April 26, 2007

Killing in War

Killing in War

[Thanks to AJD for pitching this one.]

scanning for snipers

Scanning for snipers in Ghazaliya, Iraq [soldiersmediacenter / Flickr]

How do you train young Americans to be ready to kill in war?

The military spent a lot of time on this question after WWII, in which 80-85% of American infantrymen refused to pull the trigger. It turns out that with the right physical and mental training it’s possible to override a person’s natural aversion to killing: by the Vietnam war, the firing rate had soared to over 90%. But is it a good thing for troops to subordinate personal morality to the chain of command?

Retired Marine Lt. Col. Dave Grossman looks at it this way: Civilians are sheep; they can’t imagine killing. Terrorists and assassins are wolves; they prey on the sheep. Warriors are sheepdogs; they have the wolves’ fangs and taste for violence, but their instinct and job is to protect the flock. To any sheep who ignores the existence of wolves and thinks sheepdogs unnecessary, Grossman says this:

Look at what happened after September 11, 2001, when the wolf pounded hard on the door. Remember how America, more than ever before, felt differently about their law enforcement officers and military personnel? Remember how many times you heard the word hero?

David Grossman, “On Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs,” excerpted from On Combat

The point here is that the military may live by a moral code that feels alien to civilians — but it’s one created by Americans that we depend on to protect the society we live in.

While this warrior code seems to work well for most troops during combat — even to the point of exhilaration — it’s less clear that it sustains them in the hours, months, and years after having killed. The long-term psychological costs can turn out to be crippling.

Lots of factors surely play a role in how a veteran copes with killing: family, friends, innate emotional resilience, leadership within a platoon, availability and social acceptability of counselling. David Grossman — who’s made a career of “killology” — believes that the intimacy of a kill also makes a big difference. He’d argue that dropping a bomb on people you can’t see, for example, is generally less traumatic than watching someone closely through the telescopic sight of a sniper rifle before pulling the trigger.

There are lots of other aspects, too: What if you end up seeing the disfigured corpse of a person you just killed? Does that make it harder? What if you disagree politically with the war you’re fighting? Or if your war leaves a country, as it may in Iraq, in worse shape than when you went in? What if you’re not certain whether you’ve killed an enemy or a civilian? What if you find out for sure that you shot a child? Or one of your own platoonmates?

The searing, chaotic reality of having to kill other human beings underpins each moment the US spends in Afghanistan and Iraq. Maybe the least we can do, as civilians, is to acknowledge this — because a new generation of combat veterans is thinking about it every single day.

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  • Nick

    I have often wondered if permanent war-cultures, like the horse-warriors of the steppe (Huns, Mongols, etc.), who made slaughter and conquest their personal careers and cultural norms (see John Keegan’s excellent survey, A History of Warfare for an enlightening and non-glorifiying account) weren’t actually suffering a culture-wide variant of PTSD. Keeping the killing going, and going, and going – perhaps because to stop would have meant having to face the trauma. Of course they couldn’t have perceived the trauma, and they had belief in their gods to justify, but still…

    Using the PTSD model to re-analyze these historical war-as-a-culture peoples might be pretty interesting (even if entirely speculative).

  • rahbuhbuh

    Please take this beyond American military training, and talk to foreign ex-soldiers for comparison. I wonder how the preparation and mentality differ in countries where brief military service is mandatory? The difference between a volunteer versus drafted soldier?

  • How did the post-war experiences of WWII vets differ from that of Vietnam vets, related to PTSD, domestic violence, etc.? Is there blowback from increasing the number of soldiers willing to pull the trigger in battle?

  • There is a lot to be said for being immersed in a culture of self-reinforcing norms. Killing is what people do everyday. A certain level of violence, fear and anxiety becomes the new normal. So many Marines talk about THAT service especially being its own culture (with killing a part of it). It is when people leave that protected norm or come into sudden contact with another ‘normal’ that they get a sense of what they have done. So many soldiers talk about being face to face with children or women killed in the midst of battle as what jars them to the true present they are in. Talk with people who are in artillery units or people who bomb from the air: NOT seeing the impact of the killing you do is the ultimate insulator from reality. And it makes it possible to continue killing.

  • galoot

    I was going to suggest a show on a related issue, the difference between the way the US and the UK treat the deaths of soldiers in combat. This has been the source of friction recently between the two countries, because unlike the US, the UK holds civilian inquests for military personnel, in the county to which the soldiers’ remains are returned. In many cases this has been Oxfordshire, and one of the coroners in Oxford has been very outspoken about the complete lack of participation on the part of the US in these proceedings. I note that the location for most of these inquests has now been moved to another county, outside his jurisdiction. I don’t suppose he can comment publicly, but I think he’d be an interesting guest. His name is Andrew Walker, and there’s a bit about him here.

  • galoot

    Hmm. This is what I was trying to link to. It’s late.


  • Yeah, I rememember how many times I heard the word “hero” after 9-11. Enough times to render it meaningless. I am not a sheep nor I do not feel safer because the United States military is killing and torturing people. They are not doing it for me.

  • valkyrie607

    Yes. Succint and eloquent, Peggysue.

    It’s not worth the price to me. Young people immersed in pain, creating ripples of more pain and hatred. Doesn’t make me feel protected, makes me anxious and then filled with anger.

  • Thanks valkyrie,

    I came home from work tonight and looked at this blog only to be called a sheep by some military General with a taste for blood. I turned on my radio and Karl Rove was on Speakers Forum talking about winning the war on terror. It was depressing. But luckily I’d brought home the DVD, The U.S. vrs. John Lennon which I just finished watching and I realised that Karl Rove is the reincarnation of Herbert Hoover and that there is only one way to win a war against terror and that is to declare peace.






    My heros do not kill.

  • the bold caps above are John Lennon quotes

  • oh, and I guess its a Marine Lt. Col with bloodly teeth not a General with who called me a sheep.

  • Howard Zinn historian and former WWII bombardier (he would be an excellent guest for this show).

    “You have to understand that I enlisted in the Air Force. I volunteered. I was an enthusiastic bombardier. To me it was very simple: it was a war against fascism. They were the bad guys, we were the good guys. One of the things I learned from that experience was that when you start off with them being the bad guys and you being the good guys, once you’ve made that one decision, you don’t have to think anymore, if you’re in the military. From that point on, anything goes. From that point on, you’re capable of anything, even atrocities”.

    excerpts from Experiencing War.


  • if you are in the military… you follow orders… you do not ask questions… like sheep.

  • Here is an article about killing in the military.


    We train them to kill. Afterward, they’re on their own. Dan Baum, The New Yorker, July 5, 2004

    “Lieutenant Colonel Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, an Army psychiatrist based in Bethesda, has called killing ” the dead elephant in the living room that nobody wants to talk about”.”

    avecfrites – this article may answer your question

  • You’re on it peggysue!!!

  • I don’t agree with Grossman’s simplistic framing. As a US soldier I guess he wants to believe that his side are sheepdog warriors who are there to protect the pack. But who are they really protecting in Iraq? Not US citizens and not many Iraqi citizens if we look at the daily death count. Haven’t many of the soldier even expressed their disagreement with their present police mission. They say they are trained to fight, not to keep the peace. Sounds like pack of wolves to me.

  • William Bittner

    Correct or not, I tend to look at things from an evolutionary perspective. Humans, like most animals, have always, and still do, kill other humans and animals.

    At the dawn of our species, it was usually done to survive, such as for food or defense, or for non-survival reasons, such as for territory, political gain, revenge, or hate. But for whatever reason, it was done at within a small and immediate scale, either within a small community, or at odds with another small community. And it seemed to be a part of their day-to-day life. And when they went to war in defense of their community, it was with friends and family from that community, usually near that community, and they were too aware of the costs if they failed.

    But most living in Western societies live in a totally different culture. Aside from animal slaughter, killing is a very rare occurrence – even though they may see humans killing other humans in movies, the media, and in games. And when people do kill, it’s either as a criminal – or within the military. And, in the case of the American military in the past 50 or so years, soldiers are rarely fighting for their community’s defense, but for political or economic reasons. And the scale is larger and the battle so distant and detached from their family and home community. The reasons seem muddy, and I don’t think they truly feel they have much to lose if they fail.

    So, it’s when you take people that, as a whole, aren’t used to killing, and instruct them to kill when it doesn’t feel to them like that hearth and home are truly in jeopardy, you have problems.

