A Righteous Warrior’s Ethic

by Taylor MacHenry

A friend posted on his Facebook page some pictures of smoldering aircraft wreckage taken from the battlefields of Ukraine in past days. The caption read, “For those who have trouble identifying Russian aircraft.”

Each window in the display contained a wreckage photograph and a label of the type of aircraft the wreckage was: MI-8, MI-24/35, MI-35 or SU-34 or SU-25. In each picture, I could imagine the catastrophic event that occurred with the aircraft as the missile or exploding projectile took out the airplane and everyone inside it.

I have mixed feelings while I look at this wreckage.

Yes, enemy aircraft shot down by the good guys. Still, many of these wrecks hold the remains of a human being, the pilot, or in some cases of helicopters shot down, the wreckage contains the bodies of pilot, crew, and passengers. Enemies all.

Not long ago I watched a video of a young Russian soldier captured by Ukrainian forces. No more than a child in his late teens, the boy stood confused and scared to his core, fearful that at any second his captors might murder him. After all, the Russians are murdering noncombatant Ukrainian civilians hiding in their homes. Bombing them. So, why not murder Russian prisoners of war, some of whom may have committed the war crimes?

Righteous warriors do not murder.

We must treat our enemy prisoners with decency. Treat them as we wish that our enemy would treat our own soldiers when captured.

That terrified Russian soldier, a mere boy, now a prisoner by Ukraine forces was conscripted into Vladimir Putin’s army, not his choice but the choice of the despotic ruler who demanded this child’s presence with a rifle on the battlefront. Consider that fact before heaping wrathful vengeance upon this enemy.

Then, a few days ago, I saw a Russian pilot captured. He wore an orange flight pressure suit, typical of equipment worn by pilots flying fast-moving aircraft that draw a lot of Gs during maneuvers.

This fellow knelt, his hands with fingers laced behind his head, also terrified: Now in the hands of Ukrainian captors who could as easily murder him as take him prisoner.

This Russian pilot commanded an echelon of aircraft, like a squadron commander in America’s flying forces. Certainly, he had valuable intelligence his captors might gain, and so did the frightened conscript boy. Killing the man or the boy would be a tactical mistake, human ethics aside.

What I am reminded of while looking at the pictures of smoking aircraft wreckage, and something I was taught by my Marine Corps leaders is that we must respect our enemy.

Yes, we kill them in horrible ways, and he kills our brothers in equally horrible ways, but as warriors we must respect our enemy.

Major Jim Land, one of the founding fathers of the Marine Corps Scout-Sniper program instructed me with a valuable lesson about the idea of warrior ethics. It is a lesson that was doctrine during my active-duty days and still should be doctrine taught to Marine Corps Scout-Snipers and Critical Skills Operators today: We do not kill to punish our enemy, not to gain revenge or achieve retribution for his side’s war crimes. We respect life and do not take a life casually. We are about the mission.

Such emotion-driven attitudes and conduct will corrupt us as warriors.

We cannot be effective to the mission if we are corrupt.

We never know how treating the enemy that we capture with respect will turn out. It may come to nothing, or it could come to something of great value. Reinforcing the hatred of the enemy toward us by treating him with cruelty and abuse can only hurt us in every respect, during the war and afterwards.

Most importantly, we all must kneel before God and face judgment, regardless of whether a person believes in God or not.

We all must account for ourselves.

Furthermore, after war, as we live, as I do, as old men with memories of our better years, we must also live with ourselves and what we did.

When conscience is nearly all that an old warrior has to keep him company, it needs to be a good conscience. Not shame.

So, looking at this wreckage of enemy aircraft, I also see the human beings who were inside them and died because of the ideals and desires for power of the politicians who sent them to war to die or to kill, and in Vladimir Putin’s case, to commit murder of innocent noncombatants.

It is not the dead or captured warriors upon whom we should focus our wrath, but on the man who sent them.