Citizenship Confusion: "The Kill Team" and the Overlooked Costs of War

Every Monday in Citizenship Confusion, Alan Noble discusses how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with citizenship to the state, culture, and the world.

The following post contains quoted profanity which the CaPC editors deemed to be relevant and essential to the story.

In March, Rolling Stone released a disturbing report entitled The Kill Team: How U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan Murdered Innocent Civilians (fair warning: this story contains profanity, descriptions of graphic violence, and the ugly truth of war–so I’d encourage you to read it). The report was an account of how a company of US infantryman in Afghanistan went rogue and began killing Afghan civilians. One of the striking themes that surfaces in this account is the culture of hatred and disgust towards the Afghan citizens in Bravo Company:

“The photos . . . portray a front-line culture among U.S. troops in which killing Afghan civilians is less a reason for concern than a cause for celebration. ‘Most people within the unit disliked the Afghan people, whether it was the Afghan National Police, the Afghan National Army or locals,’ one soldier explained to investigators. Everyone would say they’re savages.’”

“Toward the end of Morlock’s [a member of the kill team] interview, the conversation turned to the mindset that had allowed the killings to occur. ‘None of us in the platoon – the platoon leader, the platoon sergeant – no one gives a fuck about these people,’ Morlock said. Then he leaned back in his chair and yawned, summing up the way his superiors viewed the people of Afghanistan. ‘Some shit goes down,’ he said, ‘you’re gonna get a pat on the back from your platoon sergeant: Good job. Fuck ‘em.’”

As citizens, it can be easy for us to write off the costs we had to pay in wars since 9/11, especially the spiritual costs. The casualties have not been too high, and even when they were high, our lives at home moved on quite contentedly. And since our nation’s goal in these wars is to promote democracy and fight terrorists, we do not have a real civic obligation to be concerned for the spiritual well-being of our troops, although it is appropriate for us to care for their physical well-being, and perhaps for their mental stability.

In other words, as long as we win the war, keep down the costs, protect our troops from physical harm, and ensure that they can function in society after the war with the proper psychological and psychiatric therapy, then we have succeeded. What if, however, a solider comes home, rejoins civilian society, and follows our laws, but has a deeply held belief in the worthlessness of others which was nurtured and promoted in the military? Suppose this “kill team” had not murdered innocent Afghans but did retain the dehumanizing mindset that precipitated the murders. Would our country consider this a part of the cost of war?

As Christians we subscribe to a particular account of human anthropology and of the nature of sin which does not exclusively evaluate morality based on external actions. God created and cares for our bodies and what we do with them, but he cares just as much for our minds and hearts and the hidden actions that we do with them. Most American citizens are rightly disgusted by the actions of this kill team, but I suspect that if these same soldiers had not committed murder and had gone home and never demonstratively acted on their hatred in any other way [unfortunately, this is not so easy to do], our government and our fellow citizens would be mostly indifferent. Our heavenly citizenship demands that we love our neighbor in his mind, body, and spirit. For us then, the cost of war must always include the spiritual well-being of those who participate in it on our behalf.

About Alan Noble

(Co-Founder/Editor/Columnist) is a part-time lecturer at Baylor University. He received his PhD in Contemporary American Literature from Baylor, writing on manifestations of transcendence in 20th Century American Lit. He and his family attend Redeemer Waco, a PCA church. Alan's passion is studying how believers can be a faithful presence in culture to the glory of God and the edification of others. In addition to editing, Alan writes his column, Citizenship Confusion for CaPC.

---Follow Alan on Twitter @TheAlanNoble and on Facebook.

---For questions, comments, or interest in speaking engagements please email me at noble.noneuclidean [at] gmail [dot] com.

  • http://popparables.com/ Keri

    I understand what you are saying here, but when we consider the dehumanizing aspects of war, don’t those occur with people like “the kill team” and also those soldiers who kill the enemy? Either way, it’s dehumanizing.

  • Alan Noble

    Keri,

    Well, I suppose it is possible to kill an enemy in combat without dehumanizing them. I’m not entirely sure. However, at the very least we can say that in some cases (like the “kill team”), warfare does promote a dehumanizing culture which has horrifying effects.

  • http://popparables.com/ Keri

    You’e right, Alan. The effects are horrifying. And, what’s most disgusting and terrible about it is that the reason we are in Afghanistan to begin with is because the people themselves were being dehumanized by their own.

    I read a great book entitled Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning about the Final Solution in Poland. The book details how every day Germans came to dehumanize others under the rule of Hitler. What I learned is that any of us are susceptible to these horrors, capable of these wrongs, to stooping so low, if given the right circumstances. It’s frightening.


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