Is Inhumanity Necessary for War?
I am, above all, a Christian—one who has been made one with Christ, a member of His family by grace through faith, and subsequently and consequently a devout follower of Christ. The Bible says that my citizenship is in heaven. But as long as I'm on earth, I'm also a citizen here. This dual citizenship poses many dilemmas for the Christian, not least of which is whether and to what extent Christians may be involved in war.
This is not the time or place for an all out discussion of the legitimacy of war, generally speaking, from a Christian perspective. Let's assume for the sake of argument that, at face value, it is a legitimate tool of justice and order, and hence the good of mankind as a whole, in a fallen world. If so, there must be a way to engage in the killing of human beings while also remaining obedient to the Way of Jesus expressed in such commands as "love one another" and "love your enemies."
Something I read this morning caused me to question whether or not this is possible in so-called "modern civilization." No doubt most of you have heard of, if not viewed, the video of a U. S. Army helicopter gunning down innocent civilians as well as American reporters in Baghdad in 2007. This New York Times article highlights a deeply troubling angle on modern warfare.
Consider these quotes from the article:
- "The soldiers joked, chuckled and jeered as they shot people in the street"
- "'Look at those dead bastards,' one said. 'Nice,' another responded."
- "fighters cannot do their jobs without creating psychological distance from the enemy"
- "You don’t want combat soldiers to be foolish or to jump the gun, but their job is to destroy the enemy, and one way they’re able to do that is to see it as a game, so that the people don’t seem real"
- "Military training is fundamentally an exercise in overcoming a fear of killing another human"
In other words, according to psychologists and the military trainers who employ their insights, desensitizing soldiers to the humanity of "the other" is a vital part of training for war. This should give us, at the very least, pause—especially Christians. How is this compatible with Christian ethics? Answer: It isn't. If we are going to conduct war ethically (if that's even possible), then we'd better figure out a way to do it in a way that honors those we are killing as beings created in God's image and loved by Him. War is a horrible thing. Soldiers mustn't be calloused to the gravity of what is taking place. Maybe instead of desensitizing them and dehumanizing "the other," we should rethink what is indeed humane. May God raise up Christians in the military who will refuse to comply with inhumanity and will reform combat training accordingly.