Sergeant First Class Dillard Johnson just may embody the idea of a super-soldier. With 2,746 kills, Johnson is one of the deadliest U.S. soldiers on record. He has recently published a book entitled Carnivore, which shares a name with the Bradley Fighting Vehicle he commanded during the 2003 Iraq invasion. He began counting during his first tour, by tallying up the number of rifles and human heads among the wreckage caused by the Carnivore in his first tour. In his second tour, where he took up sniping, he added an additional 121 kills under his belt, second in number of deadly hits only to Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Overall, Johnson has won 37 medals, including a Silver Star and four Purple Hearts.
Some of our more bloodthirsty friends at the New York Post, however, seem to be surprised at Sergeant Johnson’s reluctance to embrace the title of “Deadliest U.S. Soldier” and, happy to boast on his behalf, praised him for his apparent humility.
However, as Sergeant Johnson says himself, “It’s sort of sad to say, but they’re just another pencil mark. I didn’t think of the numbers…. That’s not a boast I would make.”
And those numbers might not be something we want to celebrate.
After serving for two tours during the Iraq War, commending Johnson’s valor, bravery, and commitment to his country is more than appropriate. The sports-like obsession with his “stats” is not: It makes a sickening game out of war that is profoundly dehumanizing. Sergeant Johnson knows this, and it would do us well to remember this also.
After all, who even were these 2,746? To his credit, Sergeant Johnson stated, “In my mind I never killed anyone wasn’t trying to kill me or do me harm.” Certainly not everyone in the military can attest to upholding that level of principle.
But that still tells us very little about the “kills.” Were they men, women, old, young? Were they, too, fighting for their country? Were they guilty or innocent? Whatever the answers are to these questions, they were all human beings.
After all, we know Sergeant Johnson’s hometown, his childhood dreams, even that he has recently developed cancer. And we know that he has 2,746 “kills” under his belt, heretofore human beings who will forever be remembered only for their deaths.
I understand that there is a necessary cost of war, but that doesn’t mean it’s cheap. And I am in no way trying to diminish Sergeant Johnson’s service to his country or his commitment to his duty. But when we turn war into a game, people into “kills,” and death into exciting statistics, we’ll find that, in degrading the humanity of others, we’ll lose our own.