Jonathan Haidt On Today’s Battlefield

A kind of books review

Max Can't Help It!
6 min readMay 27, 2024

Young men, at the golden hour, toasting the end of a successful operation. Days or weeks before, politicians and the war cabinet sent these young engineers to blow up designated buildings and make way for IDF tanks. Leaflets came down, and bullhorns blared. The women and children hiding in the basement either didn’t receive the communications or were more afraid of snipers.

Moments after that video was taken, young men gathered around someone’s phone to watch it upload to the internet and send out links to friends and family.

Are cell phones a problem in war, or the point of it? A way to validate their personal morality?

Russia, better to raze the towns to the ground at night.

The Russians or Israelis did not invent post-WWII mass bombing of buildings. Here’s the United States in 1991 — “Shock and Awe”. I watched it on TV. As an American, one of the most shameful events I witnessed.

The U.S. military entered the city once the soldiers fled, many killed on the highways, and everyone else hiding in their basements.

Today, apropos of a discussion about dying, my Mother told me this story.

5/26/24 Edith Rottersman, age 89

“I remember staying with my grandparents when I was young. Another kid on the block told me someone had ‘kicked the bucket’. I went home and told my grandmother. She turned red in the face and went into a rage. ‘Never say that ever again. Do you hear? Never again!’”

That was 80 years ago, around 1944. Even 17 years later, in the late 1960s, when I was nine, I realized that I never heard anyone say someone “died”. It was always, “they passed away” or some other euphemism.

Until recently, the memory of someone was sacred. My great great grandmother obviously believed that someone’s memory should be treated with the utmost care. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that such social mores were in full effect after the Great Depression and World War II.

It’s only after so many have died — for nothing — that you realize the least you can do is honor their pain and suffering.

Back to our current wars.

Why do our eyes see but our brains not process? In the past 30+ years wealthy societies have moved away from cultural morality. Perhaps all the way!

Our phones let young people create their own rules for life, their own personal morality. Algorithms work to keep “toxic” people and “colonialism” out of their lives.

The thoughtful group is drowned out and misrepresented. Others are shoved into far-right, fascist-state, one-size fits all.

Why are we witnessing so much destruction and death of civilian property and life?

Is it because the Zionists have become Nazi-like?

Or has civilization reached a low point in shared morality?

Are we living through a Weimer Republic, a 1920s Berlin moment, where decadence is accepted, freedom worshipped? Will easy-answer cults or political parties grow? Will our young people flock to these cults in the coming decades? Total freedom brings with it too much anxiety — a cult cures it.

Our schools only talk about what the Nazis did in the early 1940s. Never how they came to be in the first place.

In my story last week, When TV’s Best Writers Eschew Morality For Snuff Porn I show how our culture’s shared belief is no more — that the “hero” in our dramas should not “like” the kind of evil that suffocates a young women with a plastic bag over the head.

Robert and Michelle King made a cynical decision to sell out their moral position in The Good Wife/Good Fight, (if they ever had one) for more viewership (money/power) among this growing generation of believers in personal-morality.

Elsbeth is free to “like” the handsome guy who killed his student. She doesn’t represent other women, the legal professional, Chicago, or the New York Police. She’d be the first to say someone ‘kicked the bucket’. The audience excusing it because what she says is unfiltered and unchecked by any moral code.

For Millennials and Gen-Z morality is a personal decision. If someone believes someone else is immoral they rally their peers into a “cancel” campaign. They see little connection between, say, Harvey Weinstein and the responsibilities of the Hollywood industry or government regulators.

They believe that Hollywood and the government are only profit focused organizations. Whatever they say about human rights, it’s just PR for boomers or transparent advertising for them. Hollywood, Corporations and the Government — they can’t be expected to uphold principles in the face of money. No one can! Leave them alone! If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.

There are consequences, however. The millennials knocked of the biggest criminals, like Weinstein, and believe others will think twice before doing the same. They just change tactics, like Robert King.

Everyone feels empowered!

Both Israelis and Russians see no connection between themselves and other individual Palestinians or Ukrainians. They don’t think about the powers of State. They believe all governments throughout time are the same.

They don’t fall for the idea that a collective morality benefits them.

Young people in the U.S. and Europe are no different. The only difference is that they’re not fighting anyone directly (yet). But if they were, would we expect any difference? Would U.S. troops behave on the battlefield any differently than Russia, Ukrainian, Israeli or Palestinian fighters?


We know that because the U.S. is already carpet bombing.

It first helped Saudi Arabia bomb Yemen indiscriminately and is now doing so in operation Prosperity Guardian. (Do they make up such names to help me write these stories?) Why doesn’t the Western media report what the U.S. is doing in Yemen? Because the only thing the Houthis and the West agree on is that no journalist is objective and therefore must be tortured to admit it.

There are no journalists covering Prosperity Guardian. The only thing we’re shown is bombers leaving the decks of air craft carriers and bases. What do you think they’re doing? Dog-fighting the Houthi air force?

From what soldier diaries in Ukraine I’ve watched, nothing has changed where men fight each other within eyesight. As one said, “When you hear mortars you start running and you don’t think about land mines. That’s just the way it is.”

They never mention the reasons for the war. If they talk about why they’re there, it’s usually about the money.

At the other end you have the Israeli engineers pictured at the top. They spend their lives studying for school or playing war games on their computer. They don’t spend their vacation visiting Palestinians in the West Bank. Or reading history, let alone the Torah.

Both groups, the lowest grunts and the most highly qualified target planners; they are both accepting of their governments. Israeli, Russian, or the U.S. Doesn’t matter.

I have my own personal morality, which is good, and though I know my government does bad things, they aren’t any better or worse than other countries.

Bombing civilian homes is no one’s responsibility. It’s not a young person’s because their morality doesn’t work that way (they have no control over bombing) and it isn’t the responsibility of the governments because there’s no one left in government who believes it gives them an advantage with the public (voters).

There are no grandmother’s admonishing the youth. No department at Paramount, one can write a letter to, when they see something obscene on the Internet. No government agency that will get back to you on a complaint.

We’re all free to do what we want! It will only change when the level of death makes it impossible to turn away from the consequences of moral ambivalence.


I encourage anyone who has made it this far to read Loaded Dice’s comments.

I’ve probably mangled Jonathan Haidt’s ideas, but you can find his books on his site. This essay is a very bleak interpretation of what will happen. Haidt is NOT a gloom and doomer. He remains optimistic. So please don’t let this essay throw you off reading one of this books.

If you’d like to take part in a polemic debate with another write please let me know. I’ll moderate it on the YouTube Channel Writers Too.