspect of modern war, desired or not, is often achieved in practice by the scattered scale of dispersed battles, by technology that enables long-distance, impersonal strikes seeing no faces and no pain, and by the mass nature of wartime psychology and press.
From media portrayals of at least very recent war in the Western mode, or more particularly the American mode (i.e. political, centralized, bureaucratic, regimented, and with enormous tax expenditure per soldier on technological enhancement), most reading this will have perceived a common, insidious misapprehension: that modern war within the brief present has now become relatively safe and successful, and only war in the past (before about 1990, which seems to be as far as some memories reach) really got out of control and threatened unfathomable danger. Since the end of the menacing "cold war," a collection of quite "hot" proxy wars recognizable in retrospect as WWIII collectively — and since the beginning of a new series of pettier conflicts, some of which, such as the two wars against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, have been fought to contribute to the hegemony of the US government — American war-fighting has supposedly acquired a static and secure mastery over the dangerous fates of war. On this flimsy ephemeral basis do the many naïve (or cynical) advocates of war-fighting comparatively safe behind the front lines now presume war to have been sanitized and improved. They feel modern war is no longer so dangerous — or at least is well on its way to efficient and clean modernization, and think it worth the risk as long as it continues toward further technological efficiency (forgetting how very much pursuing this way of thinking contributed to the unprecedentedly efficient slaughter of Western wars from the 19th through 20th centuries), or as long as war gets employed for ends popularly regarded as needed or humanitarian (forgetting how many aggressive or finally disastrous wars got popular support, the moral call to arms of an Armageddon, or a humanitarian cast). They advocate war as a policy tool, blindly dooming future people to uncharted horrors like the brilliant but naïve Clausewitz did writing before the World Wars, or promote war as an instrument of progress, civilization, order, and even peace, like the bizarre Orwellian doublethinking contradiction of those who would give themselves to state control in order to protect civil liberties. Such attitudes show little understanding of war, as much as this phenomenon of somewhat disparate attitudes and circumstances has some essence we can grasp.
We can find the most basic and most indicative characteristic of war, past and future, in what we may expect from it aside from rare and selective respites. If war is necessarily anything in itself, it is the chance of death, casualty, and destruction.
Of course, the chances of a member of any one group of people involved in a war suffering a destructive effect vary from one time and place to another, vary from one war to another, and vary between groups, such as a Russian soldier in Stalingrad (Volgograd) 1942–43 who might have predicted an imminent death from blast or bullet hit (from either side), compared to a civilian in Chicago or New York in 2003, who does not reasonably expect to die from a terrorist bomb. Of course all these chances always amount to speculation, and war often surprises; until September 11, 2001, few civilians in America ever imagined estimating any slight chance. However unpredictable the effects of war, though, several facts seem nearly certain.
Overall, soldiers can expect to die in war, often painfully. Soldiers continue to get wounded painfully and grotesquely also (as usual in history, more frequently than they die), for although battlefield medicine has improved with technological advancement, so has the technology inflicting casualties continued to provide them in unfamiliar forms, such as radiation poisoning from uranium rounds or chemical inhalation, as well as updated forms of more traditional blast, shrapnel, and bullet wounds. The very recent, (historically) low deaths and casualties among American soldiers (in the hundreds or low thousands) should not suggest an enduring trend compared to previous deaths and casualties. Furthermore, other soldiers still continue to die and get wounds in more traditional larger numbers when facing American soldiers, putting the lie to the claim that war-fighting has been cleaned up (despite the selective attention of chauvinists). For example, somewhere between several thousand and 150,000 Iraqi soldiers died in the 1990–1991 Gulf War (neither side had a compelling interest to make or publicize an accurate count). And, much greater numbers of soldiers died fighting in earlier modern era wars including Americans (such as 47,000 US and 850,000 Vietcong soldiers in the Vietnam War) even though these wars were also fought with a similar strategy of applying expensive military technology to combat, and with other major elements of the American martial philosophy rather similar to very recent practice (in terms of organization, bureaucracy, politicization, doctrine, tradition, etc.) all told, compared to the practices of other modern militaries. Thus it seems unlikely that anything remarkable or fundamental has happened to curtail attrition, besides a circumstantial combination of unusually restricted theaters of fighting (allowing high concentration of applied force to space and limiting collateral exposure), or just a temporary lull in major conflicts as sometimes happens in history like 1871–1914 in Europe, with one of the momentary hegemonic power disparities so common in history, and just as commonly overestimated as permanent until invariably redressed by competitors. Such a "military revolution" as this, based on industrial and technological factors in this case, creates an unreliable asymmetry temporarily sufficient to limit the duration of each shooting phase of conflicts even as attrition remains high during them, and even as lower intensity conflict may drag on without limitation. Once matched to the practically inevitable upstarts balancing or tipping the scales, any sharp but brief and supposedly surgical method of war once touted as superior against hegemonic inferiors will finally reveal itself in mutual exchanges as gouging, prolonged, and bloodletting.
