u.s. troops drag 8 children from their beds in the middle of the night and kill them

u.s. troops drag 8 children from their beds in the middle of the night and kill them January 6, 2010

“I (perhaps foolishly) like to believe that we don’t deliberately target non-combatants during warfare.” – Vox Nova reader, January 4, 2010.

1) Read this. I can provide more examples should you need them. 2) Re-evaluate.

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  • I am the reader in question, and I agree that is a terrible wrong.

  • vtsurgeon

    Granting that bad things can happen in wartime, I am astonished by your credulity as regards this report. Do you honestly believe US troops take night-time joyrides into random Afghan villages for the purpose of dragging innocent children from their beds and executing them?
    And don’t you think it would be more rational to get the other side of the story before you leap to the conclusion that US troops are murderers?

    I am very skeptical of this report. It would not be the first time lies were told to incite anger towards the US.

  • David Nickol

    It would be difficult to maintain that the United States (or any other country that fought total wars in the 20th century) hasn’t deliberately targeted noncombatants. Strategic bombing of entire cities during World War II could hardly be described as seriously attempting to avoid killing noncombatants. Saying they weren’t deliberately targeted, in my opinion, would just be splitting hairs.

    However, I am going to need a great deal more information before I am convinced that our troops dragged 8 children from their beds and executed them. I’m not saying it is impossible. But I will have to see the evidence. And if there is evidence, I will have to also see evidence that it was officially condoned before I hold the US responsible. (Token discipline or prosecution does not, however, relieve the government of responsibility.)

  • David – Whether or not the action was “officially condoned” is irrelevant. This is what we train soldiers to do.

  • I should not say it’s “irrelevant.” It would make the case more serious in some ways.

  • Let me give some context and explanation for my original conmment.

    I was responding to this post, and the accusations that pro-lifers who focus exclusively on abortion are guilty of a moral myopia by failing to also confront the evils of war and capital punishment.

    I noted that if one has a charism to defend those for whom it is legal to arbitrarily kill, it is not unreasonable that one would focus on the unborn.

    The story Michael highlights, if it is as reported, is a crime, and is almost universally recognized as such, and is remarkable.

    There will be a thousand abortions in the US today. This is generally not regarded as a crime, and is not considered remarkable.

    I don’t consider it a sign of moral failure that some would work on the second and not the first, nor the existence of such people as a valid reason to refrain from opposing the second, or to adopt an attitude of arms-length condescension to those who oppose the second.

    Ok, so maybe there aren’t many pro-lifers who would support killing schoolchildren, but they support the war, which leads to killing of schoolchildren.

    I agree that many war supporters fail to account for what exactly they are supporting when they favor invasion. When you put thousands of young men trained to kill into an environment where people are trying to kill them, this stuff will happen, and if you favor an invasion, you are in some sense advocating that events like this will happen.

  • Navy Vet

    Unlike others, I will be blunt and call the people who wrote and published this article liars. Their intent is to make it appear that a group of soldiers would just go off and murder a group of kids for the fun of it. I have no problem with anti-war people, I proudly number myself among that throng, but this type of yellow journalism is an embarrassment to all.

    I am patiently waiting for this same “journalist” to publish some stories that are actually not invented from whole cloth and fed to the gullible concerning the number of soldiers who have put their own lives at risk to avoid harming civilians.

    The fact that atrocities do not happen each day is a tribute to the self-sacrifice, discipline, bravery, and moral fortitude of the GIs, Canadian and US, that are fighting in the name of M.J. Iafrate and others each day.

    I assume that you will offer an abject apology when this slander is exposed?

    By the way – which part of military training includes “This is what we train soldiers to do.” I seem to remember the exact opposite – that soldiers are trained in the Rules of Warfare, not the opposite. What did you mean by that statement? Which part of military training is focused on the murder of children?

    I apologize for over-reacting to this post. Looking back on it, I realize that no one can take the source credibly and I should have allowed it to roll off my back.

    • “Navy Vet”:

      1) How do you know that the “authors of the article” (which is in fact an interview) are “liars”?
      2) How can you claim that this story was “invented from whole cloth”? Do you have any evidence to the contrary>
      3) Why do you keep bringing up notions of “sacrifice,” “soldiers risking their lives,” “moral fortitude,” etc. and what does that have to do with this event?
      4) I assume that you will offer an abject apology when this slander is exposed? I personally ask that you, “Navy Vet,” follow this story for us and report back once you have some evidence that this event did not take place.
      5) I’m not sure how long ago your military training took place. You might do some research on current methods. The killing technology involved in your field has improved over the years and is now quite horrifying. I can recommend some literature. It is quite clear that this kind of activity is hardly rare, and yes, u.s. soldiers are trained to do this.
      6) Which news source do you find not credible? Democracy Now or the Times of London where the story broke?
      7) I understand why you would personally be offended by a story like this. You must find it to be a heartbreaking betrayal of the things you believe in and stand for. That does not make the story untrue.

  • Gerald A. Naus

    Torturers and murderers, that’s what Bush, Cheney etc are and those he put in place are still doing the dirty work. Innocent people tortured for months, on a hunch. To treat people in such sadistic manner is sickening. I recommend the book “The Dark Side” by Jane Mayer. Truly chilling. Some interesting stories, turns out Ashcroft was one of the good guys, as far as good goes in his circles. Particularly shameful the treatment of Ashcroft when he was sick, the vultures swooped in. There was quite some resistance from the military to torture – it has been a taboo since the Revolutionary War.

    But, the US doesn’t torture, since it has redefined torture. Not that it works, someone being tortured will admit to anything. He may implicate innocent people, who in turn then get tortured, too. You may just have the same name as a terror suspect and off you go to a CIA black site for a few months.

    Also, there is no “need” for extraordinary sad stories – the war by itself is immoral, after the killing the spoils get carved up by big corporations – Iraq is being robbed by foreign “investors”. There’s a mercenary for every soldier, Bush made war the biggest business ever – first we bomb you to hell, then we rebuild you, at your expense. It just didn’t go as planned, so they haven’t completely robbed the place bind.

  • phosphorious

    The fact that atrocities do not happen each day is a tribute to the self-sacrifice, discipline, bravery, and moral fortitude of the GIs, Canadian and US, that are fighting in the name of M.J. Iafrate and others each day.

    This could be a new ad campaign for the US Military! Think of the slogan:

    US Armed Forces: Less than one atrocity a day!

    Makes me want to enlist right now!

  • Chris


    To quote Stanley Hauerwas, can you “say something theological?”
    While I agree with many of your sentiments on liberation theology and feminism, I do disagree with your dismissal of NavyVet:
    a:) your sources – Democracy Now and The Times – how very much products of enlightenment liberalism. b:)”The killing technology involved in your field has improved over the years and is now quite horrifying. I can recommend some literature.” Was it not horrifying in the 18th and 19th centuries? Or for the Jesuit Martyrs (ask Sobrino. I would contend that their deaths were formative in his theology)? Or what about crucifixion?
    c:) How much have you actually interacted with members of the military? Most that I know detest having to do what they do, but maintain their oath, not because it was to their country, but it was made to God.
    d:) In your critiques of the current government, you have yet to substantiate a difference between Bush and Obama.

    • Chris – a) While Hauerwas has been an influence on my theology, I’m honestly a little sick to death of pointing to and condemning everything as a “product of enlightenment liberalism.” b) My point about military technology was a relative one. Killing technology is indeed even more horrifying than in other moments in history. c) I have interacted with quite a few members of the military, both recent and current members and long time vets. If they detest what they do, then they should leave. If they made an oath to “God” in joining the military, then they should become aware of the fact that God probably did not want them in the military in the first place. d) Are you asking me to articulate a difference between Bush and Obama?

  • Chris

    We still torture. We just outsource to other countries. Capitalism in action.

  • Chris

    Not those in Germany. Those in the so-called “Third-World.”

  • Chris


    Ashcroft a good guy? Read some more history. He and Cheney are horrid.

  • David Nickol

    David – Whether or not the action was “officially condoned” is irrelevant. This is what we train soldiers to do.


    We do not train American soldiers to go into houses in the middle of the night, drag children from their beds, handcuff them, and execute them. We do not.

    Here’s the first bit of news I have found giving an official account:

    Nato’s International Security Assistance Force said that there was “no direct evidence to substantiate” Mr Wafa’s claims that unarmed civilians were harmed in what it described as a “joint coalition and Afghan security force” operation.

    “As the joint assault force entered the village they came under fire from several buildings and in returning fire killed nine individuals,” he said.

