We react with surprise every time we read a story of an American soldier accused of killing civilians in a war area. Whether the subject is the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War or the recent reports of US soldiers accused of killing Afghan civilians for sport (or anything in between or before or after), we seem shocked that people can act this way.
But this is a cost of war that should not surprise us. War turns young kids into professional killers. In a recent Faith in Focus piece in American Magazine, Raymond Schroth writes, “War means that we must kill more of them than they kill of us. So we should not be surprised when the beast inside the young soldier takes over. Training and experience in battle have given soldiers a license to kill, and both propaganda and bombing strategies have made clear that these deaths are not just necesary but good.”
What are we doing to the sensibilities of the young people by giving them a licence to kill? The descriptions of the recent Afghan civilian killings are chilling. Soldiers keeping body parts of their victims as souveneirs. One tattoing skulls on his leg to keep count of his killings.
And what will happen to these soldiers when they come home from war? How will they be able to adjust to a life where they no longer have a license to kill?
We count up the cost of war in dollar signs and death tolls. That leaves a lot out of the equation. For the sake of our world and of our children, we need to find ways to resolve conflicts that do not turn young people into brutal killers.