While I was visiting friends about a month ago, a discussion dealing with social current events ensued. More specifically, a discussion about war ensued.
I began the discussion by asking my friend if he’d ever heard the late Utah Philips talk about who’s really responsible for the killing that takes place during war. Philips recorded his thoughts in a narrative he entitled “The Violence Within”.
My friend hadn’t heard this narrative, so, as I happened to have my laptop with me at the time and I had loaded the talk onto the laptop, I played it for him.
At this point, it may or may not be relevant to know a little about my friend and the ways in which we’re of a like mind as well as the ways in which we are not.
If you’ve ever participated in a political poll you know that, at the end, the pollster asks about your educational background. The question is usually a multiple choice question. To paraphrase, the questions asks:
What is your level of education?
a) Graduated from elementary school
b) Graduated from high school
c) Attended some years of college
d) Have a college undergraduate degree
e) Have a post graduate degree.
I have 59 college credits. I don’t even know how one goes about obtaining 59 credits. If I could find a real easy course worth one college credit, I may be able to get an Associate’s Degree in Generality. So, I always check the box that says “some college”.
My friend, on the other hand, is a graduate of The Coast Guard Academy and is a Maritime Lawyer. He has been on both sides of oil company litigation. Much of what he’s done has depended upon the financial rewards of taking a particular position at any given time. In other words, as with most of us, my friend, in the pursuit of employment, has, for the most part, accepted positions which offer the best wages and benefits.
In his defense, if there is any needed, my friend, in his capacity as a lawyer, has always been on the front lines of ensuring that the American judicial premise of “innocent until proven guilty” is upheld.
Although it’s been very difficult to find an oath for lawyers with as much universality and weight as the physician’s Hippocratic Oath, there is a set of ethics that The American Bar Association has published to help guide the integrity of legal representation. The following is but a sample of those ethics:
Canons of Ethics
Rule 1.1 – Competence
A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.
Comment to the Rule. In many instances the required proficiency is that of a general practitioner. Expertise in a particular field of law may be required in some circumstances.
This doesn’t appear, as mentioned, to carry the weight of the Hippocratic Oath and is obviously not as well known among the general public.
Politically, my friend considers himself a Progressive. If that’s what he thinks he is, who am I to tell him differently? However, from my perspective, he’s more of a Democrat in a very American political party sort of way than he is a Progressive. He’s very quick to defend President Obama and equally quick to disparage a professional American politician who is a member of The Republican Party. I would compare him to the “corporate NGOs” that, when begun, were very much grassroots movements but have since become, for lack of a better term “big NGOs”. I consider MoveOn.org, TrueMajority and CommonCause “big NGOs” When you read “big NGOs”, think “big oil”, “big tobacco” and other “bigs” that Liberals and/or Progressives have been fighting for years.
As much as I respect many of my friend’s opinions, I consider him a Democratic Party apologist. It isn’t difficult for a self described Progressive to find him or herself in this position. The media with which most people in The FUSA are familiar and from which most people in The FUSA get their information have made it abundantly clear that there are only two serious American political parties. One party is represented by the color blue and the other by the color red. When talking heads attempt to predict the outcomes of elections, the discussion always seems to center around whether an area will remain red, turn red, remain blue or turn blue. When this media talks about swing areas, it’s very appropriate for one to think of the sandbox equipment with which children play. Swings in a sandbox move in two directions, back and forth. Likewise, a swing area in The FUSA is an area that could go “either” way; it’s not an area that could go any way.
I, on the other hand, think that the only two situations under which the death penalty would be acceptable are if it is used to kill corporate personhood or if it’s used to kill the Electoral College. In fact, I may go as far as to say that the two least serious political parties in America are The Democrats and The Republicans.
Anyone who’s gotten this far and is wondering about the debate concerning war and who actually is responsible for the killing that happens during war can now breathe easier. My tangential journey was necessary to clarify why my friend has his opinion and why it’s wrong.
If you’ve listened to Philips’ narrative, you’ll know what my friend means when he says that the talk is a “theoretically admirable position”, but he doesn’t agree with it.
As Philips ultimately informs us, if the triggers on guns weren’t pulled or if the buttons in the cockpits of planes weren’t pressed and the bombs weren’t dropped, it would be much more difficult to proceed with war.
The late Utah Philips described himself as a pacifist. I don’t know that I’m a pacifist. I don’t know that I couldn’t be driven to violently defend someone somewhere under some circumstance. If a pacifist is a person who swears to never engage violently with another, no matter what the other has done or is doing, it would be difficult for me to be a pacifist.