    So at the moment, we don’t even know if American soldiers were involved. It was soldiers from the coalition and Afghan soldiers. (There are Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, too.)

    We will no doubt find out a lot more. There is no need to jump to the conclusion that the worst allegations are true.

    • David – “We” train our soldiers to be desensitized to killing and to view “the enemy” (which is often racialized such that “the enemy” includes non-combatants) as sub-human. When this spins out of control and results in acts such as killing children, we have a responsibility for what we taught the soldiers to do. We simply cannot wash our hands and say we did not teach them to do these things.

      How many of these stories need to be put in front of our faces before we realize that this is common? Every time I post one of these stories, the response is the same “It’s probably a lie,” “We don’t know for sure,” “Our boys would never do that.” And then we forget about that story until the next one comes along. American Catholics make an option for the troops, not an option for the poor and victimized. The benefit of the doubt is automatically extended to the drugged up football players with guns, and the victims are always suspected as being liars.

  • MilitaryMama

    Michael – You are entitled to your own opinion but please don’t call our sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters in the military “drugged up football players”. You lower your credibility when you stoop to ignorance like that. I thank God every day for them and their families. They do what they do so you have the freedom to say what you say.

  • Navy Vet

    Yes, I will follow this story.

    A good first pass that Starkey provided for the Times is at

    Of course I think that “journalists” like Amy Goodman are liars. They invent things about the military out of thin air much more often than soldiers commit atrocities. The tone of the interview is that the GIs are guilty and that just because the eyewitness happens to be the uncle of the dead boys isn’t really that relevant.

    I believe that it is much more likely that this Uncle was running a bomb making school and put the handcuffs on the dead bodies after they were gunned down in battle in order to discredit the anti-Taliban forces than the highly unlikely idea that allied forces (we do not even know that they were soldiers) would randomly execute the boys from a peaceful school.

    How many stories of Taliban atrocities do we need to be put in front of our faces before we stop believing their lies? For every atrocity we read that is committed by the Taliban, how many do we miss?

    Giving the soldiers (if it was soldiers) the benefit of the doubt, they stopped a band of homicidal monsters who were making bombs that were meant for terror attacks. If you are a teenager freely making bombs, you are by every definition a legitimate target.

  • When we teach young boys how to kill (average age of a recruit: 18-20), we unleash dark demonic forces that exert a far greater influence than even the most humanitarian military ROE. As a Marine infantryman told me in response to my question about ‘winning hearts and minds’: “Yeah, hearts and minds. Two in heart, one in the head.”

    The U.S. Military did not teach him that slogan, but they opened his soul to the demons that did.

  • “American Catholics make an option for the troops, not an option for the poor and victimized. ”

    This is a cheap shot man. You can’t speak so categorically. This is obviously a horrible thing if it is true, and it probably is (even if the source has a questionable reputation, and they do).

    Lots of American Catholics have opposed the war for a long time, some from the get go. I have opposed the war for years now, because I don’t really think it’s a war. You cannot wage war against an abstract noun.

    I’m not alone in thinking this way… it’s not just pacifists who are opposed to this war.

  • My heart breaks for MilitaryMama and others with family and friends in the u.s. military.

    “They do what they do so you have the freedom to say what you say” is unlikely to have any effect on Michael. He could rightly say that he already has all the freedom that he needs in Christ to speak the truth.

    It’s my impression that most do what they do because they are told to. Reasons for enlisting vary, but once you’re in you don’t get to ask questions.

    Now why Catholics would dare pledge more allegiance to the nation then to Jesus is a mystery to me. And, let’s face it, that’s what we’re letting them do when our children become willing to kill for the u.s.a.

  • NavyVet

    [Too much dehumanization of people from the Middle East here, Navy Vet. Please try again to say what you want to say. – M.I.]

  • David Nickol

    Reality of civilian deaths despite Hamid Karzai’s finger-pointing at Nato

    President Karzai blamed Western forces in Afghanistan for the deaths of a party of schoolchildren in eastern Afghanistan yesterday — the day the UN revealed that civilian deaths in the first ten months of this year were 10 per cent higher than in the same period last year.

    It sounds like the same old disastrous story for Nato on the highly emotive issue of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. But examine the statistics and things look somewhat different. By UN calculations, the number of deaths that could be clearly linked to Nato forces has dropped significantly, from 38 per cent last year to 22 per cent this year.

    The Taleban, meanwhile, caused 68 per cent of deaths this year, three times that of Nato, and a much larger proportion than the 55 per cent they inflicted last year.

    The trends are linked to two things: The Nato commander Stanley McChrystal’s orders that Western troops should reduce their use of aerial bombs and artillery, and the huge increase in the Taleban’s use of roadside bombs. . . .

  • digbydolben

    The profession of arms WAS once honorable; all you have to do is read Don Quixote to know that what John Ruskin said about soldiers is true: “The profession of a soldier is an honorable one–to die for his fellows.”

    However, with the invention of mechanized death, in the late nineteenth and 20th centuries, and the recruitment of YOUNGSTERS into what was once a MAN’s profession by the “nation-state” (LOOK at the pictures of the innocent-looking, but soon-to-be-perverted BOYS in the Civil War photos! Do you believe that the men depicted in Velazquez’s “Surrender of Breda” were capable of being propogandized into HATING their enemies, to the degree that BOYS are?), and the turning of that once-chivalrous, “just-war”-minded profession into one dedicated to “total-war,” the profession of arms became one of inadvertent genociders of their fellow man.

    As the Dalai Lama has said (if ya’ll will permit a Buddhist insight), what the 20th century will be remembered for–its most salient feature–will be “the industrialization of death,” and anybody who believes that the “industrialization of death” is compatible with the teachings of the Catholic Christian religion is OUT OF HIS MIND!

  • Digby makes a good point, I think. Mechanized warfare has revealed the true face of war.

  • Navy Vet

    I thought that my post was quite well-reasoned and thoughtful.

    I am not the person who dehumanizes a person enough that they are willing to blow themselves up in order to kill innocent people. They accomplish that goal all by themselves.

    I am simply not afraid to call a monster a monster, and bold enough to point out to a “pacifist” that they are willfully ignoring the evil in the world. Far more people have been killed by jihadis in Afghan and Iraq than have been killed by American and Canadian soldiers.

    • Navy Vet – I disagree. I found your previous (deleted) comment neither well-reasoned nor thoughtful. I can’t say I find this comment of yours to be particularly well-reasoned or thoughtful either. But your raise an interesting issue: whether pacifists “willfully ignor[e] the evil in the world.” I would say that most do not. That I do not find it particularly interesting to blog about the evil of terrorist violence does not mean that I “ignore” it. I think it’s obvious. Same reason I don’t blog about abortion very often. These are things we all agree about.

  • Gerald A. Naus

    I said Ashcroft was a good guy within the context of the Bush administration – it’s not a claim to fame. But, he rejected the worst of it, as a thank you Bush sent people to him to pressure him while he was gravely ill. The whole Iraq adventure is just a revival of what the same gang, plus newcomers had perpetrated in Chile, El Salvador and so forth. The torture experience comes in handy.

    This is what I mean by we don’t “need” one gruesome story – it invites the argument “Well, but for a few bad apples, it’s really quite alright.” It’s rotten at its very foundation.

    It really takes overcoming quite some disbelief until one realizes the level of atrocity, idiocy and greed exhibited by the American system. Bush/Cheney were a new low in arbitrary rule, making a mockery of the Constitution, not to mention international law like the Geneva Conventions.

    Soldiers provide income for Halliburton (builds the bases, and, well, most everything else), mercenaries are even better – privately operating, paid with tax dollars – and sure to support the RNC. Traditional Catholic Erik Prince, boss of Blackwater (now Xe) – loves the Latin Mass and killing people.

    One could always make a killing with war, but the USA has made it an art form.

    – Spend more than half of the global military expenses
    – Spread military bases across the globe
    – Attack an already weakened country, with completely bogus claims. One Middle Eastern country was needed, Iraq had already been tenderized
    – Claim that the country was liberated and that you’re bringing democracy
    – Introduce Friedmanite shock treatment to economy. Call it privatization, in really it means foreign corporations stealing from the conquered people. Free market, baby. Was done to Russia, Chile, half of Latin America – sometimes via a coup d’etat (Chile), sometimes via threat, sometimes via war. The song remains the same. Bomb, pillage and plunder. At least earlier warmongers were honest about their carnage, in the USA there is this widespread need to feel good even about your wars.

    War is peace. But you’re so free, free to complain about getting screwed. This freedom (for which “they” hate us, as we know) must be constantly “defended”, killed and died for.

