Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan opposition leader who declared himself interim president in January 2019, appeared to be in hiding as the country’s military leaders declared their support for his rival, President Nicolás Maduro.
The whereabouts of Guaidó, 35, remains unknown after he symbolically swore in as the country’s interim president on Jan. 23, 2019, before tens of thousands of supporters, promising to remove Maduro from power.
Guaidó has said that he needs support from three groups: The Venezuelan people, the international community, and the military, The Associated Press reported.
He hasn’t passed all three tests yet.
The long list of countries supporting his claim — including the US, the EU, and most of Venezuela’s neighbors — gives him a good argument that he has persuaded the international community.
President Nicolás Maduro.
It is difficult to measure Guaidó’s popular support, though his rallies have pulled in huge crowds. Tens of thousands of Venezuelans marched in support of Guaidó in January 2019.
This week marked the 18th anniversary of the September 11th attacks and the beginning of the longest war in American history. Chances are, you’ve probably had the same conversation with your comrades, coworkers, friends, or whomever about where you were when you heard about the attacks.
Now that it’s been 18 years, that means that if you’re still in the military, you could now have that same conversation with a young private/airman/seaman and be greeted with the response of, “Oh, I wasn’t even born yet!”
Man — now I feel old when I tell people I was skipping some middle school class to play Pokemon on my Gameboy in the bathroom and came back to everyone watching the news. I can honestly say that I’ve never skipped class since that day.
Don’t worry. I get it. You’re now probably thinking about how old you are because you were doing something much more mature than I was seven years before I could enlist. Just wait for a few weeks when kids who were just sent off to Basic/Boot Camp on their 18th birthday graduate. There’s going to be some serious dog and pony shows for them and I bet it’ll be all over the news. Then you’ll really feel old!
Anyways, now that I’ve given you some existential dread about your own aging — here are some memes!
As you may have heard already, the U.S. pulled out of Syria. Catch literally any other news agency for a hot take on that one. Me? I’d just like to point out the little things that also happened with that event. Namely, Russian troops immediately seized control of the compound the U.S. troops previously occupied.
The U.S. troops must have known something was up because they took the time to clear out literally every scrap of U.S. military hardware while not giving a single sh*t about their trash in the DFAC – much to the dismay of every DFAC NCO ever. Best of all, is the board with the Russian flag dong and other obscenities, mostly in Russian, sprawled across for the Ruskies to find.
All I’m saying is that I’m proud of you motherf*ckers is all. You’re doing Uncle Sam’s work. Anyways, here are some memes you glorious bastards.
(Meme via ASMDSS)
(Meme via The Salty Soldier)
(Photo via Infantry Follow Me)
(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)
(Meme via On The Minute Memes)
(Meme via Call for Fire)
(Meme via Team Non-Rec)
(Meme via Not CID)
(Meme via Lost in the Sauce)
(Meme via Valhalla Wear)
(Meme via Private News Network)
Just for my own personal reasons, which post of mine was the final straw? Just curious…
Funny how “Ride or Die” just went until “we had a minor disagreement over something stupid.”
Germany’s highest awards for valor, the Iron Cross, was the most awarded of the top tier medals of any nation in World War II. But Germany awarded more top-tier valor awards than any other country for two very good reasons. First, most German troops fought for the duration or the war unless they were crippled.
As German ace Gunther Rall put it, that meant Third Reich troops’ destiny “was either the Iron Cross or the wooden cross.” They would be heroes or they would die in the attempt.
Second, German troops could earn the Iron Cross with a series of events, like succeeding in enough aerial battles, rather than for just a single act of extreme valor like in most militaries. While the medal was awarded for singular military achievements and bravery, it was also automatically warranted after a service member completed a challenging act.
Here are four things that would get a World War II German soldier an automatic Iron Cross:
1. Destroying a set number of enemy tanks
For German tankers, the “easiest” way to earn an Iron Cross was to achieve enough tank victories to qualify. While the number required increased as the war ground on, 50 was the magic number for a few years. That’s 50 Allied tank kills before a single tank managed to kill them.