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  • rahbuhbuh

    I too had a strong reaction to “U.S. vs John Lennon,” that if everyone stayed in bed waiting for peace, no one would be doing anything at all. One would also conscientously object to interaction with the community. One would also object to earning money to buy food. Also, with utter passivity, who’s to stop the aggressor from walking into your room with intent to kill the hairy person on the bed for their cause?

    I’m not taking the “if you ______, the terrorists win” stance, that’s just as simplistic and sad. But, we are aggressive animals with incisors and should not forget that. Thankfully, we also feel remorse after killing, so much that at one point we stop the killing.

  • rahbuhbuh, I’m sure John Lennon paid for his meals while he and Yoko staged their “bed in” and Lennon was in fact gunned down by an aggressor but not before he created a lasting legacy for peace. Evolution means to change. Yes, we have incisors. We still have gills for that matter but that has not stopped us from walking upright and breathing air through our noses. We also have imaginations. We’ll never have peace if we can not even imagine it. Lennon asked us to imagine peace.

  • makrab

    I fear I have become fairly cinical in my thoughts, but such is life. The notion that we as a global culture will become passive and diplomatic is somewhat nieve. The intellectual elite, who have time to argue such points on blogs, can call for it all we like, but we will fail that way. In my opinion the best we can do, besides electing less war-mongering officals, is help to give returning soliders help. These men and women are severely psycolically truamatized and our veteren programs are subject to scandal. I think this is about the soldier’s mental health and the ability to kill another person. The “sheepdog” quote clearly is simply meant to justify the training. Most of us disargree with most justifications, so the arguements there become moot. So the discussion becomes what affect does killing have on these soldiers, and how to we bring these men and women back into our supposedly passive society?

    Peggysue, you’ve had some great stuff on here, but the Lennon strand has seemed to taken us tangent from where you were.

    Does anyone have some research links on PTSD (or one of the many names it has previiously been called)? I had a coach at one point who was a navy seal in nam, and to this day I’ve never heard him say he’s killed a man. Not that he hasn’t but as a way to deal with he’ll say stuff like “I shot him, he’s dead now”. Is that the best way to deal with the action of killing? How else could we do it? Honestly, if there’s anyone out there who’s gone through this I’d love to hear your take on it.

  • katemcshane

    peggysue — I didn’t read this thread until today, because I was afraid it would be another “Women in War” or like the first half of “Entertaining Violence”. Thanks to your comments, I was able to breathe as I read what is here. I agree with you. When I first read the description of the show with the mention of “sheep,” I felt ill. Your explanation of what Lennon did reminded me of a story told by June Jordan, when she suggested to people, I think in Oakland, one evening that they should demand something like a million a day of what was being spent on war to be spent for services in Oakland. Afterward, a reporter said to her — something like — You mean a thousand, right? She said no, and he looked at her as if she was nuts. She commented on how sick it is when we think it’s more reasonable to spend billions on war than to ask for a small amount like one million a day for services to the people. That would be imagining peace, I guess.

  • tbrucia

    We all kill every day: mosquitos, ants, spiders, and so on. It doesn’t bother us. One theory is that it isn’t killing per se that disturbs people — it is killing ‘things’ that we relate to emotionally. Some people, still considered ‘normal’, think nothing of killing animals. (As a child my wife never liked ‘catching the blood in a bowl’ after her mother had beheaded chickens, but everyone in her village thought nothing of that. My wife was considered unduly sensitive…). Some people (in certain societies) think that killing someone from another nation or ethnic group is little different than killing a chicken or a pig. (And then, folks from PETA would die a thousand deaths if they had to slaughter a baby lamb.) The theory which seems most adequate is that of propinquity. The closer to one, the more emotionally disturbing killing becomes. A father who kills his son, or a son who kills his father will (normally) be afflicted greatly — even if the death is accidental. If a person kills someone in a traffic accident, the emotional scars are somewhat less. And if a soldier loads a 500-pound bomb onto a fighter-bomber rack, he’s probably never going to give a second thought to the agonies of those who die when it explodes (even if the victims are babies or women). A corollary of the human indifference to life — if it’s not a friend, neighbor, or relative — is the incredible hullaballoo that surrounds a shooting of 33 people on a Virginia campus, and the total indifference to the deaths of more than 3,800,000 people in the Congo during 1998 – 2003. (The fact that the dead were not Caucasians might have something to do with the inability of many Americans to ‘give a damn’. In summary, the old process of ‘objectification’ is part of the training process. Point, shoot, and move on. It’s only an animated silhouette anyway….

  • orlox

    Grossman has certainly never trained sheepdogs. Their ‘instinct’ is to attack and eat the sheep, of course. The shepherd intervenes with training and, notably, another source of food.

    I hope we can leave the analogy as inapt, because it is giving me the willies.

    However, I might remind the sheepdogs that their ‘flock’ is not a prey species at all. Their herd is just dogs with different jobs. These sheep bite back.

  • rahbuhbuh

    The herding metaphor made me think of police officers instead of soldiers. Both are trained for combat, how do the approaches differ? How is psychiatric treatment after a kill different?

    For the police, the battle field is local against someone definitely “bad” breaking our “good” law, unless a horrible mistake has been made. Are police officers more prepared to face the intimacy of killing because they are trained at the academy to avoid it at all cost? Are they more mature about it, considering you can’t enter the force until you’re a certain age compared to the military’s 18?

    I heard that military training after bootcamp to be certified for Iraq deployment has been sped up from four weeks to 10 days. This is not a good sign.

    I’m almost afraid to bring this up, have current soldiers adapted to training more readily due to all the carnage in today’s play-violent media? Previous generation’s Cowboys & Indians or Cops & Robbers may have been murderous, but weren’t so bloody with a digital readout of the enemy body count.


    peggysue: (volunteer) soldiers are not sheep, they decided to fight for something they believe in, even if you don’t agree with their reasoning. Maybe they’re just sadistic, or perhaps capable to do something hard most of us refuse to.

  • Though it may be in our nature and history to kill and to do so more easily the more distant and objectified the relation and the more sophisticated the weapon and strategy, it also requires social and psychological conditioning. Arguments that humans are born killers cannot explain why many people and some societies are peace-loving and why a grandfather and father could volunteer to become fighters and go to war and his son (me) be completely opposed to war.

    Through social values research, that looks at long-term trends, Michael Adams has revealed that in US society roughly 50% of the population has become far more disengaged from civic society. Listen here to what the consequences of this is, including the normalization of violence in everyday life. Be warned that the researcher is Canadian and his bias comes through in his review of the result. Still, its an informative interview.

    These changes show that nothing is inevitable with humans and that, as Peggysue suggests, it is important to imagine other possibilities and not accept the rhetoric of those seeking to dominate.

  • tbrucia, in my my experience your theory doesn’t necessarily play out. I think different people just have different sensibilities. A friend of my grandmother’s accidentally killed a stranger in a car accident. She was hurt in the accident, as well, so I’m not sure she ever saw the person. But she never drove again and began a career as an alcoholic. She was so sensitive that she was never able to bear the pain of what happened.

    So, I’m not sure it’s just about propinquity. I can’t stand to kill bugs. And once, I woke up at 2 am to find a bat about 6″ away from my face, on my pillow coming towards me. (linformation gathered later led us all to believe the bat was starving and/or rabid) There is a long, almost comical story to go with this, but. I’ll just say that I utterly freaked out. Ran out into the road of a strange town in just my t-shirt and flagged down a car and got a complete stranger to come in and help me. Even in my panic – the extended episode that is the entire story resulted in an extreme bat-phobia – I couldn’t stand to have the bat harmed. I made the man promise me he would just release it outside. Some people wouldn’t have given it a thought. We all have different dispositions when it comes to killing. I’m not sure where I cross the line to willingness to kill, if at all. To eat? Maybe. To protect my daughter? Likely. I’ve never been tested. I imagine everybody has a different line.

  • katemcshane

    peggysue — just to correct something I wrote earlier: I couldn’t find the original story by June Jordan, but I think she suggested that the people of Oakland request a billion of the war spending and the reporter thought she must have meant a million. I hate having misquoted June Jordan, because — I’ve never used this word before — she’s certainly a hero of mine.

