Friday, April 24, 2015

Do soldiers hate the enemy?

One stock objection I've seen pacifists use is to equate killing somebody with "hating your enemy." There are several problems with that argument:

i) I may not be killing my enemy. Rather, I may be killing your enemy, to protect you from wrongful aggression.

ii) In addition, why assume that a soldier (to take a stock example) must "hate" the enemy? Whether or not hatred is involved depends on the soldier and depends on the enemy.

Some enemies are hateful. Some soldiers hate the enemy. But that's hardly something we can universalize.

i) A soldier may kill the enemy simply because he's been ordered into combat. He goes wherever he's told to go. He may personally dislike killing. He's just following orders.  

ii) He may regard killing as a necessary evil. He'd prefer not to kill anyone, but losing is worse. 

iii) He may believe in the mission, but that doesn't necessarily mean he entertains personal animus towards enemy combatants. 

iv) He may kill, not because he hates the enemy, but because he finds himself in a kill-or-be-killed situation. Given a choice, he'd rather survive. 

v) He may kill to protect his comrades. Take a military sniper. It's not so much a question of what he feels about the enemy, but what he feels about his comrades. 

vi) He may kill because he has to make a split-second decision. It's not premeditated. He doesn't have time to feel anything about the enemy. The only thing he feels is adrenalin.  

vii) He may be pretty detached. Take dropping bombs at high altitude. Or launching a cruise missile. He never sees the enemy. It's fairly abstract. He doesn't feel much of anything, one way or the other. He doesn't have a mental image of the enemy. It's about the target. The strategic objective. 

viii) He may be sympathetic to the plight of enemy conscripts who are there because they were drafted, and not because they want to fight.

In many or most cases, a soldier may regret having to kill the enemy. He must overcome his innate reluctance to be responsible for someone else's death, even if it's justified in his eyes. 

i) I think pacifists caricature soldiers. That serves their polemical purpose to oversimplify the psychology of a soldier. 

ii) In addition, the moralistic affectation of the pacifist prevents him from assuming a soldier's viewpoint, even for the sake of argument. Because he thinks killing is evil, he thinks it's evil to think like a soldier, even for purposes of understanding the other side. So it's more convenient to impute malign motives to the soldier. 


  1. As a 20 year military man I personally think you completely missed the point. In all my years of service I have never heard a better description of what drives a military man than what G.K. Chesterton wrote

    “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”

    Believe me - it's just that simple. Been there. Done that.

    1. How does that miss the point? My post denied that soldiers must be motivated by hating the enemy. I gave many other motivations. That dovetails with your experience.

  2. I think Doug Evans didn't read the post properly.
    I second what you said Steve. I think you were quite nuance. While I didn't do 20 years, I can my time in Iraq as a Marine confirmed what you described. Personally I never hated Saddam's Iraqi Army (back in 2003). Radical Islamic Insurgents on the other hand...

  3. Also, isn't it possible to love your enemy whom you are killing? To wish he's a believer or becomes one before death. To wish his best interest (i.e. a welcoming entrance into God's presence after death) while you are doing your best to "sink his battleship"?

    1. You may be just trying to kill enemies you love because they hold policies and are doing things so detrimental to themselves and the world at large that they deserve to be opposed with deadly force. I suspect that was the attitude of many Christians in the Allied forces against Germany, Italy and Japan.