T0 Make Unhuman

Human beings have an instinctive, some would say “God given,” revulsion to killing other humans. It appears to be as ancient as we are and the vast majority of human cultures have seen such killing as among the ultimate offenses and apply penalties appropriate to the crime. Such is our instinct.

So those who wish war for whatever reason have a hurdle to overcome. War requires young, healthy, bodies to fuel its ambition and under normal circumstances those people aren’t primally directed to kill and for the comfort of those who send them. Thus, that basic taboo about taking human life must be overcome.

Here lies the work of the propagandist, government, corporate, ethnic, it really makes no difference because to move a normal human being to kill requires a single outcome, the dehumanization of the ones those in power wish to die. If it is deeply and inherently wrong somewhere deep inside the average human, then that is an obstacle that must be overcome so a generation will be willing to endure and inflict trauma for those who wish it.

Witness the horribly racist pictures of slant eyed, buck toothed, Japanese of WW2. Witness again the spiked helmeted Germans tossing babies on their bayonets and raping the innocent of WW1. The Vietnamese became “Charlie” or “Gooks”, people from the Middle East become “A-Rabs” and the list could go on. Almost any or everything goes if the powerful want to condition young minds to see the people they wish dead as something less than human and, by doing so, give them a pseudo-moral framework to justify the horrors they wish to make real. Every side plays the game. Sadly, it seems to be one of the great commonalities among us as a species. If the powerful want to keep or increase their power, they need willing bodies with willing minds shaped by and endless flow of information to overcome a sense of common humanity with the desire to kill.

Sometimes, of course, the programming won’t work, or it takes reinforcement. Witness the executions of French soldiers in WW1 who, seeing the slaughter and stupidity, refused to continue to perpetuate it. Witness, too, the moments of humanity in any war where people faced with the flesh and blood reality of things find ways, large and small, to be humans even as those above them try to keep them animals. Witness, as well, the veterans of long-ago wars who somehow, in reflection recover that which the state tried to strip from them, namely the understanding that the folks shooting at them were, in the end, just “Little people” doing what the “Big people” told them to do and even discovering friendships with those they had been told were not even worthy of life. Witness, finally, those who never recover, people for whom the programming “took” and never let go of its grip, people who spend the rest of their lives embittered at people they never met who were actually more like them than they ever knew.

One must kill in their heart before they can kill in the physical world and that death of the heart is probably the worst part of war and the place where war, even the “good” ones, most violates the Christian conscience. In war one must kill twice, first in the soul and then on the battlefield and even those who survive it all never quite leave that ugly place no matter how many parades are held or how shiny the headstones are kept.

Still, our basic humanity is strong because it is God given, it is part of the image of God that now even war can ultimately remove. And when war is upon us perhaps this is also where we can all agree. We can pray that somehow in a secret place in the heart those who instigate war and those who choose or are coerced into accepting it will have a tiny light inside that allows a single question “Why?” and from that “Why?” they’ll see what they are becoming, what they’ve been told to be often by those who are far away and very safe from where they are and their humanity will return.

Interesting Point…

People can call me what they want; a leftist, an isolationist, none of the labels are accurate or true. I just want to live in a country that doesn’t actively seek out war, a country that is always running out of its way to sacrifice its best and its resources to solve other people’s problems.

War is Unnatural…

a situation where human beings are put in the context of perpetual real or anticipated violence. It is an atmosphere ripe with the potential for trauma. Perhaps the urge to war is routine for a fallen humanity but the actual war is nothing but routine.

In my service as a health care chaplain and completing Clinical Pastoral Education I did a study on post traumatic stress and medical and social disruption in the lives of men who had served in combat in WW2. The results were startling. There was not a single man who served in combat and was unaffected, many for decades.

Witness a story from that study. In the days just after D-Day a young soldier had fought his way into France and was critically wounded. As he lay on the ground another soldier found him and began to dig a hole in the ground so his comrade would be protected until help arrived. As the hole was completed he, too, was wounded and died, falling into the hole on top of the soldier he came to rescue. For many hours the two laid together in the hole, the wounded living man covered by his fallen comrade.

I cared for that man decades later. German metal was still in his leg and the memory of those days still creased his face with pain. He shook his head and said “I was never really able to be a civilian again when I came home…” Like many of his cohorts he used alcohol to medicate his struggles. This was the “good” war and the trauma never left.

Why should we be shocked, then, when a soldier in Afghanistan, after multiple tours in a very hostile environment bathed in violence, loses his bearings and goes on a murderous rampage? I’m not excusing the action but imagine the scars already on the soul of this man identified by his fellows as an ‘ideal soldier”.

Most of us sit at home a million miles away from all of this and have no idea. It’s like a movie to us but everyone actually in that movie is experiencing a reality we only touch on when someone breaks their silence and tells the real story or something, like what happened in Afghanistan, goes terribly wrong.

We don’t really know what we’re asking when we send our fellow citizens off to war so we should be very careful about doing it. We should think a second time, even a third time or more before we make that decision because once its made there’s no going back and we better be prepared to fix the wounded bodies and souls that return.


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