6th Commandment

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DocJackson

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I have been looking for an answer to a question for a very long time, it may have already have been answered here, so if it has been answered already, I apologize.

About eleven years ago I was stationed in Mogadishu, Somalia as a medic with the 10th mountain division. I was involved in several firefights with the armed Somali militia including the battle recently portrayed in the movie “Black Hawk Down”. During these fights I know that I was responsible for ending the life of at least one young Somali and may have been responsible for the death of several more, none of which were innocent civilians.

The 6th commandment says ‘thou shalt not kill’ and never gives exception such as ‘thou shalt not kill, unless your in a war’ or ‘thou shalt not kill, except in case of self defense’

I was baptised and raised Catholic, although I have been away from the church for a while. This question has been heavy on my mind for many years. I appreciate any (name removed by moderator)ut.
 
My understanding of the Commandment is that in the Old Testament, in Hebrew, it translates out to the equivalent of “You shall not take an innocent life”. I was in Nam, and although I wasn’t in the field, I was dierctly responsible for deaths. The people who died were combatants. They were out to kill; sometimes my unit was a direct target, sometimes not. The Church has always held that one has a right to defend oneself, and others who are innocent. It t has also had a “just war theory”, if you will, of when combat is morally acceptable. That gets a little muddied when dealing with the larger context of a war. In the specifics of a firefight, it is a lot clearer.
You were there under honorable circumstances. Your actions were justified, from what you said. Be at peace.
 
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DocJackson:
I have been looking for an answer to a question for a very long time, it may have already have been answered here, so if it has been answered already, I apologize.

About eleven years ago I was stationed in Mogadishu, Somalia as a medic with the 10th mountain division. I was involved in several firefights with the armed Somali militia including the battle recently portrayed in the movie “Black Hawk Down”. During these fights I know that I was responsible for ending the life of at least one young Somali and may have been responsible for the death of several more, none of which were innocent civilians.

The 6th commandment says ‘thou shalt not kill’ and never gives exception such as ‘thou shalt not kill, unless your in a war’ or ‘thou shalt not kill, except in case of self defense’

I was baptised and raised Catholic, although I have been away from the church for a while. This question has been heavy on my mind for many years. I appreciate any (name removed by moderator)ut.
First of all. It’s the 5th commandment. Do not follow the flawed Protestant numbering. There are reasons why there numbering is flawed. But let’s not get into that now.

Here’s CCC to the rescue (Catechism of the Catholic Church)

Legitimate defense

2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. **“The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not.”**65

2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:

If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.66

2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

2266 The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party.67

2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church **does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person. **

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity **“are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”**68
 
Doc,
I’m not sure that these responses are going to make you feel any better. They are probably telling you things you already suspect anyway. You need to hear that you are forgiven. Go to confession. Talk it out and hear the words of absolution.
 
Doc, I completely understand your struggle with this topic. My brother-in-law is a police officer who struggled with this after an unfortunate altercation with a suspect who tried to wrestle his gun away causing it to discharge and subsequently resulted in the death of the suspect. Knowing the catechism on this subject helps, but only confession, prayer, and counseling with his priest eventually gave him comfort. I pray you will find peace also.
 
So why are we reccommending he go to confession? He was there on a legitimate military mission, was opposed with lethal force, and responded appropriately. Where’s the sin?
 
OTM: If he had doubt about what he was doing, based on Romans 14, it could be sin.

I have also heard that the Hebrew is more akin to ‘do not murder’, rather than killing in general. The Israelites killed the wicked often in the OT, at God’s command…including by means of the death penalty (which was part of the Old Covenant Law).
 
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otm:
So why are we reccommending he go to confession? He was there on a legitimate military mission, was opposed with lethal force, and responded appropriately. Where’s the sin?
In like manner, the soldier is guiltless who, actuated not by motives of ambition or cruelty, but by a pure desire of serving the interests of his country, takes away the life of an enemy in a just war.

Furthermore, there are on record instances of carnage executed by the special command of God. The sons of Levi, who put to death so many thousands in one day, were guilty of no sin; when the slaughter had ceased, they were addressed by Moses in these words: You have consecrated your hands this day to the Lord.

(Roman Catechism: 5th Commandment)
 
Doc, First of all, Thanks for your service! My only history of the events is Somalia is based on the Movie Black Hawk Down. What I saw portrayed in the movie infuriated me. I could not believe that a column of tanks where not dispatched immediately to the city. The pressure must have been intense; to be trapped in such madness! You were doing what you had to do to save your life and lives of your buddies. Could it be that it ways so heavily on your conscience because it truly is a terrible thing to have to take life under any circumstance. I feel that it is a testament to your good character that it would weigh on you so.
I can say that the comfort of confession is un-matched. I had been away from the Church for twenty years, the first confession and communion after so long an absence was quite refreshing! Nearing forty now, I have never felt more at piece and in love with God in all my life. I pray that you may find the same piece.

Benjamin
 
I heard an interesting comment from a military chaplain- He mentioned the Good Samaritan - what would he have done if he came upon the thieves in the act of beating the traveller? What should he have done?
 
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otm:
So why are we reccommending he go to confession? He was there on a legitimate military mission, was opposed with lethal force, and responded appropriately. Where’s the sin?
Confession not only is for forgiveness of sins but the healing of souls. Guiltless or not, there is a soul in need of healing.
 
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