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A PBS show explores war, killing and conscience

Soldiers of Conscience is about wars, those that men fight against one another and those they fight Tvrev16_soldiers against their deepest human impulses. The latter are on display in the earliest moments of the show, in footage of U.S. infantry recruits learning to fight with bayonets.

''What's the spirit of the bayonet?'' their drill instructor screams. ''Kill, kill, kill without mercy!'' they chant back. ''There are two types of bayonet fighters -- the quick and the dead!'' the sergeant shouts. ''Which are you?'' The recruits, in unison: ``The quick, drill sergeant, the quick!''

It's a scene of reptilian cold-bloodedness from which even the most Spartan soul is likely to flinch . . . and yet the truth of the drill instructor's Orwellian shouts is inescapable: A soldier who pauses for moral reflection during a bayonet fight will go home in a body bag.

This thoughtful and disquieting film, airing as part of the PBS documentary series P.O.V., explores the fundamental contradiction between the killing required by war and the remorse required by humanity. It profiles eight soldiers who served in Iraq -- half of them men who regarded killing the enemy as their duty, half of them men who came to see it as a crime and turned into conscientious objectors. Read my full review in Thursday's Miami Herald.


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