Original article (in Croatian) was published on 09/09/2022
For politicians, the war is an opportunity to increase their popularity and make history, and for many others, it is an opportunity to earn money easily.
Even though half a year has already passed since the beginning of the Russian aggression, we are still not tired of it, and every day we follow from the front pages who attacked where, what Zelensky said, who was threatened by Putin, who fired a more modern missile and destroyed more.
For some, Ukraine is like an exciting game, and for others, both here and there, an opportunity for quick money, commission, career advancement, petty theft or even an opportunity for sex. The war seems to bring something for everyone, and as much as the public is horrified by the terrible scenes coming from Ukraine, some are also calculating where something could be done for their own benefit. Politicians are more courteous, gas traders more nimble, military analysts wiser, breaking news journalists busier, farmers more valuable, arms dealers more important, and entire nations more proud because they live in crucial days for survival and identity. In fact, there are truly many who, in one way or another, feed themselves emotionally, financially and in many other ways on warfare.
War and politics are publicly loved
If a top list of those who love war the most were made, it is possible that politicians and rulers would be at the top because there is no better opportunity to become immortal, crowned with monuments, books and mentions in school textbooks.
Would we remember Napoleon, Churchill, Hitler, Tudjman, Washington, Mao Zedong, Catherine the Great and Josip Broz if they had not started wars or found themselves in the right position in stormy times? Wars have boosted their popularity among their subjects, just as Vladimir Putin’s usual popularity rating of around 60 percent always jumps to over 80 when Russian shells start falling on Ukraine – either in 2014 or 2022. For Volodymyr Zelensky, the start of the war almost tripled his popularity, from thirty to ninety percent.
But starting a war can also be a disastrous move, as was shown in the case of Argentine President Leopoldo Galtieri, who forty years ago ordered the invasion of the nearby British territory of the Falkland Islands. Due to the military occupation of the islands that Argentina and Great Britain had been arguing over for almost two hundred years, his popularity skyrocketed, while in London, 12,000 kilometers away, the reputation of the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher plummeted because, as her political opponents said, she reacted weakly and slowly to the newly created international crisis. But just four months later, everything turned around, and the British army drove the Argentine army out of the Falklands, and Thatcher was elevated to becoming a favorite person among the ecstatic masses eager for imperial-like military feats. The Iron Lady, as they called her, remained in the position of prime minister for another eight years after that war, while the defeat of the Argentinian Galtieri brought immediate expulsion from the office of the president and the end of his political career.
When the shooting begins, we huddle around the flag
In the study “War and the Survival of Political Leaders“, in which teams from two California universities investigated how crises around the world affect the longevity of politicians, it was concluded that the rulers of democratic countries engage in wars in which there is less chance of defeat, while authoritarian leaders cultivate more ambitions appetites and are willing to take more dangerous risks where the chances of losing on the battlefield are higher.
Politicians, it was said in the same research, already know that whenever there is a war, they should be vigilant that their government is not shaken by the feeling of insecurity among the citizens and strong opposition, and they are afraid to give the public the impression that everything is under control, at the same time firmly rejecting any criticism that comes from their political opponents.
If they manage to overcome the crisis situation, the politicians have the chance to be remembered as capable earners who know how to hold the helm entrusted to them by the people. They are also helped by the fact that the people tend to fall into the so-called effect of gathering around the flag (Rally ’round the flag) whenever there is a danger and are ready to forgive the ruler for various misdeeds. We, ordinary people, would, namely, for the world to be a safe and predictable place, and when a threat to the state or nation arises that we do not know how to deal with alone, suddenly, as a large group, we begin to develop common emotions and temporarily give up criticizing whoever is in power, even if we are not his voters and ideologically like-minded.
The complex emotional states that entire nations fall into during wars and crises include anxiety, anger toward those we think are responsible for the trouble, and patriotism that allows us to be part of a group with our shared goals, as opposed to some group with opposing goals.