    The truly smart exploiter makes the victim believe he lives in the Greatest Country On Earth (TM) and gives the others the sense of freedom since they can say what they want. This is the much more refined and longer-lasting way.

  • Gerald A. Naus

    As far as “fighting evil” is concerned – in addition to the homegrown murderous insanity of terrorists it’s the policies and wars of the USA that fosters and feeds it. The USA creates its own enemies, which keeps the war engine humming. They just miscalculated, in their hubris, the reaction of Iraqis. Securing the oil ministry while standing by as the museum gets ransacked is not gonna endear people – neither is torturing people for months on a hunch that they might be a terrorist.

    There isn’t that much difference between US policy and terrorism, it’s just done much more neatly with all those spiffy uniforms and toys. The terror (“shock and awe” they called it themselves) by the US is far better organized and effective, and kills more people. The terrorists blowing up people are justly condemned, the military that does the same is “heroic.” The US used to call out other countries for human rights violations, before it turned into a country that’d make the list of “evildoers.” Bush called Syria a part of the “axis of evil” while they were shipping off “suspects”, incl. many innocents, to Syria to be tortured by the experts. (The US would eventually catch up in expertise – Abu Ghraib was still the amateur phase)

    When the president and his gang make a mockery of lawfulness it’s no surprise that down the chain people get a bit innovative, too…

  • Frank Osgood

    I suspect that those who believe this report have never served in the military. In twenty years military service, I never met anyone who would do such a thing. Every one I knew in the military would refuse to do this even if ordered.

  • Ryan Klassen

    Just a comment from one of those committed to non-violence. Pacifists do not ignore the evil in the world. We believe that the call of the gospel includes a call to renounce violent methods to combat evil. Why is opposing evil always put forward in either-or terms? Either you use violence or you sit by and do nothing. No! There is always a third way. There is always a way to oppose evil effectively without resorting to means that are forbidden by the gospel. We must also recognize that in the end, the outcome of history is not our responsibility. We oppose evil and promote good according to the call and pattern set out in the gospel, and release the outcome into the hands of God. This is not irresponsibility – it is faith.

  • David Nickol

    There isn’t that much difference between US policy and terrorism, it’s just done much more neatly with all those spiffy uniforms and toys. The terror (“shock and awe” they called it themselves) by the US is far better organized and effective, and kills more people.


    This is pretty hateful stuff. The US is worse than the Taliban or Al-Qaeda? Would you like to live in a country run by either of those two?

    Don’t forget that the war in Afghanistan is a NATO operation with involvement of the United Nations.

  • David Nickol

    In twenty years military service . . .


    I have been waiting for someone with some experience to ask this question. Some of the reports claim children were handcuffed first and then shot. Wouldn’t taking people captive, handcuffing them, and then executing them be about the last thing American soldiers following military orders would be expected to do? Wouldn’t it violate international law (among other things)? Unless we have something like the My Lai Massacre here, I do not find the reports credible.

  • Chris

    History lesson: “The US would eventually catch up in expertise – Abu Ghraib was still the amateur phase.” Let’s look at the history of medieval warfare: simulated cannibalism in the battles of Mara and Bara – hmmm, nothing is new under the sun.

  • US soliders are human beings, just like all the other soldiers around the world. They make mistakes, just like all the other soldiers. This is not to excuse their mistakes, only to recognize that original sin is universal, not uniquely American.

    • We train u.s. soldiers to dehumanize the “enemy” and to feel no remorse, Zach. This is not “original sin.” This is training in sin. Big difference. But you are right — they are human beings. And we have a responsibility to them. We need to demand that we (“we” as in we as a society and we in our “representatives”) stop dehumanizing soldiers. The best way to “support the troops” to to help get them out of the military.

  • David Nickol

    Right, u.s. soldiers NEVER violate international law . . .

    I wouldn’t say that. But they are not trained to violate international law. They are not trained to drag children out of their beds, handcuff them, and execute them. That’s not combat. It’s murder. I simply don’t believe that American soldiers, or soldiers from other NATO countries, are trained to murder civilians. Do bad things happen in war? Of course they do. And they happen here at home, too. But you are basically saying that atrocities are the norm rather than the exception. I simply don’t believe that. And there is no evidence of it, either. Way too many civilians have been killed in Afghanistan, but it has not been deliberate. At times, it may have been careless, and that is reprehensible. But NATO soldiers are not murderers, nor do they film themselves beheading people and broadcast it over the Internet. NATO and the Taliban, or NATO and Al-Qaeda, are not morally equivalent.

    • David – You may feel better saying to yourself that we don’t — and couldn’t possibly — train soldiers to violate international law. But there are at least two things wrong with this. First, u.s. policy itself frequently is a violation of international law. And second, there is a military culture that surrounds official “training” that encourages a gang mentality and works intimately with the “official” training itself. To use James Scott-ish language, there is an official transcript of military training and life and an unofficial transcript — an “official” line (“we do not torture, we do not kill civilians, we follow international law”) and an unofficial line (“we have to torture sometimes in order to save human lives, and we will do whatever we feel like or ‘whatever it takes’ because we are americans”). Most americans are comfortable buying the official line. Not me. There are too many contradictory reports. We train torturers. And yes, we sadly train murderers.

    • NATO and the Taliban, or NATO and Al-Qaeda, are not morally equivalent.

      All this says is “our violence is better that their violence.”

  • The purpose of the military is to wage war. They have to be trained to kill people, right? It wouldn’t be a military otherwise. You’re right that if they teach them to dehumanize the enemy, they teach them something sinful. I didn’t know that was the case, but I’m not surprised.

    We don’t believe in the justice of our own causes anymore, because we don’t believe in justice, so justice is no longer a sufficient motive to wage war.

    I don’t know, what the hell are we supposed to do. I don’t think counseling people to get out of the military is going to solve the problem, and I’m not sure that’s even the right solution. It’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    • Dehumanization of the enemy is a well known aspect of u.s. military training. Three books in particular are good on this, but there are countless others:

      Chris Hedges, What Every Person Should Know About War
      Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, On Killing
      Gwynne Dyer, War

      Might also check out Andrew Bacevich’s study of how u.s. military culture has changed since WWII, The New American Militarism.

  • digbydolben

    Frank and David, consider this: when one is occupying a country and “pacifying” its population there is usually, in practical terms, almost no possibility of distinguishing between “civilians” and “combatants.” Every single non-uniformed “civilian” may be a possible “combatant.” The moral and ethical problem is in the illegitimate occupation itself, which CAUSES the deaths of “civilians.”

  • Gerald A. Naus

    American soldiers have killed more Iraqis than any terrorist group could aspire to. Innocent people, without any recourse, are tortured for months, others killed, beaten to a bloody pulp. And of course there is the plan to rob Iraq and dole out goodies to corporations – decade ling contracts enabling corporations to make pure profit.

  • Navy Vet said: I am simply not afraid to call a monster a monster, and bold enough to point out to a “pacifist” that they are willfully ignoring the evil in the world.

    When Jesus came into the world, he came into a world of violence, abuse, corruption and more. The only thing Christians who disavow violence are trying to do is to live truthfully to the God who would rather suffer than cause suffering; the God that would rather submit in humility than rise up in anger; the God who would rather speak the truth and die than take up the sword to live.

    It’s not that we’re against warfare. It’s that we agree with Paul that our battle is not against flesh and blood and that our weapons are unlike the world’s.

    To say that the pacifist is ignoring the evil in the world is simply incorrect. They just believe that the gospel is a more determinative reality than evil. We take Jesus as normative instead of sin.

    A student is not above his master. Even within the Church people get angry when Jesus’ followers witness to another way and another kingdom.

  • G. Naus is getting at the ugly truth, a truth that boggle the imagination — the US promoted the Taliban and Saddam, but they have made the lives of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan infinitely worse again by waging meaningless wars in those countries. Obama is in the same militarist mold.

  • Andrew Bacevich and Angelo Codevilla have had a big influence on me. I am a big fan of Codevilla’s No Victory, No Peace. I hope to write about this soon. I will also check out Bacevich’s book.

