Military Suicides Reflect the Moral Conflicts of War, Says Marine Captain
Marine Capt. Timothy Kudo, a graduate student at New York University, deployed to Iraq in 2009 and to Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011.
When I joined the Marine Corps, I knew I would kill people. I was trained to do it in a number of ways, from pulling a trigger to ordering a bomb strike to beating someone to death with a rock. As I got closer to deploying to war in 2009, my lethal abilities were refined, but my ethical understanding of killing was not.
I held two seemingly contradictory beliefs: Killing is always wrong, but in war, it is necessary. How could something be both immoral and necessary? I didn’t have time to resolve this question before deploying. And in the first few months, I fell right into killing without thinking twice. We were simply too busy to worry about the morality of what we were doing. But one day on patrol in Afghanistan in 2010, my patrol got into a firefight and ended up killing two people on a motorcycle we thought were about to attack us. They ignored or didn’t understand our warnings to stop, and according to the military’s “escalation of force” guidelines, we were authorized to shoot them in self-defense. Although we thought they were armed, they turned out to be civilians. One looked no older than 16.
It’s been more than two years since we killed those people on the motorcycle, and I think about them every day. Sometimes it’s when I’m reading the news or watching a movie, but most often it’s when I’m taking a shower or walking down my street in Brooklyn. They are not the only deaths I carry with me. I also remember the first time a Marine several miles away asked me over the radio whether his unit could kill someone burying a bomb. The decision fell on me alone. I said yes.
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. 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.
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