Overall, civilians should expect danger from war, and any clear, permanent separation between dangerous combat zones and safe civilian homes is a historical anomaly in modern era warfare. Between 1900 and 1990, 62 million civilians versus 43 million soldiers died in war, including 34 million civilians in World War II, and since 1990, 75–90 percent of deaths in war have been civilians.  In combination with other factors, such as democratic involvement (and perceived civilian complicity) in supporting warfare since the American and French Revolutions, and genocidal war aims, the technologies of long-range bombing (and to a lesser extent long-range artillery) have particularly ensured, and proven as early as the Second World War, that civilians can be targeted efficiently: 40,000 dead in Hamburg in one night from UK bombs in the first (and only unintentional) firebombing of the Second World War, 135,000 dead in cultural center Dresden in 2 days, 17,800 people dead in Pforzheim within 22 minutes; 100,000 dead in one night in Tokyo from US bombs (under Curtis LeMay's strategy following the "area bombing" tactic of Arthur "Bomber" Harris from Britain), more than 250,000 in Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Kawasaki, and Kobe (fictionalized in the film Grave of the Fireflies) from March–May 1945; 800,000 dead in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) in the battle for the city. But all this efficiency would have paled in comparison to mass exchanges of hydrogen fusion bombs (or even just atomic fission bombs) via bombers or missiles which could strike anywhere on earth, which seemed quite possible or even likely for decades during the twentieth century, and actually still remain completely possible in the future.
Overall, people can expect that many, perhaps very many people under some ruling flag, living in some country, will die in wars from attack, disease, malnutrition, and that much will be destroyed. Although relatively few American soldiers have died in recent interconnected Middle East wars from 1990 up through 2003, the amount of destruction has not been so unusually low, nor have total deaths and casualties during or resulting from conflict. The technology which has mostly protected some soldiers defensively has devastated others offensively, following the aged tradition of very asymmetric war as an exercise in massacre for as long as fighting endures. Reaching the minimum for most modern era conflicts, those suffering violent effects definitely number in the hundreds of thousands minimally and perhaps millions maximally (including uncertain tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands in 1990–91 Gulf War, perhaps over 1,000,000 Iraqis (UN) including more than 500,000 children (UNICEF) during the interwar blockade and bombings of Iraq, 2819 killed during the NY World Trade Center attack, up to several debatable thousands of civilians in 2001–02 Afghanistan bombing and thousands more from war repercussions, and uncertain several thousands of deaths since the invasion of 2003). The total number of lives displaced or disrupted certainly number in the many millions, as is typical in the modern era even for a regional war.
Perhaps above all other effects of war upon living things, war shows itself as the potential apotheosis of mass death. (In this characterization of war I include the mass conflict of genocide — at its most efficient simply the most asymmetric war, the war of least resistance.) In war, death may become fully impersonal, fully dehumanized. Soldiers are taught to kill and to accept death without the usual compunctions and shocks, in the "ideal" case with factory efficiency, even if they must still face its realities personally. In modern war especially, even the non-combatants supporting soldiers are also trained to accept death with similar sang-froid, with usual success unless they need reckon with death's consequences in person. War by a physical measurement is the name for the organized social practice reducing human beings to material, to meat that we intend to be carved, disintegrated, exploded, crushed, starved, decapitated, or otherwise killed, maimed or wounded, often in large numbers, by the agents of violence and with the blessing of indirect supporters.
But just as a materialistic reduction of humankind to mere killable flesh or killing beast and human possessions to just breakable objects would distort with its brutal incompleteness, so is the above reduction of war to physical violence quite insufficient to encompass it. War is far more complex than functional force, as a near-universal activity of the planet's most complex organism, the one with the most developed culture, the one with language, ideas, and individuality within the species. How otherwise could human beings teach each other to accept the brutal failures in materialistic terms we call "wars," or "police actions," or "revolutions," or "operations," or other names without immediacy? To kill and destroy mutually should be madness in any material sense; to risk entire, encompassing elimination of all human beings could only be more mad and could find support in no sufficient material gain, and yet many human beings have shown willingness to risk even that given the opportunity. All of which points to an essential ideological, imaginary, even spiritual aspect of war in consciousness, factors of which make the unimaginable, imaginable — and not only that but persuasive, promising, alluring. Human beings as animals who believe make war; other simpler animals simply kill, but not perversely.
Yet the reality of war as abattoir, factory (dis)assembly line, meat grinder, "killing fields," whirlwind of destruction, mass murder, or any other name for the practice which has for example necessitated the "logical" pre-production of coffins, body bags, and artificial limbs in vast quantities — that reality, and not the reality of belief that motivates it, is the one that eliminates priceless and profound people and things. War is not only terrible but worst from the perspective of life because it is so often arbitrary in what it strikes down and ruins. The valuable people who die or suffer, and the valuable things they do or might do which get stunted, perish, or vanish in war might often have no escape, and exemplify no particular traits to signify that they above others should be unlucky. War is capricious. On that basis, if life of a type or an individual evolves to be one thing over another for a reason, war violates whatever selective principles naturally govern that life, those processes of valuation that give life the possibility of advancement ; war violates natural life itself. It violates life in a way that nothing else does, both the lives of those who do not engineer war and do not intend to risk its repercussions, and the lives of those that do, with random selection otherwise found only in the rare cataclysms of nature (which lacks engineers, and thus lacks malignance). In war, human beings may industriously engineer the destruction, ruination, or hindrance of any and all lives, disregarding deserving exceptions and the choices of selection, imposing on all different and various individualities a uniform death, or stagnant misery. 
For the indecency toward life of the violent effects of war, for death and casualties alone, all those who love life and know it not merely as biology or happenstance but as advancement, fulfillment, or at least the promise of either, cannot but condemn war if they understand it. So, attitudes toward war might supply an obvious bellwether of the awareness and maturity of a life-interest in any given heart.
Mental anguish during and after warfare should not be underestimated compared to more visible wounds inflicted on other parts of the body which bleed. The invisible wounds to the psyche may actually feel more acute (and are certainly more common), whether resulting from combat itself, living in or near a combat zone, personal connection to a soldier, or simply exposure to war from afar as the member of a warring population, including intake of propaganda and ideology.
