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Soldiers of Conscience

Posted by dystressed on October 19, 2008

[Author’s note: I debated this topic quite a bit with myself before writing this. I want to remind readers that this post reflects my personal beliefs, not necessarily those of anyone else associated with FreeThought Fort Wayne.]

Please understand that first of all, I support the troops who are serving now and in the past. I don’t agree with the principle of preemptive war, but I was convinced along with the rest of America of the need for it in Iraq. With the revelations about Iraq having no WMDs or a link to Al Queda, and the new politics of the current election, I have been trying to examine some of the aspects of this war and the military overall.

POV on PBS is a documentary film series. This week’s film entitled “Soldiers of Conscience” is all about the factors of why and how people rationalize killing in war. You can watch the video online here until October 23. The filmmakers focus on 4 concientious objectors (COs), one of whom was denied status and court martialed for dessertion.

In making the film the directors started with the thesis that during World War II, only 25 percent of soldiers in combat could fire their weapons at the enemy. This was actually a study commissioned by the military, which launched what a West Point professor calls “reflexive” weapons training. In this practice, soldiers are programmed to kill as a matter of instinct. Fast forward a few years and this new training brings the level of soldiers willing to fire a weapon and kill to around 90 percent in the days of the Vietnam War.

As a freethinker, I am non-religious, but I am also firm in my conviction that killing people is wrong. I am also skeptical of this military program that teaches soldiers to kill as a reflex, an instinct. If we have to teach people to kill, even to save their own lives, should we really be fighting in the first place? I understand the reasons for fighting, and I am eternally grateful for the chance to breathe free, but the methods of our military training seem suspect.

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