Monday, 26 January 2009

A Moral Conundrum...Thou Shalt Not Kill. [edit included]

At JS I remember writing about a dilemma I had regarding doing jobs that required you to potentially take a life. ie: the military, or police.

Whether I like it or not my upbringing was staunch moderate Christian.....if that makes sense. I am Presbyterian, which is moderate Christian, but the old man was fairly staunch on the morals that series of cosmic, spiritual, and universal scare tactics that came with 'faith'.

I'm human; I make mistakes. But I believe as long as you learn from those mistakes and attempt to change so as to avoid them happening again then you're moving forward in a positive way.

One of the BIGGEST mistakes you can make as a Christian is the 'Thou shalt not kill' one. I believe that you're allowed to protect yourself and a third party from imminent death at the hands of someone with bad intent....or self defence. If God had intended self defence in that 'Thou shalt not kill' deal then he really didn't fully grasp what he was creating. You might take me out, but it won't be while I'm on my knees. If that wins me a ticket to the great BBQ, then so be it.

For me however, that big rule still sits in my subconsciousness. Wanting to challenge myself personally and professionally in jobs that require the potential for taking life raises that question because I volunteer to be put in that position. I sign up KNOWING that the potential is there to break that deal with God. I've really have struggled with that one...

...until last night.

I'm currently reading a book called Warrior Brothers, by Keith Fennell (a must get, couldn't recommend it more) where he raises the question of hunting animals versus humans. He said he'd rather hunt humans (as a professional soldier) than animals due to the fact of choices. 'Mr Enemy' wandering the hills of Afghanistan makes a choice to be where he is and what he's doing with the knowledge that there are others out there who are required to stop him - not verbatim, basic vibe for me. Hunting animals for food is one thing, but for fun is something else....and I agree.

It's about choice.

Something in all that just clicked with me. As a police officer you volunteer for the job with good intent. Your gun is there to aid in preserving your life and that of a third party. A person with bad intent makes the CHOICE to confront them with the knowledge of the potential consequences and who they're confronting but they CHOOSE to continue on that course anyway. Of course the potential to get it wrong and take the life unnecessarily is there, but that's where sense in what is right and wrong and being able to assess the situation is important. I believe it's harder for a police officer to make those calls compared to the soldier. The moral envelope for a soldier is MUCH larger than that of an officer IMHO, but the morals are much the same if you consider the basics.

To justify it morally to myself I consider the intent and choices of the person involved.

Anyway, that sits better with me.


I wrote to Keith Fennell this morning. I just to thank him for unintentionally clearing this issue up with me.

My email:


First up, great book. Highly recommend to anyone who'll listen.

Second, Thank you.

I'm wanting to challenge myself professionally by joining the police. I'm 35 and professionally unfulfilled. Long story short, one of my biggest moral dilemmas is in regards to taking a life in the course of fulfilling your duties due to my religious up bringing. This issue was something that was a real concern to me until I read your book. You mention in it how you felt about killing the roo at the range and with your mate and when you were learning to shoot. You mentioned about that comparing against taking the life of a human being less morally disturbing to you due to the choices that human has made. That's where it clicked for me. You join the services or the police with good intent. The 'bad guy' puts you in the position of taking his life with the knowledge of who you are, what you do, and the steps you must take to preserve the lives of yourself and that of a third party based on HIS actions. It's about choice and intent.

[info and link regarding this post edited out]

You guys who serve are more of an inspiration for attempting to achieve personal greatness than you'll ever know to the people who read about you and your lives. Thankyou for serving, and thankyou, personally, from me.

Kindest regards, Pete

His reply:

Hi Peter,
thanks for your feedback.
I think you should go for it.
After reading your email, I believe a person like you would be well suited to the police force. I'm sure you'll be able to do a lot of good.
Taking life is not a pleasant thought and I have recently re-visited the subject:

One of the first questions I was asked during my interview was, ‘If you were sent to war, could you kill a person?’ I was so pumped to have made the interview stage that I’m surprised I didn’t say something like, ‘If you let me in the army then I’m happy to kill as many people as you want.’ But in reality, my thoughts then and now haven’t changed that much. I think my answer was, ‘It would not be something that I would enjoy, but if I was confronted with a situation where I was required to take life to save my own or that of another, then I would.’