However, I don’t believe that Philips was suggesting that all soldiers become pacifists. He may have wished that could be the case, but, as a veteran of The Korean Conflict, he knew that people would defend against violence with violence if they thought their defense was the only way to protect the safety of, if no one else, themselves. I can’t even summon the imagery of what it would look like to allow armies led by crazed yet charismatic people to enter one’s space, to kill one’s friends and loved ones at will and to merely stand there and wait one’s turn to die.
This isn’t a judgment call on my part. I’m not saying that it would be wrong or right. I’m merely saying that I can’t imagine refusing to do something so intuitive as to protect one’s self and one’s friends and family. Philips, on the other hand, obviously didn’t have a problem with that imagery.
I do, nonetheless, realize that if I had a weapon in my possession while an invading force was killing those around me, it would be I who would engage that weapon to stop the oncoming force. If I had a simple gun and I aimed it at another human being and pulled the trigger, the bullet would find its target or, possibly, someone close to the intended target. I may believe at that moment that pulling the trigger was an action that had to be done. Whoever the bullet finds, it may kill and, without any hesitation, I would have to confess to killing that person.
Civilian leaders and/or military leaders can order me not to pull the trigger or can order me to pull the trigger. However, it will always be my decision to pull the trigger or to not pull the trigger. This is the simple point that Philips makes.
What he says is that, by using the explanation that we are at war and we have no other option but to do what our superiors, both civilian and military, tell us to do dehumanizes us.
Philips referenced Principle IV which emerged from The Nuremburg Trials. Principle IV states that, “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him”.
In a case during the Vietnam War known as United States v. Keenan, a soldier was found guilty of murder when he shot and killed an elderly Vietnamese woman after receiving orders from his superior to do so. In its decision, The Military Court of Appeals held that “the justification for acts done pursuant to orders does not exist if the order was of such a nature that a man of ordinary sense and understanding would know it to be illegal.”
So what does my “Progressive” friend have against soldiers refusing to kill people they don’t know for reasons of which they are either unsure or which they know aren’t true?
“If we let the military (The Military) decide when we should or should not go to war,” he said, “we will have a military dictatorship!”
I know that The Founders placed not only declaring war but commanding it in the hands of a civilian government. It was done so that we would not come under the control of the military. My friend had a point, sort of.
It’s taken me a month of thought, but I finally know why he’s wrong and how he did what he did.
He’s a lawyer and has been one for a very long time. He’s argued against himself in court, albeit not in real time or, for certain, at the same time. He’s successfully defended big oil and has prosecuted them as well. Now that’s good!
I, on the other hand, have to go to court in the near future to pay a traffic fine. There’s a noticeable difference in our familiarity and comfort with the American legal system.
I’m not necessarily saying that my friend is a good lawyer because he kicked my butt a month ago. That may not be the most difficult thing to do.
I am, however, saying that I now realize that at no time did I ever imply that the military (The Military) should be given the responsibility to decide when The FUSA should go to war. I parenthetically put the phrase “the military” in caps because when I think of an entity known as The Military which has any capacity to overthrow the civilian government, such as it is, of The Former United States of America, I don’t think of soldiers who occupy the bottom most ranks in the service.
Consequently, it’s absurd to believe that a military dictatorship would be generated because a bunch of front line soldiers actually refused to engage in murder. It’s absurd to believe that people who are demonstrating that they’d prefer not to be part of a war, especially one which they’ve concluded is illegal, would have any interest in belonging to a fellowship which has as its goal the power to decide when to go to war.
If soldiers, sailors, pilots and the other members of the military who actually control the weaponry are absolutely sure that, when they engage that weaponry, they are not only obeying “the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over (them), according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice” but are also supporting and defending “the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and are bearing “true (emphasis mine) faith and allegiance” to The Constitution, they should, by all means, fire their weapons.
However, if military personal have first engaged their brains and researched why it is that the President of the United States and the officers appointed over them are telling them to kill and have either come to the conclusion that the reason is not at all clear or that it’s very clear that the reason is illegitimate and internationally unlawful, they are actually required to stop firing their weapons.
Basic training is a time when almost every activity of a recruit is controlled by a commanding officer. The idea is to teach soldiers to almost react instinctively to commanding officers during the heat of battle. This premise is understandable. The battlefield is not a place for democratically conducted brainstorming sessions.
However, no man or woman should be asked to or expected to “lose his or her mind” and, as much as unquestionable obedience is essential during battle, those obeying are not cattle, dogs or cats. They are human beings. For whatever reason, human beings can react based upon a presence of mind, even a quick thought process. Human beings can do more than just salivate at the sound of a bell.
Since the end of World War II, The FUSA has preemptively invaded Korea, Vietnam, Kosovo, Grenada, Panama and Iraq. We hear so much about how Iraq represented the first time that The FUSA had ever preemptively invaded another nation. That’s never been true.
