Schnee Schni Schnappy

The title is a reference to the German song. This post is not about that. This is just a local copy of a comment I wrote on someone elses blog, discussing the Iraq war and the behaviour of soldiers.

In reply to a comment on apostrophers post about becoming monsters:

This whole ‘snapping’ thing doesn’t give me a lot of solace. Wife beaters claim that they ‘just snapped’, and we still judge them harshly. Whether or not someones snapping reduces the guilt on them depends on how we feel about their reasons for snapping. In the case of wife beaters, we don’t care that they commited the act in a fit of rage, when she didn’t bring him a beer, because we don’t think that’s a very good reason for ‘snapping’. If someone can ‘snap’ over something they shouldn’t ‘snap’ over, then most people think of them as just as guilty.

For most of us, having your friend killed next to you seems like a good reason to snap, but I think that it is very different when you’re in a war situation and your friend is standing there with a machine gun. In that situation, you should expect him to be killed, and if you can’t handle that without committing atrocities than you really really really should not be in the army.

When you work with wife beaters and get them to analyse their thought processes, you discover that ‘snapping’ is not so thoughtless a process as they and it appears you believe. Even in a fit of rage, people plan and have the ability to reason [it is a suspension of morality, not rationality]. ‘Snapping’ is a choice, and you can be trained to make it a less appealing choice (one way is through harsh punishments, other ways include self-talk, etc). This is something that should be one of the main concerns in training anyone who is going to be given a gun.

As an aside to an earlier point, historically speaking, battles in the past weren’t always brute attempts at domination. There were rules to war even before the Geneva convention, to the extent that when Henry gave the order to kill the prisoners at Agincourt because they didn’t have enough men to keep them all under control (they were outnumbered 6 to 1) his orders were ignored. There have always been people who broke the rules of war, and in the past there was little that could be done, except not to invite them to parties, but there has been the notion of morality in the way you treat prisoners and enemy noncombatants for a long time.

Posted by: kyb at May 23, 2006 07:54 AM

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