The Bikecast Episode #31: Returning Moral Agency to Soldiers
As difficult and uncomfortable as it is, I believe it important to oppose the idea that the profession of soldiering is something noble and to be honored. Stripped of the narrative of nationality and the misdirection of just war theory, people who accept money for the job of killing strangers without question are, by definition, assassins, hit men (and hit women), and/or mercenaries.
When a person faces the moral decision whether to kill without question in exchange for money, it is reckless and immoral to tilt the scales with promises of honor, glory, triumphal parades, and absolution of any actions taken while pursuing and killing his/her targets.
Such a decision should be made solemnly, with the full understanding of the task at hand and with absolute moral clarity. This is rendered impossible in our war crazed nation-state. In our society, every media depiction of soldiering, every holiday, and every public event has as a component gratitude to the military, appreciation for the soliders, remembering the fallen, honoring the veterans and other forms of soldier worship.
The first thing we learn about soldiers is that they keep us free, keep us safe, and preserve our liberty. Even when we disagree with a military decision, we can only do so because they have sacrificed their lives to protect our right to speak. We hear this message endlessly. It is a foundational societal meme.
As a result, men and women who otherwise would not enlist are enticed to. We have, as a society, essentially removed the moral agency from the would-be solider by disguising the moral character of the decision he/she is making.
I doubt I can emphasize this enough to quell the most deeply ingrained knee-jerk reactions, but the withholding of misplaced and misleading gratitude is not an attack on an individual. It is unproductive and unjust to categorically condemn soldiers for the choices they made under false pretenses. It is essential, however, to remove the false pretenses so that the individual soldier can properly evaluate his/her decision under conditions of moral clarity.
The most difficult aspect of this problem stems from the magnitude of U.S. war crimes. They are incomprehensibly monstrous, murderous, and destructive. The degree and intensity of the propaganda that is required to cloak these crimes is equally massive. There’s nothing I can think of more sacred to most americans than the current and/or historical american military and nothing more universally believed in than the just and necessary nature of current and/or historical wars.
This is an essential element of national cohesion, and thus, an essential target for those interested in ending the global empire and advancing the cause of human freedom. Ultimately, we do not want future generations of friends and family to take the job of mercenary because they misunderstood it as being something noble and honorable.
Update: Robert Jensen published an article at Common Dreams that takes on this same topic. He leaves room for honorable service in “just wars”, which I reject, but all respect for a public figure taking on such a sensitive and emotionally challenging topic.