My second post on the book, On Killing, covers the first section. I liked this section of the book (probably much more than I think I’ll like what’s coming next). The titles of the section and each of its chapters actually provide a pretty good summary of what will be found.
Section I: Killing and the Existence of Resistance: A World of Virgins Studying Sex
- Chapter One: Fight or Flight, Posture or Submit
Most of us are familiar with fight or flight, but before that comes posturing… seeking to scare the enemy away. Interestingly, this week I read advice, before going on a trail run, about how to react when encountering a mountain lion. The advice was all about posturing. Apparently we do it with one another as well.
One form of posturing is to fire one’s weapon over the heads of opponents. This quote describes a firefight at Vicksburg in 1863, “It seems strange that a company of men can fire volley after volley at a like number of men at not over a distance of fifteen steps and not cause a single casualty.” (p11)
Another quote “‘One of the things that amazed me,’ stated Douglas Graham, a medic with the First Marine Division in Vietnam, who had to crawl out under enemy and friendly fire to aid wounded soldiers, ‘is how many bullets can be fired during a firefight without anyone getting hurt.'” (p13)
- Chapter Two: Nonfirers Throughout History & Chapter Three: Why Can’t Johnny Kill?
While some soldiers fire and miss their targets, some never fire at all. Sometimes these men provided support to the ones who would fire their weapons.
S.L.A. Marshall, studied the firing/killing rates of soldiers throughout WWII He concluded, “the average and healthy individual… has such an inner and usually unrealized resistance towards killing a fellow man that he will not of his own volition take life if it is possible to turn away from that responsibility… At the final point… the soldier becomes a conscientious objector.” (p30)
- Chapter Four: The Nature and Source of the Resistance
I’ll let the author speak, “We may never understand the nature of this force in man that causes him to strongly resist killing his fellow man, but we can give praise for it to whatever force we hold responsible for our existence. And although military leaders responsible for winning a war may be distressed by it, as a race we can view it with pride.” (p40)
I would summarize this entire section as an introduction to, and an explanation of the reality that most human beings are not able to kill their fellow human beings. As I was reading this I was thinking a couple things. First, this instinctual aversion to killing is a good thing. The second thought is a bit related in that I continually thought back to the words found in the very beginning of the bible. These words have always guided me to think about my “enemy” as one who also bears God’s image.
26Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”27So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” -Genesis 1:26-28
Some additional thoughts/questions:
- Often in times of social upheaval, or war a group of people is made to be the scapegoats for whatever problems are faced. These people are then dehumanized in the most horrific ways. The Nazis did this with the Jews. It happened in Rwanda. In our history we’ve done it to justify slavery and the genocide of the indigenous populations. I think that the making the “other” as less than human then makes it easier to kill or in other ways treat that person as less than human. I don’t know if this will be addressed in this book. But as people of faith we must continually speak out against these messages to remind ourselves and others that all human beings are worthy. This I know is not easy, especially when we look at all the horribleness in our world. To which I must cry, Lord have mercy.
- My other observation is in regards to those soldiers who are trained to kill. I’m anticipating that I will read about how we have conditioned and trained our soldiers in ways that improve their ability to kill. Before reading this my question for today is… At what cost?