There’s a reason why one of my chapters is tentatively titled “The Moral Injury of the Long War.” The great Jonathan Shay may have coined the term, based on the accumulated grief of Vietnam, but this generation has claimed it as they try to parse what honor means when it also means killing for uncertain reasons. (At right, a radio exploration of the same.)
In “How We Learned to Kill,” an essay whose title recalls both David Grossman’s On Killing: The Psychological Consequences of Learning to Kill in War and Society and Richard Rhodes’ lesser known work on serial killers, Timothy Kudo narrates that parsing in all its complexity:
“Take the shot,” I responded. It was dialogue from the movies that I’d grown up with, but I spoke the words without irony. I summarily ordered the killing of two men. I wanted the Marine on the other end to give me a reason to change my decision, but the only sound I heard was the radio affirmative for an understood order: “Roger, out.” Shots rang out across the narrow river. A part of me wanted the rounds to miss their target, but they struck flesh and the men fell dead.
Kudo even references Grossman’s book, and ends in its spirit of resignation: “We live in a dangerous world where killing and torture exist and where the persecution of the weak by the powerful is closer to the norm than the civil society where we get our Starbucks. Ensuring our own safety and the defense of a peaceful world may require training boys and girls to kill, creating technology that allows us to destroy anyone on the planet instantly, d ehumanizing large segments of the global population and then claiming there is a moral sanctity in killing. ” But you can feel him doubting that very assertion: his journey isn’t over yet. I’d love to ask Tyler Boudreau, Logan Isaac (Laituri), or the Soul Repair Center where they think it will end.
Back in the Jurassic era, I once interviewed Grossman for a magazine called The Objector. And I can’t but think that Kudo’s essay may find its way into more than one conscientious-objector claim.