1: A Vicarious Instinct

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There has always been a core tension underlying the experience and understanding of war in human society. On the one hand, it has been deemed by many as necessary and even welcome – a thing to be accepted, pursued and embraced for both coldly instrumental and more complex existential reasons. On the other hand, and often simultaneously, it has been seen as hugely wasteful, disruptive and costly – a thing to be avoided or constrained where possible. War, for most involved, is a realm of loss, pain, privation, anguish, uncertainty and horror. And aside from the injury and ignominy of defeat, it is typically accompanied by many other costs and consequences, for victors as much as for vanquished.1

While war may be necessary and even desirable in some respects, holding out the prospect of personal and group gain through victory or the realization of life-affirming ends, the stakes are usually high and the potential costs extreme. Even in such highly militaristic societies as classical Greece and Rome (on which more later), this duality was not absent. The horrors of war were understood for what they were, as philosophers, dramatists and political thinkers routinely reminded their audiences, and only relatively recently has this tragic view of war come to be seriously challenged.2

These contradictions pervade the long human experience of war, accounting simultaneously for its perpetuation but also the myriad attempts to limit its effects and costs.

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Before moving on to examine the emergence of vicarious warfare in the contemporary American experience, it is first necessary to explore the concept itself in terms of its deeper historical background in socio- political forms, material-technological developments and opportunities, as well as its basis in the evolution of military and strategic thought.

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Vicarious Warfare
American Strategy and the Illusion of War on the Cheap