The Right Opinion

A Morally-Confused Marine

By Dennis Prager · Feb. 5, 2013

Last week, the Washington Post published an opinion piece by a Marine captain titled, “I Killed People in Afghanistan. Was I Right or Wrong?”

The column by Timothy Kudo, who is now a graduate student at New York University, is a fine example of the moral confusion leftism has wrought over the last half century. Captain Kudo's moral confusion may predate his graduate studies, but if so, it has surely been reinforced and strengthened at NYU.

The essence of Mr. Kudo's piece is that before he served in Afghanistan he was ethically unprepared for killing, that killing is always wrong, and that war is therefore always wrong.

–“I held two seemingly contradictory beliefs: Killing is always wrong, but in war, it is necessary. How could something be both immoral and necessary?”

The statement, “killing is always wrong,” is the core of the captain's moral confusion.

Where did he learn such nonsense? He had to learn it because it is not intuitive. Every child instinctively understands that it is right to kill in self-defense; every decent human being knows it was right to kill Nazis during World War II; and just about everyone understands that if Hitler, Stalin and Mao had been killed early enough, about one hundred million innocent lives would have been saved.

How is it possible that a Marine captain and graduate student does not know these things? How can he make a statement that is not only morally foolish but actually immoral?

The overwhelmingly likely answer is that Captain Kudo is a product of the dominant religion of our time, leftism. And one important feature of the left's moral relativism and moral confusion is a strong pacifistic strain.

–“Many veterans are unable to reconcile such actions in war with the biblical commandment 'Thou shalt not kill.' When they come home from an environment where killing is not only accepted but is a metric of success, the transition to one where killing is wrong can be incomprehensible.”

I give Captain Kudo the benefit of the doubt that he does not know that the commandment in its original Hebrew reads, “Thou shalt not murder,” not “Thou shalt not kill.” The King James translators did an awe inspiring job in translating the Bible. To this day, no other English translation comes close to conveying the majesty of the biblical prose. But the Hebrew is clear: “Lo tirtzach” means “Do not murder.” Hebrew, like English, has two primary words for homicide – “murder” and “kill.”

Murder is immoral or illegal killing.

Killing, on the other hand, can be, and often is, both moral and legal.

In order to ensure that no more Marines share the captain's moral confusion, the Marine Corps should explain to all those who enlist that the Bible only prohibits murder, not killing. It should further explain that killing murderers – such as the Nazis and Japanese fascists in World War II and the Taliban today – is not only not morally problematic, it is the apotheosis of a moral good. Refusing to kill them means allowing them to murder.

–“This incongruity can have devastating effects. After more than 10 years of war, the military lost more active-duty members last year to suicide than to enemy fire.”

As we have seen, there is no “incongruity” here. And if so many members of the American military believe that it is so “incongruous” to kill the moral monsters of the Taliban – the people who throw lye in the faces of girls who attend school (and shoot them in the head if they're outspoken about the right of girls to an education), who murder medical volunteers who give polio shots to Afghan children and who stone women charged with “dishonoring” their families – that they are committing suicide in unprecedented numbers, we have a real moral crisis in our military.

–“To properly wage war, you have to recalibrate your moral compass. Once you return from the battlefield, it is difficult or impossible to repair it.”

You only “have to recalibrate your moral compass” if you enter the military with a broken moral compass – one that neither understands the difference between murder and killing, nor how evil the Taliban is.

–“War makes us killers. We must confront this horror directly if we're to be honest about the true costs of war.”

Other than the author, are there many Americans who enter the military in time of war without confronting the fact that they are likely to kill? Furthermore, it is not “war” that makes us killers; it is the Taliban. We kill them in order to protect Afghans from Taliban atrocities, and to protect America from another 9/11.

–“I want to believe that killing, even in war, is wrong.”

Why would anyone want to believe that? Were the soldiers who liberated Nazi death camps “wrong?”

“The immorality of war is not a wound we can ignore.”

With all respect, I would rewrite this sentence to read: “The moral confusion of a Marine captain is not a wound we can ignore.”

Every American is deeply grateful to Captain Kudo for his service on behalf of his country, and on behalf of elementary human rights in Afghanistan. I have to wonder, however, why, given his belief that killing is always wrong, Timothy Kudo ever enlisted in the Marines.

On the other hand, he will fit in perfectly at NYU.


