September 06, 2010


"They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country. But in modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason."
Ernest Hemingway

Picture this scenario:
An invading force from a foreign country occupies America (or its Anglo cousin, or its Semitic nephew). Battles rage within the major city centers as patriotic citizens attempt to defend themselves against the superior weaponry of its aggressor. During one such encounter a group of about eight individuals (including two war correspondents) is engaged by the enemy and most perish in a quite one-sided battle. However a couple of brave souls approach the battle-scene unarmed and attempt to rescue any survivors (there seems to be just one) so that they may be transported away to where medical help can be obtained. Before they are able to exit with the wounded man (later discovered to be a journalist), they are all mowed down in a relentless hail of automatic gunfire - none survive. Two young children (passengers in the vehicle) on this mercy mission are also seriously wounded in the encounter. It takes a few years but as word of this and other incidents like it gets around to a wider cross-section of the populace, video evidence of the 'battleis leaked by one or two whistle-blowers from the invading force who may still possess a working conscience. Now the whole world can see!

History is replete with instances of man's inhumanity to fellow man, whether in times of war or during peacetime. Starting with the first murder ever, committed by first-born Cain over younger brother Abel, we have struggled to understand what drives such brutality to fellow descendants of the first humans. While jealousy is the widely accepted motive for that first slaughter, the rationale for why we kill each other has never been satisfactorily deciphered over the many generations since then. What we do know is that for the vast majority of us, in order to take that step of willfully taking life from another (other than in self-defense), the vast majority of us have to find a way to convince ourselves that said individual is some kind of monster who does not deserve to treated as human. So we develop labels like the enemy, terrorist, infidel, etc., that allow us to block the natural feelings of empathy toward our fellow man and to turn a blind eye toward atrocities perpetrated against him.

The proliferation of the extremely realistic video games of today further allow for the many to experience firsthand the horrors of Modern Warfare (the actual name of a popular game) with all the attendant blood and gore but without any immediate threat to the players. Practice makesperfect - as the saying goes, constant repetition deadens the senses and - especially among the impressionable youth, tends to blur the distinction between role-play and reality. Such pseudo-realism has now arrived at the most widespread form of home entertainment, the television. Today's genre of reality TV has now spawned a show in which the contestants, when they get answers wrong, are hit with an electric shock. The shocks get more and more powerful as the contestants scream with pain until, on occasion, they appear to have died. The show, which originates in France is called Le Jeu de la Mort, or "The Game of Death". Producers reveal that over 80% (4 out of 5) participants were prepared to issue lethal electric shocks to their fellow participants in order to claim victory. Almost 50 years ago, in some of the earliest research into this type of human behaviour, theMilgram experiment on obedience to authority figures began in July 1961, three months after the start of the trial of German Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Centered around a teacher-student setting, students would appear to receive progressively larger shocks for each wrong answer. At that time about 65% (2 out of every 3) participants were prepared to administer the lethal shock after prodding by the stern, gray-coated authority figure.

Eichmann, along with many other Nazis under trial for war crimes adopted the defense that "I was only following orders", which came to be known as the Nuremberg Defense, after the name of the location where most such trials took place. One of the universal principles emerging from those trials was "The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him." Without the benefit of such a principle many serious war criminals would have escaped justice for their heinous crimes. For those among us who believe in a day (period) of judgment by the One who sees all (most religions share such a belief), we should likewise understand that any who chose to blindly follow the orders of earthly authorities which may conflict with His teachings will, in the fullness of time, have to account to a far greater and higher power - whether they be individuals, groups, or nations! For those who purport to be followers of the Christ, this quote from the good news (gospels) he brought may prove somewhat important: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”.

Clicking on each hot-link above will take you to a website that provides expanded details. This site provides actual war-time footage that you should not miss: Collateral Murder.

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