Of all the millions who marched to war in August 1914, only a small proportion went unwillingly away. The thrill of excitement ran through the world, and the hearts of even the simplest masses lifted to the trumpet-call. A prodigious event had happened. The monotony of toil and of the daily round was suddenly broken. Everything was strange and new. War aroused the primordial instincts of races born of strife. Adventure beckoned to her children. A larger, nobler life seemed to be about to open upon the world. But it was, in fact, only Death.
A glorious few resisted, yet it does sometime seem that war is a basic essential to human life, like CO2 is to plants. (“We follow politicians into wars to slaughter millions of people in faraway lands, and yet when one person commits a horrible deed, we brand him as a psychotic malcontent. Our society is psychotic.”) Maybe there’s more to it than that.
According to Isaiah Berlin
There are those who, inhibited by furniture of the ordinary world, come to life only when they feel themselves actors upon a stage, and, thus emancipated, speak out for the first time, and are then found to have much to say. There are those who can function freely only in uniform or armor or court dress, see only through certain kinds of spectacles, act fearlessly only in situations which in some way are formalized for them, see life as a kind of play in which they and others are assigned certain lines which they must speak. So it happens—the last war afforded plenty of instances of this—that people of a shrinking disposition perform miracles of courage when life has been dramatized for them, when they are on the battlefield; and might continue to do so if they were constantly in uniform and life were always a battlefield.
According to Chris Hedges in “War is a force that gives us meaning”
The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of much of our lives become apparent. Trivia dominates our conversations and increasingly our airwaves. And war is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble. And those who have the least meaning in their lives […] are all susceptible to war’s appeal.