2. Killing a set number of Allied planes
German Luftwaffe pilots could net an Iron Cross by accruing an ever-increasing number of points. Single-engine aircraft were worth one point, dual-engines netted two points, and four engines were worth three points. Fighters could get the Iron Cross second class for becoming an ace (downing five enemy aircraft).
3. Sinking a set amount of Allied shipping
For submariners, the Iron Cross was usually awarded for sinking tons of Allied supplies. The Iron Cross second class usually required sinking 50,000 tons of shipping, while the Knight’s Cross, a higher level of the same award, would be granted to those who sank 100,000 or more tons.
These were older, frail planes piloted by Soviet women who would carry a few bombs at a time and drop them on Nazi massed forces, breaking up German attacks on Soviet positions. But the planes were so slow and quiet that they were hard to find and harder to fight, so the Luftwaffe promised an Iron Cross for a single kill.
There are some units in the U.S. Marine Corps that really know how to make an impression.
Like the rest of the military, Marine units have unit crests, nicknames, and of course, mottos. And in quite a few cases, those elements are pretty badass.
These are our picks for the units with the coolest unit mottos, along with a brief explanation of what they do.
1. “Whatever It Takes”
1st Battalion, 4th Marines: Stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, 1/4 is an infantry battalion that has been fighting battles since its first combat operation in the Dominican Republic in 1916. That’s also where 1st Lt. Ernest Williams earned the Medal of Honor, the first for the battalion.
2. “Get Some”
3rd Battalion, 5th Marines: Based at the northern edge of Camp Pendleton, California, the “Dark Horse” battalion is one of the most-decorated battalions in the Marine Corps.
3. “Balls of the Corps”
3rd Battalion, 1st Marines: “The Thundering Third” is stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, and has a notable former member in Gen. Joseph Dunford.
4. “We Quell the Storm, and Ride the Thunder”
3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines: “The Betio Bastards” of 3/2 are based at Camp Lejeune, and have been heavily involved in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The battalion is perhaps best known for its fight on Tarawa in 1943.
5. “Retreat Hell”
2nd Battalion, 5th Marines: It was in the trenches of World War I where 2/5 got its motto. When told by a French officer that his unit should retreat from the defensive line, Capt. Lloyd Williams replied, “Retreat? Hell, we just got here!” With combat service going back to 1914, 2/5 is the most decorated battalion in Marine history.
6. “Ready for All, Yielding to None”
2nd Battalion, 7th Marines: Stationed at Twentynine Palms, California, the battalion’s current motto is a slight variation on its Vietnam-era one: “Ready for Anything, Counting on Nothing.”
7. “Semper Malus” — Latin for “Always Ugly”
Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 362 (HMH-362): This helicopter unit nicknamed “Ugly Angels,” is stationed at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii and holds the proud distinction of being the first aircraft unit ashore in Vietnam.
8. “Swift, Silent, Deadly”
1st, 2nd, and 3rd Recon Battalions: Reconnaissance Marines are trained for special missions, raids, and you guessed it: reconnaissance. For these three battalions, stationed at Camps Lejeune, Pendleton, and Schwab, the motto pretty much sums up what they can do.
9. “Make Peace or Die”
1st Battalion, 5th Marines: Nicknamed “Geronimo,” the Camp Pendleton based 1/5 has been involved in every major U.S. engagement since World War I. Most recently, the battalion has been deployed to Darwin, Australia as the Corps tries to “pivot to the Pacific.”
Soldiers can’t achieve peak performance when they’re chilled to the bone. So in winter weather, some soldiers may don up to seven layers of clothing. That much fabric can weigh them down. Later, soldiers might find themselves overdressed, now getting hot and sweaty. That sweat, in turn, can turn to ice if the weather is super cold. But it doesn’t have to. Researchers have just come up with a way to lighten a winter warrior’s load and fight the threat of frozen sweat.
They’ve designed a new high-performance fabric. It could become the basis of underwear for troops deployed in places blasted by Arctic cold. Scientists unveiled it here, last August, at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society.
