The First Casualty of War

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McCain has asked us
not to judge former Senator Bob Kerry without understanding that
war is always about killing.He reminds us that war’s demand for
killing tends to corrupt all combatants — even "war heroes" —
in all wars — even "good wars." Although it is certainly true
that all wars corrupt, it is not true that all wars corrupt equally.
A defensive war presents fewer opportunities for corruption and
more for justice.


I explain what I mean, I need to explain what Senator McCain means
by "corruption" and the extent to which I agree with him. The
central conflict is between the command to kill and the "injunction
to love all as we would be loved," and in war, the former trumps
the latter. He describes his own experience as follows:

hated my enemies even before they held me captive because
hate sustained me in my devotion to their complete destruction
and helped me overcome the virtuous human impulse to recoil
in disgust from what had to be done by my hand. I dropped
many bombs in Vietnam, and I wish I could say that they only
destroyed military targets. But surely noncombatants were
among the casualties.

combatant, who may be a righteous, God-fearing, lovely human
being, must become inhumane day after day if he is to do what
his country has asked him to do. The injunction to love all
as we would be loved is the first casualty of war, any war.
Wars are that awful, and anyone who tells you otherwise is
a fool or a fraud.

McCain’s experience is, as he explains, common to both "good"
and "bad" wars. Even justified killing brings on "the virtuous
human impulse to recoil in horror," as Senator McCain describes
it. No matter how just the war or the killing, combatants will
easily resort to various moral corruptions as a means of suppressing
this impulse: hating the enemy, taking pleasure in inflicting
death, or rejecting morality altogether. These corruptions, and
war crimes caused by them, occur even in just wars conducted by
soldiers and leaders struggling to be just.

point is that combatants need not be motivated by hate. They can
instead be motivated by love of others, but it really only works
in a defensive war. A defensive war by nature appeals to better
motives than an offensive war.

for Combatants of Defensive War

defensive war by nature appeals to the soldier’s self-interest
and to his love of others. He sees his own life, liberty and property
threatened, along with that of his family, neighbors, friends
and countrymen. This threat gives the soldier a motive to fight
to protect himself and those he loves.

self-interest and love of others, love is the stronger motivator.
Self-interest does not clearly favor standing and fighting. A
soldier in any war stands a good chance of dying. His own liberty
may be more dear to him than his life, but it is really the liberty
of others which is won by his sacrifice. It is the very unselfishness
of the soldier’s sacrifice which makes reverence for the war dead
so universal.

a defensive war, both of these motivations are provided by nature
and supported by traditional moral instruction. Self-interest,
of course, is common to all. Most survive childhood with natural
affection toward family and friends. Most also are taught love
of neighbor and country by their parents and religious leaders.
Upon attack, a military leader may draw upon these teachings to
inspire action without introducing a revolution in or perversion
of morality.

Combatants in Offensive War

offensive war directly attacks the life, liberty and property
of the people to be overcome. The government, therefore, cannot
effectively appeal to the very virtues in its own people which
it is trying to suppress in its opponents. It must therefore devise
other motivations.

presents not just a question of technique — of how to motivate
— but a more serious question about the morality of the motivator
(setting aside the fact that he is inducing to immorality and
focusing solely on how he is going about it). C.S. Lewis addressed
a different but related question, where he fortuitously chose
this very situation as an example:

When a Roman father told his son that it was a sweet and seemly
thing to die for his country, he believed what he said. He
was communicating to the son an emotion which he himself shared
and which he believed to be in accord with the value which
his judgement discerned in noble death. He was giving the
boy the best he had, giving of his spirit to humanize him
as he had given of his body to beget him….

who disbelieve this sentiment but find it useful] must set
themselves to work to produce, from outside, a sentiment which
they believe to be of no value to the pupil and which may
cost him his life, because it is useful to us (the survivors)
that our young men should feel it.If they embark on this course
the difference between the old and new education will be an
important one. Where the old initiated, the new merely ‘conditions.’
The old dealt with its pupils as grown birds deal with young
birds when they teach them to fly: the new deals with them
more as the poultry-keeper deals with young birds – making
them thus or thus for purposes of which the birds know nothing.
In a word, the old was a kind of propagation – men transmitting
manhood to men: the new is merely propaganda. 

Lewis, The
Abolition of Man
, pp. 31-33 (Collier 1986). Even if we
may quibble with the Roman soldier’s concept of "country," we
would do well to note the inherently totalitarian nature of inspiring
feelings for their utility rather than because they are believed.

offensive war, the government must do just this. It must wage
war against its people’s virtue before it wages war against its
declared enemy. Self-interest remains a motive to the combatant,
but it is now the government, and not an invader, which threatens
his life and liberty if he fails to fight. Rewards of loot and
license are promised – though we are now "civilized" enough
to loot our own taxpayers and merely "sanction" those we conquer.
All wars generate a certain devotion to military unit, but habitual
aggressors tend to elevate this above the natural affection toward
friend and family. The love of country is replaced by love of

perversions follow.Since the enemies are not invaders, they cannot
stop the conflict simply by returning home. They must be dehumanized,
so that they may be killed more easily. The soldier must be turned
to a "devotion to their complete destruction. "Names like "gooks"
are an essential part of the process. It may also help to have
the draftees lay in their bed at night and, instead of leading
them in prayer, leading them in cries of "Kill! Kill! Kill!" All
at the expense of the god-fearing taxpayer. See also Jeff Elkin’s article
on this process.

more can be and has been done to cause our soldiers to "become
inhumane day after day. "Senators McCain and Kerry –
and countless like them – give reason to hope that the human
spirit will ultimately reject the indoctrination of hate.


had intended also to explain how a defensive war gives the baser
motives less freedom of action, but perhaps this graphic
and eloquent threat by "warlike Harry"
will suffice.
Invaders seldom bring their women and babies along to be raped
and impaled.

is also the more difficult question of motivating soldiers to
defend a truly innocent ally. For now, I will simply note that
this situation divorces virtue from self-interest and natural
affection and, therefore requires, either soldiers more virtuous
or leaders more Machiavellian than for a truly defensive war.
I mean no disrespect of soldiers past or present when I assert
that we are asking too much of their virtue and deserving it too


Senator McCain, even good wars – defensive ones – have
their corruptions. But unlike offensive wars, defensive wars offer
combatants the motivation of love, and not just the temptation
to hate.

1, 2001

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