Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Quotes From the INTERCON 2005 Panel (2)...

Intercon 2005 Panel "Militarism and Space Opera - Why Are These Themes So Popular in SF?" - Part 2
(Continued from the previous post)

I met one woman who wanted to talk to me about something military, and I told her "I'm not active duty anymore, you need to talk to someone who is." And she said "I don't want to talk to a soldier."

Well, gee, I'm sorry, that's the only way to find out. Be one, or be close to one. I think that those who are close to or actually themselves have been in the military as I am, we have a better feel for what a soldier's mind is like, for the kinds of conflicts you get into.

I've been in situations myself that were very conflicted, very difficult to deal with, and that I still think about 30-40 years later.

Is there any place in the modern military for the warrior personality, rather than the soldier personality?

In a regular war, definitely. Guerrilla war, any irregular force has its place for them (warriors). Special Forces of different kinds, SEALs, SAS, all that sort of things.

The warrior personality does not have the same approach to discipline that a soldier does.
For instance, one woman said to me, when she found out I've been in the Marine Corps: "Oh, you must be a warrior!"

I'm not a warrior, I'm a soldier! The soldier is completely disciplined, in the terrifying sense, that you become the tool and you do not have the right make certain kinds of decisions yourself.

The warrior is independent. It's what makes a warrior fantasy different from military fantasy.
Because a warrior can go out there, take a dislike to some tyrant, go chop heads off his guards, undermine his castle or whatever. It's all entirely up to him, he's an independent actor.

The soldier does what he or she is told. Up to the point where there is a conflict with your training - which unfortunately some of our people have not learned, but we certainly had a lot of training in that specific thing - exactly when it was legal to disobey, what you had to do to make your disobedience legal. And the fact that you were supposed to take the consequences (of disobedience) - there would probably be a court-martial.

But that is a difference; you don't hear about "court-martial warriors."

The warrior is responsible for his own acts. The soldier is a tool and doesn't expect to be held accountable or responsible for his acts. The Nurnberg Trials taught us otherwise -

They were supposed to teach us otherwise.

Yeah. But except for that, the soldier is under somebody else's responsibility.

If you are a commanding officer, you are responsible for what you told your troops to do. And if you are a Commander-in-Chief you are also responsible for what you told your troops to do - although bringing that fact home to commanders-in-chief has been quite difficult!

I want to talk more about the conflict in the soldier's mind... these conflicts would not be nearly as strong, as long you'd only been killing "bad-guy monsters" - rather than other human beings.
For instance, you can't find much remorse among the soldiers in STARSHIP TROOPERS.

That's a seminal example of inventing a dehumanized enemy (Yngve is speaking metaphorically - or he's mixing up the metaphors?). They're insects, so you just want to stomp on them.

By the way, STARSHIP TROOPERS has of course been sent up as parody by other writers. Even the movie is in some sense a satire of the book. My favorite example is Harry Harrison's novel BILL, THE GALACTIC HERO... where the hero is basically press-ganged into the imperial army, to fight the supposedly evil alien lizards.

And when he finally finds one of the enemy, the enemy lizard is about this tall (Yngve shows with his fingers: 6 centimeters). And he was told they were 7 feet! But the War Office decided that no soldier would be afraid of an enemy who was this tall (6 cm), so they had to tell the soldiers they were 7 feet tall.

There's a book titled ON KILLING. It talks specifically about what it takes to train people to kill, and what it does to people when they have killed. The common reactions of soldiers who have killed in combat, the problems they have for 20-30 years after.

It talks about the need to dehumanize the enemy, to make them into bugs, or lizards or something, in order to get people to kill them.

Shortly before I left the United States, I saw a TV documentary - interviews with Kosovans and Albanians (from the Yugoslavian Civil War). And on both sides, young men - quite nice-looking young men with families, they looked like normal people - but on both sides, they would say of the other: "Oh, they're just animals. It doesn't matter how many of them we kill."

That ability to dehumanize has been in the species for a while. It is still being used, still being forced on people. The child warriors that are kidnapped in Africa, and turned into fighters at age 12-13... they come to believe that the people they kill aren't really people.

But the odd thing is, that underneath they know it's a lie.

When these men get to be 60, they will be thinking: "What did I do?" The faces of those they killed, the cries, will come back to them. You can try that (the lie), but it will take more and more energy to hold that fantasy - that the enemy is not real.

There's a minority of people, who discover when they're being trained to kill people, that they like it.

And most of those people... become insane. Their entire background has said killing is wrong. If they go to war and kill because they were ordered to take the village, and they feel bad about it afterwards... fine. But what do you do, if you discover that you are the monster? You are the monster who likes it.

It happens to a minority. They can go two ways: either they become completely inhuman, acknowledge themselves as "I no longer feel part of the human race. I am the alien, the nonhuman one, and therefore I can kill them, because we're not the same species."

Or they can be struggling for years until they finally lose it - and often commit suicide - to realize that they are the person they've been warned about for their entire childhood.

A very few - a tiny memory - are able to integrate that with the military discipline. And even though they enjoy killing, they discipline themselves; they never allow themselves to be angry in a situation, to be tempted to kill except in a military situation. They avoid things like the Special Forces, because they know that would tempt them.

Have these people been warrior types?

No, I don't think so. Because they accept the discipline of the conventional military.

During the civil war in Rwanda in the early 90s, the Hutu-controlled government media used this analogy that the "others," the Tutsis, were "cockroaches." So the Hutu population was basically instructed by radio to go out and kill "the cockroaches."

Now, is it coincidence that a government's propaganda likens people to insects when it wants to enforce a genocide... and that science-fiction writers tend to, when they want a completely dehumanized enemy, to describe them as insects?

I think that changes through history. In the Pre-Civil War South, black people were shown as "monkeys." That was the choice, not "insects."

And that continued even after the Civil War, through the Reconstruction and the very bad years in the 20s and 30s particularly - and even a bit into my childhood: "We weren't killing people, they were just monkeys. They were subhuman."

So whether it's dogs, rats, or pigs... whatever is considered vile by that culture, will be chosen to dehumanize them (the target).
(The third and final part of the panel will be posted on this blog.)


Anonymous said...

Just a quibble:
Alien enemies, such as the arachnids in "Starship Troopers" are not "dehumanized," because they were not human to begin with. I think the term you needed is "non-human," which is close enough to "unhuman" or "inhuman" to get the point across.


A.R.Yngve said...

Fair enough - I said "dehumanized" in a metaphorical sense... as in "these aliens are symbols of The Enemy As Monster".

I probably should have said "inhuman" and explained myself better -- but those were the words I used in the panel debate.

I hope this gets the point across in an awkward fashion...

Bill G said...

A.R., thanks for transcribing the conversation. Fascinating!

A.R.Yngve said...

The 3rd and final part of the panel will be posted shortly.

(And it's edited down, mind you! These science-fiction people can just talk for hours... ;-))