Take no prisoners

Take no prisoners

A couple of conservative writers have put forward the proposition that US armed forces should kill, not capture, terrorists when they encounter them on the battlefield, advocating a “take no prisoners” approach. I find this a troubling proposition. It’s one thing to kill another soldier in combat, but nothing in Catholic teaching would allow a soldier to kill an enemy who’s not in a position to fight back or who’s surrendering.

One of those writers, Michael Ledeen, whose words I linked above, make a strange claim as well:

Ralph Peters, one of my favorites, has a very strong piece arguing that in almost all cases, terrorists should be killed on the battlefield, not captured. It would be helpful to know how many POWs in previous wars behaved after the conflict, but of course there are many differences between regular soldiers and terrorists. The “kill or capture?” problem has historically been resolved in favor of “kill” for most of human history. Americans are among the very first to reflexively opt for “capture.”

I’m no historian, but I think this is false. In fact, I think until recently the difference between honorable warriors aand barbarians was precisely the treatment of captured enemy. Certainly, Americans were not the first. In the Age of Sail, the officers and crew of captured vessels were treated with dignity and honor, and often the captured officers were allowed free run solely on their word that they would not try to escape, which was called their “parole” (where we get the modern word from although the concept is somewhat degraded).

In the Age of Chivalry, also, captured knights were also treated with dignity as demanded by the chivalric code, sometimes even allowed to keep their armor and horses at the end of the conflict.

But it took “modern” man to develop ideals of cruelty that elevated what was once a battlefield aberration into an expected norm, ironically through doing battle with non-Western cultures that often took no prisoners.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli