Why Soldiers Die for Their Countries (a rebuttal)


I read a blog this morning that really touched a nerve. I love the Internet and that it allows a forum for people like me to have an opinion and share it with people we may have never been able to reach before (whether they agree or disagree), but I also feel that as writers of our opinions we have a responsibility to write our thoughts as opinions and not fact – unless of course it is fact. This post may get a little lengthy, so grab a cup of whatever and settle in.

As a woman who served in the military for fifteen years of my life, I have several issues with this article “Remaining Puzzle #6 Solved: Why Soldiers Die for Their Countries.” I am going to assume (I didn’t do any further research on him) that the author of this blog never actually served in the military, at least not in this lifetime, and that he does not have the first idea of why people serve in today’s military except from an academic level. However, service to one’s country is not academic. It is in some countries compulsory, and in some nations volunteer; that fact alone refutes a good portion of this article.

To be fair, he is speaking about war fighting from an evolutionary standpoint. We get completely retarded when we breed with our family members. On an evolutionary scale, tribal communities would war with each other for rights to women and breeding outside of the tribe in order to strengthen the people rather than to die out because of deformities and birth defects arising from interbreeding. We are all here today because somewhere in our evolutionary journey, we saw that we needed new blood to survive and prosper. Point taken. Of course, we are no longer monkeys in trees, and to say that modern service members rape women to ‘spread their genes’ is an insult to most men, and his article mentions nothing about the facts of rape and that is it a dominance, power thing and NOT an evolutionary necessity. Otherwise, we can conclude from his article that rape is justified for the survival of our species (in modern times) – which is simply not true.

The psychology of war and those who fight it is fascinating to me. Having witnessed it first hand and serving with a wide range of people (men and women) who are willing to sacrifice their lives in order to serve their country speaks to something in all of us that drives us to make that choice. However, we all make that choice for a variety of different reasons, and spreading our DNA is usually not on the list of answers when you ask a service member why they serve or why they are willing to sacrifice their lives for an ideal (if service is voluntary).

The article explains three reasons (definitively) of why people are willing to die for their country:

First, most (if not all) civilized societies honor the war dead and materially provide for their widows and children.  So soldiers fighting for such countries die with the safe knowledge that their offspring will be provided for by their country, which they would not be if they did not choose to fight and die for their country.  Because, historically, soldiers have disproportionately come from lower classes, such guarantees of material comfort for their offspring may be important.  However, it is not clear whether it’s better to die for their country and have it provide for the offspring they already have than to continue to live and produce more offspring that they would have to raise themselves, even with lower chances of survival.

I don’t think anyone in their right mind goes to war to ensure that their offspring is taken care of if they happen to die while serving. Do you see the flaw in this logic? This is saying that poorer lower class people serve in the military to provide for their families which makes sense. We all take jobs to provide for our families, and if in a lower class section of society we may take jobs that include more risks in order to provide for ourselves or our families. His point though mentions nothing about why single unmarried people serve, or why women serve. Also, in modern times, even children in poor communities don’t die off because Dad didn’t go fight in a war. Anyway – while there is some merit to the point about providing for families and that dictates what jobs we choose – it has merit in the context of socioeconomic realities, not psychological ones (in all cases).

Second, one of the last things men often do before they are shipped off to war is to get married and impregnate their new wife, which is why so many deployed soldiers have babies at home, born after their deployment, that they have not yet seen.  And, unfortunately, sometimes the first thing soldiers do when they conquer their enemy territory is to rape the women in the conquered territory, which also increases their reproductive success.  Soldiers would not get this opportunity unless they were willing to fight and potentially die for their countries.