20 Comments in NH said:

If this man has come to conclusion killing is immoral whey did he join the service. We all know when one enters a service, and a war his duty is ti self preserve for self and country. As a captain he was not a recruit as in WW11

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 8:09 AM

wjm in Colorado said:

Last time I checked the military was voluntary. If this idiot wanted to join the military and not kill, maybe he should have enlisted in Space Command, and fly satelites with the other fairys and girly men. A Marine, hardly, doesn't add up, unless this fool has also come out of the closet at NYU. Progressives are mentally flawed, but they do know how to rewrite things to further their insane goal to make Marxist Ideology work.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 9:13 AM

Bubba in USA replied:

Kinda silly, wjm. Just how many guys in Space Command do you know? I've known more than a few, including Vietnam vets, pilots and even a spec ops guy. And, fyi, no one "enlists" in Space Command - you are selected if you meet certain qualifications, just like every other unit.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 12:25 PM

wjm in Colorado replied:

I work in close proximity, I have never seen so many rainbow stickers on a military installation. This is the most clueless command I have ever seen, with exercises in stupidity run every other month, one scenario was a base lockdown for tainted fruit at the commissary. You can't make up this kind of buffoonery. Maybe you are one of the fuit flys of Space. I stand by my assesment of the girly man command.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 1:10 PM

rab in jo,mo said:

Since the time of Cain and Abel, killing has been part of our nature. Sin makes us killers, not war. Sometimes, killing a person to protect others is not only necessary, but the right thing to do. There is not good in every person, some people are just evil. Defending the defenseless against evil is a noble cause.

This poor misguided soul needs to get himself out of liberal-progressive-land and get his head screwed on straight. Maybe he found that part of him enjoyed killing and it scared him. When there is no clear distinction between right and wrong, good and evil, then confusion results. Moral relativism is killing our spirit and destroying our society.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 11:03 AM

Rod in USA said:

An excellent piece by Mr. Prager.

The key points to this, for the Captain's benefit, are:

1. There is in fcat a difference between killing and murder. You killed; you did not murder.

2. You killed to prevent further murder, much as WWII Soldiers killed German Nazis to defeat the evil Nazi empire's ability to muder innocent human beings.

With respect to both points above, it is a necessary evil to kill to prevent the murder of inncoents. A quote might help.

**Romans 13:4 ESV**
*For he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. *

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 11:11 AM

Salty Marine in DC said:

Well Captain, if all killing is wrong, then:
- don't swat a fly or mosquito (or a sand flea!!!)
- don't put down a rabid skunk
- don't use antibacterial soaps or medicines
- don't walk on grass
- stop developers from cutting down trees
- shut down the cattle, pork and poultry industries
- shut down the leather shoe and belt industries

Oh, are just talking about humans?
- don't allow abortions
- don't allow removal from life support
- don't allow smokers to smoke
- don't allow industrial waste
- don't allow drunk drivers

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 11:25 AM

George Rogers Clark in Ohio replied:

Exactly, Salty. Let us make special mention, again, of abortion in such numbers we now call it "infanticide." The liberal tweeters were saying crap like, "live by the gun, die by the gun" right after the news broke about Chris Kyle. What hypocrisy! They murder babies (1.2 million per year) and call a hero who saved countless lives a "murderer." When they love their agenda and their ideology more than their nation and their fellow man, they are really messed up.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 1:30 PM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA said:

This is what comes from indoctrination by our public schools and universities. Leftists will never understand that the military is based on the ability to kill when necessary. Every military person is taught to kill in defense of the country and his/her fellow soldiers. If you believe that killing is wrong then you have no business joining the military. Sounds like to me the good Captain has been brain-washed by the elitist fools at NYU who never see any good reason for war or killing.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 12:16 PM

Mike McGinn in People's Republic of Maryland said:

Perhaps the Captain is too young to have heard the Pete Seeger song "Turn! Turn! Turn!", made famous in 1965 by the Byrds, which goes:

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

Even the 1960's hippies understood that there was a time to kill.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 1:05 PM

Rozan in Iowa replied:

Perhaps you are not old enough, or religious enough to be aware that these lyrics are straight out of the Holy Bible? See Ecclesiates 3:1-8

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 1:26 PM

Mike McGinn in People's Republic of Maryland replied:

I'm quite well aware of that fact, Roz'. Perhaps you missed my tongue-in-cheek jab at the progressive-left "peace-nicks" of the mid-60's who were singing a ballad supporting that idea that there is a time to kill.

I must wonder who provides a better education to our's professors at NYU, or the 3rd century B.C.E. writings found in Ecclesiates? Me personally...I'll go with the tried and true.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 9:21 PM

HP in Kalispell, MT said:

What a load of BS! I suggest the Capt needs a little publicity to generate an appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee to propel his run for office. He sounds like a future Sec of State to me.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 1:40 PM

Army Officer (Ret) in Kansas said:

Although I heartily agree with Dennis Prager's assessment and heartily disagree with Captain Kudo, I'm inclined to cut him some slack, and calls here for him to kill himself are WAY out of bounds. For anyone who cares to learn more, I HIGHLY recommend the book, "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society" by Lt.Col. Dave Grossman. (Some of what follows are his thoughts and some are mine.)

For most people, deliberately killing another human being is highly traumatic, even when it is necessary. This is especially true for up-close-and-personal killing. Killing at "intercontinental missile range" is less traumatic than killing at "rifle range," which in turn is less traumatic than killing at "sexual range."