The civilian victims of war may suffer the greatest psychological harm, for they have not been prepared by the expectation of military training to manage the stress, shock, and fright of violence and loss as soldiers have. Even if collateral casualties among civilians are few, significant wars universally scare many more people into fleeing from danger if soldiers do not deliberately force them away (as in "ethnic cleansing"); wars typically create up to vast populations of displaced refugees who may live dangerous and desperate lives with uncertain futures. Children in refugee camps often resort to prostitution, recruitment as a child soldier or other risky means of surviving. Many local women and even large regional populations of many millions (such as German women in Eastern Europe in 1945) endure systematic rapes. Commonly, conquering soldiers use rape and other forms of torture as means to punish noncombatants identified as enemies now at their mercy. All such hardships must be endured by the body and mind as one.
And prepared for battle or not, the deep neural pressure to survive put on soldiers by their own chemical instincts when triggered by circumstances typically exceeds health with its repetition, constancy, and force. Adrenaline which promotes survival in the short term fatigues and wears dangerously on people in the long term, as soldiers find. They usually must remain watchful if not on-edge for long periods of time, sometimes otherwise inactive and therefore without distraction. Furthermore soldiers in many wars encounter extreme stimuli on a fairly regular basis: shocking sights of bleeding and maimed companions, civilians, and adversaries, concussions, screams and other unnerving loud sounds, the oddities of human behavior displayed by those under stress around them, the extreme measures of weathering harsh environments with sometimes insufficient equipment or supplies, and finally the sometimes-exhausting exertions of marching, climbing, swimming, hauling, crawling, and running — not to mention withstanding wound trauma, including some spectacular insults to the human body.
Also, soldiers in combat are required to kill without hesitation, even when their lives are not in immediate danger, according to their orders. Human beings typically have a potent aversion to this which only "natural killers" do not seem to have (2% of those who become soldiers, responsible for up to 50% of kills in war because they can kill without difficulty if they wish ) and which certain measures are meant to overcome in more typical killing-averse soldiers: their repetitive training, separation from the abstracted depersonalized enemy, and formation into peer firing groups with mutual motivation to kill. Nonetheless, overcoming a certain degree of innate programming toward cooperation with other humans and natural revulsion toward killing them, and reconciling conscious belief uncomfortable with the self-image of "killer" with competing subconscious awareness of actually killing, likely imposes a cost in cognitive dissonance.
Unsurprisingly, the stress of combat commonly produces psychotropic if not psychopathic effects. Psychiatric casualties have been more common in all major modern conflicts than physical injuries. (A modern military no longer court-martials or executes such "shell-shocked" soldiers for cowardice, nor excuses them, but "treats" these psychosomatic rebellions against fighting with encouragement to return to fighting as soon as possible.) Since WWII the US military has had information that it only takes 60 days of continuous combat for 98 percent of survivors to become psychiatric casualties, and the remaining two percent will already have shown aggressive psychopathic characteristics before combat.  In other words, war makes everyone crazy who isn't already nuts. Maybe we should just be surprised that it takes as long as 60 days for the insanity of combat to finish the job. Which is certainly a testament to personal resilience, biological resistance to shocks, and human adaptive ability, but in part also a credit to the military training designed to reprogram human neural systems, so that those systems can stand to fight and kill each other. Of course some soldiers will "go mental" or "crack up" much sooner (maybe even in their first battle), becoming ineffectual and sensitive or reckless and uncontrollably violent (mutilating corpses, torturing prisoners, raping civilians, executing indiscriminately), disregarding their own health and the well-being of comrades and non-combatants, experiencing a variety of severe symptoms of impending mental collapse including misanthropy, hallucination, hysteria and nervous bodily (mal)functions.
There has long been a cliché, popular with propagandists, of the young soldier hardened and disciplined by war and "made into a man" — that is, improved psychologically by the pressures of war, forged in that so-called "crucible of men." Certainly it would be impossible to prove this never happens in some sense, and probably untrue. Yet we ought to note the rarity of this reaction to combat stimuli. Pressures so intense and traumatic experiences so acute might conceivably focus the occasional soldier's mind (beyond the usual brief sharpness of fight-or-flight chemicals) and increase his mental strength over time, yet those many individuals disinclined by personality to benefit from war will more likely get crushed by the same pressures — random, unreasonable, and relentless as they often are, and not designed to aid, ennoble or strengthen as are the pressures of a difficult school, for example.
For the surviving veterans of wars to suffer severe psychological symptoms after their exposure to trauma may not comprise a universal pattern, but certainly the syndrome is not uncommon. Frequently soldiers endure more psychologically after war than during it, even aside from coping with any enduring physical damage, such as a missing hand or leg, profuse scarring or disfigurement, or faulty wounded internal organs. Many of them relive the war, through nights of little sleep and occasional flashbacks fired by the slightest trigger of remembrance, until the day of their death.
Whether or not a soldier dies in war or comes back maimed psychologically or physically, any suffering introduced into the soldier's life undoubtedly introduces psychological repercussions to the lives of close family members and friends. If a soldier develops post-traumatic stress disorder his family undergoes this also, but even merely absence, worry during absence, and other sources of military family instability present a cross to bear often leading to behavioral problems in children and other friction at home, as well as depression and abuse. Soldiers also come back with manufactured aggression which may be difficult to control. Military families experience double the incidents of domestic violence as comparable civilian families, and apparently US military personnel currently kill a close relative at a rate of one per week. 
