Answer to Capps: The Realities of War

Mr. Capps’s response to my Stanford Daily op-ed of January 3rd, “The Prince of Peace is not the god of war,” is a good beginning to a much needed discussion of the military subject on campus, in academia, and in our larger society. Let me try to clarify a few points that Mr. Capps took exception to.

Mr. Capps takes exception to my claim that we must dehumanize the enemy in order to kill them. While he is technically correct, I would still claim that we must dehumanize the enemy in order to become efficient at killing. The cadence that I cited in the op-ed was not an accident; it is used in training for a specific reason. Why does the military use such perverse cadences?
They do this because after WWII the military studied the effectiveness of field soldiers and what they found shocked and scared the hell out of the top brass of the military.

The study found that 70-80 percent of frontline soldiers refused to fire their weapons even when their lives or the lives of their comrades were threatened! The military knew that they had to change the way they trained soldiers to make them more willing to kill and what they came up with is a regimen of dehumanization, desensitization, and reflexive rewarded training. These are not my opinions, but the results of the study cited by Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman, a former West Point professor, in his book On Killing.

Mr. Capps’s reference to Just War Theory deserves more attention than space will allow here. Let me raise just two issues here while also reminding the reader that in order for a war to be considered just by Just War Theory, it must pass all of the ten criteria. First of all, the cause must be just, meaning that life must be in imminent danger. The Bush administration asserted that there were WMDs in Iraq and that this represented an imminent threat. It is widely known now that this was a sham. Rumsfeld himself said they knew where the WMDs were located but couldn’t tell the inspectors where to find them nor would they allow the inspectors to keep looking.

Secondly, once a war is started, it is important to distinguish between civilian and enemy combatants. According to Judge Richard Goldstone, at the beginning of the 20th century, the soldier to noncombatant casualty ratio was 9:1. By the end of WWI, the ratio had risen to 1:1 and by the end of the 20th century, it was 1:9, meaning that for every soldier killed, nine civilians were killed. The study performed by the British publication The Lancet reveals that the casualty rate for civilians was even higher than that, many hundreds of thousands and perhaps as many as one million people. Add to this that we have left the country in shambles with electricity available only a few hours a day, by any measure an unstable political system, pretty much eradicated Christianity from the country, and sent millions into exile.

By all accounts, not only is the Iraq war unjust, but virtually every war that we could fight. These are not defensive wars; these are wars of aggression to gain a geopolitical advantage in the region. The idea that either Iraq or Afghanistan represents a real threat to the US is nothing more than a propagandist fig leaf.

The scriptural passages that Mr. Capps refers to are also rather stunning (Matthew 10:34 & 21:12). Does Mr. Capps intend to suggest that Jesus would approve or participate in the systematic killing of people based on these two passages? Imagine Jesus as the Rambo of the Holy Land, armed with two ammo belts across his chest and a “streetsweeper” assault weapon delivering judgment on all those who refuse to love their enemies! There is a significant difference between using exegesis to discover the meaning of a text and using exegesis to apply our own interpretation on the text. I would suggest that Mr. Capps has done the latter here.

Mr. Capps and I do agree that our soldiers deserve our respect and admiration for putting their lives at risk for what they believe to be a just cause. But they also deserve more than that; they deserve to not have their lives placed at risk on a lost cause or one that does not threaten the security of the US. We have spent trillions of dollars unnecessarily on the folly of war around the world creating more enemies than we kill and placing our own country at greater risk of attack in the future. Either we change course or I fear that we will eventually reap what we sow.

*Reverend Geoff Browning is the United Christian Campus Ministry’s Campus Minister at Stanford University. *

Subscribe to the Stanford Review