  • Ronald King

    In every human encounter there is always cause and effect operating. In war the cause is always extremely complicated and made simply clear to those of us who are the observers. To fight in the war soldiers must be trained to kill an “enemy” and at the same time she or he is developing relationships with peers that create a bond much deeper than anything they have experienced previously. What you have operating are two of the most powerful influences a human being can experience, the threat of death and the attachment of love.
    I worked directly with war vets from ’86 to ’91 and I heard stories that gave me nightmares. I know that no matter how much they were trained to see the “enemy” as non-human they eventually could not prevent that reality of the “enemy” being human from coming to the surface and haunting them. They could not prevent the horror of killing a human being from horrifying them throughout their lives. When a 18 to 20 year old is being trained his/her brain is still hard-wiring itself and how it will respond emotionally for the rest of their lives. The training is attempting to desensitize the developing mind to the horror of killing. However, unless one is born a sociopath the desensitization has short-lived effects and the resulting imbalance of neurobiology creates chemical and interpersonal effects of suffering that last a lifetime. The civilian victims of war are not prepared for this type of reality. However, both the combatants and the non-combatants are victims and their pain will continue to be passed from generation to generation following them. This is transgenerational post traumatic disorder. This affects gene expression and how we may be predisposed to developing our intrapersonal and interpersonal view of self and others.
    We are all victims of this. We do know the solution to this.

    • Ronald – Thanks for that point about post traumatic stress disorder.

  • David Nickol

    Every single non-uniformed “civilian” may be a possible “combatant.”


    That is true, but also the reverse is true. In Iraq and Afghanistan, any non-uniformed civilian may be someone on whose behalf we are fighting and whose heart and mind we may be eager to win. When fighting, say, the Japanese in Word War II, you could dehumanize and demonize them. But when fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are fighting along side Iraqi and Afghan forces.

    It is easy to stand back and condemn both (or all) sides, but the fact is that Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other Islamic extremists will not go away if we ignore them or try to resist them with nonviolent methods. I have no doubt that if Al-Qaeda gets their hands on nuclear material, they will use it in the most destructive way they can.

  • grega

    It is always a curious sight to have lay outsiders pontificate about the finer points of American military culture – I found David and Franks comments on the other hand to be very sensitive ones – in my view a number of folks around here seem to delight in some kind of ill advised “Schadenfreude”. I very much doubt this story went down as some seem to ‘enjoy’ it have gone down in their mind.

    Not one second do I believe American Soldiers would handcuff and kill innocent Shepard boys and ‘schoolboys’ – on the other hand of course if I would run a bomb assembly facility I would most certainly call my ‘workers’ shepherds and schoolboys.

  • digbydolben

    Well, Grega, then I want you to go over to andrewsullivan.com and read what that well-reputed political pundit is constantly reporting about torture that definitely was–and perhaps still is–being perpetrated by American armed services as well as the CIA. You have your head in the sand.

  • Thales

    The notion that military training, in and of itself, is immoral because it is dehumanizing … this is a notion that Michael has expressed here and in previous posts. I’ve previously asked this question but I don’t think that I’ve ever learned the answer. Michael, I’m honestly curious what your position is on this: do you see any place for “peacekeeping” and the tactical training that is required for peacekeepers to do it effectively and safely? (I recognize that many past peacekeeping missions have been fiascoes – I’m talking about peacekeeping as an ideal.)

    Also, Michael, do you object to the tactical training undergone by law enforcement (ie, training in hand-to-hand combat, marksmanship, etc.,)? Do you find such training also dehumanizing?

    • I think “peacekeeping” is a misnomer. It’s become another word for war (ask Bush and Obama). I think law enforcement training has become much closer to military training over time. Insofar as law enforcement training mimics military training, it is dehumanizing.

  • David Nickol

    Since the time of Constantine, when has the Catholic Church (or any other major Christian denomination) ever advocated pacifism? It seems to me that Just War Theory was developed with major contributions from the Catholic Church (Augustine, Aquinas) and other Christian thinkers, and the Catholic Church recognizes the need for countries to have armies and to defend themselves. See Gaudium et Spes.

    Certainly, war has not been rooted out of human affairs. As long as the danger of war remains and there is no competent and sufficiently powerful authority at the international level, governments cannot be denied the right to legitimate defense once every means of peaceful settlement has been exhausted. State authorities and others who share public responsibility have the duty to conduct such grave matters soberly and to protect the welfare of the people entrusted to their care. But it is one thing to undertake military action for the just defense of the people, and something else again to seek the subjugation of other nations. Nor, by the same token, does the mere fact that war has unhappily begun mean that all is fair between the warring parties.

  • grega

    I follow Sullivan’s blog and like what he writes very much.
    Reg. Torture:official American policy did change here ( remember there was an election in 2008 )- the ‘perhaps still is’ is just speculation on your part – to my earlier point – why the desire on yours and some other peoples part to assume the worst?
    We can and should of course debate the merits of the engagement in Afghanistan – and yes war and these sort of combat situations create all kinds of terrible injustices and harm to innocent civilians.
    Difficult choices for sure – our daily live is soaked with difficult choices. I trust we continue to find a good way forward.

  • digbydolben

    Grega, my “perhaps still is” reflects the fact that Obama has not allowed prosecutions of torturers, and so still seems to reserve to the “unitary executive” a la Bush the right to “extraordinarily render,” etc. There simply hasn’t been the “change” on this that Obama promised, despite all the rhetoric.

    Thales, I think it’s fascinating that you drag “law enforcement” into the discussion, considering the state of “law enforcement” in modern America. You will recall that, in the last few years, the Bush Defense Department was allowing for the induction into the armed forces of youth with criminal records, yes? Well, here is an example of what kind of treatment such youth had been enduring at the hands of the “law enforcement” all over the United States:


    Not exactly a good foundation for future “peace keepers” is it?

  • Thales

    Peacekeeping is a misnomer. Fair enough.

    Law enforcement training which is similar to military training is dehumanizing. Okay. I’m beginning to understand your position. From this, it seems that your position, Michael, is that any kind of training which teaches how to hurt, maim, or kill another human being is dehumanizing and therefore, in and of itself, immoral. Is that a fair statement of your position? If so, would you similarly take issue with self-defense training?

    (One might wonder why I’m pursuing this line of thought. It’s because in these debates about the military on Michael’s postings, I think there has been misunderstanding about the first principles of each side in the debate, which has led to some confusion. In a debate about the morality of military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, most of the people I encounter who are against the war are coming from the position that the war in this particular case is immoral and unjustified, but that military action (and training) is alright in certain circumstances. It appears that Michael is coming from a different set of first principles: namely that military training, in and of itself, is dehumanizing and immoral. Understanding where Michael (and others) are arguing from is important in having a reasoned debate without confusion.

  • Gerald A. Naus

    David Nickol wrote “This is pretty hateful stuff. The US is worse than the Taliban or Al-Qaeda? Would you like to live in a country run by either of those two?”
    False alternative. At home, the American system doesn’t behave the way it does abroad. Granted, it has by far the highest prisoner ratio on the planet, sand a general “screw you” attitude towards employees etc. etc. – but most of the exploitation is quite refined here, because it can’t be as blatant as abroad. Just make them say the pledge of allegiance every damn day, they’ll be stepforded soon enough.

    Who’s worse ? Depends on your criteria. As far as number of people killed is concerned, Al Qaeda can’t hope to aspire to American numbers. They would kill more and more gleefully than American soldiers, on average, if they had the arsenal. The US doesn’t completely annihilate countries, that’d be bad for business and PR. Destruction/Reconstruction is the biggest boom industry, privatized on the public’s dime.

    So, we can say that the US military doesn’t kill nearly as many people as it could. There’s another ad campaign for ya.

    The professed goal of Al Qaeda is to kill as many as possible, the professed goal of the US is to kill as few as possible. Curiously, the latter kills many more than the former – but they feel really bad about it.

    It has to be said that there was considerable reluctance and resistance to torture from people in the military, FBI, CIA and so forth – but Cheney and his minions (quite a few Mormons) pushed the “Salvadoran” option through. Even people who kill for a living were shocked by the abyss Cheney dragged everyone into.

    George Washington treated prisoners quite decently, the US was at the forefront of international treaties banning torture, guaranteeing human rights and what have you. Now, if you happen to share a suspected terrorist’s name you may end up being tortured in vile ways for months. Ask Khalid El-Masri http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khalid_El-Masri

    Democracy is great as long as you pick the leaders the US likes (else you might find yourself dead like Salvador Allende) – and, by all means, adopt “free market” policies, so American and other corporations can buy you for real cheap. Iraq was carved up in no time, decade-long contracts to foreign corporations, taking profits home. Iraqi businesses were completely shunned. The US simply didn’t expect that people wouldn’t be thrilled by this prospect. Of course, there’s enough homicidal mania to go around without American presence necessary for its existence. But, the US nonetheless recruits its own enemies. Terrorism is good for business.