No doubt some veterans and fans of war would object to such frank diagnoses. But an appetite for war's violence among soldiers or civilians does not by itself indicate that its psychological effects on them are salutary any more than a heroin user can appraise that drug without bias. War appears to become addictive. Soldiers can experience, expect, and crave a documented "combat high" from adrenaline, or "killing high" once they overcome their aversion to killing. More commonly civilians acquire an attachment to consuming media depicting war, as though they themselves fight by proxy.
Warfare inflicts another kind of psychological impact more subtle and less obvious than psychological trauma and suffering among soldiers and their personal associates, but perhaps farther-reaching: ideological programming, and the psyche associated with war among both combatants and non-combatants. Adopting from wartime some altered models of interpretation which subtly change the course of habitual thought may inculcate in people entirely more dangerous social consciousnesses, while absorbing different memes such as militant terms and catch phrases may more noticeably alter the expressions of thought following a war.
For example, what veterans "learn" sometimes amounts to the habituation of following authority unquestioningly and assuming the truth and rectitude of official information or authoritative opinion, habits physically reinforced during military service by physiological practices such as drills, and reflexes of noting rank, like saluting.
Hand-in-hand with this unearned trust and obeisance, another habituation involves thinking according to group generalization, a collectivist error encouraged by the selective information given by any leadership which demands fear, hatred, or at minimum an attitude of separation and otherness toward some group conceptually collectivized as an "enemy power." Such a pattern of thinking only gets reinforced by the emotion of actually fighting according to the formula: on the side of "us" against "the enemy" — as the basic political assumption goes. Certainly long before modern times, a politician could expect the mass of any properly-coached wartime population to respond to any suitably-delivered speech calling them to war with ecstatic emotional excitement and even frenzy, and to any contradictory ("enemy") claims with revulsion, anger, or bitter skepticism. For the typical antediluvian instincts of identity-preservation and identity-conflict await imprinting, and crave whatever identity common ideology supplies.
Linked to that, yet another psychological habit of war manifesting in ideology becomes evident in the need for both veterans and the group which packed them off to war to justify even the most unjustifiable policies, and continue to make outrageous claims in favor of them, simply to avoid facing any idea of war as a sacrifice made for nothing or for insufficient reasons. Not only does this phenomenon of sacrifice as its own excuse produce absurdly ingenious mythmaking and self-deceit to perpetuate terrible wars such as WWI, but after wars it buoys political movements and ideologies for years or even ages to come, including nationalist allegiances, religious beliefs, and a host of even more peculiar patterns of thinking which would have been philosophically overthrown otherwise, but receive an unmatched social buttress by virtue of the very suffering that was endured in their name. Certainly this perverse effect of war has rarely escaped notice among warlike political factions over the past thousands of years of governmental society. Thus cynical revolutionaries think they must fight a somewhat bloody revolution or risk a rapid counterrevolution against their apparently superficial impact. Thus warmongers such as imperial ideologues and colonial mercantilists would often seize upon a tragic incident (even a fabricated tragedy such as the battleship Maine disaster) to promote as sufficient justification for war quite aside from any wiser consideration or scrutiny of motive, as they still do today. Thus in peace politicians invariably invoke the sacrifices of past wars out of context, and in war call for new sacrifices — even sometimes extensively propagandizing rather than understating the unpleasantness of new sacrifices to reap their impact. (One of the best examples of such advertisement was Joseph Goebbels' representation to Germans of the catastrophic defeat at Stalingrad. Uncomfortably, another is present-day propaganda on yielding civil liberties and taxed wealth in the USUK coalition for the sake of "the war on terrorism" — promotion which proudly announces inconvenient and intrusive measures like long waits for expensive screenings and searches, or informant networks like TIPS (an overreach), under the auspices of shady bureaucracies like the "Information Awareness Office" and "The Department of Homeland Security," terminology patently reminiscent of Goebbels in history and Orwell in fiction.)
Having been received from returning soldiers these sorts of habits extend influence deeper among cultural groups. Also, such programming reaches directly among civilian association using the means of media, in a multitude of subtle and blatant forms, only occasionally identified as "propaganda."
Centralization and Enslavement
"War is the health of the state"
Bourne's meaning is clear enough and true enough. But put more aptly: war is a sickness of freedom, a tumor grown of vitality, a virus infecting independent thought, a swelling of subjugation. It is so rarely conducive to health and welfare in any human sense, it is better never to confuse the social transformation it follows and affects with anything salutary, even rhetorically — lest people further confuse themselves and their welfare with group identity and the welfare of central institutions.
Not only does war justify encroaching centralization — the consolidation of power and hardening acceptance toward its abuses among a warring population (as some have noted is typical in modern times) — but historically it has also typically meant enslavement of a conquered population. Between the time of outright and shameless subjugation of the helots by the Spartans in ancient Greece, and the installation of "legitimate" pliable client governments in a conquered nation today, conquerors have imposed various and countless gradations of adulterated colonialism, forged of chains somewhere between brazen and invisible, in systems advertised or at least acknowledged, but justified by mollifying those exploited or captive conquered people with various techniques.
Centralization made possible in war far outstrips any other time for the "victors" and the vanquished, both of whom must yield to a heavier permanent yoke by the war's end or at the very least for the duration of its influence. During perceived crisis conditions the powerful may successfully impose conditions of subjugation and awful hardship for the sake of war, and the many willfully agree and shoulder to the burden, help the government to suppress the disagreeing exceptions, ask for more control for the sake of security, or even domination for the sake of freedom as long as this comes from their "own" rulers.