The psychological effect in such a situation is, according to the theory proposed by a group of authors in the work “Building a nation through war“, the desire to joyfully present to ourselves the war against an external enemy as a strengthening for our country that makes us safer because it simultaneously reduces the possibility of conflict within the country itself. In other words, as the sociologist Charles Tilly summed it up: “War created the state, and the state created war”, and as a result, today, we live in a world created by modern states, a system actually born through extreme bloody violence.
At the same time, we celebrate and love the politicians and military leaders who participated in these processes in the past, and we express our readiness to build monuments to some new ones in the present and future. For a politician, if after his physical death he wishes to be immortalized with a statue on the main town square or a name on the elementary school in his hometown, there is, therefore, no better opportunity than to prove himself in performing a responsible function during some kind of war.
War and I love each other secretly
“Hey! War! Eh, my God! War! And what can be done there? Doctors already know what they want when they push for that war! It’s a gentlemen’s thing, that war of theirs!”, wrote Miroslav Krleza in the collection Croatian God Mars about the First World War and told the story about the plight of ordinary little Croatian people in the whirlwind of war. However, many corporals and ordinary soldiers often unexpectedly fall in love with the war in a strange and incomprehensible way for many, and their entire post-war life becomes just a shadow compared to the excitement that being at the front brought them.
In the essay “Why Men Love War“, journalist and screenwriter William Broyles, talking about his own experiences from the Vietnam War, asserted that most of those who were on the battlefield should admit that, despite all the abominations they saw, somewhere inside, they loved it. “What people don’t understand is how much fun Vietnam was, I loved it so much, but I don’t dare admit it to anyone”, a former comrade told Broyles, after which they both concluded that they missed the war in a worrying way. War, says Broyles, is an experience of great intensity, it stops time and heightens the experience to a terrible ecstasy, it serves as an escape from ordinary life into some special world, it is a story of death, destruction and excitement.
“In war, the line between life and death is as thin as a spider’s web, and it is a real pleasure to be alive when so many around you are not”, Broyles states, then quoting Ernest Hemingway, who wrote in the novel For Whom the Bell Tolls: “Admit that you loved to kill like all who are soldiers enjoyed that time by their own choice, whether they lied about it or not”.
Did Vadim Shishimarin, a twenty-one-year-old Russian soldier who was sentenced to life in prison in Ukraine for killing a civilian in a Ukrainian village, also enjoy it in such a way? A young man in the whirlwind of war in unknown Ukrainian wold, almost three and a half thousand kilometers away from his birthplace in southeastern Siberia (which is the same distance as from Vukovar to Kabul in Afghanistan or from Split to Taiz in Yemen), killed an unarmed 60-year-old man by simply pulling the trigger at the very beginning of the war. Countless soldiers in Ukraine will do something like that without ever being convicted, and after the war, they will continue some peaceful life lying fatly about incidents and jokes with barbecue, beer and squealing happy grandchildren. He will see his late years, like the vast majority of members of the German 101st Reserve Police Battalion, which killed tens of thousands of Jews in Poland during World War II.
Before the war, there were clerks, truck drivers, servers, and middle-aged men who, as described in the book Ordinary People by the American historian Christopher Browning, turned into mass murderers overnight. Decades later, they described in unexpectedly honest detail to researchers how, when a local Pole would reveal to them where a Jewish family was hiding in the forest, they enjoyed it as if it were some kind of sport and casually made jokes after ruthlessly mowing down everyone they were looking for.
We usually assume that some psychopaths and monstrously deranged people commit war crimes, but what if our love of killing is innate, as claimed by Texas psychologist and professor Hector Garcia who studies warfare, male psychopathology and the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder in ex-soldiers.
It’s true that men will go to war out of honor and patriotic feelings, but, Garcia says, the age-old powerful subconscious motivator is actually – sex. Whoever defends his country in war does not do it for the sake of the sea and the mountains, but to prevent the enemy from getting hold of our girls and wives, and whoever fights in another country increases the possibility of intercourse with women in the enemy territory. Garcia finds evidence for such claims not only in our cousins, the baboons and chimpanzees, but also in the rapes that are so common in armed conflicts.
