On page 81 of ‘A Desert Named Peace’ Brower writes: “…a sense of elation or ecstatic sadism motivated soldiers, and this clearly surpassed the violence needed to defeat enemies, fill panniers, and feed hungry mouths.”
He then goes on to talk about homo furens, the man devoted to violence, that lurks in everyone and is summoned by the state. This passage struck me in part because of the pure level of the violence and in part because of the assumptions it makes about humans and human nature. In my international relations class senior year we talked a lot about whether or not humans are inherently violent, and therefore, whether war is inevitable and eternal or could be ended. The optimist in me usually wins out and I like to believe that violence is not the default human condition. Though humans are clearly capable of great violence, they are also capable of great love and compassion, and that is one of the key abilities that is unique to human beings. I think this is an interesting and extremely relevant question because, whether you believe there are more wars or fewer wars now than in the past, there is no doubt that violence is a problem in our society. There seem to also be a lot of disturbing parallels between the violence in Algeria and the violence in current wars in the Middle East, dismembering and defiling the bodies of dead enemy soldiers, etc. Through this article, as well as current events, it is clear that the state can be deeply influential of the behavior of its soldiers. The state has ways, “rights and rituals”, of isolating and exaggerating the violent tendencies in humans and burying the loving, compassionate tendencies. How and why a state does this to its citizens is critical for all of us to understand, as we are all vulnerable to it and it affects all of our lives, directly or indirectly. In order to combat that violence and its escalation in situations like Algeria, we need to learn how to be aware of how and for what purpose our emotions and instincts are being exploited.