restricted access Of Arms and the Man: A Response to Christopher Coker's "The Unhappy Warrior"
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40 Historically Speaking March/April 2006 Of Arms and the Man: A Response to Christopher Coker's "The Unhappy Warrior" Michael Evans Fighting in man is as ineradicable an instinct as love, with which ofcourse it has much in common: the chief common quality being romanticism. -Robert Graves In Ridley Scott's epic 2001 combat film, Black Hawk Down, there is a memorable scene in which a Somali warlord converses with a wounded American helicopter pilot captured during the 1993 fighting in the streets of Mogadishu. When the American declines the Somali's offer of a cigarette, his captor remarks sarcastically , "That's right. None of you Americans smoke anymore. You all live long, dull, and uninteresting lives." The Somali warlord , rejecting the political and social values that his prisoner represents, warns that there can be no surrender to American liberal democracy in Somalia since the latter is a country in which killing is a form of negotiation. "There will always be killing," concludes the warlord, "that is the way things are in our world." The above scene is a metaphor for the growing collision in the 21st century between two contending military cultures: that of the elemental Third World warrior, a "Mad Max" figure, adept with machete and Microsoft, and that of the trained Western military professional who is increasingly a postmodern technocrat . Scott's film aptly depicts the gap between the two military cultures. The American pilot, severely wounded in both legs, lies helplessly on his back, while the tall, lithe Somali warlord stands over him dominating their exchanges. The power of American military technology, the film director seems to be suggesting, has been defeated by the efforts oftraditional warriors whose actions would be recognizable to Homer and Virgil. War, in Scott's picture, remains a profoundly human experience; a test of wills as much as techniques . It is this human dimension that is embodied in the quotation from Plato that prefaces the film: "Only the dead have seen the end of war." While it may be a simplification to suggest that the protagonists in Hollywood's Black Hawk Down represent the opposites of William Wordsworth's "happy warrior" and Christopher Coker's "unhappy warrior," the armed collision between them is illuminating. The Somali tribal militia, lacking the firepower and tactical sophistication of its adversaries but numerically powerful, fights with tenacity; Professional armies embody not just weapons, training, and doctrine but codes of moral virtue, voluntarism, and martialpride. the high-tech American Rangers, greatly outnumbered , fight with gallantry and professional skill. In the end, however, it is the Somali "warrior soul" that triumphs since, despite the sacrifice ofits soldiers, the United States withdraws from Somalia. Since Scott's film was made, the world has witnessed the al Qaeda attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001, U.S. and allied military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the deaths ofover 2,000 American service personnel in the Iraqi insurgency. The dramatic events ofthe early years ofthe 21st century have done much to demonstrate that war— particularly a war on terror—remains fundamentally a human contest of wills. Yet, with our demography shrinking and our societies aging, technology continues to be seen by many observers as the best way for modern Western countries to wage war. Indeed, in the 1990s Western professional military journals were replete with articles on the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA)—a revolution based on information systems and stealth technologies , long-range precision weapons, and an array ofsensors and surveillance controlled by computers and satellites.1 Coker is therefore right in his essay to highlight the decline ofhuman factors in much of the West's thinking about military conflict. The trends he identifies—cybernetics, genetic enhancement, and the devaluing of "the psychic economy ofthe soldier"—are all areas of vital concern to scholars of military affairs. The health ofthe profession of arms is one of the bulwarks of modern Western civilization and has traditionally been based on moral notions ofpublic duty and private excellence. In both the military profession and the defense studies community no one can view the ominous rise of biotechnology and cybernetics with moral detachment. However, despite the challenges posed by...


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