During the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, there were about 50 thousand rapes, in Rwanda 250 thousand, at the end of the Second World War, Russian soldiers raped two million German women. Islamist terrorists believed that after their death in the 9/11 attack, 72 virgins were waiting for them on the other side, and these years, members of the African ISIS Boko Haram branch regularly kill their opponents in order to kidnap their wives, Garcia enumerates, claiming that the reason is a simple primary evolutionary biological impulse.
The sooner we honestly accept that the described long-established instincts drive men, the sooner we will start a dialogue about finding solutions, and one of the options is to reduce the number of men in positions. Men, in fact, decide not only on warfare but mainly also on politics and the economy, and in leading positions, Garcia suggests, it is necessary to appoint more women as soon as possible because they probably will not plan how to go armed to a village and brutally kill all the women to kidnap the men and rape them.
The proposal of a professor from Texas sounds simple and can be implemented quickly, and is based on research that shows that the chances of stopping the war conflict and maintaining peace for at least fifteen years increase significantly if women are involved in the peace process.
Women (don’t) like war
However, on an evolutionary level, things are not so simple because women also develop a relationship towards war, that is, towards men who are ready to be more aggressive.
In a study on the level of women’s tendency towards warlike types, the German psychologist Gilda Giebel concluded that biology and the menstrual cycle play a significant role because, as in many animals, it is a search for good genes. After testing over a thousand German women, Dr. Giebel asserted that during their fertile days, women would give priority to a warrior, masculine, aggressive, healthy returner from the battlefield because their biological impulse tells them that sleeping with him may bring better genes. On an emotional level, confusion arises because even if such a man may not be a candidate for a long-term relationship and marriage, evolutionarily, he potentially brings genetic material that provides a better probability for the survival of offspring in harsh conditions. Of course, this is a tricky topic that affects male-female relationships and norms of behavior in certain societies, and for a more detailed analysis, additional research should probably be done in other environments.
In addition to great troubles and sufferings, great conflicts sometimes brought historical opportunities to women, especially during the First World War when they took over many functions in society instead of absent men. After that war, in the United States, they got the right to vote, abortion was legalized for the first time in the world in the Soviet Union, and in Great Britain, women were provided with previously unavailable employment in some professions. Crises such as armed conflicts can be great opportunities, says Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan, recalling that the First World War gave new momentum to women’s rights movements that had almost died out before. Today’s activists should be aware that, Karlan concludes, major crises can accelerate real and major political changes.
How a journalist loves war
Journalists are among those who panic as soon as the war starts. The editors get serious and plan an extraordinary shift schedule, and then call the journalist who, instead of going on a long-planned short vacation with a two-year-old child, has to be in the newsroom in an hour to do the night shift. A colleague who follows foreign policy and sits in the corner because for months no one was interested in what is happening in the world is suddenly asked to write an extensive analysis of the emerging international crisis as soon as possible. Shocking photos from the battlefield are chosen and placed on the front page, the journalist reporting live from an important location is full of energy, and in the newsroom, everyone is busy, and somehow they all feel more important.
“Accusing journalists of loving war is a bit like accusing windshield wipers of the car of loving rain, because journalists exist to report on bloody conflicts just as windshield wipers were invented to allow us to see where we’re driving when it rains”, Politico’s columnist Jack Shafer wrote at the beginning of the Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Namely, war brings increased readership and keeps the audience’s attention for weeks or months. If you compare the front pages of the web portals, you will quickly notice that the war in Ukraine is still being followed “minute by minute”, while most other events, for example, affairs in which a few billion are stolen, usually receive the attention of the public for only two or three days.
Due to reporting on the war in Ukraine, some journalists will advance rapidly and receive a higher salary, just as, after all, the war in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s boosted the careers of some young reporters at the time. All this journalistic tendency to report on warfare would not, of course, exist if there were no readers, viewers and listeners, which actually means that even if we say that journalists in some twisted way love war, the same is true for the audience that hungrily swallows terrible information.