    We’re really a stupid species. Someone says “liberation”, “freedom”, “free market” and off we go supporting “our” troops. Cause if they say freedom, clearly they are telling us the truth. After all, freedom is “God’s gift to mankind”, brought to you by Halliburton.

  • digbydolben

    Thales, I disagree with both you and Michael, to wit: I believe that military training in a defensive posture WAS once NOT “dehumanizing” and “unjustified,” (Christ, after all, did not eschew the company of the centurion) but that it has BECOME so due to the technology and the brainwashing of the modern age.

    Do you, perhaps, remember what Norman Mailer wrote about the war in Vietnam?–that he could have supported it had it been more “equal,” and, in the British sense “more sporting” on both sides?–that what he could not stomach was the aerial genocide?

    There comes a time, in my opinion, when the very technology of warfare renders the psychology of the user monstrous. We have passed that point, in both the military and the so-called “rehabilitation centres.”

  • David Nickol

    The professed goal of Al Qaeda is to kill as many as possible, the professed goal of the US is to kill as few as possible. Curiously, the latter kills many more than the former – but they feel really bad about it.

    The United States in not fighting Al-Qaeda alone — it’s fighting Islamic extremists. In Afghanistan, that means Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and any others who join forces with them. The goal in war is to capture or kill the enemy. If NATO forces and Afghan soldiers in Afghanistan kill more insurgents than the insurgents kill NATO forces and Afghan soldiers, that is not a bad thing. It’s a good thing.

    But what about civilian deaths? As I noted above:

    By UN calculations, the number of deaths that could be clearly linked to Nato forces has dropped significantly, from 38 per cent last year to 22 per cent this year.

    The Taleban, meanwhile, caused 68 per cent of deaths this year, three times that of Nato, and a much larger proportion than the 55 per cent they inflicted last year.

    I think you are correct that Al-Qaeda wants to kill as many people as they can (and they don’t hesitate to kill Muslims, either). And while you can sit back and say how evil America and Al-Qaeda are, the American government and other governments under attack by Islamic extremists don’t have that luxury. Turning the other cheek is not an effective way to deal with terrorists.

  • Nate Wildermuth

    Good clarification, Thales. The Church traditionaly has taught that humans may never deliberately kill another human being (according to the double-effect doctrine) with one great exception: police and soldiers.

    Soldiers and police would fight very differently were they trained to fight without ever deliberately killing. With regard to the police, we are seeing this kind of training already – in their use of non-lethal weapons like tazers. Even the military is researching non-lethal weaponry.

  • David Nickol

    It appears that Michael is coming from a different set of first principles: namely that military training, in and of itself, is dehumanizing and immoral. Understanding where Michael (and others) are arguing from is important in having a reasoned debate without confusion.

    If you are against all wars and all violence, then any military training, no matter how “humanizing,” is not just objectionable but pointless. What would be the point of teaching a soldier how to fire a gun or a pilot to drop a bomb if they may never, under any circumstances, do so?

  • grega

    Gerald, I am ‘thrilled’ to see that you fully embrace a number of the old monikers of quite a few (left and right interestingly)in Europe. Now it is not all that surprising that if one lives in Europe, has a certain political bent and judges from afar one can conveniently come to this or that conclusion – in my opinion quite a bit of this stuff is however rather self serving.
    The reversed is true too – as you know plenty of utterly ignorant Americans utter the phrase ‘ socialist european’ rather lustily
    but come on man as somebody who lives here I would have expected to read some more nuanced opinions from you. You understand the political realities around here. It is not as simple as we in europe sometimes make it sound.

  • Ryan Klassen


    I don’t want to speak for Michael, but as a Christian committed to non-violence, the problem with military training is that is it by nature (in it’s current incarnation) dehumanizing both to the soldier him- or herself and to the “enemy.” Normal human responses to killing and death are suppressed or eliminated so that soldiers can kill who they are told to kill without feeling the natural human response to killing. This dehumanizes the soldier. They are also trained to see the “enemy” as less than human, again so that there is not the remorse and recriminations that naturally follows when one human kills another. This dehumanizes the enemy.

    Unlike military training, law enforcement training does not need to be dehumanizing, although it often is. Indeed, I would think that having a greater appreciation for the humanity of both the citizens that police swear to protect and the criminals that they arrest would make them more effective at policing. Gerald W. Schlabach, formerly a Mennonite and now a Roman Catholic, has edited a book called “Just Policing” that approaches the issue of law enforcement from a non-violent perspective. I would recommend it on this issue.

    As for self-defense, again the issue is whether the training is dehumanizing. Does it train you to disregard the humanity of others, to see “the enemy” as less than human or to believe that by threatening you they have given up their right to life? Take it a step further. As I mentioned in a previous comment, there is a third way between violence and doing nothing. De-escalation is a type of self-defense just as martial arts, and one that is probably easier to learn and more effective at that.

  • David Nickol

    By the way, Democracy Now says:

    According to the Times of London, US-led troops dragged innocent children from their beds and shot them during a nighttime raid. Afghan government investigators said the eight students were aged from eleven to seventeen, all but one of them from the same family.

    However, if you actually read the story in the Times, Western troops accused of executing 10 Afghan civilians, including children, you will see that the Times of London gives two sides to the story and does not say “US-led troops dragged innocent children from their beds and shot them during a nighttime raid.”

    The statement made by Democracy Now is at best very misleading. I don’t think any fair reading of the Times story would claim that it says what Democracy Now claims it says.

    • David Nickol – The statement by Democracy Now is not misleading. The DN piece is not simply a rehash of the Times story, but an interview with its author. The very first sentence that the author says is “Well, the Afghan investigators believe that an Americans (sic) unit—they’re not sure which one, possibly a company with [inaudible]—flew from Kabul to Narang district in Kunar province.” The DN story says that u.s.-led forces were accused of the killings. If anyone could be accused of being “misleading,” it’s me, but these stories are so common to anyone paying attention that I hardly think I’m being “misleading.”

      Ryan – That’s a good summary of my position on u.s. military training. Thanks.

  • David Nickol

    The statement by Democracy Now is not misleading.


    It is indeed misleading, and, in fact, false.

    I am referring to the paragraph below, taken from the Democracy Now web site. Note the sentence that I have highlighted. It’s clear meaning is that the Times of London says that “US-led troops dragged innocent children from their beds and shot them during a nighttime raid.” The Times of London does not say that. It is a balanced story. It reports an accusation and then reports the other side of the story to the extent it can check it out.

    Many news outlets have reported today that John McCain has a commercial in which he says, “President Obama is leading an extreme left-wing crusade to bankrupt America.” If I were to say, “According to the National Journal, President Obama is leading an extreme left-wing crusade to bankrupt America, that would be false, just as the paragraph below is false. You’re going to say that if you read everything on Democracy Now and watch the video, in totality, it’s not misleading. But the paragraph below is false, and I doubt that everyone who followed your link watched the whole video and then tried to find the story in the Times of London.

    US-Led Forces Accused of Executing Schoolchildren in Afghanistan
    In Afghanistan, hundreds have taken to the streets of Kabul and elsewhere to protest the US killing of civilians. The incident that has sparked the most outrage took place in eastern Kunar on December 27th, when ten Afghans, eight of them schoolchildren, were killed. According to the Times of London, US-led troops dragged innocent children from their beds and shot them during a nighttime raid. Afghan government investigators said the eight students were aged from eleven to seventeen, all but one of them from the same family. [includes rush transcript]

  • Matt Clement

    Actually, the headline for the Democracy Now paragraph reads “Accused”. And it is according to the Times of London that the u.s.-led forces are accused of doing such. The Times of London cites their source Assadullah Wafa who claims,

    “‘At around 1 am, three nights ago, some American troops with helicopters left Kabul and landed around 2km away from the village,’ he told The Times. ‘The troops walked from the helicopters to the houses and, according to my investigation, they gathered all the students from two rooms, into one room, and opened fire.’ Mr Wafa, a former governor of Helmand province, met President Karzai to discuss his findings yesterday. ‘I spoke to the local headmaster,’ he said. ‘It’s impossible they were al-Qaeda. They were children, they were civilians, they were innocent. I condemn this attack.’”

    The Times of London reported the accusation, thus it isn’t misleading to say, “According to the Times of London.”

    And I’m unsure how it’s Michael’s fault that Vox-Nova readers didn’t check the sources he provided.

  • Navy Vet

    I have to admit. I truly enjoy these conversations.

  • digbydolben

    The gung-ho supporters of the American military’s behaviours had better get THIS through their heads:

    …Balawi’s Internet writings reflect a growing commitment to violence due to American and Israeli attacks on Muslims (“They have not left any excuse for any Muslim with a hint of honor to remain hesitant and accept the shame of staying away from the honor of participating in jihad”).

