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October 21, 2003

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Emily

LK - You know I'm no rabid patriot, so this ain't one of yer flame-type comments. But, when you equate (or imply an equation) between soldiers and criminal murderers, you're basically agreeing with GW Bush and his Geneva-convention-defying notion of "enemy combatants." It is the same logic that leads to the torturing prison camp on Guantanamo Bay. In fact, it's the same logic the terrorists use -- they erase that same line between military and civilian to label everyone a legitimate target. We ought to be able to protest the war without slandering the soldiers, many of whom, far from being cynical murderers on a killing spree, are themselves acting from conscience.

Lee

On the other hand, Em, it's also hard to distinguish between one form of state-sanctioned execution and another. Dehumanization of the "enemy" is a big factor in the boot camp indoctrination of soldiers. How many prison guards do you hear talk about the people they guard as "animals"? If it's okay to kill one set of people, it's easier to justify killing another set. I hate to say it, but the notion of "enemy combatants" isn't a new one, which is one of the reasons the Geneva convention was written. (And on that topic, it's always seemed absurd to me that there should be rules to war as though it were a playground game.) I don't believe that just because the state tells me it's okay to kill in these particular circumstances that that makes it morally right. States, as you know, are not good arbiters of morality.

As for soliders themselves, I well realize how many people join the armed forces because our society gives them so few other choices to get ahead. In peacetime, it's hard to remember that the main object of this particular job is to kill other people, but that's what it boils down to. All those skills a solider learns in addition to learning how to aim and fire a rifle with accuracy at a living, moving target, go to support that end. They may carry over into civilian life, but so do the scars of having killed someone, maybe a lot of someones, especially in the kinds of wars we now wage. I want people to think about that.

The terrorists who fail to distinguish between civilians and soliders are reverting to the old "rules"—i.e., free-for-all—of combat that we now think we're too refined to use, or simply ignoring this new refinement. It's only in the last half century that that distinction was even codified. This isn't an excuse for their behavior, but the existence of the Geneva Convention doesn't excuse the act of war either, just because it's got rules now. The object is still to kill. And in the heat of battle, how much distinction of civilians do you think happens? One of the biggest problems in the Iraqi invasion was distinguishing the combatants from the non-combatants. What happens when your enemy doesn't play by the rules and won't wear a uniform (which is like wearing a target, or a sign that says "fair game")? Sometimes you can't even distinguish between the enemy and your own troops, hence the concept of "friendly fire." Rules are a moot point in actual combat.

When people kill each other, no matter if someone else says it's all right, it brutalizes both the victim and the victimizers. Spraying the enemy with bullets, blowing them up with rocket launchers or grenades or by dropping bombs on them, or burning them to death with napalm is no different from sitting a person in an electric chair and turning the juice on. And the only difference between either of those and some thug with a Saturday night special shooting a liquor store owner because he didn't hand over enough cash is motive.

The dead don't care about the rules of how they got dead.

Emily

Lee -- Word on the "war is hell" rant. I'm all against the war and everything. Maybe this is really a semantic argument.

But if we're going on the dead is dead is dead theory, then there's no difference between going by bomb or by war or by holdup thug or peacefully in your sleep. You're still dead no matter the rules, etc. Okey-dokey.

But I maintain there is a difference between the soldier during wartime and the liquor-store-hold-up killer. You say it's just motive, but I think motive is everything, especially if you're claiming some higher morality. The part you leave out in your indictment of soldiers who signed up to kill is that they signed up to die as well, which is something the liquor store clerk never did. Maybe what they signed up to die for is meaningless to you, but that doesn't make them any less conscience-driven than you.

You're making a very easy equation of guns = killers = murderers. Does this go for police too? Security guards? Hunters? Nervous civilians?

Lee

Em, you devil's advocate, you. I'm all for people's right to defend themselves, individually, and this includes cops, security guards, and nervous civilians. I'm not a big fan of the NRA, I have to say, but I don't have anything against hunting rifles. I also don't include accidental killings in my sweeping generalized definition of murder. It's tragic, but if it's unintentional, it's not more than that unless you were in the middle of committing a crime with a gun. The thing with guns is—and you'll hear anyone who trains other people to use them, even for marksmanship purposes—you shouldn't draw one unless you intend to use it, and if you use, it shoot to kill. That's the only function they have: injuring and killing.

There's a huge difference between soldiers and cops or security guards. Cops do lots of other things besides shoot people. Really good cops will go out of their way not to shoot people, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. And security guards, poor saps, they're lucky if they have guns. But the only function of standing army is that, when called to battle, they will fight, which is a nice euphemism for killing people. A standing army is a weapon; you point it and pull the trigger. And those people who sign up to die? They may volunteer for that, but human beings don't ever really believe they're going to die until there's no way out of it. It'll always be the other guy. It's usually a huge surprise, if there's time to be surprised. That's like saying they sign up to commit suicide. And really, how many 18 year old boys think they're going to die? That's why they do dumb-ass things like subway surf and join gangs. If that's a thought in most grunts heads when they sign that enlistment paper, I'd be really surprised.

I agree that motive is everything. What do you think soldiers are thinking when they're charging down a street being fired on? They're thinking: kill them before they kill me. That's the only way they'll survive. Whatever someone's motive for enlisting—desire to serve their country, need for a job, way to stay out of jail, trying to afford college, whatever—the factor that has to be considered is I may be called upon to kill people for a living. It's usually couched in the language of patriotism and fine feeling, but that's what it amounts to. I'm signing up to be a government-sanctioned executioner, assassin, hit man, whatever you want to call it. Maybe their conscience can live with it. Mine can't. I couldn't serve on a death penalty case either.

Dave

You are all missing the point. You wouldn't have an internet to yak about your distain for war if it weren't for those who protect our rights to live free.

What the hell do you think would happen if we totally disarmed our nation of ALL guns, bombs, tanks, jets, etc...? You think Saddam or some other madman wouldn't just march in and take over?

You will never get the whole world to disarm. So get used to having soldiers protect your right to post your insipid blather about things you don't have a clue about on your blogs that wouldn't be legal if China or some other hostile political force was in control.

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