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Saturday, July 10, 2004

Killing and the Army

Most mammals have an aversion to killing their own species. That has caused problems for the United States military in Iraq. The reasons why and why the military is doing – or not-- doing are laid out in a recent article in the July 12/19, 2004 issue of The New Yorker, “The Price of Valor” by Dan Baum.

The famous military historian, S.L.A. Marshall discovered in his analysis of combat units in WW II that approximately only fifteen percent of front line troops would fire his gun at the enemy. They were simply reluctant to kill. Those who did kill often suffered psychological damage. The army did its best to combat this (pun intended) and by Vietnam, everyone almost was shooting, but the rate of traumatic stress disorder rose concomitantly.

Now, in Iraq, the level of street fighting, has had significant impact on the soldiers' psyche. (Chaplains, of course, have their own form of hypocrisy, distinguishing “killing, now okay, as opposed to murder, as in the “correct translation of the commandment, “Thou Shall Not Murder.” One soldier, relating his experiences as a helicopter gunner fighting in Vietnam, recounts that he would shoot at anything he was ordered to, often entire villages, including women and children. The images of their faces recur often. When asked how often, he replied, “every ten minutes.” This almost forty years later.

The army doesn't know how to deal with the moral problems. When encouraged to talk about killing and to justify it morally, they change the subject. The Veterans Administration doesn't have “a clear, medically oriented treatment program for helping soldiers cope with the killing they've done.”
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