Among people who enjoy any substantial freedoms and the independence of responsibilities not subsumed by the state, usually much of the rapid centralization under any war and excused for the sake of war becomes a lasting legacy of the conflict. Even if nobody wishes to realize it once many have sacrificed for "victory," after a war a viewer outside of either side might observe that most on both sides lost what they were fighting for, while a few on both sides profited in petty convenient schemes of power and profiteering. Whether in the heady days of fighting or through years of peace long after the clashes of combat, wars mostly offer only the demands of voracious Pyrrhic victory surfeited by injured freedoms, if not fed on a glut of more grotesque harm.
"War is a racket" as General Smedley Butler admitted, for those interests termed "the military-industrial complex" in the modern era by Eisenhower — but always present in the history of governments as some collaboration between the centralized, socialized monopoly of force and the economic activity intimately fused to military activities, supporting war or influencing war. Configurations have varied. Some have been blatant, like Napoleon's family profiteering off supplying Napoleon's army. Most in the past several centuries have been a bit more subtle and less monolithic, like "private" mercantilist concerns installed as a monopoly by a trade war and defended by a government's colonial troops, or subtler, like an unacknowledged practice of lobbying and favoritism in awarding military contracts. Governments always appropriate wealth for military expenditure and deploy military assets for economic reasons; such military-economic arrangements exist to divvy it all up while everyone playing the game tries to maximize their own rewards from arming for war, warring, and dividing spoils, turf, and spheres of influence afterwards.
But for everyone else excluded from those rackets, the conduct of modern warfare is phenomenally expensive to fund and economically devastating to suffer. War impoverishes and destroys wealth, consistently and without par among any other endeavor in human history.
Only the confusion over this reality is new to the naïve democratic age. In every other, it was well known that war is an occasion for exploitation and theft for the select gang of victors, through the establishment of military colonies among the vanquished, by outright pillage or piracy, by direct annexation of new subjects to tax, by extortion, or by acquiring valuable resources. The question was simply whether one would be included or excluded from profit — and if excluded, whether made victim of plunder or victimized by payment. To the realists of the past, profiting from war was generally favored, yielding profit disfavored, although there were certainly occasions of other interests superceding economic ones — by which factors, such as fealty and faith, rulers would eke the finances of war from among their own subjects. But mainly only in the democratic age has the great confusion taken hold, the myth of a whole people profiting from war. And the economically baseless modern mythology of prosperous war that ignores the reality of "guns versus butter" (a synecdoche representing the diversion of peaceful industry and wealth from commerce to military applications) still fuzzes the thinking of a great many and convinces them that such diversions somehow also enrich the peaceful sphere from which they were taken. With such illogic, it is still said that the rapid socialization and appropriation of large portions of productivity in America at the end of the Great Depression in order to produce munitions and supplies for World War II somehow fixed the country's economic woes at large.
Financial motivations may not provide the real origins of a conflict, although it may be tempting to search for a more understandable and traceable explanation than any found in the dark thicket of vagarious psychology and beliefs. But such incentives do always attend war parasitically, even if they do not instigate.
In the above areas of ramification we should always look beyond immediate effects to the enduring. Many of the most important, maybe the most eventually devastating implications of a conflict are much less obvious than the explosive events themselves, becoming most noticeable (but barely recognizable) only years or many decades, perhaps even centuries later.
If a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a million tragedies. War has encompassed maybe a billion of those tragedies since human civilization began, and such personally explosive impacts bury shrapnel later felt as countless other delayed disasters — sorrows, fears, absent descendents of absent generations, lost geniuses, lost accomplishments, traumatized families, epidemics, desperations, displacements, destructions, insecurities, uprisings, panics, devastations, centralizations, reigns of terror, regimes of domination — uncountable unmeasured repercussions from long-silent guns.
Conflicts sow the seeds of new conflicts. The ancient pioneer of history Herodotus realized this, and perhaps fancifully, traced the Persian invasion of the classical Greek poleis through past slights and retributions at least as far back as the Trojan War several centuries before. But the twentieth century includes many gritty examples. Most recently, vengeful terrorism against targets in America, bewildering out of context, can be linked in part to frustrated anger, and that anger linked to retribution for giving Israel American weapons used to attack and corral Palestinians, for uncovered coups, plots and machinations by the US CIA (e.g. the evidence of CIA torture training for the Shah's secret police which so incensed Iranians during his overthrow), for the aiding of local dictators once including Saddam Hussein, and for other occasions of imperialist interference by the government "representing" those who would suffer terrorist repercussions. Less controversially, historians now often blame the vindictive settlement of the First World War for the Second, and smaller conflicts on the makeshift reformation imposed on the defeated of Europe, such as still erupt in ex-Yugoslavia. But how many Europeans in 1914 recognized beforehand that fighting a war might imply fighting war after war, imposing death upon descendents? How many fathom the repetition of retribution today, when so many still believe they can solve problems with wars?
From winning wars by destroying enemies comes the high price of instability. The mess and disorder among conquered people and destroyed places and traumatized culture becomes a burden. In following years, to guard, to reconstruct, or to exploit all require enormous costs and enormous efforts, changing the character of not only the defeated but the defeating. To become the sort of people who can colonize other people and make them subservient colonial subjects, for example, means becoming just as subservient to exploitation, and differently but maybe more spoiled by the arrangement. Many conquerors have also found that destroying a thousand enemies creates ten thousand more. Those called terrorists and insurgents by governments today have often been the scattered fragments of past armies, ready to adopt some and any dangerous purpose if they do not already have the aim of revenge.
Not all leftover manufactured warriors that can become dangerous to themselves and others and affect others' thinking by their influence have come from the ranks of those defeated, however. Those eager to create men who kill from boys who do not have often found that, returning from war, these men long accustomed to war cannot unmake themselves for peaceful life. Soldiers can cause much trouble in private life and sometimes public too. The reins of very many governments have been stolen by professional soldiers, like the mighty Mameluke cavalry in Egypt, or more subtly in modern times, like the election or appointment of popular generals to high office who still think militarily and favor military interests, as in Israel.