In one conflict, Americans were told that one party or another asked for our help and that was used as an excuse for preemptive war. Americans were told that US destroyers had been attacked while they were in the act of spying upon another nation in that nation’s sovereign waters. That was used as an excuse for preemptive war. Americans were told that the head of a sovereign nation was involved in international drug dealing and that was used as an excuse for preemptive war. Americans were told that an “ally” complained to us that one of its neighbors was “stealing” its oil supply and we preemptively attacked Iraq for the first time. Americans were told that Iraq hardly had room for its citizenry because the land was so filled with weapons of mass destruction and we attacked Iraq a second time. Americans have recently been told that Al Qaeda’s knowledge of world geography is so poor that the only place in which it knows it can train its new recruits is Afghanistan. We’ve been in Afghanistan since 2001, but, in reality, with President Obama’s promise to escalate that war, we’ve recently begun a preemptive strike against that nation.
Americans have been told that Congress, the only branch of government that can declare war, has, in some of these cases, basically told the Executive branch that it really doesn’t feel like declaring war, thank you, so it signed its responsibility over to the Executive branch. In other cases, the Executive branch has been able to kill enough time debating what the definition of “declare” is to allow it to preemptively attack a sovereign nation without Congressional approval or even Congressional deferment.
If you’re in the military and you’re a person who has the responsibility to kill “the enemy”, I want you to know that I have more faith in you than our government has or even my friend has. I know that you joined the military because American based corporations have taken from you opportunities that Americans once had to work for a living wage and not fear illness and/or injury. I know that you joined the military because you believed that the military can train you for non-military occupations for when you get out of the military. I know that you joined the military because you became enraged at what happened to Americans on September 11, 2001.
I also know that you’re aware of your surroundings and you’re able to read. I know you have access to the internet, books, newspapers and other news outlets. I know that you can understand if what your civilian government, with the unquestioning aid of your superior officers, is telling you to do is ethical and even legal.
I can try to imagine how frightening it must be for you to entertain the idea of laying down your weapons and saying, “No, I will not kill these people anymore. My mission is murky at best and I refuse to kill to support an obscure or illegal mission.”
When you joined the military, you did so because you ultimately wanted to protect the land that is called The United States of America and its citizens. You never wanted your military service to be a negative experience even though you were well aware that you could die in the fulfillment of that service.
Now you realize that, if you lay down your weapons and refuse to kill someone you don’t know for a reason that’s unclear at best, you’ll probably be charged with disobeying an order and there will be a court martial. You know the chances are that you’ll be found guilty and you’ll have to do time in a military prison. You know that your discharge from the military will not be an honorable one and you know that can hurt you when you begin to pursue a career.
It’s understandable that you can be severely conflicted, but it’s also possible that what you do or refuse to do with your weapons may embolden your comrades in arms to do the same. You know that an illegal war could ultimately be forced out of existence by your actions and the actions you may set in motion. You will be sacrificing your standing in society to get others to a point where the civilian leadership and the military superior officers will have no choice but to accept the decision of the people who do the killing and dying. You know that it will be possible that, even if you are found guilty and imprisoned, it may get to a point where those who follow your courage, if there are enough who do, will no longer be found guilty of disobeying an order and, although it may be technically called “mutiny” in the beginning, those who follow your actions may ultimately be found not guilty based upon the illegality of the war or wars and may be held up as heroes.
The point of reference to which you have to compare the above scenario is, as you’re attempting to kill the so called “enemy”, you accidentally hit a child or some other innocent person, putting to an end a life which may have held promise for itself and for all of humanity. You can do that and you’ll be discharged “honorably” from the military. However, when you return to The FUSA, what will be awaiting you?
One thing to which you can look forward is having nightmares of that child falling to the ground as he or she was running, attempting to escape a battle in which you should not have participated.
And for what occupation will the military ready you? The heads of American based corporations are anything but patriotic towards The FUSA. This is one reason why the states are no longer united. American based corporations have done their best to divide Americans because that’s what works best for them. The jobs they have to offer are not offered to Americans like you. They’re offered to the lowest bidder, probably a person living in China who will work for significantly less than what you are paid as a soldier.
If you’re lucky, you can work for a private sector mercenary corporation and go back to Afghanistan or wherever natural resources cry out to the American government to be stolen.
One thing you won’t do, either way, is to persuade The Military to overthrow the civilian government of The FUSA. You’ll want no part of that, I’m sure.
To come full circle, this is why my friend is wrong. Soldiers whose consciences cannot be controlled will never belong to that part of The Military which possesses the capacity to form a military dictatorship. They will merely be soldiers who knew what was right and did it. They will be the heroes for whom America is waiting and whom America needs so urgently. They will be the heroes who may help to unite the states of America once again.
“The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.” - Herbert Spencer
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