Paola D’Angelo is a bioengineer. She uses principles of biology to solve problems. Elizabeth Hirst is a chemist. Both work at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts. Their team got the initial idea for this innovation from some earlier work by a group at Stanford University in California. Their new fabric improves on that earlier research. It also adds an important new twist.
Chemist Elizabeth Hirst (left) and bioengineer Paola D’Angelo (right) are working on new winter fabrics for soldiers’ uniforms. The fabric swatch on the board D’Angelo is holding carries an electrical current, which could heat the fabric. (Photo by Kathiann Kowalski)
Yi Cui and Po-Chun Hsu are materials scientists at Stanford University. Their team already had been using metal nanowires to create see-through electrical conductors. Such materials could be handy for things such as thinner smartphones, displays on car windshields and more. Teeny, tiny nanowires have diameters at the scale of billionths of a meter.
At Cui’s suggestion, the Stanford team set out to use conductive nanowires in a fabric. It would be “warm, lightweight and breathable,” explains Hsu. That way, it could help reduce the energy needed for indoor heating.
The team got itty bitty wires of silver to form a mesh across cotton fabric. The silvery metal can reflect body heat back to someone’s skin. The treated fabric also can carry an electrical current. So, batteries could deliver extra heat when needed.
Now the Army’s team has been tweaking that idea to work not just with cotton, but also with high-performance fabrics. Athletes, soldiers and others often turn to such fabrics when they’re doing things that call for lots of physical activity or that expose them to extreme conditions.
Examples of these special fabrics include polyester, nylon and other synthetic fabrics. Their fibers are engineered by people, instead of coming from natural materials, such as plant fibers or animal hair. The Army uses synthetic fabrics (or blends that include synthetics) for gloves, socks and a soldier’s base layer. That’s the “underwear” that sits closest to the skin. And it’s for that layer that this team has been building upon the Stanford group’s work.
Besides getting the concept to work with other fabrics, the Army researchers tested the ability of such fabrics to hold up through repeated washings. And their fabric indeed performed well.
In addition, the Army team packed more fibers onto each area of fabric than the Stanford team had. That denser wire mesh can carry more current and provide more warmth. Three volts of electricity is enough to warm a test swatch that’s 6.45 square centimeters (1-square-inch) in one minute by 56 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit), D’Angelo reports. A typical watch battery is all that’s needed to provide those 3 volts.
Soldiers won’t want their underwear that hot. But the fabric could provide quick heat in a hurry. With the right controls, soldiers could even customize how warm their clothes get.
Super soakers for sweat
That material would still not be a perfect solution for working in cold weather, however. Even if it were used under with the Army’s current winter wear, soldiers can get sweaty as they hike, climb or carry out other tasks. That’s because the synthetic fabric of the base layer is not good at wicking away moisture, Hirst explains. Instead, sweat soaks into the fabric. As water in the sweat cools, it can ice up. That’s “obviously very uncomfortable,” she adds.
To deal with this, her team is working with hydrogel beads. A hydrogel is a type of “super soaker” material that can absorb a lot of water. In this case, the beads can sop up as much as 40 times their weight in water, Hirst says. The molecules of the beads are made from polymers. These are long chains of identical repeating units. A part of each unit in the hydrogel has a segment that attracts water.
Researchers could tweak the hydrogel to act differently at different temperatures, Hirst points out. As a soldier sweats, the fabric would warm. That warming could lead the hydrogel to soak up any sweat, moving moisture away from the skin. Later, when the soldier took off the underwear, it would cool down. Moisture in the hydrogel beads could then evaporate into the air. Now the fabric would be ready to wear again.
Don’t expect to see the new fabric on soldiers just yet. “We are in the basic research stages,” Hirst says. Among other things, her team will play with different ways to attach the hydrogel beads to the wired fabric. Her group also wants to work on a protective coating for the nanowires. That would help the silver resist tarnishing, which could reduce its reflectiveness.