In terms of war's effects, the ideals for which a side fights may generally be considered less important than how they fight, not to mention that the manner of fighting may prove the hollowness or soundness of lofty ideals. For instance, the Allies in WWII employed the most brutal offensive methods used in that already brutal war in order to win it. The method of fighting says more than slogans, or exalted statements of principle. But the important exception to this is long-term ideological legacy, in which ideals get the stamp of victory — the effect known by the cliché: the victor writes the history books. If philosophical assumptions and ideas get affirmed and underlined by war, regardless of whether those fighting for them applied them consistently or whether they meant more advertisement and lip service at the time, they may proceed over the many years afterward to become either a foundational institution of some substance, or an institution of lip service in their name. In any case ideals often become significant in the age following the war which promoted them. Sometimes this effect turns out fairly advantageously and sometimes not, but the necessary thing to realize is that the effect is almost haphazard; to most people the victorious position of an ideal in past conflict means much more than judging the ramifications of believing in it and applying it, as though military victory itself proved the validity of the victor's ideals, when in fact victory may have come from a combination of innumerable factors. After all, the list of history's righteously successful conquerors is full of the likes of Genghis Khan, a military moralist in his own way, who in his case fought for the universal superiority of steppe-dwelling life and the genocide of resisters to this new order. But despite the senselessness of this standard for measuring ideas, due to the power of a war's ideological legacy, the religious zealots who win a war may convert millions who would otherwise resist, or a custom of political oppression may become integral in a culture because a battle once seemed to confirm it, and so forth.
And what might be the longest term effect of warfare as a dehumanizing, centralizing force that destroys or corrupts civilization?
Ultimate Consequences: Dystopia by War
Without an evolution of the thinking beneath war, the ultimate consequence of modern war-fighting could come in any one of three forms.
One, extinction or decimation of humanity by terrible weapons, probably by accident. This seemed more likely during the American and Russian cold war in the form of mutual nuclear annihilation, probably sparked by miscommunication — but it remains a possibility. In fact it really almost occurred, due to stunning military carelessness from the 1940s-70s which actually favored nuclear war-fighting (when for examples the Pentagon commissioned comically brainless weapons like the nuclear bazooka, and adopted, as a standard doctrine, using nuclear bombs to break through a Soviet front in Europe and directly exposing soldiers to radiation to drive through the gap). Other crises with nuclear risks, and other weapons will yet come, and maybe the mad belligerence of future Curtis LeMays will come along with them in another such heady atmosphere (for LeMay neither apparent insanity, nor role as firebomber of Japan, nor advocacy of a total nuclear first strike as the famous head of Strategic Air Command, presented a barrier against a further career as USAF Chief of Staff and vice-presidential candidate). Essentially very little has changed with everything which has made the sort of systems which "play chicken" to suggest Mutually Assured Destruction could not still happen.
Two, that open conflict between one or more powers should lead not to extinction but to ruination of a quality of life we would prefer to lead, rendering life into pain and suffering and hopeless, brutal existence, a collapse of civilization. This seemed most likely around the time of WWII perhaps, when Orwell wrote 1984. In this story the three world empires, between which there is little difference, perpetuate an endless and hopeless war for their eternal power, forever grinding the individual expression of human life into nothing. Something like this, too, is still possible between two or more empires, if unlikely.
Three, and perhaps most imaginable today, the scenario in which but one conceptually unified power becomes so dominant in the field of warfare (or perceived as such) that it lacks competition, to the extent that no effective resistance regulates the behavior of its political and military decision-makers. Such an extreme situation would leave the abuses of power abroad thoroughly unchecked, and as corruption broadened within the borders of this power, the psychology of arrogance associated with unchecked power could not help but extend to greatly abusing domestic power and centralizing domestic society, complete with the extreme degree of doublethink and conformity Orwell imagined, but without the global rivals (a scenario hinted at by Aldous Huxley in a foreword to Brave New World). Ultimately, the possibility of civilization ruined by war but not in war, and a state of life not worth living, might really come to pass in this form, if not one of the others.
None of these three most horrific final effects of war need occur. But avoiding them requires fighting future war differently and fighting against war as we know it for the sake of the future.
We can get a partial impression of what the world could expect from possible future dystopias, and how the people of the world may still bring themselves to that eventuality of Promethean failure, by studying dystopic precursors and microcosms in certain social arrangements which have already occurred on earth and which people still desire, those on occasion recognized and given names like militarism and empire to which discreet proponents object vociferously, but which others adopt proudly, both serving as unwitting militarist and imperial harbingers of future dystopia, although they little imagine that fool's part they play in finally derailing civilization.
But now, again, lest we lose sight of even the "smallest" but most immediate effects of war in our sweeping view into the potential future, I return to the individual. The consequence of killing is personal if nothing larger, which alone is enormous.
Whenever one kills, one destroys a life, and one destroys a world. A world of perception. A world of experience. A unique world. The enormity of this consequence, however justified, however necessary, must never be forgotten. It never goes away.
The realization that war is becoming untenable to the survival of a culture, a society, or the planet is not a new one in the modern era. However it offers a frank and simple observation that recommends its repetition, when this idea has the power to convince through alarm where other ideas about war could not. But the further, more accurate realization that war has always been untenable for individual people, whose whole world of life war fills with suffering or snuffs out indifferently — this idea might have much more power. At least it encompasses something far more real to a human being than eventual ruination or demise of humanity, something visceral, something now.
