Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Vietnam War Sniper Makes a Morally Difficult Decision

I happen to love the Vietnamese people. That little girl who I love like a daughter, who I mention in this blog every so often, is a Vietnamese American. I love her entire extended family. I love the Vietnamese people they introduced me to, some of whom are my clients, now.

Additionally, I believe that the Vietnamese War was a mistake. Do you know what the those "terrible," "atheist" Communist Vietnamese taught to their children in their public schools after we lost?

1950s American values.

If you don't believe me, befriend some Vietnamese immigrants, and you will see that this is essentially true.

When we were fighting in Vietnam, to a respectable extent we were fighting "mom and apple pie." No joke.

But, by the Vietnam War, our Vietnam vets did a great thing: They bankrupted the Communist government of Soviet Russia, and brought the Cold War to an end.

And, irony of ironies, the Vietnamese and the Americans have found friendship. Except for some terrible heartbreak, in my particulasr circumstances, it was a great and wonderful peivilege and pleasure to get to know my Vietnamese friends, and I continue to feel that way, up to this minute.

All of that being said, I want to describe the moral dilemma faced by Marine Sgt. Carlos Norman Hathcock, in the hilly part of the village of Duc Pho in Quang Ngai Province in South Vietnam in 1967.

Sgt. Hathcock would ultimately become one of the world's great snipers. Though he had 93 confirmed kills, he probably actually ended the lives of about 400 enemy fighters.

Probably at Hathcock's insistence, Charles Henderson's biography of Hathcock, "Marine Sniper," describes, at the very beginning of his work, the most morally difficult decision Hathcock had to make as a sniper.

One February day, as Hathcock peered through the sniper scope of his M-2 .50 caliber machine gun, he saw a Vietnamese boy, no more than 12 years of age, walking a bicycle loaded with 7 heavy Chinese rifles and a large bag of ammunition down Route 1 toward some Viet Cong hideout.

Experience told Hathcock that such boys generally had fighting experience, and that shortly these guns would be used to kill South Vietnamese and Americans.

Hathcock carefully aimed his M-2, set for single shot, at the bike's frame, and when it closed in to within 2000 yards, he fired a single round. The bullet struck about 5 seconds before the gunshot reached the boy's ear. FOOM! The bike was knocked down, as though by a giant fist, and the guns and ammnunition splattered.

Hathcock hoped that the little one would turn and run.

Unfortunately, the boy was tough. He ran to one of the rifles, picked it up, found one of the splattered magazines, rammed it into the rifle, cocked one into the rifle's firing chamber, aimed in Hathcock's generaql direction, pulled the trigger, POPPOPPOPPOPPOP, and then FOOM!, a second bullet from Hathcock's M-2 killed the little boy before he got too many shots off.

Moral, or immoral?


  1. I didnt even take time to consider. immoral!

    I stripped the story of all the facts that add to the emotional sway (10 year old 'child' on one side, 1st shot to try and NOT kill, but to scare . . .)

    On my scale is the following

    War - immoral

    Thou shall not kill

    evil godless commies
    greedy exploitive american capitalists
    whatever propaganda each side is fed to help make it morally digestible to kill your fellow man

    baby killers . . .

    10 year old exploited to kill the enemy

    kill in self defense

    Those bullets/guns when delivered will kill AMERICAN LIVES

    I could go on.

    But I strip that all away, and its man killing man.


    Are there mitigating circumstances? Yes.

    As usual, everyone involved is involved in a 'shades of grey' morality situation

    Aren't we all. We're ALL dirty with shades of grey behavior and thought.

    Call it what it is, immoral.

    Am I asking Mr Hathcock to take a bullet, or perhaps run away himself? No

    But call it what it is, immoral.

    He did it, the boy did it, you do it, I do it.
    We all spend 99% of our time in this territory.
    Perhaps not dealing with matters quite so serious as a kill or be killed war zone kind of situation, though.

  2. "It's ALL immoral!" Nah! Too easy!

    You are answering a question I did not ask when you declare it ALL immoral, Tom.

    When Josh gets like that, I frame the question like this...

    Okay, you are an American sniper protecting a village. In your sniper scope you see a 12 year old wearing what looks like a typical fully-wired suicide bomber jacket. Wires from a dead man switch running from his right hand go into the suicide bomber jacket. He is jogging toward a market crowded with men, women and children.


  3. Or, let me ask the question this way:

    Isn't it immoral to NOT shoot the 12 year old?

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  5. I knew I liked that Josh fellow

    I'd feel neglectful for not pointing out that we are all muddied in the murk.

    - By his military superior's/organisations moral code, it would be immoral to not shoot
    - I assume that by Peter's moral code, it would be immoral to not shoot
    - By the moral code of the organisation that tooled this 12 year old, its perfectly
    moral to not shoot
    - My moral code says I'd have to slice and dice whats making this sniper tick
    and what led to his not shooting
    - What about God's moral code
    I make note that we were made in the image of God' and I would assume
    that moral code is one of those things written on our hearts. We could only
    hope that we have not warped that moral code
    Is it moral for God to not want that soldier to shoot? Is this an absurd question?

    Personally, I'd shoot the 12 year old

    I even put this up against my being the soldier, my oldest boy being 12, had run away from home
    and was indoctrinated in some organization that put him up to this, and that my young girl
    was taken to that market by her aunt.

    Let me throw a few twists in. The bombers were a group of 4 boys, 12, 10 7, and 7 years old. The other
    three are backups in case something goes wrong. At the market is only 1 vendor and no customers.
    More meat will be slaughtered to stop the attack than if you just let it be carried out (just focusing
    on this single mission)

    Now what?

  6. Hi, Tom.

    I had a really good post, here, yesterday, but for some reason it just would not post.

    When you have a line of juvenile suicide bombers lined-up like ducks in front of a sniper, to try to penetrate a site where one (1) victim awaits death, you have a situation where the terrorists are terrorizing themselves as much as the targets. It's unlikely.

    But let's assume that a collection of nuts is accumulating to kill themselves trying to kill one person -- you.

    Should lethal force protect you? Should police protect you? Or should they just let suicidal sickies blow you up with themselves?

    Probably, the moral thing to do to try to shoot a leg with a low-caliber rifle, to stop the forward motion and see if they disarm themselves.