One of the most sobering thoughts and challenges I face as a military chaplain is ministering to those who have directly engaged in the task of killing others in the line of duty. Recently, I’ve been re-reading LTC Dave Grossman’s fascinating book, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. As a former Army Ranger, he looks at the effects of killing in war, both during the conflict and in its aftermath. As horrible as it may sound, this book is a compelling read, especially for anyone who may have to interact in any capacity (personally or professionally) with those who have killed in combat.
The first time I read this work was during my stint of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Madigan Army Medical Center in Fort Lewis, Washington. During that summer I had my first serious interactions, personally and pastorally, with individuals who had killed others in their service to our country. The book is filled with first-hand accounts from LTC Grossman’s decades of study and research, most of it spent talking with vets from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. While reading it, I couldn’t help but see how my training at USAFA had been part of a larger program to train me, quite bluntly, to kill.
Out of that initial reading, I wrote a reflection paper to share in my CPE group. I decided to revise it a bit and post it here, if for no other reason than to get us to be more thoughtful in our interactions with vets, soldiers, or police officers who may have had to face the horrible task of taking another life in the honorable calling to serve our nation and her people. Now almost fifteen years later, I have thankfully never had to kill anyone in the line of duty and would consider myself to have been resensitized to the atrocities that may have grown to be almost instinctive for a time.
Anyway, here is the short paper in its entirety. All that has substantively changed is the fact that I am not only now a non-combatant, as a chaplain I am forbidden from taking up arms and would never be called upon to engage in this sort of melee. Those to whom I have been called to minister, however, are not exempt from this very real possibility. (NOTE: The block quotes are taken from Grossman’s book mentioned here.) Continue reading