    Just contemplate how many Balawis there are in the world: Muslims who begin with sympathy towards the U.S. and hostility towards Al Qaeda who are completely transformed into the opposite as a result of the constant civilian death we and Israel bring (regardless of intent) to that part of the world.


    Even if this particular story is not true, there are simply too many accounts of murder and mayhem being committed in what is inadvertently a war against Muslim civilians for none of them to be true, and the “blowback” Ron Paul spoke of in 2008 will bring the chickens home to roost.

    You people in America who will not pay attention to the consequences of your five wars simultaneously fought in five Muslim countries, or to the cost of your blind support of Zionist expansionism, are going to pay a terrible price; it’s just inevitable.

  • Gerald A. Naus

    So we have Christian extremists fighting Muslim extremists. Sweet. The very presence of foreign troops is what recruits people, then add the unspeakable acts, the naked greed of the Bush crew and you won’t win “hearts and minds” in the “Arab street”, two terms every pundit beats to death.

    Death toll from 38% to 22%. Sweet. US Army – now 16% less deadly.

    As far as nuance goes, when you hear and read what has been done by American soldiers, mercenaries, government – first hand accounts and books by leading journalists – that went out the damn window. What the Bush crew crawled into is so awful people are hesitant to believe it. The humiliations, torture, waterboarding, mind games, sleep deprivation into insanity, sexual molestation and degradation, electrical shocks to the genitals….and this is standard operating procedure, what they called the Salvadoran option. Said one agent, “It was just so much blood.” And then you have the tens of thousands who, so sorry, died collaterally. All for the greater benefit of business. Not local business, mind you. Reality is that ugly. Read “The Dark Side” by Jane Meyer

    It’s not about USA vs. Europe, I need only remind myself of the concentration camp I visited. It’s about the lethal cloud that follows the US system wherever it goes.

    Fanatics don’t need a reason to kill others, but there’s a special talent for attracting their attention that the US possesses. Which is why New York, not Toronto, was attacked. Sure, they’d get around to Toronto eventually, but invading countries and robbing them blind isn’t exactly going to make the people (who weren’t killed) happy. Insofar, the US creates terror by creating terror, supply: endless. It’s the perfect business model – you create supply and demand, self-sufficient, self-perpetuating.

    There’d be far fewer terrorists if the US stopped messing with the entire world. It used to be the British, now it’s the US. And it comes with this gooey patronizing do-gooder attitude. Where have the days of honest, self-affirming pillagers and plunderers gone ? We bring you freedom (gift from god to mankind via George Bush) and WalMart, in return we’ll take your oil. Mkay? Also, have you heard of Joseph Smith ?

    Meanwhile, Sarah Palin is counting Jews flocking to Israel and smiles, or something akin to it.

  • Ronald King

    Digby, We seem to forget the natural consequences of our actions. If someone accidentally kills my daughter or son or wife my rage will be murderous. Now, I cannot imagine how intense my rage would be if any of them were collateral damage. One step further, what if they were targeted for assassination regardless of accusations against them? Why would they not be interrogated first? My rage would be unimaginable. Death, PTSD and rage go hand in hand. The rage has its own way of thinking and acting. It turns into hate when there is nobody responsible or courageous enough to speak the truth.

    You know, it does not matter which side one is on when it comes to males and power. It is easier to act out our aggression than to be open to our pain. We are all insane and afraid and we hide within the safety of our institutions, jobs, families and homes worried about color schemes for home decorating, landscaping, where to eat out, what clothes to wear, gas going to $3.00 per gallon, what hybrid to buy, what charity to give to ease my conscience because it is getting to loud in my head….

  • David Nickol

    Sure, they’d get around to Toronto eventually, but invading countries and robbing them blind isn’t exactly going to make the people (who weren’t killed) happy.

    United States bad; Al-Qaeda maybe bad, but only because they were provoked?

    Do you remember what Al-Qaeda’s grievances were that justified the 9/11 attacks? They weren’t protesting the invasion of Iraq.

    There have been attacks by Al-Qaeda or their affiliates in England, Indonesia, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey, and there have been foiled attacks in other countries.

    There really is a war going on with Islamic extremism, and it’s not over oil.

  • David, as I understand it, pre-9/11 Al-Qaeda was mostly upset about U.S. military bases on Saudi Arabian soil, propping up a Saudi regime that Al-Qaeda didn’t like. These bases were established during Operation Desert Shield and the first Gulf War.

    So first the U.S. supported both Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Then Hussein invades Kuwait, thinking the U.S. was still supporting him. Then the U.S. attacks Hussein, and pisses off Osama in the process (by building bases in his country). So Osama turns against the U.S., and 9-11 happens. So what do we do? After a half-hearted fling in Afghanistan, we go all-out and invade Iraq and hang Saddam! Then we close our bases in Saudi and move them to Iraq. All we have to do is invake Pakistan and hang Osama, and everything will be OK.

    But I wonder – what evildoers are we supporting today that will turn on us tomorrow, starting this whole thing all over again?

  • digbydolben

    No, David, you’re right, it’s not “over oil”; it’s over the perpetual humiliation of their religion-infested culture, which has been going on since the Age of Colonialism.

    Get it through your head: these are not “religious people” in YOUR sense of being religious. Their Prophet (PBUH) told them that “Isa” (aka Jesus Christ), though noble and godly, was WRONG, and that they are NOT “to turn the other cheek” when their religion is flouted or mocked by the “infidel.” Religion to them, means that very culture which the religion created. (This shouldn’t be so far from the understanding of orthodox Christians: T.S. Eliot, a true “conservative,” insisted in Christianity and Culture that RELIGION–not “language”–is what CREATES “culture.”)

    These people mean business: they have a religion with teeth, and they INTEND FOR US TO WITHDRAW from their “holy lands.”

    Ergo, the attack on the World Trade Centre was about our meddling in SAUDI ARABIA and in PALESTINE, their “holiest” lands.

  • Ronald King

    Digby, Language is the form of expression of beliefs and it is these beliefs that form a sense of self and others. Religion is the language of belief. All belief is the past and the conflict of that past. Belief is what separates us from one another and creates conflict.
    Religion exhibits the limitation of the believer and the expression of faith. Conflict is the result of a collision of belief systems.

  • Thales

    digby, Ryan, nice posts re: dehumanizing training. Good food for thought.

    Let me see if I understand what is being put forward: military training today is dehumanizing insofar as it trains one to think of the enemy as “less than human” and as normal human responses to death/killing are suppressed or eliminated. (This is from Ryan’s post.) I think that I agree with that statement. I can also see how with modern military technology, it is easier for this dehumanization to occur (as it is easier to forget or dismiss the humanity of the enemy). Ryan, I also see your observation that even law enforcement training and self-defense training may be dehumanizing.

    But this makes me think that it is possible to train combat techniques in a manner that is not dehumanizing – and therefore, that combat training is not inherently dehumanizing. As digby observed, Christ did not eschew the centurion’s company. I think that it is possible to teach self-defense hand-to-hand combat in a manner that acknowledges the humanity of your opponent. So I think that is possible with to teach combat with lethal weapons (the centurion’s gladius, a sword, a WWII rifle, etc.) that acknowledges the respect of your opponent. Would you agree? After all, with the existence of Church teaching on the possibility of self-defense and just war, it appears the Church recognizes that the mere knowledge of how to use a lethal weapon is not immoral.

    Now, I recognize that as technology gets more advanced, it becomes more difficult to receive training in a way that acknolwedges the enemy’s humanity. But almost any kind of training can be taught in a manner that dehumanizes the opponent: certainly hand-to-hand combat can be taught in a dehumanizing manner. But I also think of the training to be a lawyer in a courtroom, or a car salesman – the skills for these can be conveyed in a manner that dehumanizes the opponent, not in order to take the life of the opponent, but rather to take unfair advantage of the opponent. (Is this a stretch?)

    If this thought of mine is on the right track (that military training is not in and of itself dehumanizing, and though it can be presented in a dehumanizing manner, it can also be taught in a humanizing way) — then I recognize that I come up to bigger question that I don’t know the answer to: whether with the advance of technology, there are now military or combat techniques which, in their essences, cannot be taught in a non-dehumanizing manner.

  • Gerald A. Naus

    This is very much about oil – and radical ideology, be it Republican or extremist Muslim. Oil is the reason why the West is interested in those countries – and has been doing nasty things for it, from installing the Shah to supporting Saddam to opposing Saddam, supporting Afghani warlords to opposing Afghani warlords. It’s American policy, slaughter and exploitation, that recruits terrorists. It doesn’t exculpate them. UK and Spain were attacked because they joined forces with the US.