  • I woke up this morning remembering something about my daughter when she was 3. We were reading a book about dolphins. On one page was a picture of fishing boats hauling up nets with dophins caught amongst the fish. She asked me what the people were doing. I said, “Fishing.” She asked what that was. I told her that people catch fish to eat them. She became nearly hysterical. “NO! People don’t eat fish! They can’t eat fish! People can’t kill fish!! It went on and on for about 20 minutes. She has never been willing to even taste any meat. She will eat cheese, but it’s the only animal product in her diet. I have the opposite challenge of most parents: she loves vegetables but I have a hard time getting enough protein in her. Neither of her parents have had vegetarian diets since she was born, so this is not an inculturated thing. It’s innate to her. Now I know other kids who dive right into their hamburgers and hot dogs and it doesn’t bother them one bit that animals died for them to eat.

    I’m not sure we know exactly why some people have a propensity to okay with killing while others don’t. We may know how to get people to kill, but I’m not sure we understand where the innate dispositions come from. Propinquity may impact that, but may not be the truly foundational factor.

  • here is another quote from:


    We train them to kill. Afterward, they’re on their own. Dan Baum, The New Yorker, July 5, 2004

    “During the second World War, the American military lost more front line soldiers to psycological collapse than to death by enemy fire. Since Korea, every Army division (of about three thousand soldiers) has been assigned nine combat-stress experts, six of whom are enlisted personel and three of whom are officers. A soldier troubled by the killing he has done – or by anything else – can, theoretically, ask to see a psychologist. But almost half of the American soldiers in Iraq who have screened positive for mental-health problems tell the Army that they’re rarely given the time to do so, and more than half fear the stigma. Last year an Army staff sergeant, disturbed by the sight of an Iraqi’s mutilated body, confided his concern to his unit’s combat-stress officer and, according to the Army, asked to be sent back to the United States. He was charged with cowadly conduct.”


    allison, don’t tell your daughter this but when I was doing my treehugger thing I knew some pretty hard core vegans. I’ve heard cheese called “coagulated oppression”. (Not that I live by that standard myself – I rarely give the live culture in my yogurt a second thought). It does make you wonder when a kid, unprompted by their parent, refuses to eat meat. I have a friend whose daughter had a similar response to yours. Where they Jains in a past life?

  • With the amount of times it is repeated, the idea that the military doing what they do allows me to live is not only cliché it is also a completely baseless statement.

    I prepared, if this is what society looks like thanks to the “protection” of national militaries, to live in a world without this alleged layer of protection. Im curious if we’d just dissolve the army ala Costa Rica and push on with living our lives. Everyone seems to certain about what would happen.. as they regurgitate the cliché.

  • katemcshane

    sidewalker — thank you for all your comments here. Also for the Michael Adams link, which I listened to a few nights ago. He made a lot of sense to me. As we all know, people repeat these arguments about how natural it is to be violent, or how necessary it is to have war, because it keeps at bay the chaos of feelings they fear will kill them if they let them loose.

  • katemcshane

    I want to include a poem here, even though the last time I did that on a “war” thread, someone had a fit.

    Bruce Weigl, a Vietnam Vet, is one of the best poets in the country — a man who grew up working class in Lorain, Ohio, didn’t do much reading in high school, went to Vietnam after graduation, came back alive and went back to school, went on to get his Ph.D. and write beautiful, down-to-earth, emotionally intense poetry. He has also translated a lot of Vietnamese poetry, including those from journals carried by Vietnamese soldiers for the express purpose of writing poetry during wartime. Bruce makes the observation that the United States military were given PLAYBOY magazine, while soldiers in Vietnam were given journals for the poems they would write. In a book nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, SONG OF NAPALM, he has a poem about killing. He said that, although he wrote it about something happening to a kid in his neighborhood, about 10 years later he realized he had written it about himself.


    My neighbor’s boy has lifted his father’s shotgun and stolen

    down to the backwaters of the Elizabeth

    and in the moon he’s blasted a snowy egret

    from the shallows it stalked for small fish.

    Midnight. My wife wakes me. He’s in the backyard

    with a shovel so I go down half drunk with pills

    that let me sleep to see what I can see and if it’s safe.

    The boy doesn’t hear me come across the dewy grass.

    He says through tears he has to bury it,

    he says his father will kill him

    and he digs until the hole is deep enough and gathers

    the egret carefully into his arms

    as if not to harm the blood-spattered wings

    gleaming in the flashlight beam.

    His man’s muscled shoulders

    shake with the weight of what he can’t set right no matter what,

    but one last time he tries to stay a child, sobbing

    please don’t tell….

    He says he only meant to flush it from the shadows,

    he only meant to watch it fly

    but the shot spread too far

    ripping into the white wings

    spanned awkwardly for a moment

    until it glided into brackish death.

    I want to grab his shoulders,

    shake the lies loose from his lips but he hurts enough,

    he burns with shame for what he’s done,

    with fear for his hard father’s

    fists I’ve seen crash down on him for so much less.

    I don’t know what to do but hold him.

    If I let go he’ll fly to pieces before me.

    What a time we share, that can make a good boy steal away,

    wiping out from the blue face of the pond

    what he hadn’t even known he loved, blasting

    such beauty into nothing.


    We could have a culture in which kids are taught how to bring the (real) world through themselves and make art, creating human beings with profound insight about their lives, who could walk into life, toward other people, with their arms open. Instead, we give them AMERICAN IDOL and 24.

  • Katherine writes summing up Retired Marine Lt. Col. Dave Grossman:

    The point here is that the military may live by a moral code that feels alien to civilians — but it’s one created by Americans that we depend on to protect the society we live in.

    The moral code that is required for excessive violence (e.g. war) is the same for Islamic fundamentalist and for the war-on-terror cheerleaders: we are good, powerful, right, justified. Defense of one’s legitimate homeland does not require such a code, but aggressive action does.

    The war against the Taliban in Afghanistan could gather the support of the majority of nations because it was an action against a group that attacked the US. (even if some argue this initial attack was a justified response to US imperialism).

    The war in Iraq is clearly part of nation building: US nation building; not Iraqi. It is part of efforts to re-establish and protects the sacred notion that the US is a morally superior society by pitting it against evil dictators, terrorist insurgents, fundamentalists, etc. Under this logic, this code, the Iraq war, as those before and after it, are critical to US existence.

    The problem is that this code turned against itself when the Abu Ghraib torture pictures hit the airwaves, when the WMD lies were exposed, when the Fallujah massacre came to light, when soldiers murdered innocent families, when defending the homeland was just more rhetoric for securing oil resources, when the morally superior society was shown to act worse than the debased and corrupted enemy.

    Without this moral code of violence, how can the soldier justify the taking of lives? US military men and women may try to convince themselves and their nation that their cause is noble, but the many cases of PTSD suggest they have a hard time living with their memories and visual reminders that cast doubt on the righteousness of their mission.

    At the same time, nations around the world could not see justification for invading Iraq and only a coalition of the coerced was possible. Rather, many hearts go out to Iraqis, who have faced an attack on their homeland many times worse in scale and destruction than 9/11. The resulting uprising against the foreign occupier need not fabricate the goodness of the cause, the superiority of the people. This is saved for violence against members of other religious sects.

  • katemcshane, thank for sharing that poem with us here.

  • kate: beautiful poem

    sidewalker: thanks – yes, I think we have lost what “moral” authority we may have ever had for a long time now.

  • rubuhbuh: “peggysue: (volunteer) soldiers are not sheep, they decided to fight for something they believe in, even if you don’t agree with their reasoning. Maybe they’re just sadistic, or perhaps capable to do something hard most of us refuse to.”

    American citizens are not sheep either. (Talk about anthopomorphism) In as much as either one of us can possible speak for the volunteer soldiers I think many of them are just desparate for a regular paycheck. There was a popular poster during the Vietnam war that mimiced a typical recruiting poster but added the part that recruiters leave out. It said: Join the Army. Travel to exotic places. Meet exotic people AND KILL THEM. Recruiters don’t talk to kids about what its like to kill and how their pyches will become damaged by it.

  • rahbuhbuh

    Peggysue: I’m not accussing anyone of being sheep. Ugh, Military recruiting methods are an entirely different scary twisted topic. The sheer stupidity of the “Army of One” campaign still bothers me just on a logic level.

    “What if you find out for sure that you shot a child? Or one of your own platoonmates?”