“We look forward to seeing their cloth combining silver nanowire and hydrogel together,” says Hsu. In his view, it makes good sense to combine features that would provide both heating and cooling as needed. “In the future stages of this research,” he suspects, “there might be some trade-off between the total amount of heating and cooling that the cloth can provide versus its compactness and weight.”
In addition to developing better winter underwear, the Army team hopes the new fabric might lead to warmer gloves and socks. After lots and lots of field testing by soldiers, the fabric might find its way into civilian clothes, too. Then anyone could wear it for skiing, winter walks, snowboarding or other cold-weather fun.
The outdoor temperature topped 32º C (90º F) when the researchers unveiled their new fabric in Washington, D.C. Few folks at the meeting were ready for winter. Later, however, many might appreciate that some scientists and engineers had been thinking ahead.
Syrian state media is blaming explosions hitting the capital city of Damascus on Israeli missile strikes as the Israel Defense Forces sound the alarm in the northern part of the country — the part that borders Syria and Lebanon.
SANA, Syria’s government mouthpiece, says the strikes hit Syrian government forces in Kisweh, a city to the south of Damascus. The attack came just an hour after U.S. President Donald Trump announced the end of American participation in the Iranian nuclear deal. SANA also reports the Syrian military was able to shoot two more incoming missiles down.
The Times of Israel reported a statement from Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, who said the target of the strike was an arms and ammunition depot for Iranian-backed militias, namely Hezbollah. Kisweh was also the site of a permanent Iranian base, struck by Israel in the December 2, 2017, attack.
The base is just 31 miles from the Israeli border. On Sunday, Iranian Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri said Iran would retaliate for the December strikes and any new strikes when deemed suitable.
“If the enemy casts a covetous eye on our interests or conducts [even] a slight act of aggression, the Islamic Republic will give an appropriate response at an appropriate time,” Bagheri said according to Press TV, media associated with the Iranian regime.
In a statement, Trump cited the reason for pulling out of the Iranian nuclear agreement — signed in 2015 — was Iranian influence in the region, calling the regime an exporter of terrorism. The BBC reports the President calling the deal “decaying and rotten… an embarrassment.”
As for restarting production on enriching uranium, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said he would consult with other signatories to the deal, including France and Germany who vowed to remain committed to the agreement, before moving forward. In the meantime, he ordered preparations to begin.
“I have ordered the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to be ready to start the enrichment of uranium at industrial levels,” he said in response to the American withdrawal.
There’s nothing more terrifying than imagining yourself trapped in a burning building, unable to escape … until you imagine being trapped in there with your children.
According to multiple news sources, that’s exactly what happened in Phoenix, Arizona, last week. A mother and her two children were in a third-story apartment when flames presumably rendered the exits inoperable, forcing the woman to the balcony. Bystanders encouraged her to throw her baby from the balcony and when she did, 28-year-old Marine turned security guard Phillip Blanks sprinted in, dove and caught the boy milliseconds before he would have hit the ground.
According to the Washington Post, Blanks said his time in the Marines, coupled with his athletic training as a wide receiver in high school and college, prepared him for this moment. The Marines taught him to “always be on high alert, not be complacent and to have discipline,” he said.
Wojtek endeared himself to members of a Polish army unit in 1942 when he alerted them to the presence of a spy in their camp.
The Polish soldiers, who were released by Russia after the German invasion in 1941, were passing through the Middle East on their way back to Europe. Picking up new members on such a trip wouldn’t be unusual, but Wojtek’s case was a little different, because he was a bear.
Wojtek, whose mother is thought to have been shot by hunters, was bought by Polish soldiers while they were in Iran and eventually joined what would become the Polish II Corps’ 22nd artillery supply company in 1942.
He continued with them through Iraq and into Egypt.
To board a ship to Europe in 1943, Wojtek needed to be a soldier, so the Poles formally enlisted him as a private — with his own pay book and serial number.
Wojtek, who eventually weighed well over 400 pounds, also got double rations.
The badge of the 22nd Artillery Support Company of the 2nd Polish Corps.
