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The moral implications of soldiery

To the Americans,

I am a soldier that was initially trained as an infantry conscript in the Finnish Defense Forces. Soon thereafter I moved back to Canada and joined the Canadian military. Suffice to say I’ve had a lot of time to think about war, the use of violence, and the position of the soldier.

What must first be realized is that when soldiers carry out their training, it very much resembles murder. Unlike the difference between knitting and murder, the difference between soldiery and murder is so slight that I would only really be comfortable as a soldier if I was also some great philosopher. I’m not a great philosopher so I am uncomfortable with my training and equipment.

And when soldiers’ kill people in a foreign land it is a lot different from when some other arm of the government (be it police, or hydro, or anything) kills (be it accidentally or purposefully) domestically. The argument is similar to actions that only affect oneself; if I make a mistake (like carelessly drop boiling water on my feet), and only I suffer the consequences, it’s not as bad as if I do something wrong (like carelessly leaving child poison around) and somebody else suffers for it (a child drinks the poison). Replacing the concept of self with society and with addition of a little bit of thought, we come to the conclusion that to live in a society is to accept the risk that the society one lives in might wrongfully kill you; you, in essence, become partly responsible for your own death. For instance, all the American’s that have undergone the rehabilitation technique of capital punishment were at least involved in the political process that led to such policies. Capital punishment is still ineffective, murderous, and wrong, but at the very least those affected by domestic capital punishment can play a part in the political process resulting in the policy, foreign civilians killed due to military action do not have such a luxury. The moral imperative to think about what you are doing and to communicate your thoughts to the public becomes increased. This is the true onus of soldiery for anyone that is not unconcerned by killing innocent people or propagating conflict.

When a soldier kills while on duty (and depending on the situation while off duty) that soldier is no more responsible for the action, be is right or wrong, than any other citizen of that country. Thus, if the action is not justified the soldier is a murderer as a representative of his country, and so the entire country becomes murderers.

In this sense what a soldier does is largely independent of the soldier, and so all citizens of the country, including the soldier, have a single choice: agree that what the soldier is doing is justified (be it killing, or not killing), accept responsibility for the errors, or give up one’s citizenship to that country.

So it becomes clear why my uncomfortableness with soldiery is in fact the reason I’m a soldier. For, as a soldier I am in the best position to know what the soldiers of my country are doing, and so I am in a position to give up my citizenship before any murdering takes place (luckily for me I’m also a Finnish citizenship and at any time I can simply whip out the old pass port and leave the country, or another country).

For though it is the responsibility of society to choose their soldiers wisely, and so choose soldiers that contemplate the nature of their occupation, attempt to identify any moral considerations, report such considerations to society in open discussion, and ultimately accept death rather than murder on behalf of society, if the country has failed in doing so (or even attempting it) it is entirely reasonable to take such matters into one’s own hands (for soldiers are still citizens and so bear the responsibility equally with all the citizens).

Thus I suggest that you American soldiers and American citizens to dwell on the nature of your soldiers training. For, in my experience the training of modern soldiers is very scientific, and without the proper amount of thought it quickly turns to conditioning. And indeed, some conditioned responses are good, such as, duck when someone’s shooting at you. However, killing is not among the responses one should allow oneself to be conditioned to carry out.

Furthermore, a soldier is only trained to kill. Killing is not the actual purpose of soldiers. The purpose is to resolve conflict. The American military at the moment is very good at killing things, very bad at resolving conflict. For killing, though it may seem to resolve this skirmish or that, may very well simply cause more conflict for everyone involved. Due to this shortsightedness I imagine “thinking†is not stressed in the American military, and not thinking only breads more not thinking.

I would make the presumption that “a complete understanding of the situation†for the purposes of “maximizing the resolution of conflict at all levels†is not a top priority in the American military, or, if it is, it is accomplished very poorly. For the sake of your country: American noncoms and officers, it may be up to you to seek such understanding, as your country may not actually care.

Replacing such a priority I would further presume that your training stresses “company identity†leading to identifying with the whole force. What this means is that the goal is to render the soldier incapable of objective thought and thus ready to obey all orders. However, this begs the question, “why doesn’t command want me to understand fully the situation? For would not a complete understanding simply allow me to carry out the mission more effectively?†They will probably stress at all points in time that if you don’t follow the orders the soldier next to you will die (a mere convenience, for the purposes of conditioning, of sending a company into harms way, as members of the company are known to each other, and it quickly becomes what seems like self defense; but it would not have been self defense if you weren’t sent to attack).

For indeed, it does not mean at all that more soldiers and civilians might die if you don’t follow the orders. For instance, if you spend fifty million dollars cruise missiling and bombing the crap out of some dug in “enemies†in a town, true, some infantry who would have had to go in otherwise might not die; however, if a bunch of civilians were killed in the process (breeding more enemies, prolonging the conflict and increasing over all deaths on both sides, far more than those infantry that would have taken a bullet to do things the hard way), and furthermore the fifty million could have been spent curing malaria in Africa or on education anywhere in the world on anything relevant, then maybe it’s not such a good idea.

For instance, you’re country has spent a trillion dollars on “the war on terrorism†. Spending that money on reducing pollution or education or medicine or infrastructure or debt reduction or death prevention might save many factors more lives than would ever be killed by terrorists. For, for instance, not only does pollution kill a lot of people it renders the entire population less effective, thus reducing productivity that could have been used on further reducing pollution, and the great cycle of kicking oneself in the balls continues.

Knowing is probably better than not knowing ... or the exact opposite.


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