WTF? Seriously? Okay, so this is the part of the article that actually made me angry and decide to write this particular entry. I spoke to some of his assertions in my opening of this blog but I’ll go over it again, because this is simply ridiculous in the modern era. Had this article been written at the height of even the Roman Empire or the Soldiers under Alexander the Great, I would give it merit in a historical context. However, we are not there anymore. As a global society, we have abandoned these notions that we are driven purely by our need to procreate. Also – this author gives no merit or consideration for women who serve. When I went to Afghanistan, I managed to not rape anyone. I also managed to not get married or have a baby before I left. Oh… but I am a woman – this does not apply to me. My male counterparts do often get married prior to deployments, but it is more often so that their families are taken care of while away. If they don’t get married before they go, should something happen to them, their girlfriends (who they adore at the time) will be left with nothing. If they live together before deployment – without getting married first – the girlfriend/boyfriend or fiancee will no longer have access to anything about that Soldier or to benefits such as heath care or even shopping privileges while they are gone. As for sex… well yeah. Prior to deployment, men want to get laid. It isn’t about procreation – it is about getting laid. Babies happen because of that – but really, it speaks to the fact that these guys know they aren’t going to ‘get any’ for about a year. So you know, they stock up. Not to mention the emotions for both people in a relationship in having to say goodbye, possibly forever; leads to some emotional ‘this may be the last time we ever have sex so lets make this one count.’ I already spoke to the rape part, but I’ll just say it again – we no longer need to rape women to ensure our survival. So stop justifying it. 

At this point in the article, the author points out that his first two observations are flawed and don’t answer his question completely (so why put this crap out there?). However  some other guy who wrote some book answered the question for the author with this sentiment:

Professor Kennedy points out that soldiers do not die for their countries, which did not exist in the ancestral environment, but instead for their comrades in their bands.  Because humans practiced female exogamy, where girls upon puberty leave their natal groups and marry into neighboring groups whereas boys stay in their natal groups for life, men in tribal societies are always genetically related to each other.  When men defend and protect their comrades in their fighting, they are defending and protecting their sons, fathers, brothers, and cousins, all of whom carry some of their own genes.  Thus their altruistic behavior in combat increases their inclusive fitness and can be explained by kin selection.

Professor Kennedy goes on to point out that modern armies often take advantage of men’s evolved tendency to die for their (genetically related) comrades by employing fictive kinship terms (such as “band of brothers”) and often put men from the same villages, towns and cities together in the same platoons, to foster the sense of genetic relatedness in modern combat units.

This actually has some merit and our blog author does not quote the whole book so I am going to assume that the book in it’s entirety evolves along with society and isn’t stuck just on the ‘brotherhood’ phenomenon. Also, in all my time in the military  I never served with anyone from my hometown, and many times not from my home state so to say that we are intentionally grouped together by demographics is simply false. In the military we are trained to care for one another, to never leave a fallen comrade. We are trained that race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity etc. is not what bonds us, but our common goal to serve our country and that makes us ‘brothers’. This also speaks to the argument against women in combat – but that is a post for another day. However, as a team, we look out for one another. It is training however, and indoctrination – not that we do in fact believe at even some basic level that we are related.

All of my views here are my opinion of course based on my personal experiences. However, I will never write anything that claims that I am 100% right or that I have found some answer to the great questions we face as a society. I may have a million theories, but to write something like this that presents itself as some solid answer to why multitudes of men and women are willing to sacrifice their very lives for their country based on evolutionary theories and tribal histories; and then apply it to today’s war fighters is simply spreading misconceptions, untruths, and even a little justification for rape. This article portrays us as mindless animals, and I for one take offense to it.

6 thoughts on “Why Soldiers Die for Their Countries (a rebuttal)

  1. Evolution is a powerful and useful construct, but we can’t use it to explain every human behavior. Trying to fit selective facts into a specific theory is the essence of pseudo-science.

  2. Reblogged this on Embrace Doubt and commented:
    Evolution is a powerful and useful construct, but we can’t use it to explain every human behavior. Trying to fit selective facts into a specific theory is the essence of pseudo-science.

    • Thank you for your comment and reblog! I am glad you found it useful enough to pass on and I wholeheartedly agree with your addition to the conversation. Thanks again!

  3. Pingback: Are you qualified? « tolerantpeople

  4. this was an absolutely fascinating, fascinating piece. i’m not sure why ppl serve. but, i bet each individual has a different reason. some people probably do it to escape poverty, sure. but, other people (some of the cadets at west point, for example) do it because it is something everyone in their lineage has done, so it comes down to family pride. my guess is there is a HOST of other reasons. personal ones. i believe pat tillman chose to serve and give up his nfl career bc he knew someone who died in 9/11… anyway, a thoroughly enjoyable and thoughtful read. xo, sm

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