Monday, September 25, 2006

RE: A Uniform Does Not Absolve You

"No one questions whether the Russian soldiers who executed 21,000 Polish Army reservists in the Katyn Forest Massacre are responsible for their actions......Why is it then that few Americans, even those opposed to the war, question whether U.S. soldiers are responsible for their actions?" Laurence M. Vance on the soldier's responsibility.

The question of whether men can be held accountable for actions taken under authority is always a difficult one. On the one hand, you have pieces like this one, which condemn any man who kills or destroys on behalf of his government, as murderers, thieves, vandals, and possibly worse. Taken to the extreme, to hold this idea consistantly is to comdemn every person who has killed while in uniform (or even intended to do so, if he didn't get the opportunity) to the same degree as one who has killed out of uniform. Heck, I'd go even further, and extend the blanket ostracism to anyone who so much as paid their taxes during an immoral war. People like this are the sort who, after the Vietnam War, booed returning soldiers, shouting such epithets as "baby killer!"

Then there is the other side, which reacts equally vociferously to such charges. Such people regard a uniform as a sort of sanctification, whether it be a police uniform or a military uniform. In their eyes, men are permitted to take acts on behalf of government that would be immoral if taken without government sanctification. Even if the motivations of the people who ultimately have the authority to make the decision as to whether to go to war or not turn out to be completely bogus--even obviously so at the time the decision is made--the actions of the troops are not their own, to these people. For while evil men may have made an evil decision, the men who risk their lives to carry out that decision, regardless of their personal opinion of said decision, are heroes if they carry it out anyway, and are traiters if they refuse, regardless of their motivations (or even legal sophistries).

While my readers know well which side I lean toward, I think there is a middle ground to this argument. Yes, I agree that, whether one is wearing a uniform or not, one is responsible for one's actions. Indeed, I believe that if a majority--or at least a significant plurality--of people in this country believed this, this country would be a better place. Many fewer people would be willing to serve the State whether for good or for ill, thus it would be much more difficult for anyone to establish the tyranny of which the seed was planted in the Progressive Era, and which is flowering today.

However, it was only recently that I managed to integrate this idea fully into my worldview. As recently as 2001, I attempted to join the United States Army (post-9/11 fervor) with the full intent of fighting in Afghanistan, or whever fighting needed in order to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice. Fortunately, I was turned away; I suffer from a bit of hearing loss, so I didn't make it past the MEPS.

Nationalism and Statism are powerfully deceptive worldviews--even more powerful when the two are joined. I had it to the following level: I still believed it was acceptable to kill a man in self-defense (I continue to believe that, though I believe a Christian should attempt to refrain from doing so (Matthew 5:39)). I believed that a police officer should be given extensive benefit of the doubt; today I doubt the wisdom of vesting a particular group of people with special authority to violate people's rights (theoretically in defense of the rights of others, but I increasingly emphasize the word "theoretically.") However, where soliders were concerned, I remained under the delusion that, somehow, just about anything can be justified under the pretense of a "Declaration of War." I also operated under the assumption that all American wars are defensive wars... despite the fact that I was quite aware that the vast majority of U.S. Military actions have been nothing of the sort. The two facts just hadn't connected as they have in the failures in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Still, it is a powerful delusion, and I regard it as a "mitigating circumstance" for soldiers returning home from the front lines. And, if the reason for pacifism is the belief that the moral rules that appy to individuals are not somehow null when individuals act as a group, we should also apply the national strategies we would prefer the nation adopt in our own lives. How can we expect those who govern us to be peacefully tolerant of differing regimes when we ourselves are intolerant of of differing opinions? How can we expect our government to be diplomatic in dealing with the representatives of other nations when we ourselves are unwilling to be diplomatic with others who hold other beliefs?

Do not ostracise the troops when they return--particularly if you discovered your pacifism within the past five years. Continue to treat them as individuals, and attempt to convince them of the wrongness of war in the same way you would anyone else. There are going to be a lot of people returning home who are confused as to the purpose of the last four years of our lives. Treat them not as willing accomplices, but as people awakening from a long period of mental compulsion. Help them to heal, and remember that love, even the Love of Christ, can cover over a multitude of sins.

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Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

I like Laurence Vance. He makes some good points. A very clever chap.

Justin said...

that's what makes it hard to have friends in the military who take pride in nation-building. no matter how much i say i support what they do do and respect their so-called sacrifices, i can't do it with a straight face. i don't respect what they do and, unless they have little ones to support, i believe intelligent, decent people should refuse to participate and do the time. i'm sounding like ghandi now...
that, in my opinion, would be the moral, heroic thing to do.

Tarvok said...

Well, there's a difference between just "doing what you gotta do" and "taking pride in nation-building. I can tell a guy who thinks "nation-building" is some kind of honorable profession he's a dumbass to his face. But a lot of those people got in with the idea they were going to protect their country. "Nation-building" is the precise opposite, since not only is it offensive rather than defensive, it's also offensive... meaning it makes new enemies where previously there were none.