I remember reading one time that the majority of allied troops in WWII did not fire their weapon when confronted with an enemy, even when they knew how to use the weapon, even when not firing meant their own death. This seemed to be attributed by the military to a combination of fear and a reluctance to fire on a fellow human, even if they were the enemy.

The article where I read this claimed that this was the birth of modern military training with its desensitization to violence. And that this in turn was one of the major reasons for the over-the-top violence later witnessed in Vietnam.

Whether this is true or not, it has always captured my imagination. I wonder, if confronted with killing another human being, even in self defense, would I be able to pull the trigger?

Though I hold deep respect for those who are, I cannot claim to be a pacifist. Under certain circumstances, I'm sure I would commit violence, especially to preserve my own life. But put in a war, I picture myself as one of those men who would just freeze, trapped by two very strong messages about what is the right thing to do. On the one hand, I want to serve God and country, on the other (besides being scared half to death) I just don't think I could kill someone simply because they had been defined as the enemy. (or indeed, for any reason at all)

I'm not sure if this is what the song is really about, but the Rheostatics song Saskatchewan always brings this question to mind. "I could not fire, and I don't know why." Now, maybe it's just that he's wounded and that's why he can't fire. But I interpret it my own way.

I hope this is not interpreted as passing any kind of judgement on anyone who has ever been in a war and has or has not fired. I have never been you and I can't know and don't pretend to know your reasons.

By the way, I tried to find the article but couldn't. If anyone else has read it and knows the citation, could you post it here? I have a feeling it was by Noam Chomsky, but I couldn't find it in the Chomsky archive.

The moral decision one makes about going to war, or going to war and not shooting other people, or whatever, should be made before one reaches the field of combat. Going into battle, I would have wanted my squadmen to respond automatically to the commands I would give them, and not sit down and ponder their meaning - not because I want blind obedience but because I want to live. Actually reaching a situation in which your friends expect you to shoot and then not doing it is much worse than never getting there, from any point of view you take.

The real problem is people usually don't make a moral decision at all - they just act. The soldiers who served with me were sometimes highly motivated, sometimes motivated solely by fear of punishment and sometimes apathetic, but they were all conscripted… Most of them just tried to be reasonably good soldiers 'cause that's what they were being judged as at the time, and most tried to have as painless a time as possible. Most people morally react, at their best, and usually do not take a stand.

Military training is meant to do many things, and one of them is to get the soldier used to obeying orders. The fear of your DI or squad leader, often coupled with a certain amount of respect, is almost always present in combat units, and is enough to get the soldier to do some unpleasant things. Honor, as described by people around you, and a kind of comradeship that arises in hard situations and small groups, are usually enough to make sure you charge. The automatic training is mostly there to make sure you do it properly.

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