The Struggle Within

Mike over at Letters in Bottles recently gave his opinion on anti-war activists (apparently Mike doesn't want to link to them) and soldiers who refuse to serve in Iraq. I have posted on this subject before, so I wanted to respond here with my opinion.

First, could you please stop saying that only soldiers who have served in Iraq have a right to talk about it? "They have served and have the moral authority to speak on the war they fought." I don't have to have committed murder first to have an opinion on its morality. I don't have to have played college basketball to fill out a tournament bracket. You might have a more informed opinion, but everyone is allowed to have their own. Stop being so full of yourself, Mike.

You are right on one point. Soldiers who refuse to go to war are not heroes. But they aren’t “cowards” or a “disgrace to the uniform.” I believe that everyone has a basic right to choose to do what they believe is right, as long as they are not harming anyone else, and especially if it involves choosing not to harm someone else. These soldiers are simply refusing to participate in something that they think is wrong.

If a doctor thinks abortion is murder, he doesn’t have to perform them. If a construction worker thinks that a building’s plans are unsafe, he doesn’t have to work on it. If a baker has a problem with a customer’s request for a cake shaped like a penis, he doesn’t have to make it. If a pharmacist doesn’t want to stock the morning after pill, well, perhaps they do have to. But if a soldier believes that the invasion of Iraq was unjustified, and is being continued for the wrong reasons at a detriment to the Iraqi people, then he shouldn’t be required to go.

If any of these people’s choices breach the terms of their contract, then their employer is entitled to sue for financial reimbursement. Sometimes, the employer finds other work that they can do. Often they are just fired. If they had a valid enough reason for objecting, such as ‘I didn’t think it was right to serve the tacos after the rats peed on them,’ they may want to sue the employer. Very rarely are they put in jail.

Back in the late 1930’s, over in Germany, there were a lot of Germans who, being patriotic, decided to sign up to serve their country. They were good soldiers according to your reasoning; they did what they were told to do, never questioning whether their orders were morally right. After the war was over, some of them found themselves on trial for war crimes. And their defense of “I was just following orders” didn’t quite hold up. After World War II, the United States military adjusted the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including a rule nullifying this defense, essentially stating that American military personnel are allowed to refuse unlawful orders.

I’m not trying to equate going to Iraq with performing the Holocaust. I even agreed with you earlier that our forces should be in Iraq. It’s just that I think everyone is morally responsible for all of their actions. As such, I think they should do what they think is morally right, and not do what they think is immoral. Offering to serve your country should not mean completely abandoning your moral compass. That is what leads to Abu Ghraib and Haditha. Mike, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen you use your own judgment in the posts I’ve read, but I really hope you haven’t given it up altogether.


Blogger Erik Opsal said...


14/3/07 00:17  
Blogger reynaldo10 said...

sounds like it's on.

14/3/07 01:45  
Blogger Mike H said...

This comment is over at LIB as well.

You are missing the point. Dorshorst, your Nazi comparison is way out of line. The war criminals of WWII were not prosecuted because they fought, but because they committed the systematic extermination of an entire group of people. There is nothing even remotely comparably happening in Iraq. Dropping a nuke on Baghdad would be an unlawful order, and anyone who refuses the order would be right to do so.

You make the comparison that you don't have to have killed someone to know it's wrong, that argument doesn't hold. If you payed attention, the targeting of innocent civilians is against our codes of conduct and punishable under UCMJ. Haditha is a horrible crime and those responsible are being punished. But as for simply going to Iraq, that is not an immoral act. Do you have any idea what would happen if we pulled out now?

The act of going to war is not itself an order we can refuse. Opening fire on a crowd of people? Yes. Razing a village to the ground? Yes. Abusing prisoners? Most definitely. Those orders we can refuse because they are unlawful under the UCMJ.

Anyone who joins the military knows that they could get deployed. They have no excuse. They can ask to be put in a noncombat position, but they still have to go. One of the members of my unit felt uncomfortable with the idea of shooting someone. She was placed in admin and still served her tour. These soldiers have options like that. Refusing to deploy is a political choice, not a moral one. Soldiers cannot pick and choose which war is worth fighting in. Sorry if that sounds brainwashed, but it's a simple fact about the military. As an officer, LT Watada is held to a higher standard than enlisted soldiers, it's all there in the UCMJ why he can't refuse to go. Whether you like it or not.

14/3/07 07:36  
Anonymous Jake said...

Did I read a baker being compared to a soldier? Jesus...

Anyways, the reason I think Mike is so pissed, or at least the reason I am pissed about these 'soldiers that refuse to kill' is that, as Mike said, they are refusing to deploy AT ALL. What happened to the high ideals I KNOW they received in basic or boot camp? Marines in my unit were there fighting (and killing) to keep the guy next to them safe (and themselves too). Refusing to deploy is betraying these ideals. The overwhelming majority of violence in Iraq is US troops exposing themselves, sticking their necks out, getting an insurgent reaction, and then stomping them. It's not foot patrols walking into schools or markets and opening fire. The moral choice to kill is surprisingly easy when you're being shot at and your buddies are being shot at. And I believe these killings are morally justified - these are evil, evil, people - ever met one?

14/3/07 09:12  
Blogger Dorshorst said...

Mike- First, while I was against the initial invasion, I do support staying in Iraq to take care of the mess we caused. I said this in the post. I said this in a comment on another post of yours that I linked to. I agree that things would get worse there if we pulled our forces out.

I said that Iraq is not the Holocaust. I brought it up because it is the best example of why a soldier has to exercise judgment and not simply always follow orders.

jake- I was not equating a soldier with a baker. I was making the point that all of us make moral decisions every day, and we must be allowed to. I also tried to show how morals and ethics can cause conflict with the employer/employee relationship and how this is normally resolved.

Mike- If a soldier believed that killing was wrong, then yes, they could go and serve noncombat (although I'm not sure why they joined). But if a soldier believed that us being there was wrong, that it violated another nations sovereignty or something like that, then they shouldn't go. Again, I can't really speak for those who wouldn't go because I do think we should be there.

I don't know how you can say that it is a political decision and not a moral one. Do your political beliefs typically conflict with your moral ones? Mine don't.

14/3/07 09:47  
Blogger Dorshorst said...

And while you say that soldiers should not have abused prisoners or shot civilians, I would like to point out that the "following orders" defense was already used in the Abu Ghraib trial.

14/3/07 10:02  

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