Sunday, October 31, 2004

FULL METAL JACKET

I recently watched Full Metal Jacket and the movie took on a whole new meaning since the last time I had seen it, which was before my husband enlisted. The beginning of the movie, which shows Marines in basic training before they are sent to Vietnam, is amazing in revealing the kind of indoctrination that troops go through. The drill sergeant, in his booming and commanding voice, tells the Marines that “God has a hard on for Marines because we kill everything we see.” At another point in the movie, the drill sergeant asks the men, “What do we do for a living, ladies?” The men reply, “Kill, kill, kill.” During my husband's basic training, he, too, had to repeat similar slogans advocating taking another person’s life. Phrases like “Kill I will” and “I want to kill somebody” became a part of his everyday routine.

Since my husband became a soldier, I’ve thought a lot about the human capacity to kill. When we are growing up, one of the core moral values we are taught is to not harm people. We are so conditioned against killing. It is one of the basic tenants of most religions. And our justice system reserves the harshest punishments for those who kill.

But when soldiers are trained, all that prior teaching is thrown out the door. You are taught that you have to be ready to kill at a moment’s notice, that the act of shooting your rifle must come as easily as blinking your eye. And the military does an amazing job of teaching soldiers to kill. I know that kind of training is necessary for troops to accomplish their mission and to stay alive. Still, it is so strange to know that my husband’s ultimate job is to kill people in war. That is what his field training, target practice and weapons maintenance are for; it’s all geared toward helping him become the best possible killing instrument.

I wonder if I could readily kill somebody if I went through similar training. Is there a difference between men and women when it comes to violence? Or with enough training, could anyone do it? My husband tells me that pulling the trigger comes easier than you would think.

If it comes down to my husband’s life or another’s, of course I want my husband to be the one to come out alive. I selfishly want him to do what it takes to come home to me in one piece. Yet, I will feel disturbed that he took another person’s life. I will wonder if killing someone will change his moral fiber. How do you measure the value of a human life if you have taken one? A recent study said more than 100,000 Iraqis have been killed since the beginning of the war, although others say the number is more in the tens of thousands. And more than 1,200 coalition troops have died in Iraq. Do the insurgents have nightmares about the lives they have taken and the mangled bodies they have seen, as our soldiers do?

My husband and I have talked about how killing someone could change him. But we also talked about soldiers doing what they have to do to make it home. You save yourself and you save your buddies, and the consequences of your actions are secondary. Still, he knows it will haunt him. And I’m glad that he feels that way. It shows me that despite all the training, he is still my husband.