The Enemy in Our Hands: America's Treatment of Enemy Prisoners of War, from the Revolution to the War on Terror

By Robert C. Doyle | Go to book overview

Introduction
The Enemy: Imposing the Condition of Captivity

In war, the opposing side cannot be an individual with a personal history or even a personality. The enemy is a soldier tasked to destroy the force facing him. He wears the uniform of his country, bears his country’s arms legally, and is usually well trained in military arts, including the art of killing. The enemy might be a man or a woman—gender matters very little—but as a soldier, this person represents a clear and present danger and must be vigorously opposed to the death. The enemy is absolutely evil, and few students of military history could or would deny that modern war, at least in the twentieth century and possibly into the twenty-first, has evolved steadily into a struggle for national survival.

Killing the enemy is a military necessity in war, whereas in civilian life such an act is called homicide, manslaughter, or murder, depending on the circumstances. From at least the time of Caesar in Gaul, it has been clear that war is not a game; nor is it loaded with gamelike chivalry in the heat of battle. There is much hatred and loathing, anger and intemperance, impatience, and chaos. In war, countries such as the United States confer their highest awards for valor when soldiers take the lives of enemy soldiers in battle, and as J. Glen Gray points out in The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle, the act of killing in combat is an act of state rather than an act of murder or a private killing; thus it becomes an act worthy of praise rather than a crime.1

Soldiers kill easily and swiftly in battle because they believe the enemy is evil enough to warrant complete destruction. Even more important, soldiers are taught convincingly in basic and advanced training that a combat situation comes down to two choices: kill or be killed. Respect for the enemy’s fighting skills is certainly required, but hatred for the enemy, such as existed toward the Imperial Japanese Army on Peleliu, Okinawa, and Iwo Jima during World War II, is sometimes elevated to what John Dower calls a “war without mercy,” and for good reason: quarter is neither sought nor given.2 Gray calls this phenomenon “a unified concrete universal, single in its reality as an abstract hatred

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