In World War II, at least three out of four U.S. combat infantryman did not fire their weapons at the enemy—even in the midst of battle. In that decisive moment to engage in mortal combat more than 75% of infantry soldiers became conscientious objectors. LTC (Ret.) Dave Grossman, in his ground-breaking book, On Killing, said, in World War II, “… 80 to 85 percent of riflemen did not fire their weapons at an exposed enemy, even to save their own lives and the lives of their friends. In previous wars, non-firing rates were similar.”[i] Other research shows that there is, “a powerful, innate human resistance toward killing one’s own species….”[ii]
After World War II, the U.S. Government/Military decided that their combat training had to change in order that soldiers could become reflexive firers. The military realized that soldiers needed to be conditioned to believe that they had no choice but to fire, and to fire on reflex or muscle memory. They had to be conditioned to kill, because killing other humans is antithetical to humanity. Additionally, this new training and conditioning included the systematic dehumanization of real or potential enemies to ensure that the soldier would not be presented with a moral dilemma when the moment arose to engage the enemy—other human beings. Thus, the soldier had to be dehumanized as well.
Since the combat training program was changed after World War II, individual fire rates of U.S. service members have increased in every U.S. war to almost 95% today.
Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that retired Navy psychiatrist William P. Nash found that upwards of 75% of returning combat veterans since Vietnam are suffering from a PTSD-like malady called Moral Injury. Nash said, as soldiers come home from war “something is damaged, broken. They feel betrayed; they don’t trust in [the military’s] values and ideals anymore.”[iii]
If it is in the nature of humanity not to kill other humans, and we condition people to do so, once that conditioning is no longer needed (post-combat), a significant moral crisis inevitably occurs. In order for humans to kill humans, the military must convert humans into something inhuman to kill those they have convinced are worse monsters.
Now, if the U.S. as a society allowed the government through its military to forcibly convert 75-80% of peace loving humans into killers in just a span of a few decades, could not we as a society have more readily converted the 20-25% of those who might kill into peacemakers? If we think war is inevitable because a small segment of society is capable of using deadly violence against others, should we not also believe, based on the evidence, that there exists the capacity of the overwhelming majority of peaceful humans to nonviolently restrain the potentially violent? Do we not delude ourselves when we believe that the best way to combat violence is with the same means that violence is perpetrated against the innocent and peaceful?
The apostle Paul called Christians to not use the “weapons of this world” to resolve conflict (2 Cor 10:4a). Jesus said, “Put your sword away. Everyone who uses a sword will die by a sword” (Mt 26:52). The call of Christ is to be peacemakers, not killer-makers or war-makers. We are called to “transform deadly weapons into farming equipment, and swords into kitchen utensils. Nations shall not attack other nations with military force, and all the countries of this world must cease from training their citizens to become killers” (Is 2:4). The message of all true religion is to bring peace to the world.
So, what can we do? If you are veteran, please join a local chapter of Veterans For Peace. If you are a civilian, join your local peace group (Code Pink, Peace Action, Pax Christi, Pace e Bene, WILPF, Peace Links, etc). If you are a Christian or religious person join a peace-promoting congregation or call on your current congregation to join the peace movement.
Let’s get busy! It is time for us to live up to our human nature as a peaceful, cooperative species.
Peace is possible.
(c) Paul Dordal, 2017
[i] Dave Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009, 252.
[ii] Ibid, xxxi.
[iii] See David Wood, Moral Injury: A Warrior’s Moral Dilemma. Downloaded from http://projects.huffingtonpost.com/projects/moral-injury/the-recruits