More From Colonel Cooper
In a recent paper, we listed a number of reasons for which men fight. One reader took exception to us in that we did not list liberty as a primary motive. As in all philosophic discussion, much depends upon semantics, so I suppose the first thing to do here is to define "liberty" so that we can examine our position. In my view, liberty is that condition which exists when men make their own laws, either directly or indirectly, and are protected from bureaucracy or despotism by unbreakable rules.
Now then, I have fought through a couple wars and a larger number of fighting situations and I have never yet encountered a man who felt that he was fighting for liberty. That doesn't mean that this cannot be a motive, but I did not list it because it seemed so very unlikely to me. I think we could say that the colonists at Bunker Hill were indeed fighting for liberty. I think the Boers in South Africa were fighting for liberty, but I don't see anyone doing it now. Singhalese are not fighting for liberty. The Iranians are not fighting for liberty. The Somalis are not fighting for liberty. The Serbians are not fighting for liberty. Moreover, no American I ran across in the Pacific war nor in Korea felt he was fighting for liberty, and I don't think that anybody on either side in the Vietnamese affair thought that he was.
Thus it is that I do not regard the idea of liberty as a primary motivating force in man's history of combat.
I did leave out one major consideration and I will hasten to insert it now. That motive is hatred. Hatred is a big one, and it appears more often than the rabbit people would like to admit. In my own limited experience in the Pacific war, hatred was the primary motivating emotion of the American forces.
-- LtCol John Dean "Jeff" Cooper, USMC (retired)
May 10, 1920 - September 25, 2006