    I just watched “Born on the 4th of July” over the weekend. I wonder if Ron Kovic is still doing interviews?

  • “I wonder if Ron Kovic is still doing interviews?”

    looks like he is… here’s one from Jan 07…


    He’d be a great guest for this show.

  • or maybe not, this from wikipedia…

    “In March 2007, Kovic checked into the Ernst Bors Spinal Chord Injury ward of the Veterans Administration Hospital in Long Beach, California, for an undisclosed illness.”

    Also from wikipedia, Ron Kovic quotes…

    * “I have come to believe there is nothing in the lives of human beings more terrifying than war and nothing more important than for those of us who have experienced it to share its awful truth.”

    * “War is not the answer. Violence is not the solution. A more peaceful world is possible.”

  • jazzman

    What differentiates killing during a war from killing during peace? The imprimatur of some authority (Dictator, King, Boss, State, or group) is what differentiates “approved” (legal) killing from unapproved, illegal killing (both murder by any other euphemism) and it’s exactly the same as capital punishment – murder sanctioned by single authority, committee or consensus.

    Therefore there is NO difference in any intentional killing except the mere act of sanction pro or con. (Sanction is an interesting word: it’s its own antonym.) Whence the “moral” authority to commit “legal” murder?

    The code of Hammurabi presumably supported the idea of eye for an eye or life for a life which is pretty much the status quo today except that we don’t cut off hands (at least here in the U.S.) or gouge out eyes, but we do in some states (thankfully not MA) require a forfeiture of life for the taking of life and other sundry crimes (Treason, Sedition, Espionage, Drug trafficking etc.)

    Some lives are deemed more valuable than others (those with the power) so if they are killed then the killer must be killed whereas an ordinary citizen’s life might only warrant incarceration.

    If willful killing is deemed wrong (immoral) for an individual or non-ruling group, why then is willful killing right and “moral” for the “ruling” group? It’s because “morality” is situational, defined by those in power and it is they who decide “right” and “wrong” for their charges. It was the arbitrary nature of “morality” that led me to Absolute Morality i.e., a morality that is not situational and obviates the power imbalance.

    Willful killing as noted above also tends to become easier and less troubling with practice (repetition) and the ease grows inversely proportional to the distance from the killer to the killed. It is far more traumatic to strangle a person face to face or knife someone than to shoot someone from a distance. In the case of dropping bombs or lobbing cruise missiles it registers in one’s psyche (or should) but not with the same impact as close up.

    GWB’s decidery has been responsible for not only the most Texas Justice Executions (God will give them credit if they were innocent) by a governor but hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries of Iraqis and several thousand U.S Military but if it bothers him, he doesn’t show it, and this is the trend of modern warfare. Depersonalized killing from a distance is the new paradigm and the “War is Hell” model from the Revolution thru Vietnam is no longer a deterrent for those who wage it from distant ships, boardrooms, or Oval Offices and others’ children. At least up close and personal killing was shock therapy for most and provided an impetus for peace.

    Psychologically, people condone the killing of perceived enemies out of fear or revenge and that is the way war is often sold. (See Iraq.) Many people join the military for the same reasons, to protect the nation from those whom they fear will do us harm or they want to make the enemy pay for perceived torts (such as the WTC attack.) In some ways they are misguided idealists who believe they are killing for a noble cause (as are the suicide bombers.)

    Even though the rulers of Afghanistan who had nothing to do with 9/11 except harbor someone who at the time it wasn’t even definitively known whether or not he was responsible for the act, they were bombed and attacked in the name of revenge and defiance of the U.S. (by refusing to hand him over.) If France were to have given him asylum and we demanded him to be turned over and they refused as they undoubtedly would, would we have bombed or invaded France? I think not.

    Killing will only beget more killing and violence and will not solve anything but the elimination of physical beings. As I have often written here: Peace is not obtained by war or hating war, but by loving peace. When enough human beings want peace then it will be reality. If people observed Absolute Morality and realized that they create their own reality in every aspect then there would be no reason to fear or kill as one is killing a projected aspect of one’s fear.

    As Yoko Ono & John Lennon said: War is Over if You Want It


  • Bobo

    I really apologize if anyone views this as inappropriate/offensive. But the parallel metaphor here was just *killing* me, so I had to just say it out loud.

    The sheep/wolves/sheepdog metaphor is *IDENTICAL* to the metaphor used *ironically* in “Team America.” Here’s a youtube link to the clip I’m talking about. I’m putting it here because I think it’s relevant to the show, but even though it’s puppets, it can be offensive, so be warned.

    ( http://youtube.com/watch?v=9mzVWnLydZU )

    For anyone who doesn’t want to watch the clip, the basic idea is the same as Grossman’s, just replace sheep/wolves/sheepdog with the less anatomical terminology for vagina/anus/penis.

    Really, though, the reason I posted this is because when I read the description of Grossman’s metaphor, I laughed out loud. I was then further amazed at how much serious and though provoking discussion followed it. Sometimes it helps to pull back the curtain and see metaphors for what they truly are. And it can be really funny sometimes. A little humor can help on a serious discussion like this.

  • jscientist

    older wars were ritual and less bloodshed was suffered. the last of these civilization died off in the 40’s. it is too bad other wise the iraq war would have been over. But our army has not adapted to fighting insurgency. Can we?

  • katemcshane

    Jazzman — thank you for everything you wrote. You express eloquently what I believe. It’s not that I have ever advocated violence of any kind, but only at a very late age, am I learning how to find balance within my self, my soul, and to know what I believe well enough to defend it; therefore, I am not able to approach this issue as soundly and thoroughly as you do. Whenever I read or listen to discussions about war, I first find that I’m confused, because I am not able to comprehend why people see war as anything but murder; I don’t understand why there is a discussion at all. People, generally, see such a belief as crazy, naive, judgmental, or worse. I ask myself what kind of karma am I accruing as someone who lives with this government? What does it mean for my soul that I am able to go to work each day, to go about my life at all (even if I do it with great difficulty) while I know what is being done to people in this country and all over the world?

    This morning I woke up thinking about the insidious effects on people who are taught to knuckle under to authority from the time they are infants. As a kid, I had an intense, but not intense enough, reaction to authority. I lived in an environment of almost total domination, with only the rarest relief — living with physical, emotional, sexual abuse and going to an abusive and authoritarian Catholic school. My objections to primitive authoritarian requirements and judgments were met with more abuse. This took its toll. As I tried to save my life as an adult, to integrate and understand terrible memories of violence and violation, some people at a workplace, about 10 years ago, set out to force me out, because of what seemed to me like reasonable statements that I’d made, and the result was so destructive that I am still trying to recover from it. All these years I’ve tried to understand why I was seen as such a threat and this morning I realized that most of them — perhaps all — had been raised to defend any statement by any authority, simply because it came from an authority figure. Of course, at the time, that never occurred to me, because, at least on an intellectual level, it seemed like idiocy to me, and these people had been educated in some of the most prestigious schools in the country and had grown up in seemingly privileged circumstances. As someone who was raised in a working class family, with almost no access to books, and badly educated, it hadn’t occurred to me that they could have received even less in some ways than I.

    I have been so intimidated, pathologized, cornered and beaten down that it was only in the last few years that quietly, when I was alone, I said to myself, I do not believe in obedience to authority. Up until that time, I actually believed that I must be really f*cked up for believing such a thing, that I had deserved to be crushed.

    I wish I were stronger. There have been so many years of panic, night terrors, fear that I’ve tried to conceal almost all day long — all of it the result of violence, aggression and intimidation in my daily life — that I am not able to understand how violence, aggression, intimidation — and war, murder — can be sanctioned by anyone. I work at a job where I’ve been told that I am there “to do as I’m told and nothing more,” and I am not able to walk away for fear of becoming homeless again. That shows you how little progress I’ve made. I feel humiliated for admitting this.

    As far as I can see, the least aggressive act is on the same continuum with war. The violence in a child’s home, the indoctrination (and punishment for not going along with indoctrination) in schools by shortsighted teachers, the intimidation by police officers of groups they want to control, the bosses who insist on obedience or else dismissal — all of it sets people up to endure the effects of violence in our lives and to feel helpless to resist what any authority figure or institution does. Many people do not love peace, because they cannot imagine peace — international peace or even a small circle of true, not figurative, peace in their lives.

    Jazzman, your writing on this site has contributed to the education of my soul and I am deeply grateful to you.


