Basically, soldiers in combat experience something that's a pretty close reproduction of our evolutionary past. We evolved to live in groups of 30, 40, 50 people functioning very closely. Sleeping together, eating together, doing everything together. Our survival depended on the group.From a philosophical perspective, I want to add to this picture. Aristotle says that the goal of ethics is eudaimonia, a state of happy flourishing that you find when all of your vital powers are aligned in rational activity. More, he says, to fully experience this state you need a community that is set up to support it. The military deployed comes much closer to attaining Aristotle's ideal than anything else I've seen in the world. Everyone is working together towards some strategic good. They all have different jobs, but those jobs must align. Thus, there is constant rational communication and consideration of how to align different fires on a target, or different staff sections on a mission. This 'small, close knit' community is also a community that works together toward some goods that they pursue together through rational activity.
That's our evolutionary past. It's also life in combat. It's even life in a platoon at a rear base. Most of the military does not fire their weapons at the enemy, do not get shot, but they do function in these close, tight-knit groups, and those emotional bonds become incredibly important. That's what we're wired for....
Then they come back and they see a country which is racially divided, it's economically divided, it's politically divided. There powerful wealthy people frankly getting away with enormous financial crimes without consequences. It's a country at war with itself, and I think on some level, unconsciously or consciously, it must be quite complicated for soldiers who risked their lives for this country, were wounded maybe, lost friends, to come back and see that the thing they were fighting for is fighting with itself. I think that must be incredibly demoralizing...
[D]o they really want to be re-integrated? The point of my book is that it's a fragmented, alienated society with very high suicide rates. Do we want to help them transition back to something that's psychologically toxic? Is that really doing them a service? The fact that they are psychologically rebelling against the transition home says something very healthy about them, because they're transitioning to something that if you look at rates of mental illness is obviously not doing anyone much good.
War being war, as Clausewitz says, 'everything is simple, and the simplest things are hard.' Thus, one needs all of one's vital powers in alignment to accomplish these goals. It is a very engaging sort of life.
It may well be that the broader society lacks a number of things that these smaller, close-knit and rationally ordered communities offer. Are these goods we can replicate? Certainly: any number of organizations could be set up to pursue goods in this way, although they will not all be as fully engaging of all of one's vital powers absent the extremes of war.
Are they goods that we do replicate? No, not really, not for the most part. Indeed, in the current economy, large numbers of Americans are simply left idle. They can pursue their own goods, of course, but without a community or the resources one provides toward enabling that pursuit. They can set up their own communities, but then these are perceived as a danger by the broader society.