20 December 2010

The Awesomeness of Killing

I was honored again to attend the commissioning of a family member.

Since the previous one had the crap beat out of him in SERE training, partly because I outed him as an officer, I will refrain from naming the most recent one. Also, I can't spell his name.

But congratulations, What's-Your-Name.

The ceremony, as tradition required, featured a first salute, whereby a non-commissioned officer renders that high sign of respect to his once-junior. Often, the NCO will accompany the hand signal with a clever saying.

I can't remember what he actually said, but the sergeant major who rendered What's-His-Name his first salute wanted to say:

"Sir, a dead enemy is a peaceful enemy."

To which 2LT What's-His-Face should have responded, "Blessed be the peacemakers."

Now that's very clever.

And very appropriate. The Army trains killers. I highlighted that very stark reality in Nine Weeks, because it caught me off guard when I first dove headfirst into Army culture.

From my debut at weekend drill, when entire platoons of 18-year-olds sounded off with "One shot one kill!" to Fort Sill, where we answered our drills sergeants' query, "What is the spirit of the bayonet?"

"To kill! Kill! Kill without mercy!"

It is kind of refreshing to find an organization that minces no words about what they want to accomplish.

The Soldier's Creed itself proudly proclaims, "I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States in close combat."

It's sometimes muddled when politics requires Soldiers to abide by silly feel-good phrases like "hearts and minds." Hardcore types interpret it as tactical doctrine: "That's where we aim first."

Soldiers kill. The Army is not a work program, nor is it a vehicle for social justice. It is a necessary component of our national security, and I am grateful that there are people willing to do what it takes to ensure it.

Photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Haggerty; "Sniper! One Shot One Kill."


  1. If your students only knew the thoughts that go on in your head, they'd behave. Great post.

  2. "Awesomeness" is the perfect choice of words, though I think it requires some mincing here. I have a couple of students who are enamored with the awesomeness of killing, but are not aware of the AWESOMENESS of killing. awesomeness (lower-case) connotes adolescent wonder--a hard skateboard trick well-executed, or a a new X-box. I have a couple students who are excited to join the army because of the awesomeness of killing. Of course, as an adult, even though I've never been in the army, I know that once they actually are deployed in combat, they will encounter the AWESOMENESS of killing. AWESOMENESS (upper-case) in this sense is like awe-struck, awe-inspiring, the AWE of a subject before his God. AWESOMENESS is what you perceive when something is too big for your emotional and psychological bandwidth as a human. I'd speculate that the AWESOMENESS of killing (and fearing being killed), among other things, is partly responsible for the post-traumatic stress disorder that haunts so many veterans.

    And so the question is, how does the army prepare soldiers for the AWESOMENESS of the job? Military culture is foreign to me, so this is not a rhetorical question. It's a real question.

  3. Also, is it necessary that the public and soldiers know where to draw the line? Sure, let's not mince words about the mission: kill the enemies of the United States. But word-mincing becomes necessary so that we know the difference between "enemy," "Arab," and "towel-head," right? Incidentally, the same couple of my students do not know this difference, needing a lecture on the geographic and cultural, and political differences between Saudia Arabia, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq (which by the way I'm barely qualified to give). Do most soldiers know the difference? Am I misguided in being worried if they don't?

    I'm definitely worried that teenage fundamentalists who want to destroy our country don't know the difference between an "American" and "enemy of Islam." Am I misguided in noticing that if the fundamentalists who want to destroy our country regarded us as a complex society rather than a one-faced enemy, they wouldn't be able to recruit their own soldiers? I'm an English teacher. Maybe I put too much stock in the similarities of the rhetoric.

  4. Lizzy: all great points. The title was meant to get people to think about what AWESOME really means. I am going to think about what you commented, and dedicate an entire post to it rather than a comment of my own. For now, I will say that all Soldiers go through intense cultural training, though the effectiveness of the training can be debated. I think the military is really struggling trying to find that right balance between preparing their personal to kill, and preparing them to deal with it in as healthy a way possible.

  5. AwEsOmE post Rich..... and as a citizen of this great Republic and am grateful for "people willing to do waht it takes to ensure" our national security. I am also grateful that the Army is an organization that has not bowed completely to political correctness and doesn't mince words about "what they want to accomplis."

    Pass on my CONGRATULATIONS to "What's his face." ;)