21 July 2019
A copy of John McCain's book ‘The Restless Wave’ is displayed at a bookstore in New York. The US Senator, who spent more than 5 years in captivity as a POW in North Vietnam, makes for a good example of people who kept their humanity in times of extre
A copy of John McCain's book ‘The Restless Wave’ is displayed at a bookstore in New York. The US Senator, who spent more than 5 years in captivity as a POW in North Vietnam, makes for a good example of people who kept their humanity in times of extre

Never hit a man when he is down and other rules

As we mark the one year anniversary of the Arianna Grande Manchester concert bombing with a Texas school shooting, a Toronto truck attack, and Paris knife attack, in what seems to be a common pattern in many places of attacks on defenseless women and children, one wonders what has happened to how young people perceive the warrior’s code and if these people have even thought of it? We’ve seen this pattern of terror many times, most recently in Paris, in Toronto, and countless other places where human life is totally trampled upon.

While the availability of firearms truly exacerbates the situation, the sad fact is even ordinary tools like trucks and knives are being used as tools of mass murder.

All civilized societies and their armies live by a common code. Treachery is frowned upon. Self-defense is one justification for fighting. When your opponent is down, you never hit him. If there are women and children, their safety should be paramount. If someone has surrendered, you treat him properly and don’t torture him. These are the common codes by which most civilized men and women live by, whether as military or even as civilians.

So why is it that radicalized individuals are able to take this code and totally turn it around and make killing defenseless civilians the rule and not an accidental extreme?

Part of the reason perhaps is because we have normalized deviant behavior in the films, books, and television shows we see around us. Some film producers will even justify that people are already crazy, and if they come out with a film that inflames the passions of certain gullible individuals, well it’s not their fault.

Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” is one prominent example. Try telling that to the involuntary celibate, or incel, who went on a rampage with his truck in Toronto, running over several people. Or those who are perhaps already borderline between acting on their hatred and just keeping it inside.

Unfortunately it is the worship of the almighty buck that makes it like this. If publishers, producers, and other sources of entertainment simply considered their obligations to society, maybe we will have less of these terrorist incidents. More radical videos on the Dark Web should of course be taken down, lest the ideas of these demented creators spread further.

It’s not always limited to terrorists. Even governments have been known to cross into killing women and children. There is unintentional accidental collateral damage, but politicians responsible for decisions that intentionally target civilians deserve to be convicted in the courts for crossing the line.

Perhaps we ought to consider telling more stories of people who kept their humanity in times of extreme duress. Look no further than Senator John McCain, now dying of brain cancer, and yet still being insulted by his political opponents who see no value in his sacrifice of keeping the code many years ago as a POW in Hanoi. McCain, being the son of the commander of US forces in the Pacific, was offered early release after he was shot down. But knowing the damage that it could inflict to the morale of his fellow POWs, McCain instead chose to suffer more years of torture and kept faith with the code for fighting men.

During the 1898 Spanish American War, Contraalmirante Patricio Montojo deliberately chose to locate his ships in an area that would prevent civilian casualties during the Battle of Manila Bay. Likewise, as a sign of respect, his opponent Admiral George Dewey came to his court martial defense during the latter’s trial in Madrid in 1899.

During World War II over Germany, a B-17 bomber was limping back to base with its rear fuselage almost totally blown away. Suddenly, a German fighter appeared into view at the rear, which caused extreme concern for the Americans. Fortunately for them, the German realized that if he fired, it would be a treacherous act and instead escorted them until they could reach the friendly lines. Fortunately for both, they managed to reunite long after the war and became friends.

Similarly, although the USS Indianapolis was sunk by a Japanese submarine in the Pacific during World War II, the Japanese submarine commander Hashimoto testified on behalf of USS Indianapolis Captain Charles McVay III and worked after the war with his men to restore his reputation.

Ceasefires between opponents during times of Christmas or other holidays is a long-standing tradition in many parts of the world. It is another symbolism that although there is fighting going on, the two sides are still human and respect the right of the other side to mark Christmas or another holiday.

There are many professional men and women in the world’s armed forces, and many civilians, who would not obey an order to commit a massacre. It is their stories that should be told and put on the spotlight for young people to serve as an example of how everyone should keep their humanity intact and respect the code, no matter how tough their situation is.

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Philippines based author, columnist and playwright

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