Navy SEAL Explores the Cost of Killing


On March 20, the Philosophy Club gathered in Margaret Brent Hall, the new home of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, to enter into a discussion of the spiritual or karmic cost of killing other human beings. Mike McCabe, a former Navy SEAL and local resident, opened the discussion by sharing his own personal experiences of the effects of killing.

McCabe had been coming to the Philosophy Club’s meetings for about a year and enjoyed its discussions, which led him to ask if he could speak about his observations of the cost of killing. “I have never killed anyone,” he said, “so my observations have been just that: observations.”

Through his observations, McCabe has concluded that, “yes, there is a cost. We can postpone it for a limited time, but we can’t put it off for a lifetime without something negative happening.” This cost, he says, stems from a lack of compassion that is incurred from the experience of killing.

“People who have experienced [killing] become closed, and won’t open up to family members,” McCabe explained. “They will only open up to people with this shared experience, and therefore they become a sociopathic group of people.”

Most of the SEALs McCabe encountered had fought in Vietnam, where they learned that,“if [a SEAL shows] a minute of hesitation, he is driven from the pack.” As a result of the isolation, McCabe said that SEALs face a lack of empathy with others until they do integrate their past lives with their present lives.

In Vietnam, a friend of McCabe’s was responsible for handling the prisoners of war. He was told by his superiors to,“take care of the prisoner.” When his group returned to the boat without any prisoner, they realized that McCabe’s friend had thought they meant, “kill the prisoner.” From this communication breakdown, McCabe said that, “new protocol was put in place that said you were not allowed to say ‘take care’ of someone,”  to avoid any mistakes.

This friend became a postman after he left the Navy. While delivering mail one day, an elderly woman’s German shepherd charged him, causing him to react by pulling out a pocketknife and killing the dog. McCabe said this was an example of a serviceman who failed to “integrate into regular life,” after being in fatal situations for so long.

A pilot friend of McCabe’s fought in the Persian Gulf War, and was the first or second pilot to bomb the, “road of death,” in Kuwait- the route through which the Iraqi troops would invade.  This massacre was so devastating that the George H.W. Bush administration had the operation end there. This pilot left the Marines and even considered leaving aviation altogether because he did not want any reminder of the guilt he endured of having to overcome the military’s unspoken, “no hesitation,” rule.

McCabe also spoke about his father, who fought in the Korean War in Task Force Faith, a group whose goal was to push past the Chinese troops blocking their route into Korea. Ninety percent of the casualties were Chinese. Towards the end of his father’s life, McCabe told him he had always been a hero to him. In response, his father said, “Some of those heroes wore pajamas,” a reference to the quilted uniforms that Chinese and Korean soldiers would wear.

McCabe recalled that his father was never, “warm and fuzzy,” and regained his ability to be compassionate after the birth of McCabe’s brother, who was close to death as an infant. His father’s words as he himself was near death revealed that he became more integrated into regular society, as he was willing to talk about his experiences. According to McCabe, a soldier’s, “willingness to talk about his experience shows he is more integrated.”

The struggles of these men were humanized when McCabe said, “All three of these men wrestled with admitting they had a problem, and had trouble explaining why they killed for a good reason. You don’t just kill to waste bullets; it’s for the guy sitting next to you. Even though you are killing for good and necessary reasons, your pieces of humanity are still numbed by doing something against nature, and you are unable to cope with it until integration is achieved.”

Senior Michael Virga said that, “compared to other Philosophy Club meetings, this was on point and in depth with the topic we were discussing, and I’m happy that so many people came.”

Sophomore Kayleigh Doherty also found the talk to be fascinating. “Mike McCabe’s philosophy club discussion on killing was very enlightening to me,” she said. “Many students at St. Mary’s are from military families, although no one in my family has a military background. Even though I have heard stories about the affects of killing, it was great to hear about it from someone who has so much experience with people who have killed in war.”