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Why Fight?


Disciplines > Warfare > Articles > Why Fight?

The call to arms | Facing fire | Killing | See also


Why do people fight? Why do they join the armies and other military forces? Why do they put themselves in mortal danger? Why, when they learned that killing is so wrong, do they kill?

The call to arms

The first step into the military is to answer the call to arms. But why? What makes people walk into such danger

Romancing the role

In recruitment the military and society at large are all complicit in romancing the role, making it seem fun, easy and worthwhile.

The military advertise the benefits of learning skills, comradeship and a generally good life. They show pictures of smart, smiling people driving tanks, flying aircraft and using other 'boy's toys'.

Society also does much to romanticize the role, perhaps none more so than in movies which effectively glorify war.

The call of duty

Particularly in times of war, when there are insufficient romanticized volunteers, the military recruiters will use the lever of duty. This switches from pull to push as the implications of not doing one's duty are made clear. 'Conscientious objectors' are vilified and held up as examples. Better to join up than suffer such public disgrace.

The hero's glory

Not only is war glorified, but the soldiers are deified as heroes. Just to join up and put on the uniform sets you apart as courageous and heroic.
The status of hero is created by society as ultimately desirable. Heroes of the past are worshipped through statues and services of remembrance. Living people who have gone to war are admired and lauded. And 'what it takes' is encouraged through endless stories and movies.

Vilifying those who do not join

Those who become conscientious objectors or dodge the draft are often demonized by the press and the population. Those whose children have gone to war and perhaps have died have a particular grouse about this.

It is the threat of such ostracization and criticism that is often the main motivator to join up. If fear of death overcomes patriotism and the desire for glory, the thought of what others might say is often enough to make the difference.

Facing fire

Perhaps one of the most mystifying questions is why people will stand up and be shot at without running for cover.

Social forces

The most fundamental reason why people do not turn tail and run when they are fired upon is the thought of the shame this would bring.

Beyond official punishment, deserters and cowards in the military are shunned and reviled by their former comrades. In effect, their identity is destroyed as they become non-persons, a terrifying state in which they enter a zombie state in which they are simultaneously dead and alive.


A key trick that the military use is to bond groups of soldiers into tight-knit groups, and the main way of doing this is through intense shared experiences. Beyond living close together in barracks, stressful outdoor exercises force them to work together as an interdependent group.

Consequently, when they stand up and charge the enemy's machine-gun position, they do so not for their country or even their regiment, but for the person next to them with whom they have already gone to hell and back.

Honor and loyalty

In the forces, honor is drummed into all recruits from day one. The honor of the country, the regiment and the platoon all come down to the honor of the individual. Including personal integrity and loyalty, honor is bound tightly to just pride and accolade.

Dishonor, on the other hand, is associated with disgust, punishment and rejection. And identities are so closely bound together that personal honor or dishonor is reflected directly on one's comrades, one's regiment and one's country. Actions are thus amplified and the anticipated dishonor of cowardice keeps most troop on the heroic, if terrified, path.


When we are taught of the deep wrong of killing another, why do we do it?

Killing from afar

Killing from afar is relatively easy, be it by command, trigger or button. Almost like a video game, the people you are killing are distant objects and it is relatively easy to forget that they are living, breathing people like you.

In practice, and particularly with modern weaponry, much killing in war now is distant.


Killing is very different when you can see the whites of their eyes and the fear in their face. When you shoot or slash close-in or grapple and throttle with your bare hands.

This is the territory of special forces who start with killing and eating animals in survival training and who become immured to human death through intensive training.

There are two states in which we can kill close in. One is the cold professional who dispatches the enemy with the same dispassion as the abattoir worker slaughtering an animal. The other, and more common in the common soldier is in a state of high emotion such as rage or terror which enables us to work from an animal state of unthinking action.

Such people can become a hazard back in normal civilization. When you are trained as a killing machine, how do you handle everyday life?

See also

Emotion and decision, Bonding principle

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