  • jazzman

    Kate Thanks for your kind words – I do not have time to respond now, but next week I will try to address (reinforce) some of your heartfelt comments.



  • Katherine

    In response to all of your comments so far: The main thing I hope this show will get at — stepping back from the limitations of the sheep/wolf metaphor and the legitimacy of this particular Iraq war — is how individual military men and women deal with the fact that killing may be part of their job. In other words, if you accept (which bicyclemark doesn’t) that a country should have a military to protect its citizens, then you have to deal with the fact that soldiers, Marines, etc. have to be prepared to kill. And that they could be asked by a civilian administration to kill in wars they disagree with. And that the killing may happen in situations that are less than clear-cut. We’ve done countless shows on the unjustness/justness of the Iraq war, so we’d like this hour to stay clear of politics to focus on the experience of several combat veterans. Also: while I’d like to think most people (in the military, too!) would agree with the pro-peace sentiments many of you have expressed, the unavoidable fact is that the US is currently asking thousands of its teenagers and twenty-year-olds to kill. It’s done it before, and no doubt it will do it again…

    Rahbuhbuh: A comparison to other countries would definitely be interesting, but there’s so much to talk about on this that we’ve decided to limit the show to experiences within the US military. Our hope, as in the veterans hour and the women-in-war hour, is to have only military personnel on the show — no talking heads. Avecfrites: I don’t know how the guest roster will shape up, but we’re definitely considering veterans from WWII and Vietnam.

    Peggysue: Thanks a lot for the link to the Dan Baum article.

  • katemcshane

    bicyclemark, I’m with you. Just for the record. Even it means I’m going to be slaughtered tomorrow.

    I just wanted to make it clear what I meant, originally. I’ve listened to all the military personnel I can tolerate. I had had enough by the “Military Self-Critique” show. As far as I can see, they ARE talking heads. For me, it’s pointless, because I do not believe there is justified killing. It’s ironic, because it was violence and aggression that brought me to a place where I would not be able to fight someone even for my life; yet I would be considered pathetic or crazy by the people who believe in “justified” killing and violence. It reminds me of growing up before the women’s movement, when it was standard to call women “girls” and to tell them all day long, if they continued to speak, that they just didn’t understand (anything). The difference today, even as we have (apparently) agreed to be called “girls” again, is that you may be able to bring a woman military person on your show to tell me the same thing. No thanks.

    Also, I very much doubt that “most people” in the military are “pro-peace”. If you are truly pro-peace, if you actually know that you believe in peace and why, you don’t join the military. Have there been nice kids who thought, for one reason or another, it was necessary to join, who realized later what a mistake they’d made and left? Yes, every day, thank God. And have some of them gone on to realize that they were “pro-peace”? Yes. But all of the kids who are learning to kill are LEARNING TO KILL. Do I mean to judge them? No, actually, because I’ve been in situations where I learned to do things I do not now agree to do.

    I’m going to stop now, because I feel so angry that I’m losing the ability to be articulate.

  • katemcshane

    Also, at first I thought that what I’ve been writing about is more related to spiritual beliefs than politics, but I remembered what is recognized in some places, which is that EVERYTHING is political.

  • Reported on Democracy Now, Monday, May 7th, 2007:

    Survey: More than 1/3 of U.S. Soldiers in Iraq Approve of Torture

    A new Army survey has found that more than one-third of U.S. soldiers in Iraq said they believe torture should be allowed in some cases. In addition, about two-thirds of Marines and half the Army troops surveyed said they would not report a team member for mistreating a civilian or for destroying civilian property unnecessarily. The Army survey found that less than half of the soldiers polled believed that non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect. And 10 percent of the troops said they had personally mistreated civilians in Iraq. Nearly 1800 troops took part in the survey. Acting Army Surgeon Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock characterized the report as positive news. He told reporters: “What it speaks to is the leadership that the military is providing, because they’re not acting on those thoughts. They’re not torturing the people.” (end of quote) …but they want to???

    We can’t speak of soldiering as a job. That way of thinking only naturalizes the process of killing.

    This is about manipulating young people through education, media and military training to see the other as non-human, undeserving of dignity and respect, even when a non-combatant. In addition to securing oil resources, this is in part an ethnic war (African American enlistment is way down) of “Christian” Caucasians against Islamic peoples.

  • valkyrie607

    I thought perhaps this might be germane:


    It’s an article in Edge.org in which Stephen Pinker argues that humans have actually gotten less violent, not more, over the course of history.

    He believes that humans are disposed towards violence. He points out that events like the torture at Abu Ghraib, deplorable as they are, would have barely raised eyebrows a couple of centuries ago.

    It’s interesting to consider. If humans are innately disposed towards violence, then why does the army put so much effort into teaching soldiers to be more violent? On the other hand, it is somewhat encouraging, to me at least, to consider that humans are very malleable, and that norms about violence have changed over time, and will certainly continue to do so. The only question is, which direction to WE want to go? If we decide that we need to prioritize making our society more peaceful, I have no doubt we could accomplish it. But I doubt very much we will accomplish peace by violent means. It’s like aiming for chastity by fucking more.

  • valkyrie607

    As far as how I felt after September 11th, my main feeling was, well. The chickens are finally coming home to roost. I was slightly excited: perhaps America’s massive complacency would be shaken. This is an opportunity to change course! Of course, I was mistaken.

    Well, maybe not entirely mistaken. But that shaking was quickly replaced by a renewed sense of complacency, with lots of active help from the fearmongers in power. Go shopping! We’ve got the sheepdogs on the job.

    No thanks. If my country’s doing shit that makes people I’ve never met before so pissed off they’re ready to blow themselves up in order to kill a bunch if strangers just to make a point, firstly, I want to hear about exactly what it is they’re pissed off about. Secondly, I don’t want to go blow them up to make a counter-point. It’s not making my life any safer. Generally, the foreign policy stuff that so enrages people in different parts of the globe is not anything that’s in my interests. I.e. it’s not in my interest to secure continued access to cheap oil. It’s in my interest to redesign my hometown so folks don’t have to drive so much. It’s not in my interest that America controls certain parts of real estate in the Middle East to make sure that China never achieves hegemony on the Eurasian continent. It’s in my interest to encourage China to develop fair labor and environmental laws so we can all engage in this trading thing without ruining our respective ecosystems (not to mention the one we all share). And on and on.

    When was the last time anybody took a serious stab at defining “America’s national interests?” Who is American? Whose interests are being served? Why are those interests worth the deaths of tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent people? This whole military conflict thing is just perpetuating the fiction that we’re not all living on the same planet.

    So I would like to hear, specifically, what it is these military folks think they are defending. Because, like the song says, “It ain’t me, babe.”

  • valkyrie607

    What I was getting at was this:

    Perhaps the military is really protecting us from our own complicity in the unjust and sometimes brutal nature of American foreign policy. Without military force, our lives would be a lot more expensive–we’d be obliged to confront the true costs of our oil, our bananas, our Sean John sweatsuits, our government’s attempt at global political hegemony. But less free? I’m not convinced.

  • rc21

    slightly excited after 9/11? Some statements really make me wonder. 9/11 made me feel sad.

  • jazzman

    Kate Here are some of my observations anent your comments. I hope my assertive opinions (which some believe aggressive in the negative sense and possibly violent) are not off putting to you.

    (Italicized text from katemcshane above)

    Whenever I read or listen to discussions about war, I first find that I’m confused, because I am not able to comprehend why people see war as anything but murder;…People, generally, see such a belief as crazy, naive, judgmental, or worse.

    I try not to give energy to war; I don’t read about it in magazines or newspapers (I limit newspaper usage to word puzzles.) I don’t listen to the talking heads (except David Byrne), talk radio or the news except for weather or traffic reports and try to limit my engagements with others regarding war to pro-peace espousals. When one is anti-war, one tends to create more wars to be against.

    As I mentioned above “sanctioned killing” (in the permissive sense) such as war, self-defense, or capital punishment is viewed by the vast majority as justified termination of life and not murder (and they are correct by the standard dictionary definition which defines murder as the unlawful killing of a human being by another.) People justify this killing from FEAR of whoever is being killed and believe they are “safer” if these socially deemed deservers of death are eliminated.