In a nutshell, people fall into three groups: wolves, sheep, and sheepdogs. The overwhelming majority of people in this analogy are sheep.

Only a tiny percentage of the population can kill without remorse, which means there are not nearly enough sheepdogs to keep the sheep safe from the wolves. To extend the analogy, we take a bunch of sheep and train them to be rams. The VAST majority of soldiers have always come from that group. When we do that we train them to suppress their natural abhorrence to killing in order to get the job done.

I was one of the lucky ones. I went to Afghanistan and was in one of those situations - in my case the enemy was a young teenage boy with a pistol. Everything instantly went into super-slow motion, and I calmly began carrying out the task of putting two rounds through the center of his chest. I recognized his "weapon" as a toy before I got my muzzle on target, so I never had to find out what deliberately killing a child would have done to me on the inside. I served honorably for long enough to retire as a field-grade officer: I hope that's worth something. But am I a sheepdog? Am I a ram? I know two things: I did not hesitate for an instant, and I didn't have to pull the trigger - so I guess I may never know.

Captain Kudo was not so lucky: he's a ram... and when his country called he answered, and he DID have to kill. He's wrong about the morality, but he's not a monster. He could probably use some counseling for PTSD, though. He's a wounded warrior, but his wounds are not physical. Criticize his argument all you want (I'll join you), but get off his back.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 2:16 PM

HP in Kalispell, MT said:

Officer, I still say BS! With this guys mindset, so opposed to killing and war, he passes up the Coast Guard, Air Force, Navy, Army and chooses to be a Marine! A Marine, Really? I don't think so. He wouldn't have made it through boot. I might buy in if he was Army but not a Marine. He's following the Kerry career path.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 2:52 PM

Army Officer (Ret) in Kansas replied:

Seriously, HP, read "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society" by Lt.Col. Dave Grossman. I like ya', man, but you're writing as if you can read Captain Kudo's mind. It's a very short book, and you can pick it up used on Amazon right now for a few bucks.

If he ends up in "Progressive" politics hawking this story I'll be inclined to accept your version, but for now I see little evidence of political ambition and much evidence of PTSD. One of my buddies was an Airborne Ranger in the first Gulf War - a really tough S.O.B.. He was tortured by his combat experiences years later as well. Marines aren't all that special - they have a fantastic P.R. machine, but at the end of the day they're just people.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 8:30 PM

HP in Kalispell, MT replied:

Yes, they are just people but they are better trained and more disciplined. I hate to be so cynical but PTSD is becoming more common than ADHD. Since the draft ended the popular assumption is only the crazies join the military and when they return from service their nuttier yet. This started after Nam and is still spreading today. What makes me weep are the poor bastards that have been maimed or worse from this useless non-war. "I'm having nightmares and can't control my anger" doesn't do much for me. BTW, lest you think I'm a totally heartless ass, I spent this past year with a VA shrink and attended group sessions for PTSD (I spent my time in Nam assigned to an Army SpecOps unit). I quit going to the VA because I told them to use their resources on the truly disabled. I'd just suck it up as I have for decades and the others in the group should do the same. I think the cowards have found a poster child in the Marine Capt. I hope I'm wrong but like they say, no matter how cynical you get, you'll never catch up.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 11:57 PM

Army Officer (Ret) in Kansas replied:

Well thanks for your service in 'Nam. I try to make of point of saying that to every Vietnam vet I run across. You guys never got the credit you deserved, and as I like to say, "The seeds of victory in the Gulf were sown in the rice paddies of Vietnam."

As for PTSD - I'm not sure it's any more or less common than it ever was (they called it "shell-shock" in WWI, and it was extremely common), but it certainly is more recognized, which has probably led to over-diagnosis. And the VA is probably ill-equipped to deal with real cases. But my opinion of modern psychotherapy is VERY low anyway. I consider a psychologist to be a shaman in a suit.

I spent a lot of years on the "operational" side of things, and I thought I had a clear view of the issues involved in killing, but LTC Grossman's book opened my eyes to a whole new level of understanding. I can see how it's possible for a guy to go into the military with the highest ideals - doing what he's been told that "real men" do - and believing in the righteousness of killing in combat. But those part of our beings that are horrified by killing a fellow human being, the "fight-or-flight" instinct on overload, the changes to brain chemistry caused by the sheer physicality of being at war with people who want you dead every moment of every day... those are powerful things and not fully subject to rational thought or conscious control.

I agree that he should have refrained from publishing his story, and it will give cover to cowardice. He had one final duty to perform - to keep his ambiguity to himself. He failed in that duty.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 11:08 AM

DaneChile in Unknown said:

This USMC officer knew prior to being commissioned that he would be called upon to kill. Perhaps later he discovered that he did not LIKE doing it but that does not negate the necessity. I think he is trying to impress the faculty at NYU with a "change of vision"; "I can SEE", said the blind man.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 2:02 AM

Jimmy in Heath, Ohio said:

He must have forgot "A Marine is a rifleman first".

Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 6:15 AM