First published march 12, 2012
I did what I was made to do. I never questioned. If you’d asked me at the time if I was choosing my actions of my own volition, I would have said yes, but I see now that I had no choice. I was a cog in a machine much greater than myself. I was turned in place by the other gears grinding in unison towards the common goal.
History says we behaved like animals; that we treated others like animals but that was not true. Animals do not torture and abuse and murder their own kind.
My humanity was stolen from me and before I could recognize the depth of that loss, it was too late.
I wasn’t born cruel, but then cruelty is often a matter of perspective. I wasn’t the kind to think things through too deeply. I was smart enough in many ways, but morally I was lazy. I trusted those in positions of greater authority to tell me what was right and wrong. It was simpler and less mentally taxing to see things as clearly black and white, good and evil.
As long as I obeyed those in authority, I felt no moral compunctions about what I did; suffered no sleepless nights wracked with guilt. I never questioned that I was on the side of right. And in this way, it was easy to bring me (and others just like me) to heel, to do the bidding of the powerful whose true motives I never knew.
Those in authority are in those positions because they understand that to consolidate, maintain and focus their power, they must appeal to that most basic need in others: to be on the side of Right; on the side of God. Once convinced, a follower can be made to do anything. Soldiers will only fight and kill if they believe their cause is just. An army cannot survive on doubt.
But enemies cannot both be on the side of Right.
During war, right and wrong are relative. They are not determined until the fighting and killing are over. Human morality is judged upon the results.
On this side, morality is judged by different criteria.