The Overthrow of Moral Authority
IMMANENCE & TRANSCENDENCE DIVORCED
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.
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