Humanizing the Words of War
I believe we must humanize the terms used in war. That is, we must humanize the words to more accurately reflect what is really happening during an act of war. Humans are performing acts of violence on other humans, including destroying their means of survival such as ruining homes, crops, factories, and means of transport like roads, bridges or railroad tracks that are vital to bringing life-supporting products to a community.
When a Commander orders a soldier or bombardier to “destroy a target”, “eliminate the enemy” or “neutralize their position”, these are more than just bleeps on a computer screen or pegs on a board. The Commander or soldier must also think, “I am eliminating, destroying or neutralizing a mother or father and a son or daughter and hindering the survival of those who depend on that person.”
It would be more accurate for the Commander to issue the order: “kill someone’s father”, “permanently maim someone’s daughter” or “neutralize somebody’s brother”.
It’s easy to rationalize the justification for harming other humans in wartime. We think of them as the faceless, nameless “enemy” out to kill us. But, consider this perspective:
those in our military service know that they must follow orders that often involve perpetuating acts of violence against others. If they refuse to follow orders, they will be court-martialed. It’s the same or worse for our enemy fighters. If they refuse orders to harm our soldiers, they can be executed. Soldiers are following orders. The human factor is obscured by fear and the all-encompassing duty to country.
There are times when war must be waged to stop invasions and to preserve one’s society. If war is a necessary act of self-defense, then it is unavoidable. However, it must be a last alternative, not an impulsive act of bravado. A blinding, overriding sense of patriotism can cause us to become hardened against the more gruesome, wrenching tragedies of violent combat. We need to remember to put a human face on the consequences of these armed conflicts.
I believe that when both sides are constantly reminded of what they are actually doing, when they humanize the words of war and see the enemy as fathers, sons, mothers and daughters, maybe all involved will do whatever is necessary to stop or minimize the perpetuation of war.