    In my belief system there is no such thing as “lawful” killing or any reason to kill (or physically harm) another person for any pretext. Just because something is lawful (state or group sanctioned) doesn’t mean it is ideal or “right”; the majority of people do believe in lawful killing so they often view contradictory beliefs exactly as you have noted above (much of the criticism leveled at some of my beliefs on ROS reinforces your point.)

    I ask myself what kind of karma am I accruing as someone who lives with this government? What does it mean for my soul that I am able to go to work each day, to go about my life at all (even if I do it with great difficulty) while I know what is being done to people in this country and all over the world?

    In my view, one does not accrue karma (baggage that one carries from this life to the next as a “debt” to be “worked off”), the “less than ideal” actions that one performs are meant to cause a realization that these actions are undesirable and to not repeat them. The government with which we live is a manifestation (creation) of ourselves in conjunction with the mass reality with which one chooses to align oneself for his/her particular purpose. It is an example of how our personal & mass beliefs (fear) create less than ideal situations as a construct to facilitate internal growth (consciousness raising.)

    The knowledge of man’s inhumanity to man is secondary information (unless you are physically part of the drama) which is why I limit my exposure to “news”. Our psyches and physical bodies do not easily differentiate between primary and secondary information and our innate empathetic sense tends to identify with “victims” (as I wrote to you before empathy is neutral but we charge it according to our prejudices.) If the information is of a primary nature (i.e., you are the perpetrator or the recipient or the action is happening in your immediate sphere of influence) then a mental or physical action is appropriate (the endocrine system secretes hormones, our heart rate increases, the mind races, it’s fight or flight etc.) but secondary information produces similar responses which have nowhere to go and so can build up to create stress and illness.

    It is good for one’s soul to go to work every day (provided one is not miserable there) and to go about one’s life providing an example to others of a balanced existence. If it is with difficulty, one needs to identify the root cause and take positive action to ameliorate it. Even if it is only baby steps, intention to improve one’s reality coupled with action will result in improvement.

    This morning I woke up thinking about the insidious effects on people who are taught to knuckle under to authority from the time they are infants. As a kid, I had an intense, but not intense enough, reaction to authority.

    In the case of a child, parental authority is necessary for physical survival and must be exercised (lovingly not violently) in order to protect it from dangers that are obvious to the adult (these beliefs are the parent’s concept of the nature and perils of existence.) Parents discourage disobedience as wrongful behavior because they believe they know what’s best for their child and are only concerned for their wellbeing. To an adult, ideas about right/wrong are generally more akin to behavioral guidelines than absolutes, but to a child dogmatic acceptance of these beliefs is a biological (not a DE) imperative. To a child, adults are LARGE, certain, and seem godlike, and unquestioned acceptance is usually (preferably) the norm. As young peoples’ conscious minds become mature, it is natural (and necessary) to question ALL beliefs and to assess their relevance in relation to themselves, others, and their environment. Beliefs are merely structures in which various kinds of experience can be weighed or tested as to their validity. The preponderance of adults ignore or gloss over this process and still hold a vast number of childhood beliefs unexamined or questioned and so the idea of unquestioned obedience to authority is perpetuated generationally.

    I was raised in a devoutly “Christian” household (which is one of the many reasons I refused to expose my 3 children to organized religion and its requirements for obedience to their authority and insistence that you must have faith that they are correct; in its stead I substituted the tenets of Absolute Morality) and was physically and mentally abused because that was the way they were raised, they were frustrated and believed they were doing the right thing.

    I left home at 14 because of my unwillingness to “knuckle under” and didn’t come to terms with the issues for 10 years. As you probably noticed in the “Old Age” thread, we are OK now but it took a major growth in consciousness on my part and they now deny ever having participated in such acts.

    All these years I’ve tried to understand why I was seen as such a threat and this morning I realized that most of them — perhaps all — had been raised to defend any statement by any authority, simply because it came from an authority figure…at least on an intellectual level, it seemed like idiocy to me, and these people had been educated in some of the most prestigious schools in the country and had grown up in seemingly privileged circumstances.

    In my opinion this sort of reaction is due to insecurity born of FEAR, the root of almost all interpersonal turmoil. It is a primal emotion along with LOVE which is the only emotion that is stronger than fear. Intellect, education and privilege have nothing to do with it; it is purely emotional and if anything such circumstances serve to hinder any understanding regarding the cause of these (fear based) emotions.

    I have been so intimidated, pathologized, cornered and beaten down that it was only in the last few years that quietly, when I was alone, I said to myself, I do not believe in obedience to authority. Up until that time, I actually believed that I must be really f*cked up for believing such a thing, that I had deserved to be crushed.

    I have said here before, I break no law with which I agree in principle and I obey no law with which I disagree in principle (unless there is a metaphorical gun pointed at me i.e., someone observing who would arrest or attempt to have me arrested.) That’s the only kowtowing to authority in which I engage.

    Fear, ridicule and violence are powerful tools for those who have vested interests in not having their authority questioned. Again they use fear to cow because they are afraid that “the man behind the curtain” will be exposed for the poseurs they fear they are. People who are attracted to positions of authority/power are usually misguided idealists who seek to be “on top” because their worldview perceives (thru fear) that by and large people untrustworthy, are prone to violence and misbehavior, (by their lights) the world is messed up is and if they don’t do something to control the chaos, all will be lost.

    Authority figures such as medical doctors often are drawn to practice medicine as they are “natural” (psychically attuned) healers and the good ones are natural hypnotists who convince us (and themselves) that their treatments are efficacious (this is why placebos work.) There are other Dr.’s who believe in disease instead of health and (unlike holistic healers) treat symptoms instead of the reasons for the symptoms and the patient’s personal circumstances. Many times the cure is worst than the dis-ease. I’m pleased that you have come to terms with your conditioned beliefs which I’m sure you now realize resulted in your negative experiences; when one believes one deserves an outcome, one creates the “just deserts.”

    I wish I were stronger. There have been so many years of panic, night terrors, fear that I’ve tried to conceal almost all day long — all of it the result of violence, aggression and intimidation in my daily life — that I am not able to understand how violence, aggression, intimidation — and war, murder — can be sanctioned by anyone.

    You seem plenty strong (at least currently) from my vantage; I assume most of your early life you were unable to process the primary information that shaped your environment due to crippling fear. As bad as it was (and I know it can be horrible from experience) the checkered, tortuous life path has resulted in the stronger psyche you currently possess.

    There are as many reasons for less than ideal behavior as there are practitioners of it, but I believe that FEAR, ignorance and unwillingness to change one’s beliefs (which aren’t even recognized as such) are the reasons for such inhumane behaviors. These are the meta reasons from which flow the “7 deadly sins” and most undesirable behaviors can be traced to them. If one believes that one is responsible for their experience, and one trusts one’s good intent then there is no reason to fear as it is only themselves they have to fear and if one does one’s best to follow the examples of Absolute Morality then ideal experiences will be the norm.

    I work at a job where I’ve been told that I am there “to do as I’m told and nothing more,” and I am not able to walk away for fear of becoming homeless again. That shows you how little progress I’ve made. I feel humiliated for admitting this.

    In such a situation, I would recommend that until one has manifested a more desirable opportunity (and I’m one will present itself), one needs to do what is required (the service that has been contracted for by the employer) with a smile and as much positive attitude as one can and concentrate (mentally) on creating a more desirable situation. As you note above in authority/power imbalances, everything is political. Progress is not measured by one’s job; it is measured by the growth of one’s inner being (or your word – soul), how one conduct’s one’s affairs vis-à-vis others, and how one creates their reality.

    As far as I can see, the least aggressive act is on the same continuum with war.

    Attempt to see further (on a meta level); as I mentioned above aggression may be negative or positive. Aggressively pursuing peace for example, non-violently aggressively asserting one’s innate human rights (passive aggression a la Gandhi) etc. are positive IMO. Birth (asserting one’s consciousness into physical reality) is a highly aggressive highly positive act. What may be construed as negative aggressive acts are usually violations of Absolute Morality and should be discouraged. Again the continuum is degrees of FEAR.

    The violence in a child’s home, the indoctrination (and punishment for not going along with indoctrination) in schools by shortsighted teachers, the intimidation by police officers of groups they want to control, the bosses who insist on obedience or else dismissal — all of it sets people up to endure the effects of violence in our lives and to feel helpless to resist what any authority figure or institution does.

