Not, as a quick scan of the above headline might convey, killjoy as in “one who spoils the pleasure of others.”
No, I’m re-minting the term.
Here’s my new definition of kill joy: the excitement, the glee, the nearly sexual rush that humans get from war.
I’ve hammered on this many a time in this global communications colossus: we love war.
Argue with me all you’d like but you’d be wrong. We get off on war. We write songs about it. We throw parades for our soldiers both before and after wars. We gobble up news from the front. If our country’s not currently fighting a war, we follow closely whatever other countries are slaughtering each other.
Absent real war, we root and scream and devote our undying loyalty to our sports teams. When they win, when they kill the other team, we holler and rejoice and stamp our feet until the stadium shakes. Hell, just this past weekend, Major League Baseball teams donned khaki green and camouflage caps. If we can’t draw blood from our enemies, at least we can homer them to death. There are no plans, as far as I know, for baseball teams to wear caps with peace signs on them.
In this holy land, as a rule, we spend more than half of our entire yearly discretionary budget on the military. The United States paid out some $877 billion for defense in 2022, more than the next 10 countries combined.
Don’t tell me we hate war.
Oh, sure, there are folks who wring their hands and moan about the horrors, the atrocities, the madness of war. They are a minority.
There is no Department of Peace. There is, of course, a Department of Defense. Formerly the Department of War. But the spin-meisters who pondered such things decided, some 75 years ago, that Defense sounded more palatable than War. A sop, I’m sure, to that occasionally loud minority that wails about the evil of war.
Perhaps it is evil. But it sure is a blast.
And, don’t get me wrong, the United States isn’t the only country that embraces war. Almost every other sovereign state in the world honors, celebrates, worships for pity’s sake its fighting forces. It’s just that we spend the most dough and devote the largest share of our industrial and human might to the making of war. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940 declared this nation to be the “arsenal of democracy.” We supplied the British and the Russians with millions and billions of things made from iron and steel and any other kind of metal that could be fashioned into ammo and armor. So productive were we as our World War II allies were getting their factories bombed and their economies ruined that we emerged from the Great Depression richer and more powerful than ever. In the years since, we’ve decided that supplying our own military — and much of the rest of the world’s — with bullets, grenades, tanks, fighter planes, mortars, bombers, troop carriers, runways, bunkers, hell, you name it — is flat-out good business. Trust me, if we hadn’t taken up that task, another economic powerhouse would have.
Whenever the national budget’s up for debate our political parties tussle over financial outlays for Social Security or homelessness or health care or education or road building or any of dozens of projects and programs that might make people’s lives safer and more comfortable. Yet, when’s the last time you heard a politician running for office stand up and say Goddamn it, we spend too much money on the military! It’s been a long, long time, primarily because it’s a losing shriek.
The love of war is hard-wired in our genes. Our nearest critter relatives, the chimpanzees, long have been known to engage in war and killing. They kill members of their own species, researchers have found, for the same reasons humans do: to take over territory. That’s why human armies and gangs kill each other.
And the chimps, research has shown, dig the killing. Very few, if any, other animals, birds, or insects organize themselves to kill other members of their own species. The urge to do so is built in to the DNA of Pan troglodytes as well as Homo sapiens. Jane Goodall’s research into chimp behavior in central Africa in the 1970s, a 2010 article in the journal Science claims, found that “male chimps often organize themselves into warring gangs that raid each other’s territory, sometimes leaving mutilated dead bodies in the battlefield.”
The article adds: “Lethal aggression can be evolutionarily beneficial in that species, rewarding the winners with food, mates, and the opportunity to pass along their genes.”
That pretty much sums up humans’ real justifications and rewards for war, despite all the high-minded rationalizations propagandists employ to whip up their respective populaces. We believce we’re fighting for freedom; the irony is, so are our enemies. There must be something more to it.
An analysis of the long, brutal battle for the Ukraine city of Bakhmut in today’s New York Times put me in a mind to ponder our love of war. Bakhmut before last summer was an anonymous salt mining town in northeastern Ukraine, about the size of Bloomington, Indiana. Now, after its 70,000 or so inhabitants have either been killed or forced out, Bakhmut is a dead city. Nobody lives there anymore. Its buildings and infrastructure mainly destroyed. The devastation there has been compared to that of Hiroshima after the nuclear bombing.
The horrible irony is, there was no earthly reason for the Russian and Ukraine armies to fight so viciously over the place. “Bakhmut… happened to be where two armies collided,” the analysis posits. “Pride, defiance and sheer stubbornness quickly gave the city outsize importance.”
There’s been a Bakhmut equivalent in every war ever fought. A strategically pointless place where killing and destruction became total because…, well, just because.
You want a because? Alright, here it is. Because we love war.