War From Near And Far

Longtime OB commenter TGGP gives quotes showing the “near/far dichotomy is reflected in Randall Collins’ “Violence: A Microsociological Theory”:

Soldiers who have been in combat and had direct contact with the enemy tend to depict him as courageous; it is enemies on more distant combat zones who are not respected; and soldiers in rear areas, and even more so civilians at home, who express a low regard for the enemy. …

The higher the rank, the more the person identifies with the formal frontstage ideals of the organization and is likely to talk in official rhetoric. … The contrast between detailed observation of what is happening in each micro-situation, and summary accounts of an ideal-typical version of performance; the latter would tend to be more idealized toward a favorable image, and we would expect that this bias would grow with as the actual memories of combat experience become more distant. …

In the modern era, casualties were caused primarily by artillery fired at long distance. In the musket era of parade-ground formations, cannon operating closer to the battle line generally accounted for more than 50 percent of the casualties. … The sheer distance from the enemy, and especially being shielded from personally seeing the men one is trying to kill increases the level of [soldier] performance. …The tension/fear of combat is almost completely debilitating at close range. …

Pre-battle elation … [is] troops’ “strange and fearsome delight at being at last up ‘really’ up against it”. This is a case of feelings prior to these men’s first battle, still in the phase of rhetoric. … Soldiers in rear areas express more hatred of the enemy, and more ferocious attitudes toward them, than frontline troops. … Whereas combat soldiers are more likely to treat prisoners well … rear area troops tend to treat prisoners more callously. … Civilians at home are more likely to express violent rhetorical hatred. … This fits the general pattern of all fights: surrounded by bluster and gesture up until the actual fight situation, when the emotion shifts drastically and tension/fear takes over. …

The proportion of empty rhetoric expands with each step toward the rear; war is successively more idealized, the enemy successively more dehumanized, attitudes toward killing successively more callous, and the whole affair more like the cheering of sports fans. …

The circumstances that cause the most fear not necessarily those that are objectively the most dangerous. Artillery shells and mortars … cause by far the most casualties – and the soldiers themselves generally know that – but the greatest difficulty in combat performance is in confronting small-arms fire at the forward edge of the combat zone. …  The source of strain is neither fear of death and injury, nor aversion to killing in principle. … What is different, and what seems to buffer them from tension/fear, is that [officers] personally do not have to do the killing.

War is a powerful horrifying example of just how badly our minds can be deluded by our “idealistic” far view.  Our far view of war functions well to help us signal our loyalty and commitment to our associates, but it makes us far too willing to make war and be cruel to our enemy, and makes us too willing to use tech that can kill from afar.

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