    If you think that by invading countries and selling everything to the highest foreign bidders Muslim extremism is being combated, you got another 9/11 coming. Western and Muslim extremism fan each other’s flames. Ours just sounds so sensible – freedom, democracy, free market economy.

    Providing little protection for the general populace, giving all contracts to cronies while leaving public aid underfunded (it’s competition, after all) and abandoning those in need while lush services are available for the privileged. And that was just New Orleans.

  • David Nickol

    For those who are not pacifists, it may be lamentable and tragic, but the job of soldiers will sometimes be to kill the enemy, and a great deal of the time it will not be in self-defense, unless you define it very broadly. That being the case, it only makes sense (to me) to dehumanize the enemy. In making split-second decisions whether or not to shoot someone, you won’t want to be thinking, “Here’s a guy like me. He has a mother who loves him. He may have a wife and kids. Yes, he’s trying to kill me, but I am trying to kill him, too. I am afraid I’m going to have to shoot now, but let me say a little prayer for his soul.”

    A great many people in the medical profession and in counseling positions learn to keep a professional, emotional distance between themselves and their clients, and these are people they are trying to help. It does not seem at all unreasonable to me — not being a pacifist — that we would want to give some kind of emotional armor to soldiers we send out to kill people. The only problem I see is trying to make sure the effects of the training don’t get carried over into other, inappropriate areas.

  • Ryan Klassen


    You are correct that training in any profession can (and often is) dehumanizing. All of one’s life, including our profession, must be lived in obedience to the gospel. However, the difference between modern military training and training for other professions is that military training that does not dehumanize both the soldier and the enemy turns out to produce very poor soldiers. You can be a good lawyer or car salesman without dehumanization, but you cannot be a good soldier. A soldier who is just as concerned for the life of the enemy as for their own life is not a good soldier. A soldier who hesitates before pulling the trigger is not a good soldier. A soldier who agonizes over having killed another human being is not a good soldier.

    Thus, I would argue that because of its very nature, the modern military profession is one that is not open to Christians by virtue of our commitment to live in obedience to the life and teachings of Christ. Perhaps in the past, military training was more humane, more about law enforcement than training to kill without compunction. I have my doubts, but as you say, Christ did not eschew the company of the Roman Centurion, nor did John the Baptist tell soldiers to stop being soldiers (although he did tell them to stop using their position to take advantage of people).

    As for the contemporary situation, I would point to Michael Iafrate’s post “William Cavanaugh on Idolatry and Violence” (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/voxnova/2010/01/09/william-cavanaugh-on-idolatry-and-violence/). I’m surprised there haven’t been more comments on this post, but perhaps that is because it is too difficult to argue with. Essentially, Cavanaugh asks the question, what does our willingness to kill for our country but not for our God say about which of those entities is absolute for us? To be clear, Cavanaugh does not think we should be willing to kill for our faith, but it is interesting that many who would recoil at the idea of killing for God would embrace wholeheartedly killing for country.

  • digbydolben

    First of all, Thales, I want to acknowledge that your participation in this discussion is intelligent and constructive–and that I agree with much of what you’ve said above.

    However, as regards this:

    I recognize that I come up to bigger question that I don’t know the answer to: whether with the advance of technology, there are now military or combat techniques which, in their essences, cannot be taught in a non-dehumanizing manner…

    …my answer is “yes, there are”–when your tactic is to destroy him from the air, without ever having given him a fair chance–or without ever having given yourself a chance to directly confront his humanity.

    Think about it: destroying your enemy like this is like the thoughtless–and contemptuous–elimination of a household pest infestation. This kind of obvious contempt for one’s opponents is NOT what Saladin would have expected from Richard Coeur de Lion, and I suspect that a great deal of the Arab Muslim world’s anger emanates from this relentless display of contempt. After all, they, like the Jews, believe themselves to be a “chosen people.”

  • digbydolben

    Ronald, do I infer correctly that you are suggesting that one should have “faith” in something other than one’s “belief”?

    Then doesn’t what you’re saying suggest that a great many Catholics, for instance, have more belief in a religious system than faith in what that religious system can only imperfectly manifest–since it’s at least partly human?

    This is what I get out of my own–perhaps faulty–interpretation of what Newman says in his Development of Dogma: that most Catholics believe that their Church is already in some kind of “possession” of the Truth, whereas the only thing they’re actually promised by Christ is that they will be continuously LED to the Truth, through a time-space continuum, by the Spirit. It has always seemed to me that, to suggest differently is to tacitly agree that one’s Catholicism is a kind of idolatry that refuses to recognise that Christ is greater than His “synagogue,” which has a merely temporal existence.

  • digbydolben

    soldier who is just as concerned for the life of the enemy as for their own life is not a good soldier. A soldier who hesitates before pulling the trigger is not a good soldier. A soldier who agonizes over having killed another human being is not a good soldier.

    Ryan, to kill an enemy is not to kill his soul, which, according to your faith, is eternal. But to HATE your enemy, and to dehumanize him as you kill him, if persisted in and not repented of, is TO KILL YOUR OWN SOUL. Modern military tactics, as practised by the American military in the theatres in which they are being enacted, are KILLING THE SOULS of the young men who are engaged in these activities.

    And, you know what? I bet that Christian chaplains who are active in these venues are actually telling the young soldiers the same thing all the time–and, if they are not, they are not doing their duty, and should be withdrawn by their superiors.

  • Ryan Klassen


    Aside from the immorality of the soul, I agree with you. And it seems to me that “killing the souls” of her own soldiers is the goal of American military training. I would also say the bombing from the air (with the accompanying term of “collateral damage”) is actually more dehumanizing for soldiers of both sides but even more so for innocents.

  • Ronald King

    Digby, Thank you for clarifying what I attempted to say. I was ready for a nap and I wasn’t clear. I totally agree with you.
    By the way, did you watch a movie that was out several years ago entitled Jeaux(sp?)Noel? It was based on actual events in WWI.

  • Ryan Klassen


    Of course it makes sense to dehumanize soldiers and their enemies. They cannot do their job as soldiers otherwise. This is very different than professional detachment in the medical and counselling profession. Not getting emotionally involved does not involve demonizing your patient or seeing them as less than human. Emotional detachment is developed to enable the caregiver to provide objective and effective help – dehumanization in soldiers is developed so that the enemy can be dispatched with minimal fuss.

    If dehumanization is a necessary and unavoidable part of modern military training, then, whether you’re a pacifist or not, the question must be asked whether it is currently an acceptable profession for Christians.

  • David Nickol

    Didn’t those warmongers back in the 1930s and 1940s know tht the only way to deal with Hitler in a good, Christian manner was through nonviolent resistance?

    Listen to this garbage:

    Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail.

    We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France,
    we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
    we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
    we shall fight on the beaches,
    we shall fight on the landing grounds,
    we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
    we shall fight in the hills;
    we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

  • Ryan Klassen


    WW2 is an excellent example of violence failing to accomplish the goals for which it was put to use. It is said we needed to fight the Nazi’s because they had put half of Europe under an oppressive dictatorship. And what was the result? Half of Europe under an oppressive dictatorship for more than 40 years. It is said we needed to fight the Nazi’s because they exterminated 8 million Jews. And what was the result? Our ally, Joseph Stalin, was then able to slaughter 9 million political and ethnic undesirables and starve 7 million Ukrainians. Not to mention the civilian deaths, atrocities and war crimes committed by both sides during the actual war.

    In contrast, the Communist regimes around Europe were brought down through a coalition of religious leaders (i.e Pope John Paul II) and non-violent protesters. When push came to shove and the people began to tear down the Berlin Wall, East German guards holstered their guns and refused to shoot the unarmed protesters. This is a clear example of violence leading to something even worse than what was initially opposed, and non-violence leading to freedom and liberty. If East German soldiers, conditioned to obey absolutely through 40 years of Communist rule, refused to slaughter non-violent protesters, why do you categorically refuse to consider that a similar non-violent approach could have stopped the Nazi’s?

  • digbydolben

    I am in 100% agreement with Ryan.

    Moreover, this is why, in my opinion, Pius XII Pacelli must NOT be canonized: he proved that he was incapable of “heroic sanctity” when he refused to propose the course of non-violent resistance–the Ghandian tactic that he, and he alone, could have led in Europe, and which WOULD, ultimately, have stopped the Nazis AND the communists, and all the depredations they practised.