With respect to Siegfried Sassoon, who reportedly said:
nonetheless the effects of war should be considered fully, in my opinion — and I will now cross the line drawn by Sassoon to do so.
What, if any, advantageous effects can we expect to result from war?
Depictions of war make much of the ability of some people fighting as combatants or weathering war as noncombatants to face hardships with magnificent courage and resilient conviction, and some credit war for bringing out these qualities and augmenting them. (See Mrs. Miniver for a home front propaganda archetype.) Yet to be able to cope during war with dignity, stoicism, grace, and even some joy in the face or terror, horror, loneliness, and despair shows if anything undiscovered potential. Such feats of balance testify to deep resources within those human beings who manage them. In no way do they demonstrate a deepening effect that war supposedly has on the human soul. In no way should these people who suffer war remarkably thereby recommend it to us. We should not mistake greatness in them for greatness in suffering.
As noted above, if fighting in wars improves soldiers we have seen little evidence of this. Despite some attempts to cultivate and propagandize the gentleman soldier, and some real exceptions to negative stereotype, warriors throughout time have rarely been known for their excellent behavior whenever released from the pressures of discipline. Among foreign civilians or domestic, even their own families, soldiers among civilians are known for boorishness, recklessness, brutality, rape and other acts of violence, only worsened by any license shown them by their authority, as happens in mass rapes of defeated populations which often occur in history. Perhaps this is because the kind of man who has been trained to kill in a moment simply when ordered, even kill those who have done him no harm, or present no threat, could easily find that his entire sense of balance has been lost; other acts, brawling, vandalism, stealing, even rape or wife-beating, may lose their relative weight. As noted above, soldiers returning from war with psychotic conditions are well known. For the extremity of war scars and traumatizes, and makes weaker. Such an effect does not recommend considerate or beneficial behavior from a soldier toward himself or those around him.
Further, war dulls finer senses, the sensibilities of high civilization. Soldiers are trained by instruction to become insensate to considerations besides their orders. They learn by experience of the rough labors of the day, the unsubtle manuals and regulations, the sergeant's bark, the ration, the bomb blast, the atrocity of stinking blood and the ugliness of wreckage, to slowly lose the ear, the taste, the nose, the touch, the eye for finer things. The exception, generally well-educated and unusually bright officers disposed to resist dulling, and subject to less as officers, still amount to remarkable exceptions; for every T. E. Lawrence, Siegfried Sassoon, or Wilfred Owen, a thousand unremarkable commissioned dullards might populate even an officer corps undergoing war, making the cultured stand out so much more and surprise expectation.  Most soldiers in history would sooner think how best to demolish architecture than improve it, sooner loot art than apprehend it. To look to the care of soldiers for the protection of museums, literary works, ancient artifacts and cultural wealth after the recent fall of Baghdad was as naïve as any similar hope in other wars of history.
It seems Sassoon's line did not much need crossing, then? And yet, in the interest of fairness at least as far as war deserves it, the fairness possible from taking the long view of life over centuries and millennia and not just feeling life's pains at the moment of this age, I would not like to limit myself to firing volleys at war. War in the future might become nobler. It might become necessary, it might become defensive, it might become individualistic province of heroes fighting against machines of death, not poor soldiers eaten alive within them. Fighting war in the future might become Promethean. But it is not, yet.
One of the most difficult questions of foresight is whether the fabled heroism, and the ennobling of war — if ever it consisted of more than mythmaking in the past — can be kept or reborn even now in the age of industrial killing, mass motivation, mundane war. Much would have to change, that much is clear. Or can war be replaced in this role and otherwise finally ended? To this end it might be helpful to make a distinction between need for conflict as ennobling competition, and organized war — the meat grinder — with its incidental effects. 
The most laudable effect of war so far is the reaction against its terrible effects, the social phenomenon of war opposition created and inspired by war, but truly determined to limit or terminate it (and thus distinguishable from establishment pretense at humanitarian war-fighting reforms). As such antiwar psychology and behavior is really an inseparable part of war, especially in modern times, when it became a distinct and noteworthy part of culture in its own right, to match the cultural significance of war itself in all of recorded history. If this contrary reaction develops to become a mature awakening sufficient to alter the character of warfare and the course of increasingly disconcerting military history for the future, the dystopian eventuality need not come to pass and instead, war as a source of terrible effects humanity must endure and suffer might pass away. (See the next part of this series.)