    This is ALL true and challenges our innate senses, however ALL these phenomena are the result of each of us creating the circumstances we meet in life as challenges to teach us how to consciously create our experience. If we dislike the circumstances in which we find ourselves we need to change the beliefs responsible for them. Children create their reality in response to what they perceive is expected of them; adults do as well but have the intellectual capacity to apprehend less than ideal circumstances that they create and the reasons for them, many times the intellectual is swamped by the emotional and it is difficult to accept the responsibility for creating the seemingly negative experiences in our reality.

    Many people do not love peace, because they cannot imagine peace — international peace or even a small circle of true, not figurative, peace in their lives.

    Many (most) people do not believe in peace or that it is the natural state of all existence. This IMO exists today as a function of the two prevailing stories of how humans came to be, Creationism and DE. The Biblical account has God warring with Lucifer and then with God expelling a disobedient Adam and Eve from Eden unpeacefully sheparded by an angel brandishing a fiery sword. Then a jealous Cain murders Abel and a decidedly less than ideal JHVH violently drowns all life on earth save those in Noah’s Ark, later the Israelites murder the Canaanites (Palestinians) by God’s orders. Christ is murdered (martyred) and so it goes thru the book of Revelation.

    Darwin (as popularly understood) by the same token ordains that life arose by the tooth & claw struggle that is the rule and so people believe that as animals human’s natural state is competition for resources and if they are scarce, war is an acceptable way to gain them, it’s only natural, DE says “just so.” I believe that everything naturally cooperates and makes existence possible. Peaceful cooperation is the model in which I believe and experience.

    When I create less than peaceful circumstances it is an indicator that something in my consciousness is not in balance and that I would do well to figure it out and correct it. On a personal note to you, Kate, for Christmas my son gave me a small book called “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne. He said that it is changing his life for the better and reminded him of the things I said to him growing up. I put it aside and forgot about it. I heard that Oprah was touting its message but when I went to look for it, I had misplaced it. It turned up this week as I was moving some things in the attic (coincidence? I think not) and took the time to read it. It echoes many of the assertions that I have been posting here for the last year and a half in a simple easily understandable way. I believe that you (or anyone) would benefit from reading it and applying the principles within and recommend it highly.



  • katemcshane

    Jazzman — I’m stunned. I know this took a long time to write. I really appreciate your kindness. I’m going to print it so I can spend some time with it. I put myself on a waiting list at the BPL for the book. There are 152 people ahead of me. On an entirely different subject, when I went to see Sonny Rollins, I said to Garrett, I was hoping Jazzman could come, because I wanted to meet him, and he said that you guys had been in touch and you couldn’t make it. I hope some time you do come to Boston for some jazz and I’m able to be at the same concert.

    Take care,


  • nabobnico

    I posted this on The Wall thread as well, but it might fit better over here. Waffa Billal is an Iraqi erformance artist doing a ppiece at a Chicago galley until 1 June. He is trapped in a room with a remote, internet accesible paintball gun aimed at him that can be fired at anytime. There are a remarkable series of interview with him on youtube as well. It is quite horrifying but powerful and should be discussed I think.

    Here’s the link.


  • valkyrie607

    Yes, Rc21: I was excited! Opportunity–potential for change–very exciting. I won’t apologize for that. I was going to write a long post explaining why I felt excited.

    But then I thought, hey. Rc21 said, “Some statements make me wonder.” Well, I encourage wondering. I bet, if you tried hard, you could understand where that reaction of mine was coming from. But if you don’t really want to understand, then nothing I can say will illuminate things for you.

  • rc21

    I think I know where you are coming from. Evil America got what they deserved.Your statements don’t need much illumination.

  • enhabit

    i can’t verify if he actually said it but at the end of the movie “Patton”, the general responds to a question about wmd.

    “Wonder weapons? I don’t see the wonder in them. Killing without heroics? Nothing is glorified, nothing is reaffirmed? No heroes, no cowards, no troops, no generals. Only those who are left alive and those who are left … dead. I’m glad I won’t live to see it.”

    it seems to me that if we are going to have war, then the eyes of the dying should be seen.

  • jazzman

    Kate 152 @ an average of 1 reader per week (I believe one can take up to 2 weeks) will take you 3 years of waiting which is too long. If you mentally intend (i.e., visualize) receiving it through other (unexpected) means, I wouldn’t be surprised if you manifest “The Secret” a lot sooner than you think.


  • Nick

    Two books appropriate for readers of this thread:

    A Terrible Love of War, by James Hillman

    The Face of Battle, by John Keegan

    I originally intended to offer a few excerpts from A Terrible Love of War, but since it’s an archetypal psychological examination of war and of militarism, and since Hillman cites Keegan, I’ll offer instead excerpts from The Face of Battle. This book, I must hasten to explain, does not glorify its subjects, but horrifies its reader by its unsparing descriptions of the reality of the organized, industrialized bloody mayhem all ‘prettied up’ in the highly costumed and conditioned-to-kill milieu of militarism.

    Keegan’s book contains chapterlet titles that match his (typically British) understated loathing of warfare, like ‘Killing No Murder?’, ‘The Inhuman Face of Battle’, and ‘The Abolition of Battle’. His primary audience and readership were the officers-in-training at Sandhurst (the British West Point), which makes his analysis of the disconnect between higher echelon officers and the gore of battle not only remarkable for its candor but somewhat professionally courageous. See, for example, the quote here: ‘Killing No Murder?’ – which I posted off-site not because it’s tangential to this thread (it isn’t) but because it’s about a four minute read.

    This next excerpt from The Face of Battle originates in the chapterlet entitled, ‘The Inhuman Face of Battle’, but for purposes of this thread, I’ll title it:

    ‘Officers do not kill’


    (F)or all the elaborate explanations used by civilized societies to exculpate the soldier who kills in battle from taint of personal guilt or social disapproval – that he undergoes the same risk of death as his opponent, that he kills in order to overcome an evil greater than killing – it is worthy of note that the one sort of front-line soldier who has some choice over whether he will or will not kill – the officer – has, throughout the period at which we have been looking, consistently and steadily withdrawn himself from the act itself. This withdrawal is symbolized…by the increasingly emblematic weapons which officers have carried…at the beginning of the nineteenth century when the sword was going out of use, an ornamental sword; at the end of the nineteenth century, when the machine gun had asserted its dominance, a pistol, usually kept holstered; during the First World War, often no lethal weapon at all, just a walking stick. And this impression of a distancing of the officer from the infliction of death is reinforced by the reading of citations which are written to explain and endorse the award of high decoration for bravery: those written for soldiers lay stress on their success at killing – ‘Lance-corporal ___ courageously worked his way round the flank of the machine-gun which was holding up the advance and then charged it, firing his carbine from the hip, so accounting for six of the enemy’ (citation writers, flinching from ‘kill’, deal largely in ‘account for’, ‘dispatch’, ‘dispose of’); on the other hand, those written for officers minimize their direct responsibility for killing and emphasize their powers of inspiration and organization when all about are losing their heads (in the metaphoric sense; nothing so nasty as decapitation ever creeps into a citation) – ‘Captain ___, taking command at a difficult moment of the battle quickly rallied his men and, without regard for his own safety, led them back over the open to the position they had earlier been forced to leave…’

    …the military value system (seems to include) one major tenet – ‘Officers do not kill’ or ‘killing is not gentlemanly.’

    (unquote, Keegan, p.315)

    Food for thought, I submit.

    If I have time later, I’ll try to link this thread to yet more pertinent material.

    Tally ho.

  • rahbuhbuh

    new experimental treatment for post traumatic stress disorder, virtual reality reenacting the war. swiped from Salon:

    “For years, experts have considered exposure therapy, also known as talk therapy, to be the most effective treatment for PTSD: Doctors help their patients recall and confront troubling experiences, until the patients are habituated enough to control their emotional response. Virtual reality therapy is like exposure therapy on steroids. It plunges the patient into a direct sensory experience of past events, potentially accelerating the coping process.”


  • katemcshane

    I wanted to include part of an article written in 1972 (NYTimes) by Grace Paley. Even though she was writing about Vietnam, I include this excerpt because it is about “killing” and it addresses some of the issues raised in the introduction to this thread. She is writing about pilots.

    “…none of these men were forced into the job. They were not drafted, they volunteered. They were trained….Each of these men may have accomplished half a dozen My Lais in any evening.

