iraq

Mad Max, ISIS, and the Psychological Aspects of War

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I saw Mad Max over Memorial Day weekend. The reviews do it justice, and it was a fun movie. The whole film is an ode to our baser desires; adrenaline, rock and roll, and killing.

There’s an egregious amount of skulls on display throughout the film. Skulls are used as ornamentation on the grills of cars, as masks, and as the chief symbol of the War Boys.

The movie prodded me to write about something in a more forward way than I have before. I’ve always been interested in the question “why we fight.” I’ve tackled it before and have always hinted at the fact that some people (lots of people) do it because they like it. They want to do it because it’s fun. This is a psychological aspect of war that is often ignored or dismissed.

Seeing all of the skulls in the deserts of Mad Max reminded me of my ISOF GOLD posts, especially the ones where the operators are wearing skull masks. If you scroll through the pictures on the ISOF Facebook page, you’ll notice they’re trying to project an image of their military that isn’t simply professional; they are attempting to instill fear into their enemies. There are no FRG updates or holiday BBQ plans – just war. The skull mask imagery is all over the place, and it’s not uncommon to see an ISOF soldier wielding an axe or machete. On some of the “unofficial” ISOF pages – and occasionally on the main page – you’ll find pictures of ISOF soldiers posing triumphantly over the dead bodies of supposed members of ISIS.

A recent article about American forces in Iraq assisting with training highglighted the phrase “kill Daesh” as being the chant used by Iraqi recruits as the de-facto motto, the thing they scream when they’re called to attention or stick a bayonet into the chest of a training dummy.

The skull mask, the chants, wearing an infidel patch – these are all small aspects of the psychological draw to war that are stymied by the modern profesional military. Which, by the way, I think is a good thing. Emotion in war leads to war crimes. The professional military is clinical, and emotions are supposed to be controlled. Others have tackled this issue by highlighting our own military’s obsession with referring to ourselves as warriors instead of soldiers. They argue (and I agree) that to think of ourselves as warriors is unprofessional at best, and dangerous at worst.

But the thing that draws a professional soldier to urinate on the dead bodies of his enemies, to slap an infidel patch on the front of his body armor, or pull a skull mask over her face before a patrol comes from a real place in the human psyche. It’s part of the same base emotion that has us cheering when the opposing side’s star quarterback is carted off the field with a game-ending injury. It’s emotion and absence of mind.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter recently attributed the Iraqis’ inability to hold Ramadi to a lack of will. He said “What apparently happened is the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight. They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force.”.

The psychological aspects of war, having a reason to fight, even if for the most base reasons, might be necessary if you lack a more sophisticated reason for getting in the arena.

Having introduced this topic on the blog, I’ll try to come back to it from time to time when something comes up. As always, I welcome your comments.

@dongomezjr

iraq

The Magic of the Power Coming Back On

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There is a really fantastic article in The American Interest about life in Mosul under ISIS. It is long but well worth the read. There are number of things that jumped out at me, but one of them was on the status of power and utilities in the city:

Eight months of ISIS so far, as I sit to write, have taken their toll on every aspect of the city. Electricity and running water are available for two to four hours a week, but no one knows which hours in any given week.

During my first deployment to Iraq in 2003, whenever we would ask our platoon sergeant when we’d be going home, he would point to the Al Dora power plant in the distance, with its four smoke stacks poking the sky like needles, and say “When all four smoke stacks are pumping smoke, we’ll go home.”

Since the war in Iraq began utilities have been intermittent at best – even in Baghdad. It’s easy to sweep that aside as insignificant whining, like the ISIS soldier does in the article, but unless you have experienced the Iraqi heat in the summer, it’s hard to overstate the importance of having reliable electricity and running water.

The excerpt from the Mosul article about the power coming on at seemingly random times reminds me of so many moments at different places in Baghdad, where we would lounge in our own sweat, trying our best not to move to minimize our discomfort. If we were lucky, the power might come on at a random time which would be met with cheers and instant movement, bringing everyone back to life as the air conditioning kicked in. It’s a kind of happiness that you really don’t want to experience, because it’s only good because things were normally so bad.

@dongomezjr