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The psychology of the combat warrior

Published March 24. 2012 09:01AM

Dear Editor:

Recently published events in Afghanistan, a current war-zone, need to be better understood by the general public, and by those in political offices as well. By no means am I condoning the desecration of bodies, but the situation must be understood.

War is not civilized. War is not clean. War is not polite. Therefore, good warriors are none of those things. Good warriors are thoroughly trained, completely molded, and carefully instilled with a very necessary, inflicted, acquired psychopathology.

Begin at the beginning. Our fighters are paid by us to go and fight our battles. This is an easy statement, because it doesn't elaborate on the word "fight." So, let me elaborate that. "Fight our battles" means "kill our enemies." Even that seems to sugarcoat it. We pay these men to kill people when it is deemed necessary by our government.

Please think about it. Place yourself in a foreign land. Your job is to follow orders. Specifically you are to eliminate enemies when ordered to do so. If you come face to face with a man, you see his eyes, you hear his voice, you sense his life - and you are told to kill him. Could you? Without the military training, very likely you could not. You can empathize with the humanity of the other person, the "enemy."

The enemy's humanity is a problem for the warrior who must follow orders to kill. How is he supposed to kill a person he sees and feels empathy for? The military must remove that empathy. Therefore, the target person is deemed an "enemy." The enemy is not a person - he becomes an "it," something less than human. Removing the enemy's humanity allows the warrior to kill.

The elimination of humanity in the enemy is not a new idea. In all prior wars, purposely degrading, derogatory names were given to the enemy to allow our warriors to kill them. Through history, enemies have been "krauts," "moes," "charlies," "gooks," "hadjis," "rag-heads," etc. The names removed the humanity.

Would it be a problem if the carcasses of non-human threats were desecrated? Would we be as upset if the warriors had been urinating on dead sharks or wolves? No. To further the point, in the warrior's mind, the enemy is even more dangerous and predatory, so that killing them is a true survival victory. A group of men, with ample testosterone, will celebrate the elimination of a non-human threat to survival. Why did the cavemen wear the bones and teeth of the cave bear?

An additional point that must be made is that the enemy is not only dehumanized in the minds of the warriors, but also vilified. These warriors are trained and drilled into hatred for the enemy - to fear what the enemy may do to their fellow warriors, or those they protect, if allowed to. How better to get them to respond quickly to eliminate the target?

Again, I do not condone the desecration of the bodies. I merely ask you to understand it. It is the result of a necessary, inflicted, acquired psychopathology. The effects generally are not life-long, and though we train these men, and pay them to do as ordered, they alone have to live with the ghosts. We should understand that these men will someday remember what happened in the photographs and regret it.

My husband deployed several times as an infantry Marine and has been distinguished for his actions in combat. He has been to Iraq three times, Afghanistan once, Africa three times, and Kosovo twice. He has awards including a Purple Heart, Navy Commendation with a V device for valor, and a Combat Action Ribbon with star device, to name a few.

I am currently a diagnostic medical sonographer, however I began my education in psychology. A couple years after I met the Marine who would be my husband, I completed my Bachelor's degree in Psychology from St. Mary's College of Maryland. Most relevantly, however, I am a Marine's wife.

Sara J. McCloskey,

Las Cruces, NM

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