    Sure, he and many of his priests would have died, but, at that moment, that was their JOB, and that was their duty; in doing so, they would have changed history.

    I think it’s amazing how many so-called Christians think that “turn your other cheek” is some kind of hyperbole; as I suggested above, even to those of us who do not “believe” every abstruse tenet of Christian theology, THAT SAYING is what defines Jesus Christ as an infinitely more numinous figure in history than Muhammed (PBUH) or the Lord Buddha and other great liberators.

  • digbydolben

    And to add one more thing to what I wrote above: what do you think would be the position of the Christian Church in now overly-secularized and pathetically anti-clerical Europe now, if Pacelli and his bishops had been true to the meaning of the red robes they wore?

    After living among the decadent and morally exhausted Europeans for two years, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Holocaust and its accompanying atrocities have actually shamed and disgraced Western Christian civilisation in the minds of its legatees. But can you imagine what a difference heroic, non-violent resistance to the totalitarians led by prelates would have made here? In my opinion, Christianity would have had a second rebirth on this continent.

    Now I’m afraid it’s mostly finished.

  • Gerald A. Naus

    The fire bombing of Dresden was particularly endearing. Both sides fought incredibly brutal, a total war, trying to kill as many civilians as possible. Of course then the US took pride in not torturing….kinda funny though the whole debate – killing is ok but torturing is not.

  • Ronald King

    Digby, September of ’06 I wrote a letter to Pope B and made the statement that a unified Christianity would have stopped Hitler with the Pope leading the way to stand as a sacrifice to stop the holocaust and prevent the war. The letter also stated that Christianity is an action first of love and sacrifice and a theology later. I asked him at that time to lead us on a pilgrimage to Darfur to care for the refugees as an action of sacrifice and love just as Christ did when He showed us how to live and love one another.
    I received a response from their office in DC stating he had read the letter and shared my concern, suggested I read his encyclical God Is Love and dismissed me with a blessing.
    They are stuck in their materialism and unresolved repressed sexual shame which is defended by an intellectual rationalization of unreasonable reason which keeps them from the heart of the faith.

  • grega

    Ryan – so let me get this straight – if only Britain and the US would have resorted to non violence means what would exactly have happened in your mind ?
    Certainly between Hitler and Stalin there was enough madness for 100% dictatorship in Europe and much of Asia – quite the history cocktail you mix up for us above. Perhaps this all ties nicely with the catholic phobia regarding communism – even the Virgin Mary got into the act – go figure.
    Official church was so busy worrying about the Bolschewik that the Facist in the midth got overlooked.
    “Now I’m afraid it’s mostly finished.”
    Digby why so dramatic today? Religion has been around from the beginning of times – do not worry.
    But the days of 100% this or that of course are gone – a good thing in my view.
    How about some Darwinism for Religious Practice – those aspects of our Religion (any Religion really) that are strong and important for the populace will very much survive.

  • David Nickol

    Of course then the US took pride in not torturing….kinda funny though the whole debate – killing is ok but torturing is not.


    It is not as if killing is right and torture is wrong. You are lumping together actions that take place in different circumstances. Killing the enemy in war is permissible when the enemy is trying to kill you. But you can only torture someone you have captured — a prisoner. Torturing prisoners of war is impermissible, and so is killing them.

  • David Nickol

    In contrast, the Communist regimes around Europe were brought down through a coalition of religious leaders (i.e Pope John Paul II) and non-violent protesters.


    That is an incredibly simplified account of the collapse of the Soviet Union. And without the Cold War and the policy of containment and nuclear deterrence, who knows how much of the world the Soviet Union would have eventually controlled?

  • Ronald, while I share your disappointment in our pastors, we should remain hopeful. I rejoice that he read your letter!

    The best way to change the world, and the Church, is to become a saint. A hundred more Dorothy Days, and we will bury Church-sanctioned violence forever. I believe the day is near. Maybe not in my lifetime, but soon.

    • The best way to change the world, and the Church, is to become a saint.


  • digbydolben

    Nate, Ronald and Matt, God bless you.

  • Ryan Klassen

    David – Yes, it is a simplified version of what happened. Containment and nuclear deterrence certainly played a role in the fall of Communism in Europe. But the goal of deterrence and containment was not to end Communism in Europe. The goal was to maintain a stable status quo, with the West and the Soviet Union holding sway in their respective spheres of influence. It was religious leaders and non-violent protesters who brought the Berlin Wall down. Very few people realize the influence that Christian churches had over shaping the opposition to Communism in Communist countries.

    Grega – I’m not Roman Catholic, so the accusation of Communist phobia doesn’t really apply. My own tradition (Anabaptist) has a strong Christian communistic influence. I don’t know what the outcome would have been if the Allies had really worked non-violently to oppose the Nazi’s. But remember, non-violence is not appeasement – it is a third way between violence and doing nothing. And there is always a third way to oppose evil without disobedience to the gospel. My point is that if the goal was to free Europe from dictators and prevent the slaughter of citizens by their government (the two most commonly quoted goals of WW2) then WW2 was an abject failure. Couple that with the fact that the overthrow of the dictatorships that resulted from WW2 was done without that kind of violence, how can you not admit that there could have been a non-violent solution to the problem of Hitler that would have been more effective than war?

  • David Nickol

    My point is that if the goal was to free Europe from dictators and prevent the slaughter of citizens by their government (the two most commonly quoted goals of WW2) then WW2 was an abject failure.

    I don’t think World War II was an abject failure from the viewpoint of, say, England, France, Greece, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United States. And even Italy, West Germany, Finland, and Japan wound up being free when the war was over. Certainly it was a tragedy for those formerly free nations who wound up dominated by the Soviet union. But World War II was fought against Germany and Japan, not for the abstract goal of being free from dictators. And would it have been better for all of those occupied by the Nazis to have stayed under Nazi control rather than wind up under Soviet control? I would hate to make a judgment either way.

  • Ryan Klassen

    David – I agree that there are winners and losers in war, and it makes a difference for the winners (and for the losers). But who are we to decide who deserves to live and who deserves to die? And yes, WW2 was not fought against the abstract notion of dictators – it was fought against an actual dictator. But the result of using violence against one dictator was simply to establish another dictator who did the exact same things (albeit to different people). So if violence failed to achieve the ends that are said to justify it, that means that it is not justified at all. I don’t want to judge if it would have been better to be killed by Hitler or by Stalin either, but I have yet to hear the victims of either one wish they had been killed by the other.

  • grega

    I really did not mean to accuse you of anything –
    Regarding worrying all about Russia/Communism while missing the cancer in the middle of Catholic heartland I was referring to for example the Fatima story -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Secrets_of_F%C3%A1tima
    But this is really long gone history – the more interesting questions for us are the ones we have to answer now – How do we for example face the various challenges to our way of life by religious extremist?

  • digbydolben
  • Thales

    Ryan and digby,
    Thanks for the thoughts. I have to do some more thinking, but I’m not convinced that modern military training as a whole, is entirely dehumanizing (and immoral) as you suggest. I still think there has to be place for training that goes beyond mere law enforcement (if that means only, keeping the peace), and goes to methods on how to lethally subdue someone – and that this can be done in a manner that recognizes the humanity of the opponent and doesn’t teach “hate of the opponent.” I admit that this type of teaching may be difficult in the particular, but as an ideal, I think it’s possible. At any rate, I need to think about this some more. Thanks again.

  • Ryan Klassen

    I appreciate your thoughtfulness and willingness to dialogue. It’s been fun.

  • digbydolben

    I know a bunch of you think Pat Buchanan is a racist, but I don’t and I think you’d better take seriously what he is saying here:


  • Thank you so much for posting this article. As someone who works with war-injured Iraqi and Afghani children through No More Victims.org in an effort to get them medical care and to advocate for Peace, I’d seen this report and it is not at all a surprise. We’ve killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of children in both Iraq and Afghanistan (and are doing the same in other parts of the world). Make no mistake; these are innocent civilians of countries that have been invaded and destroyed by US! “Insurgents” are most often people fed up with having their doors kicked in, their homes destroyed, their hospitals bombed, and their families slaughtered. If WE were invaded, would we not try to fight back?

    Until we understand that we don’t make our country safer by attacking others, and that there is no justification for the slaughter of others; until we understand that we are all one human family put on earth to love one another, not to hate and kill, we as a nation, are not safer, and slaughters like that of these children will continue by people trained to think that others’ lives are somehow “less” than ours. Those children, and all of the others who’ve been killed, are truly the human face of collateral damage.
    And just as important as our children.

  • Ronald King

    God Bless You Ann Miller, as Digbydolben often states.