The Overthrow of Moral Authority

March 2011By Ralph Loomis

Ralph Loomis, a member of the Anglican Church of North America, received a doctor of theology degree in ethics from Harvard University. He has taught at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth and at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, where he also founded and pastored an inner-city storefront church. He is presently working on a book expounding on the ideas contained in this article. He blogs at

He was old, wore only a loin cloth, and we had shot off part of one hand. The captain and most of the men in my company were on a hill a few hundred yards from where I and a squad of my men had chased the old man down. My captain was far enough away that he had to give orders on the radio. Several times he ordered me to shoot my prisoner. After all, he was only a “gook.” When I said I was bringing him in, my captain shouted, “I don’t want prisoners. I want a body count. Kill him!”

Although I was not a Christian at the time, I knew my captain’s order was morally wrong. I refused to obey. But my radio operator, the only other man who could hear the captain’s orders, opened fire from about ten feet away. With his rifle on full automatic, he began at the man’s stomach and slowly worked his way up. The man’s eyes were locked on mine as his life passed from him and his body sank to the ground. The men on the hill jumped and cheered like they were at a football game.

The year was 1968. I was a twenty-two-year-old first lieutenant infantry platoon leader with the Third Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division in Vietnam. My captain had commanded me to have my prisoner killed, probably in retaliation for casualties we had suffered a couple of weeks earlier. Our company had been overrun by North Vietnamese suicide troops known as “zappers” in a location northwest of Saigon. We lost about a third of our men. So there was the matter of revenge. And a good way for the captain to restore his reputation was to chalk up a “body count” by having a man killed — even if he was probably just a farmer. My response was to press murder charges against my captain and radio operator.

You have two options:

  1. Online subscription: Subscribe now to New Oxford Review for access to all web content at AND the monthly print edition for as low as $38 per year.
  2. Single article purchase: Purchase this article for $1.95, for viewing and printing for 48 hours.

If you're already a subscriber log-in here.

Back to March 2011 Issue

Read our posting policy Add a comment
He who is heedless of Catholic Truth [the only real truth, as Michael Voris of rightly asserts] is headless. And he who capitulates to relativism self-decapitates. Posted by: humblesoldier2
April 19, 2011 11:30 AM EDT
Dr. Loomis' wonderful insight and wisdom is a refreshing balm as this reader thanks NOR heartily for publishing his work here! Thank you again NOR and thank you Dr. Loomis - you "nailed it" here with this clear and very frank counterattack on relativism and the sad effects it has had on our culture. Posted by: agillis
April 06, 2011 10:07 PM EDT
Recently in a conversation I was asked to explain why I'd be more inclined to trust a Christian than an atheist. The reason I gave is that I believed the Christian is more accountable to a higher authority than himself, whereas the atheist is free to decide right and wrong from his own head. There's only one Head I really trust, and those who bow to that Head.Otherwise, you never really know what rules the other guy is playing by. Posted by: Carl Sundell
April 03, 2011 12:05 AM EDT
Pardon me for asking, but the opening story has the ring of literature and not history. I can find nothing about this trial or murder charge on the internet. Was there ever a trial, or an outcome? Posted by: eberwein
May 05, 2011 12:37 PM EDT
Add a comment