When Soldiers come into the Army, they must be prepared for killing. If they do not actually participate firsthand they will experience it somehow. This is the business the Army is in; the business of killing. How does the Army prepare Soldiers to kill, and is this preparation actually contributory to problems Soldiers have after the fact?
Dave Crozier has identified several factors that take place prior to the act of killing that disadvantage the Soldier to effectively deal with this problem. For starters, “one can read a hundred military manuals and never see the word ‘kill’ referenced in them.” 1 This serves to not adequately prepare Soldiers to face the fact that they are in the field of killing other humans. Denial, he says, is the cause of much of the PTSD that plagues the Army today. Soldiers attempt to suppress the fact that they killed another person, and this certainly helps no one. The solution Crozier offers is painfully simple. “If Soldiers learn to embrace the fact that the Army kills people, the Soldier can lessen the stress that comes with killing.” 2
Crozier cites modern training as another factor that enables soldiers to kill more readily than they have in the past. 3 They are shooting at human shaped targets which pop up quickly and drop when they are hit. With the invention of night vision, they are shooting at green blobs rather than human faces. 4 Groups enable Soldiers to kill easier. 5 Dave Grossman tells several stories of individual Soldiers of opposing forces who, upon running into one another, just turn and head in opposite directions. The respect and proximity of their commander also is a factor. The best example of this, cites Grossman, is found in the “Lost Battalion” of World War I. Despite being surrounded, starving, and out of ammunition, their commander would not surrender. 6 Combine these with the de-emphasis the Army puts on the word “kill” and the chaplain can face some serious moral questions from his or her troops.
As a conservative Christian chaplain, what the Bible says must not be left out of the equation. However, human physiology and psychology also play an important role in what the Soldier is feeling. From the psychological side, “a powerful sense of accountability to his comrades on the battlefield” often compels soldiers to kill when they may otherwise not. 7 After the fact, however, this reality of killing others sets in. This is a psychological norm and should be understood and treated as such. Additionally, soldiers are ordered to kill by superiors. 8 Obeying a lawful order is not only normal, but is one’s duty. From a physiological perspective, “the act of combat and firing weapons causes hormonal induced, increased heart rates (fear), unlike the increase caused by physical exercise.” 9 These conditions can persist for as long as a Soldier is in a combat zone. When they return home, it is an extremely difficult adjustment to make and, again, this should be understood and treated as normal. Crozier offers some simple solutions such as breathing techniques. 10 However, many soldiers seem to want more than this solution. They have serious moral and theological questions attached to their experiences. Stephen Mansfield tells the story of a Soldier who confronts his chaplain with deeper issues than what breathing techniques can resolve. “Tell me that our enemies are the enemies of God”, he says. After the chaplain gives him an answer, “Gault [the Soldier] is not comforted. He is is seeking something more.” “I need to know that I am a servant of Jesus. I need to be sure that I am a soldier of Christ.” 11
How does a chaplain deal with such deep and perplexing moral and theological issues? The first is the presumption that the chaplain deeply care for his Soldiers. This is a must. Beyond this, though, it is important that one not blanket us as “good” and our enemies as “bad”. Doing such could easily perplex the problem later in life. “The danger, of course, is that every nation seems to think that God is on its side”, says Grossman. 12 How then can one answer this Soldier’s question? The best approach is found in Romans chapter three. Paul writes of the condition of man, and it is very bleak. In verse ten he writes, "there is none righteous, no, not one.” He continues on, “they have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one (emphasis added)." What is the result of this wretched condition? “Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known." 13 This is why there are wars and – because there is man. As long as man exists, war and evil will be an inescapable reality. As long as war and evil are an inescapable reality, killing will be also. What was Paul’s purpose in writing this passage? It is to point to the only source of hope that man has – Jesus Christ. “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed… through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.” Paul’s summation is that we are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Without Jesus Christ, PTSD ought to be expected. Even with Christ it shouldn’t be a surprise, for we are all sinful and guilty. However, those who face the moral implications of killing without Christ are seeking a hopeless solution.
Man is inherently hopeless, war and evil are unavoidable, and killing will never cease. The only hope man has is found in Christ. Will this erase the memory, pain, and questions? Certainly not. Will breathing techniques, and physiological and psychological preparation help? Yes. Will this erase the memory, pain, and questions? Certainly not. A combination of these two is, I think, the best solution. But Christ must never be left out of the equation. Doing this treats the symptoms rather than the cause. In short, there is no answer that will “heal” a Soldier who is struggling with these things. The fall of man is not simply theological – it is psychological and physiological as well. A relationship with Jesus is the only real solution and hope that can be offered.
1 Crozier, Dave. A Killing Mind: Understanding the psychological effects of combat. (The NCO Journal, April 2006), 24.
2 Ibid, 24.
3 Ibid, 25.
4 Ibid, 25.
5 Grossman, David. On Killing. (Boston: Little Brown Publishing), 1996, 149. 6 Ibid, 148.
7 Ibid, 149
8 Ibid, 143.
9 Crozier, 26.
10 Ibid, 27.
11 Mansfield, Stephen. The Faith of the American Soldier. (New York: Penguin), 2005, 5.
12 Grossman, 167.
13 Romans 3:12-17, New King James Version, Holy Bible
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My collection of personal papers written over the years