Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Chemistry Of War, Love, And Hate

What makes a person love their friends, and hate their enemies? That sounds like a stupid question, but in fact, it has a chemical basis in the brain's chemistry, a hormone called Oxytocin, and researchers have found that soldiers in combat produce this chemical in extra abundance. The heat of combat makes soldiers, in effect, as protective of their fellow soldiers as an animal is towards its offspring. It makes them that much more ferocious in the face of an enemy threat. Presumably, it contributes to the formation of lasting bonds among fellow soldiers, inspiring on-going camaraderie and life-long, devoted friendships as deep-probably deeper, actually-than most other relationships.

Now, here's the really good news, though also potentially scary. Scientists can now produce the chemical in the form of an aerosol, which is in fact the foundation of many of the latest experiments. The mind boggles at the potential for mischief. But I wouldn't be too quick to buy this in the form of a cologne and head for the nightclubs, or present it as a gift-wrapped bottle of perfume to a potential girl friend. Remember, it promotes aggressive tendencies as well as bonding.

On a side note, I wonder what effect this news will potentially have on the gays in the military controversy. Could this in fact be a reason for such a strong and natural aversion among so many straight soldiers? Is there an unconscious fear that it could lead to conflict due to inner resentments caused by unrequited affections? I don't buy for a minute that the objection is mainly religious, that just makes a convenient scapegoat. Really, no one needs jealous and bitchy friends, and I could understand how, over the long haul, it could detract from unit cohesiveness if a soldier felt he was rejected by a fellow soldier to whom his own natural brain chemistry attracted him, especially if the other soldier's brain chemistry caused him to send off what might be interpreted by the gay soldier as "mixed signals". It's just one of those things that will have to be worked out I guess.

On the other hand, this does go a long way towards explaining the success of the racial integration of our armed forces back in the days just immediately prior to the civil rights era, when people were supposedly much more racially prejudiced than they are now. Who knows, it might not have went so good had it not been for the Korean conflict.

So that might be the answer. If you want to successfully integrate gays in the military, just give them combat duty in Afghanistan.