In the United States of America we take our religious beliefs more seriously than most countries in the rest of the world. We go public with our religious morality with very little reluctance. Let us then go public with that morality as it pertains to the kind of human beings we send abroad as representatives of our moral values.
Read with me please one of the greatest spiritual writings on war, combat and the need to take life:
Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.
Weapons are the tools of fear;
a decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn't wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?
He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.
Tao Te Ching – Stephen Mitchell translation
Rich Moniak, a friend whom I admire, published an opinion in the Juneau (Alaska) Empire regarding the Wasilla soldier who pled guilty to participating in the murder of three unarmed civilians in Afghanistan: Trained to Kill
… prosecuting attorney Capt. Andre Leblanc defended the U.S. Army’s honor. “We don’t do this” he said. “This is not how we’re trained.”
If it wasn’t the Army that turned Morlock into a murderer, who did?
…Furthermore, military service is often considered the best medicine for kids like Morlock. Their transformation from boys to men begins in basic training where they’re taught to conform to a rigid set of values while developing a high standard of discipline.
… In Men Against Fire, a book published after the war [WWII], [the army’s chief combat historian] made the astonishing claim 75 percent of soldiers in combat never fired their personal weapons with the intent to kill the enemy. … “the average individual still has such an inner resistance toward killing a fellow man that he will not take life if it is possible to turn away from that decision.”
The documentary film “Soldiers of Conscience” offers insights into the military’s response to Marshall’s conclusion. Made with official permission of the U.S. Army, Maj. Pete Kilmer explains the objective of a technique known as reflexive fire. The training teaches soldiers to instinctively fire two rounds into a target within seconds. Once mastered, they can effectively overcome the resistance that prevented so many from pulling the trigger in combat.
But Kilmer adds the “price for that is they’re not thinking through the great moral decision of killing another human being.”
I've written previously about the antics of civilian leadership when it deliberately ignores or downplays the horrific consequences of war, bombing campaigns and torture.
Anyone who's seen current films about the military in which basic training and combat training are discussed can't help but see how military training attempts to "desensitize and dehumanize" recruits presumably for their own good ... so when they need to harm or kill someone attacking the homeland, the soldier's defense can be timely and instinctively automatic.
Perhaps on the highest level, where what is suspect is the need for sabre-rattling and war. Ought we not look first at our sabre but at our national humanity and sense of sacred life?
Ought we work harder to make a case for peace, an end to all wars and the need to brainwash our children with hate and authorized aggressiveness because we as a people are essentially and immaturely insecure about our strength, stability and power?
On lower levels of reality, the military's ability to construct an effective organization that will literally defend the nation requires recruiting with sizzle in order to lure future soldiers who will fight and fight effectively.
But do we want to see our children and grandchildren brainwashed to hate another human being because of nationality (this more than race since nationality facilitates a broader horizon of human beings who are all citizens of this nation's real or pretended foes.)
Is this not a reflection of legitimate moral blindness that puts military families at a disproportionate amount of risk in this country? In and of itself is this not as irresponsible as a grandstanding Florida pastor putting our soldiers at risk because he wants to be seen burning another religion’s scripture he deems as less sacred than his own?
There is much god-talk in this country. However genuine spiritual discussion outside of religious political agitation does not dominate our obsession with convenient entertainment, sports, car races, idols, survivors and celebrity dancers.
Have we not made “looking away” from genuine moral values our national hobby?
How might we immunize our warriors against the infection of moral blindness?
What do our adult children say when asked about who Americans are and what core values represent America's best message to the world?
Are our children opportunists with little regard for whatever America's core values truly represent because they are more motivated by some slick sales presentation that says excitement awaits when you're on the path of being all that you can be?
Are some of our children - as has been pointed out in several venues - children out of poverty who joined up out of economic and intellectual desperation?
Are they genuine civic-minded patriots who combine their personal sense of self-development with legitimate appreciation for what it means to live in the American democracy?
Or somewhere in between?
Voluntary military recruits - both those who've enlisted and those with commissions - bring to the military initiation process that set of ethics and morality cultivated in childhood. Although family circumstance in some cases were inadequate in helping create a solid foundation of ethics and morals, most who join come out of families where at least some degree of a value system was encouraged and demonstrated.
Ideally then, entry into military life would include a strengthening of moral and ethical traits into a blend with a warrior's code of conduct.
Soldiers are neither devoid of nor excused from ethical and moral responsibility. If the military encounters preconceived notions considered to be contrary to the values and skills necessary in a soldier, how are new "notions" to be put into place?
Should we not be concerned that if values and skills do not include a strong sense of moral responsibility then our basic training and combat training programs are harming both recruits and the nation?
Our sons and daughters are not to become amoral killing machines totally lacking in moral responsibility. This sense of moral responsibility absolutely must graduate from basic training intact in a soldier's mind and heart.