1. Cf. especially Human, All Too Human I. 477, "War indispensable." Possibly Nietzsche's most considerable failure (especially as herald of the future) was his lack of appreciation for the increasing potential in war for devastating, blind indiscriminate effect, wiping away the riches of individuality and proud human resources which he so valued (and thought war augmented, as one of man's noble risks). This stands out as an uncharacteristically unimpressive mistake particularly as war would increasingly become nothing but blindly disastrous, and a political tool of the imperialism he also despised as he despised the waste of potential. The next massive European war after his death, WWI, would become the epitome of that waste, and war still encompasses that waste far more than the heroic contest Nietzsche conceived of when he talked of warfare, and used as an idealized metaphor for a willingness to engage life energetically. He mellowed somewhat in his martial enthusiasm in later writings but continued to adopt war as primarily a positive, empowering image tied deeply to a love of duty and amor fati — the acceptance of what is necessary without resentment. Nietzsche's rare blind spot for war can surely be traced to, and excused by, his living in the 19th century, before WWI changed Europe's and the world's understanding of war, as a symbol and a reality. WWI taught the world at large where war could go, and where it was going. Devastation of worth was the new lesson, one he would never witness — not the heroism Nietzsche and the pre-20th century martial consciousnesses of many others had celebrated. [back]
2. For an extended disproof of Clausewitz which has been instrumental to this series see John Keegan, A History of Warfare. Keegan better deserves the influence Clausewitz has accrued as an expert on war studies, if only for demolishing Clausewitz's cultural and presentist myopia. [back]
4. Not necessarily Darwinian natural selection, but whatever selection processes produce the ordering of life, sometimes called "negentropy" versus entropy. These selective processes must include the healthy competitions of ideas and abilities among cooperative individuals which develop people and sort the natural order of cultural relationships, e.g. occupational roles, as well as the more celebrated but less critical genetic selection, whether Darwinian, punctuated equilibrium, etc. The exact character of such selections in any case is entirely beside the point except to realize that life depends on some or various ordering principles, and that we can expect war to often wreak contrary havoc. [back]
5. But perhaps, even less favorably, the events of war will even punish those who never intend war more than those who do; soldiers fight without making policy, politicians do not fight, and generals but rarely. (Soldiers get drafted, too.) Privileged, powerful people may receive better protection. Military industry lobbies which agitate for "preparedness" profit from arming for war. Kowtowing mainstream press and rabid warmonger "pundits" pushing orthodox jingoism need not pay for their words with their own blood. Etc. If it represents any natural selective force at all, war apparently rewards the bloodthirsty parasites of a social group for exploiting others in an unstable, unsustainable, perhaps universally extinctive pattern. [back]
9. Note that I would not necessarily make this claim about officers who have not suffered through a grave war experience, and who have not had to resist having their cultural perception and personal sophistication diminished. Many officers in some militaries have shown themselves quite civilized — just as many have demonstrated otherwise, but that may be consistent, in some places and times, with the population at large, or even describing a higher ratio among officers than civilian population. (After all, aristocracies have generally provided the origin of officers.) I merely claim that experiencing the rigors of warfare as an officer, but particularly as an enlisted man who undergoes common and rough training and usually gets the worst of fighting, must surely decivilize human beings to varying extents and leave few noticeable exceptions. We should not make the mistake of extrapolation from these exceptions. Because many have become famous, we sometimes forget how relatively few great authors there probably really were composing in the trenches of WWI, for instance, considering the many millions fighting. And if the three examples, Owen, Sassoon, and Lawrence and other particular men did not obviously lose their creativity during and from war, which is our way of measuring their continued cultured sophistication despite war, this does not mean that war causatively augmented anything — aside from furnishing a powerful subject and endangering a circumstantially great generation of British writers — and all three of my examples would likely have agreed. In any case, Wilfred Owen, who wrote "cursed are dullards whom no cannon stuns" in his poem Insensibility, did lose his life shortly before the Armistice and thus, his creativity was snuffed out in the bluntest manner of war. [back]
10. The main commonality between war and healthy competition today is probably war-themed gaming, which (as most war gamers realize) really has very little to do with real war, fortunately — except when video games get used for military training. [back]
Selected Sources, Additional Reading and Inspirations
(Listed in rough order of relevance and recommendation for this Part, with the most highly recommended or important sources and inspirations for the series listed in bold.)
A History of Warfare by John Keegan
What Every Person Should Know About War by Chris Hedges
Grave of the Fireflies (film) directed by Isao Takahata
Letter From Israel columns by Ran HaCohen
1984 by George Orwell
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Pentomic Era: The U.S. Army between Korea and Vietnam by A.J. Bacevich
On War (Vom Kriege) by Carl von Clausewitz translated by Peter Paret
The Civil War (documentary miniseries) directed by Ken Burns [Note: there are surely more reliable historical sources on the American Civil War and Lincoln especially, but for me as a youth, seeing this was a seminal education in the personal horrors of war.]
Apocalypse Now Redux (film) directed by Francis Ford Coppola
The Second World War by John Keegan
The First World War by John Keegan
War Is A Racket by Smedley Butler
The Poems of Wilfred Owen edited by Jon Stallworthy
World War One British Poets: Brooke, Owen, Sassoon, Rosenberg, and Others edited by Candace Ward
War Poems edited by John Hollander
Enemy at the Gates (film) directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud
You and the Atomic Bomb by George Orwell
Paths of Glory (film) directed by Stanley Kubrick
How To Make War by James F. Dunnigan
Combat Effectiveness: Cohesion, Stress, and the Volunteer Military by Sam Sarkesian
Knight's Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel by David Fraser
The Face of Battle by John Keegan
Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower by William Blum
Napoleon Bonaparte: A Life by Alan Schom
Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command in Future War by S.L.A. Marshall
SLAM: The Influence of S.L.A. Marshall on the United States Army by F.D.G. Williams
Yale University Genocide Studies Program
Freedom, Democide, War by R.J. Rummel
Sun-Tzu's The Art of War translated by Roger T. Ames
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown
The Art of War in the Western World by Archer Jones
Times Concise Atlas of World History edited by Geoffrey Barraclough
On Killing by Dave Grossman
The Costs of War: America's Pyrrhic Victories edited by John V. Denson
Photos of the Great War assembled by Ray Mentzer
Siegfried Sassoon's War and Other Poems assembled by William J. Bean
Homer's Iliad translated by Robert Fagles
The Chronological Atlas of World War Two by Charles Messenger
Harper Collins Atlas of the Second World War
Great Battlefields of the World by John MacDonald
Great Battlefields of the Civil War by John MacDonald
The Impressionists - The Other French Revolution (documentary miniseries) directed by Bruce Alfred
The Histories by Herodotus
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