“He was like a child, like a small dog. He was given milk from a bottle, like a baby. So therefore he felt that these soldiers are nearly his parents and therefore he trusted in us and was very friendly,” Wojciech Narebski, a Polish soldier who spent three years alongside Wojtek during the war, told the BBC in 2011.
They also shared a name — Wojtek is a diminutive form of the name Wojciech, which means “happy warrior.”
Now Wojtek’s story is being documented in an animation feature by Iain Harvey, an animator and the executive producer of the 1982 adaptation of Raymond Brigg’s children’s story “The Snowman,” which was nominated for an Oscar and is still shown every year at Christmas on British television.
The bear smoked, drank, and wrestled with soldiers
When he was told about Wojtek, Harvey thought the story was “pure fantasy,” he told the Times of London this week. “It’s fantastic to have a piece of magic that’s real.”
Wojtek, who eventually rose to the rank of corporal, became a mascot for his unit.
Soldiers would box and wrestle with the bear, who was also fond of smoking and drinking. “For him one bottle was nothing,” Narebski told the BBC. “He was weighing [440 pounds]. He didn’t get drunk.”
He was trained not to be a threat to people and was “very quiet, very peaceful,” Narebski said. But he didn’t get along with another bear and a monkey that were also adopted by the soldiers.
Wojtek was a source of good cheer for the unit, Narebski told the BBC. “For people who are far from families, far from their home country, from a psychological viewpoint, it was very important.”
But he was more than good company during the fighting in Italy.
A British soldier at the Battle of Monte Cassino said he was surprised to see the six-foot bear hauling artillery shells to resupply Allied forces. The company’s patch also featured Wojtek carrying a shell.
Filmmakers released a documentary about Wojtek in 2011. Harvey’s project, “A Bear Named Wojtek,” has secured funding from Poland, but he is still seeking a British partner, telling The Times that he would contact Channel 4 and the BBC as well as companies like Netflix.
Harvey’s project is being set up for release on the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day on May 8, 2020.
According to The Times, it will take 30 animators roughly a year to produce the 30-minute film, hand-drawing each scene on a tablet.
Narebski last saw Wojtek in April 1945, before the Battle of Bologna in Italy.
Once his unit was demobilized in Scotland, the bear was resettled at the Edinburgh Zoo.
A monument to Wojtek in Krakow.
Former members of his unit often visited him at the zoo, where he lived until his death in 1963 at age 21.
Narebski returned to Poland but had trouble keeping in touch with his former comrades — both human and bear — because of restrictions put in place by the Polish government.
He never forgot about Wojtek, however.
“It was very pleasant for me to think about him,” Narebski told the BBC. “I felt like he was my older brother.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Sitting in the driver’s seat with his foot on the gas, Major Gerald “Jerry” Johnson drove to the Alert Tent in the early morning hours of Oct. 13, 1943, as jeeps carrying other pilots from the 9th Fighter Squadron, 49th Fighter Group, Fifth Air Force trailed in a column behind. On his mind were the names of other pilots who were lost in a mission the night before, friends of his with whom he had shared pancakes in the mornings and gambled his valuables away in late-night poker games. They were briefed on the mission and sat around for hours in boredom at Horanda Air Field, a large stretch of land that was formerly just another patch in the New Guinea jungle.
When Johnson and his squadron of eight P-38 Lightnings were alerted, they took to the air to intercept a massive aerial convoy of 18 dive bombers supported by 20 agile fighters. They were outnumbered and outgunned, but Johnson wasn’t entirely concerned about that as all he could focus on was reaching the enemy before they dropped their payload over Oro Bay, an advanced military shipping installation.
9th Fighter Squadron, 49th Fighter Group. Squadron posing in front of a P-38 Lightning commemorating the first USAAF pilots to land and operate in the Philippines after the landing on Leyte, October 1944. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
As his plane climbed through the clouds, the bombers came closer into his sights. He maneuvered his aircraft and issued orders over the radio to communicate their approach. The Japanese were unaware that they were being trailed in the air when Johnson and his squadron ambushed the enemy, walking his rounds from the nose of the aircraft into one of the dive bombers, igniting the plane’s fuselage.
