Day 7: Passion

“The passions which break forth in War must already have a latent existence in the peoples.”

-Clausewitz, On War

Understanding war in its rational elements is a goal of war studies; our discipline in its social science role is based off some conception of the actors as being inherently rational. But, as Clausewitz observed in framing his wartime trinity of passion, creativity, and politics, we cannot ignore the irrational elements, which, though mobilized for a logical strategic end, are responsible for unleashing the desire and the violent tendency necessary to kill and to struggle with others.  It’s something hard to quantify, exactly where the humanities meets the social science department on the Strand, but the questions of the passions that drive war, providing the grease for its wheels, defy the rational stability of numbers or game theory to explain the inconsistencies and derivations of military history.

This has been implicitly understood long before Clausewitz. The close interconnection of the passion of love and the passion of war and violence was visible in the Sumerian goddess Inanna, who patronized both war and sex. Similarly, the coupling of Venus and Mars in the Greco-Roman tradition came to be a common motif in European Art, especially prevalent when Renaissance States, eternally at war, came to look for classical themes that dominated their politics. It seems that war and love are inseparable companions; the question that seemed to be on the minds of the civic and noble patrons was which passion would ultimately guide their institutions and their statecraft. Who would be sleeping and who would awake? Must love triumph over war? Or must they together come together that Harmonia can be born?

Mars and Venus, Botticelli, 1483

Mars and Venus, Botticelli, 1483

The passions take on varying forms in the context of war and it’s participants. Love’s forms especially have a routine association with the social standing of the combatant, mostly ranging from restrained to unrestrained as one moves closer to the ground.  The European cavalryman, a descendant of the knight’s code of aristocratic genial warfare, enjoyed a far more virtuous and cleaner reputation in love than his infantry counterpart. The jinete, the caballero, and the chevalier enjoy solitary love in a foreign field, much from the school of Lovelace, the Hussar and light cavalryman are slightly more roguish, and the infantry soldier has a primarily crude reputation, a la Hogarth’s March of the Guards to Finchley. It was a dichotomy based on rank, social standing, and breeding: Christian of Brunswick was allowed to make reference to the married Queen of Bohemia on his banner (“Pour Dieu e Pour Elle”) in chivalric stature, while his footsoldiers, Germans in the best tradition of the lusty Landsknects of the previous century’s woodcuts, were viewed widely as walking sexual contagion, ill able to control their violence and their lust.

(c) The Foundling Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

But love’s passions in wartime extend not only to soldiers; liaisons in times of danger and excitement is of course a romantic backdrop for stories, but also a very well-documented (though much overblown) phenomena, recently captured in the soundbites “Terror Sex” and “Sex Jihad“. The earth shattering overtones of war have parallels in stories of men and women swept up in great events, and maintaining some form of fidelity or abandoning it under the cloud of war: Dear John versus The End of the Affair. Similar passions can be directed then (see last monday’s post) to all sorts of causes, ideas, and symbols. In Ari Folman’s excellent Waltz with Bashir, a character speaks of the devotion the Maronite militias had to the image of their leader Bashir Gemayel, which he says borders on the erotic.

However it is expressed, whatever form it takes, the twin passions of love and war cannot truly be expunged one from the other. Even in the most sterile whiz-kid approximation of firepower, the making of war cannot contend with the love and violence that will drive men and women to face it, as we have had to learn combating insurgents across the world. McNamara acknowledged this when he observed in Fog Of War, “rationality will not save us”. As humanity now possesses in weapons of mass destruction the true equivalent of an over-surfeit of love; death from a heartbreak, a mutually assured destruction. It is perhaps that humanity has simply been lucky, or that we can learn to be responsible war-makers as we can learn to be responsible lovers. But that element of chance passion, irrational and strange, cannot be taken out of the equation, and must form an element when studying and formulating a discipline of war.

“And revolt, why do men revolt?” asked the Lake.

“For beauty”, replied Yudhisthira.

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