Sunday, March 15, 2009

To Kill or Not to Kill

by Tyler E. Boudreau
The Progressive
February 2009 Issue

U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl was an unlikely guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. One of the authors of the 2006 Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, Nagl said: “If I could sum up the book in just a few words, it would be: Be polite, be professional, be prepared to kill.” In that single sentence, he put his finger on a crucial discrepancy. In Iraq, I witnessed this discrepancy. I felt it. I knew from the moment I picked up the Counterinsurgency Field Manual what was missing.

On April 11, 2004, I did something that I’d never before done. I shot a man . . . at least, I shot at him. (Amidst the chaos of the moment, it was difficult to say whether or not he was hit.) It was Iraq. I was a Marine. And we were under heavy attack. It seemed like the thing to do.

Though I’d been in the infantry for more than a decade, I would not exactly describe the moment as perfunctory—automatic perhaps, but not quite perfunctory. Exactly what does it take to level the sights of a weapon and fire it at another human being? Under the circumstances, you wouldn’t think it would take much. And honestly, for me it didn’t.

But it would be precarious to assume that it didn’t take much because of circumstances alone. For some people, circumstances weigh very little in the decision to shoot or not to shoot. In a counterinsurgency operation, military doctrine not only demands of its soldiers a willingness to kill, but a willingness not to kill as well. Training for the Iraq War has slighted the second part. So today, we have a different kind of force, a different kind of warrior. I know. I was one of them.

The remainder of this excellent analysis comparing modern warfare with wars of the past can be found here:

Copyright 2009 The Progressive Magazine


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