In the absence of real moral responsibility in our soldiers, not only will we see more and more tragic incidents of the shaming of one's self, one's unit, one's branch of service, one's community, and one's country, but the absence of moral responsibility will stand more fully revealed as a flaw in the civilian society as well.
The antics of civilian leadership when it deliberately ignores or downplays the horrific consequences of war, bombing campaigns and torture justified by something other than literal defense of the homeland reflects a legitimate moral blindness.
We do not send our children out to fight irresponsibly with no sense of ethics simply because the ethical and moral sense has been assigned to higher authorities.
We don't excuse our soldiers for ethical and moral lapses because authorities placed in positions of appointed power have - with self-preserving hypocrisy - labeled offenders as some few "bad apples," who deserve no further close scrutiny and need to be locked up, the key thrown away.
Our soldiers absolutely must emerge from basic and combat training with moral competence intact.
I hope that stories of institutionalized programming of racial hatred, bigotry, stereotyping and name-calling are not predominantly a part of teaching warriors a moral and ethical code. If the stories are true, should we endorse such programming?
Or might we declare that as of this moment they are not to do it in the name of our families nor on our behalf? Might we repudiate these teaching tactics that are based on moral recklessness?
When my son or daughter joins the military and enters into its initiation, am I not being unreasonable in expecting the military to blend its own sense of ethical and moral responsibility with that which we as parents have endeavored to plant in our children's hearts?
Allow me to refer you to a book by Shannon French entitled The Code of the Warrior.
This from the Amazon site quoting Publisher's Weekly:
"French, a professor of philosophy and ethics at the U. S. Naval Academy, believes that the warrior needs an ethical framework not only to be an effective fighter but to remain a human being-and even to save his or her soul."
To which I want to add that as an American citizen who willingly endorses - if it happens - the decision of my own flesh and blood to join and serve in the military, I demand that the military act in ways that reflect professionalism, integrity and personal class, teaching the real moral and ethical code of the warrior.
If my child has an officer's commission and is to become a leader of soldiers, I do not expect a professional military leadership to attempt to destroy the inner sense of integrity of that fledgling officer. Nor to try to replace integrity with moral blindness.
Moral blindness can be infectious and if left untreated will pass from soldier to soldier, even from officer to officer.
Discernment is the key here and it is absolutely vital to this nation that we do not place morally blind officers in positions of command that lead to blind amoral obedience.
We do not want morally blind soldiers who cannot act competently when confrontations with ethical dilemmas arise. We want to see in our soldiers' behavior a strong support for legal authority, moral authority and ethical authority. To the degree that such authority is lacking or not modeled by the political leadership, all of us suffer and all of us will pay.
We have in our recent past prominent voices declaring moral nonsense such as the U.S. should "blow them away in the name of the Lord,"
Are these attitudes not ethical and moral lapses of the highest gravity - especially when it's revealed that Christian celebrities and policy lobbyists consider a Constitutional amendment against gay marriage or teaching creationism in schools to be higher godly priorities than murder wearing an American Military uniform?
Should we live as if God were focused on gays and evolution, looking the other way with no almighty interest in focusing a divine gaze on Iraq and Afghanistan?
What is a soldier to do if his moral sense of the sacredness of human life survived his Basic Military Training? How do we support that value so deeply at the core of our humanity?
What do we do when a soldier refuses an order based on his own developed sense of ethics, morality, loyalty and patriotism?
Again from the author of The Code of the Warrior
"The best way to ensure that military personnel will not commit a war crime even if given (illegal) orders to do so by a superior officer, is, not to drill them on codes of conduct and provisions of international law,
but rather to help them internalize the significance of the history and tradition of the military
and of concepts such as honor and courage in order to develop a coherent sense of what it means to be a member of the military."
What does the initiation into the military teach our children?
Discipline ... which of course takes many forms.
What does moral and ethical discipline look like in the life of an American soldier?
Whose moral and ethical values are the primary instinctive and emotional guides in a human being?
Certainly none taught by those infected with moral blindness.
So it's a dilemma.
Is there a better way to turn fun-loving dream-filled American young people into instinctive killing machines without fracturing their humanity?
Is that question an oxymoron?
Is this not all the more reason to demand of ourselves that we do our duty to make sure leaders have justifiable reasons for turning our youth into characters like Kurt Russell in "Soldier."
But the ultimate cause lies at the head of the country, the so-called heart of our national leadership.
Our soldiers absolutely must emerge from basic and combat training with moral competence intact.
Americans can not afford a shallow unreasonableness that defines for them who is patriotic and who isn't.
If this nation insists that it’s soldiers can justifiably kill innocents in the name of any cause or for any reason, then we have taken any sheen of honor, integrity and morality off our tarnished and tragically rattled sabers.
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