Over the last couple of years I do know soldiers who have bragged about taking life, as if the experience gives them status or great joy. For me, such comments either shout false bravado or present far deeper issues, that one has been desensitized to the point that they are out of touch with society. For me, catching a wave, having a laugh with a few mates or hanging out down the beach with my family gives me joy. And like any parent, I’m definitely guilty when it comes to bragging about the exploits of my children, but taking life does not define who I am. It is something I have had to do and it neither brings me guilt, pride nor joy. It is a hollow, dead feeling that I don’t like to think about..

All the best Peter and take care,

Humbled at his reply. I wrote back just thanking him for his time.


  1. Read that one recently myself, I agree it wasn't bad.

    Not believing in any God means I get to decide what I believe is right or wrong with no risk of devine punishment. I think it is important to remember that the only person's actions you can control are your own.

    As for making the decision to use your weapon, I have a standard rule for these kind of things. If you THINK you should, don't. If you KNOW you should then do it. Trust your instincts.

  2. It's a hard one. back in the day it was a clear cut choice, now much less so.

    However the military does do much more humantiarian work now so there is that.

    Just remember that after the pin is out mr grenade is no longer you're friend.

  3. Mate, did you read about this in Auckland the other day ?

    I suppose that potential collateral damage has to be considered when you sign up as well, but damn, how bad would this guy be feeling now (the cop who accidentally killed the courier driver)

  4. I believe that if you volunteer for such jobs then you really need to have this firmly resolved. Rock solid. You can look at the actions of others but you need to make sure that your own actions won't eat at you for the rest of your life. If you have it clearly sorted out then you should have no conscience issues.

  5. Wow! Reading that and his book gives a bit of an insight into the price mentally these guys pay. It's a good thing you are getting this stuff straight in your mind before you join.

  6. Point a, my husband goes hunting, and before everyone has a wobbly over that one, he has seen first hand the destruction feral pigs and dogs can do. Both to domestic stock and native wildlife. That is what he hunts.
    Point b, my oldest son is in the defence forces, his view on life is this: He loves his country, he is prepared to defend his country, with his own life if necessary. THAT is why he is in the defence force. Not because he might kill someone.
    Point c, my sons father, a.k.a, the ex-husband is a policeman. He, like his son wants to serve his comminity, and the people in it. To keep you and I safe in our own homes, streets and citys.
    There are times when barbaric behaviour is the only effective action you can take, given the barbaric behaviour of others in order to protect yourself, your loved ones, even your country.

  7. Naut ~ "If you THINK you should, don't. If you KNOW you should then do it."

    Good advice.

    Chaz ~ lol True.

    Drej ~ I hadn't, but I read your link. Tough one that. It's something he'll need to know he did the right thing with unfortunate consequence eh...

    Therbs ~ I agree.

    NAUT AGAIN ~ lol didn't see the second. It's something you don't really in the head of watching movies or reading books. I think it's because they're STILL getting it sorted out in their own.

    Daze ~ No one will judge you or yours here. I grew up hunting. I professionally did hunting in NZ before coming here. One of my most profound experiences was watching a Wapiti Bull (stag) bound up a mountain side of a mountain. That was the last one I stalked. There's a place for culling and eradication. It's an unfortuante consequence of our existence and influence on the environment, but that's the reality now.

    Thanks for sharing the rest.

  8. Mate interesting reply from KF there. It's also something I meant to say and didn't. When i thought originally about joining up I was going for the RN (as an officer naturally) now i was bounced for not playing enough team sports at school team level. The actual issue of combat is different with ther senior service. however later on in my 20's i thought again about joining up but this time for the BA, one of the conundrums I had was the 'what if' I wasn't bothered by pulling the trigger on someone. That worried me alot. Being in the military means that someday the dice come up double 1 and you find yourself in a warzone (hopefully with robust ROE's). Besides the stress and strains of the combat experience you've also got the issue of shoot/don't shoot if you screw up it could be a mate or a civvie you slot instead of the enemy but if you don't shoot it could be you with a belly of 7.62x39 fmj.

