A Friendly Discussion
My friend, Jim Wetzel, commented on his own blog, The Chestnut Tree Café , about my November 22 post. With his permission, I’ve copied it here, and followed with my response.
I've been thinking about a post that the proprietress of Mimi's Musing wrote over at Dead Horse. An excerpt:
--The New York Times is running one of their wonderfully patriotic and fat-headed series, this one on our military heroes who are such brave youth and who just incidentally, you understand, have signed up to slaughter other human beings. I commented:
What is it, in particular, these hired killers are fighting for? Not to protect our country; Afghanistan has never been a threat to this country. Not "our freedoms"; our freedoms have been eroding for years. Not "our way of life," whatever in the world that could possibly mean.--
I certainly agree with the substance of Mimi's post. But there's something I get to thinking about, now and then: for instance, every Armistice Day Veterans' Day, when we're supposed to get all misty-eyed about how everything worthwhile about America only exists because somebody spent 1977 to 1983 as an avionics tech in the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. It's the "hired killers" thing I want to get to here. It's certainly descriptive of what they do, but I don't think -- in most cases -- that it's what they are. That's not a distinction that's worth much of anything to the killers' victims, but it's worth something, I think, in terms of our efforts to understand our countrymen.
The average age of first enlistment in the Army hovers right around 21 in recent years. That's certainly old enough for legal responsibility ... but I wonder how many of us were really doing a lot of serious thinking at that age? At the very least, I think we'd have to say that 21-year-olds tend to be pretty easily swayed by advertising, and by other forms of social pressure. And between one thing and another, it seems to me that we as a society are very insistent in telling the youngsters that signing up to kill is both a noble exercise, and a smart career move. (In today's hollowed-out US economy, it's about the only career move available to a whole lot of kids.) I'm sure that some of the recruits do have an insane urge to kill other people and destroy their homes. I'm inclined to doubt that the majority join up to become killers, though; I'm thinking that for most, the motivation is a good bit more mundane, and a good bit closer to innocent. America sells them on the idea; and America is well equipped with astute salesmen.
As I say, a 21-year-old is responsible for what he or she agrees to do, and does. And the distinctions I'm referring to aren't very important to the people who are unlucky enough to live in places that our masters have decided to destroy, and unlucky enough to be the ones our masters have decided to murder. But the responsibility goes far beyond the torpedoes in uniform. It extends to everyone who pays taxes to the crime lords. When it comes right down to it, there's plenty of guilt to go around. I believe I'm wearing my share, too.
Valid points throughout, Jim, and well said. As I think you’ll agree, you and I are comrades in ideas (not arms!), along with the others who contribute to this blog. I guess the dilemma is how to deplore the killing of other human beings, yet retain some sympathy, or at least sympathetic understanding, for those who kill them. It’s true that young and impressionable recruits are skillfully manipulated into signing up. But do they ever think over exactly what it means? If not, why not? If so, how can they steel themselves to accept it?
Because I’m of a certain generation, virtually all of the mature—very mature--men I know or knew have been in the military, including my late husband. Some made a career of it. Many of them were drafted, but my husband wasn’t; he joined of his own free will. If he had been in combat and had been ordered to shoot to kill, would this gentle, soft-spoken man have obeyed? I have to believe he would have.
In his long and densely annotated book (I haven’t been able to get through all of it), On Killing, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman emphasizes “…a powerful, innate human resistance toward killing one’s own species…” which is overcome by “techniques that have been developed and applied with tremendous success in modern combat training in order to condition soldiers..." to overcome this resistence. And before these "techniques," there are others, probably fabricated by teams of psychiatrists. Young recruits are seduced by the blandishments of the recruiters (and there must be a special place in Hell reserved for them!) that enlisting is a viable career choice and a “heroic” move.
I wouldn’t use the term “hired killers” in certain company for fear of being tarred and feathered, but I can’t relinquish it, either. I can understand that the volunteer army consists largely of young people who pitiable pawns in a game of the rich and powerful. And yet…
They are paid. And they kill.
Labels: Naming Names