Black smoke and a flash of flames burst through the plane’s side as the bomber plummeted out of the sky. The Japanese zeros peeled off, and an all-out dogfight ensued. On numerous passes, Johnson evaded the tracers shot by Japanese fighters, diving and climbing, rolling and tilting before his rounds struck and downed a second enemy bomber. Their surprise attack netted him three aerial victories, two bombers and one enemy fighter, a solid day’s work that impeded the enemy formation from reaching its target.
A P-38 Lightning prepares to land after flying a heritage flight with the F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter April 3, 2016, during the Luke Air Force Base air show, 75 Years of Airpower. Photo by Staff Sgt. Staci Miller/U. S. Air Force, courtesy of DVIDS.
The large enemy force diverted away from their intended target as Johnson’s small but ferocious display of aerial finesse surprised and overwhelmed the Japanese. For his actions on this day he was awarded his first of two Distinguished Service Crosses. In his following tours, Johnson was a nightmare for the Japanese in the Pacific, earning 22 aerial victories with 21 probables to secure his status as a quadruple ace (five aerial victories are required to achieve “ace” status).
Sadly, while on a courier mission after the war, the B-17 or B-25 he was in entered severe weather, and a violent mixture of rain, lightning, and turbulence knocked out all radio communications. One of the passengers neglected to bring along a parachute, and knowing the consequences of giving up his own, Johnson handed it to the passenger, who then bailed out of the plane. Everyone with a parachute was rescued and survived, while Johnson fought with the controls until he perished. Accounts vary as to whether he was the pilot or a passenger on the plane.
Johnson’s remains were lost with the rest of the aircraft. Since he wasn’t on a combat mission, his heroic last act on Oct. 7, 1945, did not warrant a posthumous Purple Heart; however, he was awarded the Soldier’s Medal for heroism at the risk of life in a non-combat-related incident. A hero in the sky even on his final flight. Gerald R. Johnson is sometimes confused with Gerald W. Johnson, another ace pilot during World War II, but the latter’s aerial dominance was in the European Theater and not the Pacific.
Butch O’Hare: The Irish-American Who Became the US Navy’s First Combat Ace
Nothing screams Americana more than rock and roll, blue jeans, and the toughness of our fighting men and women. If you mix them all together, you get the Navy SEALs who fought in the jungles of Vietnam. They were unquestionably rugged, they were probably rocking out to some CCR, and they wore blue jeans throughout.
In a speech delivered to Congress in May, 1961, President John F. Kennedy recognized the need for special operations as a measure against guerrilla warfare. Meanwhile, the Navy was already putting together elite units for exactly that task. The Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams grew into the SEALs we know today and they were baptized in the waters of Vietnam.
Navy SEALs are truly masters of both hiding and seeking.
These men were experts in hand-to-hand combat, high-altitude parachuting, demolitions, and foreign languages — all skills that would prove useful in Vietnam. At the beginning of 1962, SEALs were mobilized into South Vietnam to take on an advisory role. Less than a year later, they were participating in the covert, CIA-sponsored Phoenix Program.
Details of the Phoenix Program are blurry (as covert CIA stuff tends to be), but what is known is that it involved the SEALs doing what they do best: Capturing and assassinating high-value targets. This meant that they would infiltrate deep behind enemy lines and directly engage the enemy when they thought they were safe.
The SEALs were constantly on the move through rough and unforgiving terrain to complete their mission. As anyone who’s ever donned a military uniform can tell you, the “lowest bidder” joke wears off after you’ve ripped a hole in the crotch of your seventeenth pair of trousers.
So, which one of these guys are you gonna scold for wearing blue jeans? None of them? Good choice.
So, SEALs wore whatever was durable enough to complete the mission — and Vietnam demanded blue jeans. It allowed the SEALs to sneak into enemy compounds without worrying about catching their pants on a branch, loudly ripping some fabric, and blowing the element of surprise. It also didn’t hurt that jeans are damn comfy.
