Why Snipers Kill

An American sniper sits with a Ukrainian one to discuss ethics in targeting.

We conditioned ourselves that Talibs were targets and little else. Our time revolved around killing them as they killed us, and before they killed us more.

It would take years for me to realize how indoctrinated we all were. Raptor already understood — at least enough to articulate his findings to a stranger in a stairwell amid the thud of distant artillery strikes — that he was killing a human being, and trying to explain why.

“I don’t want to kill, but I have to — I’ve seen what they’ve done,”

Beneath the surface of the story is an American soldier warning about being trained to think not very deeply or independently about targets.

We found ourselves in the middle of some poorly thought-out counterinsurgency strategy, propping up a corrupt government that collapsed almost as soon as the United States left. We were protecting each other. That became a binding ideology, all the clarity we could summon in the puzzle our politicians in Washington handed us. We stumbled through exhausted, mouthing our lines, until our tours ended and we were discharged.

Protecting each other in a puzzle of politics is less dramatic than it sounds. Who goes inside the red circle depends on who gets defined as “each other”.

More to the point (of a spear) is the role of authorization in conflict. Is authority entirely controlled within a vacuum, as commonly found in dictatorship, or based on an inhereted set of laws and order (e.g. humanitarianism, war crimes)? And how easy is it for people to move between two opposed extremes where being on the wrong side means death?

American military orders have sometimes evolved far more on the side of “because I said so”, which lack very important “woke” (e.g. accountability) concepts that are essential to maintaining order beyond “each other”. Proper mindfulness, even liberalism if you will, is shunned and soldiers are left vulnerable to falling into line under bad authority.

The Vietnam War wasn’t enough of a lesson, obviously.

It reminds me of a Navy MARSOC who said he had a degree in sociology. “That must be useful in pulling the trigger” I said optimistically. “I call in what I see to get my orders, and I follow those orders” he replied with a curt and somewhat annoyed and condescending tone.

On the flip side a Navy SEAL related to me how he gave orders of full independent discretion to protect assets, yet one of his team immediately called in asking to verify authorization to kill a French soldier nearby making sloppy work that gave false appearances of being a threat instead of friendly.

It is no wonder the American soldier in this story is so surprised to hear Ukranian snipers carry into battle a more complete set of “woke” tools, better prepared for combat in heart and mind. Part of the problem for American military training is it doesn’t properly come to terms with its own past, such as creating the Taliban let alone being founded on principles of expanding slavery.

It’s not truly a hard problem to solve, fortunately. America needs more promotion of the learnings from Generals Grant and Sherman, more emphasis around soldiers John Brown and Silas Soule, with far less or even no more nonsense about the toxicity of Washington, Jackson, Polk and Wilson.

Related: America’s Most Evil War

And don’t even get me started on how the immoral and oppressive Washington and Lee were allowed to become the name of a learning center in America (e.g. imagine naming a college in Ukraine for Stalin and Putin).

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