    “The Vietnamese have a saying: The man in the sky is a killer, bring him down; but the man on the ground is a helpless human being. The men who were shot down, the human beings who fell alive into the shallow paddies, on beaches, into villages they’d just bombed, became POW’s. Their Vietnamese captors were often half their size, half-starved, stiff with the grief of continuous loss of dear family, but survivors with a determination to win. They shared their squash and water spinach with these captured Americans whose great frames immediately (it’s been reported) suffered the lack of beefsteak.

    “Nine prisoners of war have been returned to the United States, the last in 1969. I was a member of the peace movement delegation which escorted the last three from Hanoi to home….With obvious logic, the Vietnamese had asked that the United States government not use these returned pilots against them again. But the United States was not ready then for any easing of war or righteousness.

    “Therefore, at the present time, they are all in or associated with the armed forces. Some are training younger pilots to fly out again and again over that tortured country, that laboratory for American weapons engineers.

    “I would like to add two recollections that are painful to me, but I want to share the recollections and the pain.

    “At a festive dinner in a Hanoi hotel, a celebration of departure after arduous years of imprisonment, one of the pilots turned his ingenuous American boy’s face of about 30 to me. He said, ‘Gosh, Grace, to be truthful I really liked bombing.’

    “One summer day before I left for North Vietnam, a woman called me at home. She was a pilot’s wife. She had not heard from her husband in two and a half years. She asked me to get information about him in Hanoi, if any existed. I tried. But no one had seen or heard from him, neither the Vietnamese nor the pilots we talked to. When I came home I had to call and tell her this. She asked me why the Vietnamese insisted on keeping the pilots.

    “I explained that they were considered war criminals who had come 10,000 miles to attack a tiny country in an undeclared and brutal war.

    “She said, ‘Well, they’re airmen. They’re American officers.

    “I told her about the villagers living in wet, dark tunnels for years, shattered by pellets, seared by napalm — I told her only what my own eyes had seen, the miles of maniac craters —

    “She said, ‘Oh, Mrs. Paley, villages and people! My husband wouldn’t do that.

    “I held the phone for a while in silence. I took a deep breath. Then, I said, ‘Oh? Well, I guess it must have been someone else.”

    When I first read the introduction to this thread, I thought about the depth of feeling I have for many of these men and women who come back from every war, because I see them, in the main, as pawns, and because I know how each of them who kill people in these wars, at a distance or up close, will be tortured by these murders at some point in this lifetime. And I know what it’s like to be tortured by violence. At the same time, I thought about how each of them chooses to do this. Sure, they need money, they want to get an education, they’ve been unwittingly prepared for this by the culture, e.g. by the demands of being masculine, by the demands of being poor, or by the action films they’ve watched in which killing is justified or made glamorous, by the need of young women to prove they’re equal to the guys etc., but they signed up or they chose it over jailtime, whatever. This will be the centerpiece of this lifetime for them. It’s done. I’ve listened to people interviewed by Chris, who say that they will not suffer the worst effects of PTSD for the rest of their lives, like that sweet young woman, Tina Bean, or Ishmael Beah, who is certain that he will not be haunted by effects of the murders he committed as a kid. And as much as I wish this were true, that the love of their partners or family will help them to put it behind them — and the love of their people WILL make a difference, absolutely — but, largely, they’re kidding themselves. They should not let go of hope, true, because it will keep them alive, but at some point, each of them will either have to face the effects on them of what they have done and allow it to make them stronger. You’ve all heard the saying, “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” That describes their choices. If it doesn’t happen when they first get home, it may happen 20 years later — the terrible pain, the shock of memory that comes out of nowhere and won’t let up. I heard someone say once that the pain is like a tidal wave and it doesn’t matter whether you can swim. When I first heard that, it was a metaphor, but I had never been in a tidal wave and its meaning was limited for me. Now I have an idea of what the metaphor means. And it can, and usually does, rage through your life for DECADES. And that’s for people who never killed anyone, who never saw anything as hideous as a blown up child or a pile of blown up people. That’s for the young soldiers who were macho enough, strong enough when it happened, who agreed with whatever war they were in at the time, who hated the enemy at the time, who were strong people at the time — it is for EVERYONE. Also, their families will be swept up in this tidal wave. There will be more victims. Many of them who have families will not have them after they’ve been home for a while. Most of them will never recognize their lives again. This will be the centerpiece of their lives and it will sever their lives before the killing from their lives afterward. It may take a while for some of them. (I guess for some of them, it may take another lifetime.) But no one gets away free.

    We go over and over these issues on one show after another, but on some level, we don’t get it. We’re not so different from the pilot’s wife who spoke to Grace in 1969. The people of the United States have not lived in a country at war in its own cities. People in this country still imagine that the killers are all in prison…with the child molesters. If we truly took this into our hearts, we could say we value human life, but, truly, we’re clueless.

  • Killing = murder. The rest is semantics.

  • valkyrie607

    RC21–I guess you didn’t think too hard about it. “Evil America got what was coming to it.” Well, America doesn’t have to be evil to get what’s coming to it. Plus, “America” is a pretty big concept. The government of the USA sometimes does some good things. It also does some pretty fucked-up things. So… is America evil? I don’t know. Is being evil the same as doing evil things?

  • valkyrie607

    Kate–Yow! Grace Paley! So cool! I met her once at an activist skillshare. Four years ago. She was part of a panel of elders sharing their experiences in resisting war and violence. Most of the questions centered around how not to lose hope or get burned out in the long-term. None of them had simple answers. It was what you might expect: take things day by day. Look to your family and friends. She was bright and funny.

  • rc21

    Valkyrie607 So did America get what it deserved ? It seems like a pretty simple question.

    Is America evil? You don’t know. Do you have an opinion.

    It is pretty obvious that a nation as big and powerfull as ours has done some things that have not always worked out in a way that we would have hoped. If you think this could make us an evil country than I would have to repectfully disagree.

  • wellbasically

    I would like to hear something about the mechanics of developing the hijackers on Sept 11, and how they were trained to kill.

  • If he hasn’t already been mentioned. Ed Halter is worth looking into for this show.. his text “From Sun Tzu to Xbox” is a pretty concise discussion about the marriage of the gaming industry to the military-entertainment complex.

    Where other than in gamespace do young Amercans cut their teeth with a vehicular HUD or with first person shooting?


  • Greg, reading your link between gaming and the military, I couldn’t help but be reminded of America’s Army, a video game developed by the U.S. Army as a recruiting tool.

  • peacenick

    Please don’t kill for me, and stop turning my children and grandchildren into killers.

  • Hi Nick, Ed writes extensively about America’s Army in his text.

    Actually he’s in my del.icio.us network and he linked this excellent documentary on militainment this morning.


  • Tisha

    I recently suggested a program based on the book War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation’s Veterans from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, by Edward Tick, Ph. D. He’s a clinical psychotherapist and I met him earlier this month. He says that U.S. training to get soldiers to overcome their reluctance to kill is, on a viciousness index, more vicious than that of any other country. Someone else said that phase of the training has been moved up to come earlier in basic training. In his book Ed Tick describes a new recruit being forced to kill a small kitten in order to break down his reluctance to kil. He also describes a WWII veteran who still feels like a mass murderer tho’ all he had to do was press a button in a plane over Europe to release bombs that he knew would destroy buildings and kill many civilians. A Vienam vet was just involved in surveillance but he felt responsible for the death and destruction which was enabled by what he did. So I don’t think being remote from the actual people who die protects our fighters from PTSD. I hope we can have on the program someone who can describe the current U.S. training for combat in some detail. Then maybe in a later prgram we can look at how the training to kill contributes to PTSD along with the actual killing.

  • GodzillaVsBambi

    Peggysue. I respectfully disagree with your allusion that because it is not to your personal taste to kill and torture people that America should remain in peril and under the gun of terrorism; that we should just roll over and play dead and ask the terrorists to kindly stop because we are unable to defend ourselves. I also respectfully disagree with your comment that they are “Not doing it for [you]”. They ‘are’ doing it for you. If you think that the word ‘hero’ is “Meaningless”, this simply illustrates a lack of understanding and grace on your behalf. You are in fact a sheep … but one that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. Now, how are those oatmeal raisin cookies coming along?

  • chack

    Killology of the Military Bible!
    1. vietnam
    2. Iraq
    3. Serbia
    4. Afghanistan
    5. Kambodia