    I'm too old and selfish to serve now. But I do think the police service is the best for you.

  9. Moko, the way I understand it, a more accurate translation of the commandment is "thou shalt not commit murder." that's a different thing than killing in self defense, or for survival.

  10. I think that it is a very personal question. I cannot ever remember thinking about it - ever.

    I am glad that you have got it straight within your own mind - that is all that will count.

  11. When I take on an adult student in ju-jitsu, or when one of my junior students grows up enough to 'get it', there comes a point when I have a chat with them. Quiet, and one-on-one.

    Y'see, the army trains you to shoot when told, without thinking, because that's what they need you to do, and they need to overcome your impulse to NOT kill. And any decent martial art trains you to respond without thought; to bring force to bear to resolve a threat, even if that force is potentially deadly.

    In other words: an important part of the training is aimed at moving you past the question of morals and considerations.

    If you're under threat - as you know from your own training - you don't often get time to think the consequences through. The one time I've seriously used my training, I snapped some would-be mugger-type's arm backwards at the elbow. (Then I threw him onto the ground between me and his mates and I ran like hell.)

    Afterwards... well, I've never actually forgotten the sensation of an elbow separating against my chest.

    So... I understand the importance of training-for-reflex, and training to overcome the natural hesitation. But I don't like doing that to someone without their informed consent, so I sit down and I have that chat. And it sounds a lot like what you've said here, Moko.

    The time for decisions is before you join, before you begin training. You need to be morally clear in yourself before you take that training on board, because once it's in place, you will potentially be put into a situation where you simply cannot make an full and informed choice. You just react as trained, as you must.

    So -- I applaud the thinking you've already done. I think you picked the right time to do it, and it looks to me like you've thought it through pretty carefully. I hope you never have to kill anyone. But if the situation arises... I think you're far better off for having considered and understood it now.

  12. I read this at lunch today and all i could think was wow. I really liked the term "moral envelope"
    My comment nearly mirrors everyone else's.
    Particularly Flinharts along the lines of a soldier being taught to kill without question. I think you inferred a police officer's training is killing as a last resort.
    My thought though is a soldier is unlikely to encounter an aggravated mentally ill person.
    That would make me pause. Do I shoot to kill someone who may not know what they are doing. Or a suicide by cop.
    I know a doubt like that would get me (or an innocent)killed, which is why i couldn't do the job.
    Looks like we are going to have a good cop floating around soon.

  13. Yeah, amazing. This is BY FAR the most profound entry that's ever graced a blog of mine...

    Thanks guys, you all say some really nice things about me, for which I'm humbled.

    I guess the point of all this IS to get the tricky bits right in my head before I give this a nudge. It really isn't something I sit and dwell on ... it's more of a niggle in my subconscious. Getting it out here and all your replies and especially the one from Keith sorta all happened at the right time as well. I start the course next week. I can go into it with a clear conscience.

    I may or may not make it into the cops. I'll give my all and hope for the best. Even if I don't - this time - I'm at least clear on my reasons and intentions to pursue it till I achieve it or something else that I'd find equally fulfilling and in the same line of work.

    Another thing I've gained from this is that I'm clear on never doing 'Cash in Transit' work. There is nothing morally justifiable in that, for me.

    There's a zillion grey areas that you could chew over and do your head in with regarding the topic. Chances are it won't even come up. But I'm confident if it does I have the moral fortitude and confidence to make the best decision.

    To coin a phrase from a well known Aussie movie - "AHHHH, the tranquility...".

  14. Seriously Moko - if you give it your best shot, you'll kill the selection process (probably a poor choice of phrase given the topic of this post).

    Have you got any cronies who are 'in the job'?

  15. Mary is right, I believe. According to a friend of mine who was a bible scholar, the Hebrew text of that commandment is better translated to "thou shalt not murder." If you read the stories of Exodus after the Commandments were given, there was a lot of killing, with the Lord's approval, as it was necessary to take back the promised land. Killing in the line of duty to defend your homeland or to keep others safe is a necessary thing which the Bible never forbade.

