How does the average young man in a war zone become a killer?

Sbarro pizza restaurant bombing in Jerusalem, in which 15 Israeli civilians were killed and 130 wounded by a Hamas suicide bomber. Wikipedia


The rogue shooter in Afghanistan is bound to be a great deal of attention.  The government, the Taliban, the Pakistanis and the general pollution in Afghanistan are certain to use the event for their own purposes; mainly they will all want to demonstrate that Americans are slightly unstable, undisciplined and dangerous.  One could ask, what, pray tell, differentiates the random shooting of some 17 people with a suicide bomber?  Suicide bombers routine kill that many people and often two or three times that many.  Are we allowed to state that because of suicide bomber’s behavior all of the people of that nation, religion or ethnic group of the bomber are demented killers?  Of course not.  Such a suggestion would immediately be subject to cries of racism, anti-Islamic bias or war mongering.  In the debate surrounding Iraq and Afghanistan there are always two standards – a dual standard if you will, those that we hold ourselves to and those we hold the opposition, the enemies to; we do it and they, whoever they might be, do it.

Why, one might ask, am I defending the U.S. solider who committed that reprehensible act?   I am not; over the coming months and possibly years we are going to hear a lot about the stresses of war, mental breakdowns and the need to do something – the somethings are bound to range from take the weapons away from everyone; only the military and police should have them and then only as they enter the battlefield – rather like the way Scotland Yard is said to issue guns to police an the eve of a crisis or in the midst of a manhunt and regular mental tests, drug therapy and more, personally I recommend prostitutes.  Certainly, we will also be treated to a thousand explanations of stress and the horrors of war.  I am not a psychologist, but I have lived under the stress of not knowing when someone is going to start shooting at you or who those someones might be.  It makes a person very distrustful, aggressive, angry and very much a bigot – writ large.

Long ago, in a land far away, I was in town having a little breakfast with three or four of my friends.  In that place and in that time, we all carried guns, I never liked pistols or heavy big cartridge weapons, so I carried a 30-cailbirur rapid shot carbine; everyone had their own favorite for various and very personal reasons.  Going to town for a breakfast, beer or a broad was a rare treat, something that happened only once a month or so.  It was a relief to be somewhere without a front-line, mines and midnight shootings; we relaxed and let down our hair.  We also acted like cowboys in a John Wayne movie, strutting around and pushing people off of the sidewalk, talking loud and drinking too much.  We just needed to “let off a little steam” and let it off we did.

At breakfast that morning, when the waiter brought the check, one of the guys thought the waiter was trying to cheat us – the amount was equivalent to a few cents. It was truly trivial to us, we had money.  We were paid a handsome sum for every day we were “in country” that with our regularly salary and no place to spend money most of the time, left us not just rude cowboys, but rich rude cowboys.  Back to my friend, within seconds he exploded in anger, pulled out his pistol; he like a pistol it is held close – it is comfortable, you can fell its presence and promise snuggled up against you, ready.  My friend put the pistol to the waiter’s head and quietly told him to change the bill or he would kill him. The waiter took him and his pistol seriously and changed the bill; provably his pants, too, as soon as we left.  The rest of us did not necessarily think the incident rose to the level of meriting killing a waiter, but we would not have stopped our friend if that had been his choice;  and we did endorse his angry, racist rant it was boiling inside each of us.

I don’t know what triggered the solider in Afghanistan, but I do know what is like to live where everyone hates you and wants you to die.  At least they might; and in the dark when someone shoots at you – it could be anyone, anyone of the people in that house, or that house or the one over there.  It is the nature of war that people kill, they kill in attack, they kill in defense and sometimes they just lash out and kill in anger and fear.  In that land far away, long ago, we had women, drink and our cowboys days in town to reduce the pressure one could feel building up day after day.

I suspect that soldiers in Afghanistan have few of the privileges or freedoms we had; if you have never lived like that and find yourself throwing that young man on the trash heap of history, first try and imagine how you would handle that level of stress; going to bed every night not knowing if someone was going to throw a hand grenade in the backdoor; walk through the front door in broad daylight with unseen bombs taped to his or her body; or not being able to trust any road – each can be filled with bombs or have bombers hiding on its edges – there are no safe places.  Try for just a moment or two to imagine how you would maintain your humanity – it is not easy, I can promise you.


2 Responses to “How does the average young man in a war zone become a killer?”

  1. 1 Bill Hanigan March 11, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    Aha, Ken Love !

  2. 2 Anthony Saldavia March 12, 2012 at 7:17 am

    Having never carried a gun nor been in “war”I agree with your comment, and I too do not defend him.

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