Not Really Viewing Them as a Person

Posted: February 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

In the most recent issue of Time Magazine (Feb 18, 2013, 34-37) a feature ran on expert military sniper and shooting victim Chris Kyle. The veteran of Iraq fell not to the enemy, but from one of his own, a troubled veteran back home in Texas.

As I read the article I noticed a quote by Kyle. It is indicative of the emotional distancing one assumes in combat in order to kill lots of people. Putting aside the debate as to justifications to engage in violence in the first place, there are the fundamental mental gymnastics that rationalize what is being done:

“You just view these guys as the terrorists that they are. So you’re not really viewing them as a person. They’re out there, they’re bad people, and you just take them out and you don’t think twice about it.”

That mental view of the enemy is called objectification. You make enemies, who are actually persons, into non-persons in order to kill them with a clear conscience. You also label them bad in order to to justify it even more cleanly. They are non-persons and they are bad non-persons.

That is the same parallel thinking that is used to justify genocides: The victims are not persons but rather vermin, cockroaches, filthy leeches, and don’t really feel the pain. They have no families who grieve their death, they have no mothers who gave them birth.

Though such thinking is assumed when facing a hostile adversary it persists in the other ways we label the neighbor as less than human. When they are non-human we may rape them, deport them, cheat them, take their possessions and land. They are morally inferior therefore deserve what they get even as we deserve the benefit of moral superiority. They are Catholic or Muslim or Palestinian or Jewish or some race that isn’t a part of my tribe. That’s it, they are a thing, an object, not really human.

I’m sure that if my assignment were to take out the opposition in order to achieve what I or my tribe believed was a noble cause, I would assume this end-justifies-the-means morality, too.

But it is dangerous. And that thinking goes all the way back to our Cain and Abel primal nature. We have a mark on our foreheads, the mark of some of the most dangerous creatures on the planet because we feel entitled to kill those who are not as human as we are.

  1. John Barnes says:

    Tim, I don’t want you to think I am demeaning your thoughts. But we need to be more like dogs. I have just taken training at Brite Divinity about helping veterans cope with their moral injuries. It’s a grim picture, but one group is training dogs as service dogs to help them. Two of the speakers at the training said the dogs are doing a marvelous job. Google “This Able Veteran.” You will see a video that made me cry, so get the kleenex.

    When I get a better grip on the issue, I hope to lead several Fort Worth churches into becoming “pilot congregations” to open this ministry to the whole city.

    Hugs to you, and hugs and a kiss to your lovely bride!


  2. NMiller says:

    This was a most fitting meditation to begin Lent–our brokenness out there, raw and exposed.

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