SEALs, along with the rest of the Special Operations community, have an advantage over most conventional troops: No one outside of Special Operations is ballsy enough to walk up to a bearded SEAL and berate them for not being in uniform. Anyone who dared was quickly laughed at and then soiled their regulation uniform trousers as they watched the SEAL flex.
If you want to operate like a SEAL, then you need to dress like one. 5.11 Tactical‘s got you covered.
When ISIS launched its attack on Mosul in 2014, they were outnumbered by opposition forces by almost 40 to one – yet they took the city. Now a group of scientists working on the frontline in Iraq have analysed what motivates such fighters in research they say could help combat extremists.
While predicting the will to fight has been described by the former US director of national intelligence James Clapper as “imponderable,” researchers say they have begun to unpick what leads members of groups, including ISIS, to be prepared to die, let their family suffer, or even commit torture, finding that the motivation lies in a very different area to traditional ideas of comradeship.
“We found that there were three factors behind whether people were willing to make these costly sacrifices,” said Scott Atran, co-author of the research from the University of Oxford and the research institution Artis International.
Those factors, he said, are the strength of commitment to a group and to sacred values, the willingness to choose those values over family or other kin, and the perceived strength of fighters’ convictions – so-called “spiritual strength” – over that of their foes.
The findings support the idea, put forward by previous research, that the will to fight lies not in rational action but in the idea of the “devoted actor” – individuals who consider themselves strongly connected to a group, fighting for values considered to be non-negotiable, or “sacred.”
Writing in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, Atran and an international team of colleagues describe how they came to their insights by travelling to the frontline in Iraq.
As well as speaking to captured ISIS fighters, the team carried out in-depth interviews with Arab Sunni combatants, as well as Kurdish fighters from the PKK, Peshmerga, and members of the Iraqi army. The frontline approach, the authors note, was crucial to capturing the sacrifices individuals actually make for their values, rather than merely what they claim they might do.
The results revealed that all followed the model of “devoted actors”, but that the level of commitment to making costly sacrifices, such as dying, undertaking suicide attacks, or committing torture varied between groups. With the sample size of fighters small, the team also quizzed more than 6,000 Spanish civilians through online surveys.
The results revealed that the majority of civilians placed their family above a value they considered sacred. However, in a finding that echoed evidence from the frontline, the team discovered that those who placed their sacred value above their group said they were more willing to make dramatic, costly sacrifices such as dying, going to prison or letting their children suffer.
Surveys of the Spanish population also revealed that they made links between spiritual – but not physical – strength and the willingness to make sacrifices.
But the team stress that decisions made by devoted actors on the frontline were not made without emotional turmoil.
“One particular Peshmerga fighter had to make a decision when the Islamic State guys decided to enter his village – he wasn’t in a position to take his family with him and escape and get in front of the ISIS fighters, and so what he did was he left his family behind,” said Richard Davis, co-author of the research from the University of Oxford and Artis International.
While being interviewed, the fighter received a phone call from his wife behind ISIS lines, knowing the penalty if caught would be death. “You could see the man getting emotional, and as he gets off the phone, he begins to lament the decision that he had to go through to leave his family behind, but he indicated that fighting for Kurdistan was more important, and that he hoped that God would save his family,” said Davis. “When you hear things like that and you see a broken man – then you recognise how difficult this was for people.”
The team note that understanding the willingness to fight and die among devoted actors could prove valuable in fostering forces against ISIS, including in exploring ways to elicit deeper commitment to, and willingness to sacrifice for, values such as democracy and liberty.
“Instead of just taking volunteers into an army, we might be able to screen who we put into the army based upon the types of values they commit to, and this would create an entirely different fighting force than the one that melted in Mosul in 2014, ” said Davis, adding that the study could also inform efforts attempting to prevent fighters from joining ISIS.
Stephen Reicher, professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews welcomed the research, adding that it contributed to the understanding of terrorists as “engaged followers”. “The fundamental finding is that those prepared to kill – and die – for a cause are to be understood not in terms of a distinctive personality but in terms of their immersion in a collective cause and their commitment to the ideology of that cause,” he said.