In the past 100 years man has gone from a man, to a killer ape, to a man again.
I find it hard to believe that he ever was a killer or lover of mankind, but more like a hungry creature who needed a reason to do anything other than satiate himself.
First of all, we don’t have evidence to prove that the Battle of Gaugamela was “a giant shoving match.” We do have evidence that modern soldiers have misfired their rifles on purpose in order to avoid shooting the enemy, but many conclusions can be drawn from this.
I would argue that Europeans have gone through four stages in intellectual development that have influenced their warfare:
1) Universal warfare, which is to say, warfare as an extension of piracy: sack the city, if they resist, kill the men, take the women.
2) Christian warfare, which is to say, show moderation and consideration to the weak, and agree on a chivalric form of combat for members within the same church.
3) Enlightenment/classical liberal age warfare: universal rights, mass conscription, natural law, “don’t tread on me,” abolitionism, etc.
4) Modern warfare: atheist philosophies: Marx, Rand, Darwin, Lothrop Stoddard, etc.
So in stages 1-3 we must notice that man universally invokes the gods in order to justify action. Man and gods fight side by side in battle, man is programmed to do what the gods say, so, Allah tells us to behead pagans, Athena tells us to kill the suitors, and Christ tells us to be merciful (okay maybe we haven’t always followed that one).
From the Napoleonic wars to WWII man was still influenced by stage 2 and 3.
During Vietnam, no deities were invoked for perhaps the first time in American history. It was just flesh vs shrapnel. There was no metaphysical justification. There was no real higher cause, plus, the Smedley Butlers of the world had pointed to war profiteering as an insidious motive for modern war. Both the Americans and the Vietnamese simply fought to kill, this was an end in and of itself.
Vietnam’s jungles were hard to hold and men could retreat into the bush, therefore the only real metric an American soldier had was how many enemy corpses he could recover.