    It's still an ugly business, but often done so that others don't have to.

    You have to look at law enforcement as, first and foremost, keeping law-abiding citizens safe. Many cops go their whole careers and never draw their firearm. If you have to draw your firearm, then it is presumably because of a choice someone else made, not you. John Calvin, the founder of Presbyterian beliefs (I too am a Presbyterian) understood that obedience and enforcement of laws was a necessary thing. Hell, he wasn't a priest or monk like many reformers, he was a lawyer, so he knew better than anyone!

    Good luck with your choice, and if you do become a police officer, as long as you perform your duties with honor and integrity, then you will have nothing to be ashamed of.

  16. I'm sorta with you on this. I am no Ghandi. If it comes down to a fight b/w me or someone else, I will try to do everything in my power to make sure it is the other person.

  17. No cash in transit work? Good man. Nobody should have to die over cash.

  18. Well thought out, Moko. I'd say your stance on killing another person if need be would jive with at least my beliefs (I'm a Methodist and we're not terribly different from you godless Presbyterians-oops, strike that :P) If the other fellow is coming at you with intent to kill, he's working hard to break 'Thou shalt not kill'. Self-defense or defense of a third-party is certainly allowable.

    It's good to think about this before joining the police or military. I heard a lot of National Guard guys in '03 and '04 say 'I didn't sign up to kill and destroy'. Wrong. That is your basic function.

    If anything, working for the police will be even tougher. You have to act restrained when dealing with certain incorrigibles that no one would shed a tear over were they to be done away with.

    Good luck, but I think your mindset is right.

  19. Thank you mate.

    I'm used to drunk and drug fucked fuck heads AND head cases. I come across them ALL THE TIME in what I do now. I'll write a list on the sorts I've come across when I leave it. 75% of them back down to confidence and firmness, it's just the other 25% I'd like a taser for. ;o)

  20. Not sure if it's this way in Oz, but here in the US, a police officer will be called to get in between a drunken redneck (bogan for you) beating the genetic code out of his wife, and when the cuffs are slapped on him and he's hauled into the back of the squad car (always shirtless....Yankeedog can vouch for this, I'm sure he's seen "Cops" a time or two), the abused wife will then turn on the cop, screaming, "don't arrest him, he's my husband and I LOOOOOOVE HIIIIIIIMMMMMMMM!!!"

    Surely this case of Stockholm Syndrome is evident in Australia?

  21. Domestics are the most dangerous globally I believe for that reason.

    I've had to try and get couples to shut their pie holes with domestic dramas at work. As soon as you start to try and get them to they'll turn on you in some sort of fucked up united front. It's bizarre.

  22. Looks like you're going to start with a solid base. Well done getting it sorted beforehand. Its something a lot of others should try.

  23. I must admit, I find myself in Lerms camp, I never actually thought too much about it. Why. Simple. The army as Flinthart mentioned trains you to do things by wrote. As there are reasons for this, amongst which is saving your life and taking that of the enemy first. That’s the basics of it anyways.

    With Soldier V Policeman, well in current conflicts, I’m not sure what would be worse to tell the honest truth, that’s ref identifying your targets, potential assailant and so forth. Maybe that’s a good topic for a JB Blunty.

    Certainly, If resolving this issue before hands sits well with you Moko, its good. It is an individual thing I think and No man who has all his shit together can tell me that the taking of a life comes with NO CONSEQUENCES from a mental perspective.

    Those which suffer some form of imbalance may well, but the common fellow, I think bares it for ever.

  24. Soldiers and Marines are trained to destroy what they come in contact with, and trained responses to certain events. If X happens, you do Y, because if you don't, then everyone around you dies. It must be mechanical.

    Police work requires part instinct, part training, part diplomacy, that is different from what the military does. Cops have to think, "will this situation get better or worse if I draw my gun." Soldiers don't have to make decisions like that, more often than not.

    And the domestic issue is the same thing as if you're fighting with your brother, and someone calls your brother an asshole. You can say what you want about him, but if anyone else says it, they're getting their ass kicked.


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