Thursday, November 18, 2010

War, Killing and Sheer Bloody-Mindedness

As I follow up on what I wrote the other day about war and killing (link, link), I find Kuznicki's fascinating thread (link, link) in which he showcases and explores the assertion of the great SLA Marshall that only 20 percent of the men in battle do all the serious killing. There are so many ways one could go with this, not all explored in the comments.   For example, one, is it consistent with the general principle of organizational behavior that 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work (or 95-5, whatever)? 

Update: Two, is it a subset of the (well-known fact, folkloric fantasy) that snipers do most of the killing in warfare?

But I want to go in a slightly different direction.  I want to explore the point that 20 percent is quite enough, thank you to make the system work--that sheer bloody-mindedness rules, even if most of the populace is all sunflowers and bunny rabbits.

I think this may be parallel to the theory I've argued before about criminals.  It is said that most criminals are stupid, and I would agree with a qualification: most  stupid criminals are stupid, but it is the really clever sociopaths who work in the white space around the letter of the law, and who rise to top of great firms and even great nations (if there is a meaningful distinction between the two).

I'm veering towards the edge of my comfort zone here but I think I could turn this into a grander bit of social theory.  That is: imperialism.  The vulgar Marxists  (and others) like to tell us that materialism is all about rapacious capitalism and its search for new markets.  An embarrassing hole in that theory is that imperialism appears often to have been horrendously unprofitable.  And yet imperialists persist, despite the economic drain.

The counter-theory (somebody must have worked this up) would be that imperialists go beat up on their neighbors just because they can--for the sheer hell of it, for the fun of it, just because it is there.   History seems to offer a few indisputable.  Take Tamerlain the great (please!): he didn't even clean up after himself.  He just charged in and had himself a nice little conquest, piled up some skulls and moved on.  The Hittites are a less dramatic instance but they seem to fit the pattern: by all appearances they got really nothing tangible out of their neighbors; the obvious inference is that they just must have enjoyed it.

In short, on this analysis,  the bloody-minded set the agenda.  It's their world, we just live (or die) in it.

Update:  UB's warfare correspondent offers:
Actually, artillery is the major cause of death on the battle field.  It’s pretty anonymous –It also may depend on what kind of battlefield – I suspect the snipers do major damage in the house to house fighting in Iraq where use of artillery is a bit of overkill.

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