“War is capable of seducing entire societies and peoples, thus actually prolonging the conflict”, claims former reporter Chris Hedges, who reported from BiH and Kosovo in the 1990s for the New York Times. In the book War is a force that gives us meaning, Hedges explains why war leads to an individual’s addiction-like state and how it silences critics to warn the government about their mistakes. The author also concludes, based on experiences from many parts of the world, that the security and harmony that we longed for never follows war.
It would be a sin not to mention here the special fondness for war among profiteers, swindlers, speculators, pimps, mafias, smugglers, as well as all petty thieves who, during the war, pilfer a few things from the burning grounds or hide a Kalashnikov that was never returned to the authorities under the bed. War is big business, and as you are reading this somewhere in the world, a lucrative contract is being signed that would not have brought such a good profit if it had not been for the shooting in Ukraine. If you understand gas trading, like some privileged dignitaries in the domestic, sorry, Hungarian energy company, you must – even if you are in custody – follow the important Dutch TTF Gas Futures indices and calculate what kind of fat commission could be raised considering that the wholesale price of gas is up to twenty times higher than two years ago. Russian gas continues to flow unhindered through Ukraine to Slovakia and to Europe, Russia regularly pays Ukraine fees for the use of the pipeline, and the Yamal gas pipeline, which is held by agreement between the Poles and the Russians, is functioning stably.
Dealers in weapons, oil, food, artificial fertilizers, raw materials and others earn more than usual, and for many of them, the war situation is a huge opportunity to expand their bank accounts. Others may fall into heavy debts that will take years to get out of, just as in 2006, Great Britain finally paid off the last installment of World War II aid loans to the United States. The Soviet Union then borrowed even more from the Americans, whose Red Army at the end of the war had more American trucks than its own trucks in the vehicle fleet.
“We would have lost the war if the United States had not helped us”, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev wrote in his memoirs and asserted that Joseph Stalin shared a similar opinion. It remains to be seen whether the current Russian leader will perhaps one day write down something in his memoirs like – we would have won the war only if the Americans had not helped the Ukrainians.
Those who managed to steal, they stole
And who could ultimately come forward and say that he loves war the most, that he is just so immersed in the horrors of war, that it is love that changed his life?
You probably don’t have to look far because you probably know at least one family that got its wealth during the war of the nineties in, as Cardinal Josip Bozanic said, warning against the sin of the structure, “occasions when attention was focused on war events”. Those who stole during the war knew that, to paraphrase an American general, losses are counted in lives and gains in bills, and perhaps they miss the war like some old love in front of which they would like to prove themselves again.
For many others, their own painful experiences cause confusing emotions, such as those spoken by a woman who survived more than a thousand days of the military siege of Sarajevo. A woman from Sarajevo whom I knew when she was wounded during the siege, once told me, as the American journalist and writer Sebastian Junger recounts, quietly so that no one around us could hear – “You know, it’s strange, we all miss the war here because we were better people back then, because we cared for each other, we were more generous, we behaved better”.
Research on the mental health of those who survived the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina is not simple, and the results are flawed, but, according to a German study, more than a decade should pass before traumatic experiences begin to slowly fall into oblivion and give way to some new, simpler life concerns.
Similar traumas will torment Ukrainians, as well as many others about whom we almost never hear anything because we have completely ignored some other wars that are still raging now. Namely, it is not particularly interesting to us that there are killings everywhere in Syria, Ethiopia, Libya, Yemen and Myanmar. The strategic importance of the Kaladan River in Myanmar, the alleged reasons for the merciless killing of Oromos and Amharic people in Ethiopia, or the brutal years-long military blockade of the ancient Taiz in southwestern Yemen are not tense enough to us. In a way, we even expect that there must be a war somewhere in the world because there has never been a war, or as the theater writer Bertol Brecht would say – “War is like love, it always finds a way”.