Thoughts of a Soldier-Ethicist

I am a Soldier who believes in the moral standing of my profession, yet knows that we could improve and is committed to serving that cause. I have served as an enlisted infantryman, as an infantry officer in the 1st AD and 82nd ABN, and as a philosophy instructor at West Point. Please engage with me in an online conversation about morality and the profession of arms. Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not purport to reflect the position of USMA, DA, or DOD.

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Location: West Point, New York, United States

Army officer; two short deployments to Iraq (03, 07), three to Afghanistan (09, 10, 11); Ph.D in Education (Penn State); M.A. in Philosophy (Virginia Tech); B.S. in Political Science (West Point); married, father of four sons.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Challenge to "Pacifists"

I received an email today from someone who objected to my reference in "Soldiers of Conscience" to the Story of the Good Samaritan.

Here is part of my response to him. I welcome feedback on my challenge. Am I off base?

My point in offering the hypothetical about the Good Samaritan is to point out that it's easy to oppose the use of violence in the abstract--when one is not personally facing it. It's easier to console victims than to prevent their victimization.

I invite you and any others who share your pacifist beliefs to practice what you preach--to disavow in your own lives both violence and the threat of violence. I challenge you to post on your windows and doors an announcement that you will neither ask nor permit the police to intervene for your protection, nor will you use any violence to protect yourselves or your property. After all, the police accomplish their mission (protecting the innocent) by using force. For good measure, wear a large pin on your shirt announcing your renunciation of any force on your behalf. Let the world know that you will not respond to violence with violence, and you will not allow anyone to do so on your behalf!

Then see what happens.

The great majority of people will applaud your idealism. But others will rob you blind. Sick pedophiles might even assault your daughter or little sister. And you will....watch? Pray for them? Call your insurance agent?

Why, after all, does a Mennonite college employ armed guards?

I don't mean to sound callous, but I've traveled the world a bit as a Soldier, and I have seen the effects of evil. Most Americans never have to face evil--thanks to national and local security forces. I wish it were so for everyone in the world.

Jesus himself was very harsh on hypocrites and self-righteous religious leaders, but he never had a harsh world for Soldiers, despite several opportunities.

I could go on, but I wonder if you will accept the challenge, and invite all your pacifist brethren to do the same. THAT could launch a movement that changes the world.

6 Comments:

Blogger michael said...

Pete,

I think your way off base and extreme in the way you're framing being non-violent. I think even calling yourself religious is comically laughable! I think your use of the good samaritan story is a weak excuse for your violent unconscience tendencies and your brain washing by the military.

First I would like to point out to you the true heros are these guys who lay down there weapons and refuse to kill another for a false phony war of greed and war profiteering. Pete that takes true balls to stand up and feel your spirit and know what you're doing goes against the law of the universe "That we are all one"

It's cowardly to take up arms and fight a totally defenseless country and slaughter a million people for nothing! I believe you go to war purely for self-defense not preemptively to install one puppet dictator after the next so we can rip off there resources and pretend we want them to have freedom and democracy. Wake up Pete.

Pete the way you're framing a conscience objector is very weak using the good samaritan story. There are ways to stop somebody without lethal force or to help or prevent somebody from taking a beating.
It is one thing to help someone who needs help and its another thing to mercilessly murder innocent people who didn't ask for your help isn't that right Pete?

I don't believe in wars when all you're doing Pete is fighting for imperialism, Rich men with personal business interests, and Wall Street that have nothing to do for the common man. Its about power and greed and senseless murdering.

Your just a tool of these powerful cowardly people that use you like a pond/fool and brainwash you and make you believe its for freedom and Democracy. Don't you ask yourself Pete why are you in Iraq? Every reason they made up is false! Wake up Pete! They don't care about you soldiers you want to know why because your like piss in the wind very expendable and they treat soldiers like shit when it comes to there healthcare. They hire and pay Blackwater mercenaries $10,000 a month to do something you get $1,000 a month for. Don't you feel like a sucker Mr. Freedom and Democracy Pete? Go get them Freedom boy!

The fact that yo think there is a god on your side is extremely laughable!! You say your Judeo-Christian teachings allow you to murder another right? Look at what these teachings have allowed people like you to do throughout the centuries genocide/massacre of the American Indians... massacre of the Incas... massacre of the West Indians in the caribbean... slaughter of South Americans... slavery.... is that what you call your Judeo-Christian teachings??? What a joke and very cowardly! Thats how you operate? I forgot God is on your side because you're a cowardly whiteboy. This is not what Jesus taught. I could go on on around the world or Europeans/Americans.

Pete wake up to the reality that your in an Army as a brainwashed pond for the use of Rich men and Corp. business interests to use as they please and dictate to you who to kill and how your life that you signed away should go, but all it takes is so balls to realize that your free to choose what you want for this life no matter what and it isn't because of soldiers that we have freedom its because of guys like the CO's that true freedom for humans is possible. So you can keep dropping bombs on women and kids thinking they are different from you and evil, but you will pay a heavy price for guys like Bushs and Cheneys of the world who regard you as shit that should be stepped on and tools to be used to make more more for the elites. When there is a real war for a real life or death reason I will take up arms for the people not for elites. Wake up Pete?

October 17, 2008 at 12:19 AM  
Blogger Pete said...

Michael:
Take a deep breath. Hold it. Let it out. Take a deep breath. Hold it. Let it out. Gooood.

There are things in this world that are worth getting all worked up about. For example, last year in Iraq (near Taji) some US Army Soldiers were attending the grand opening of a newly constructed all-girls school. A couple hundred girls, the school's staff and faculty, and many of the local elected civilian officials were present. A Soldier noticed an unusual wire going into a wall. He investigated and quickly realized that the building had been rigged to explode. Al Qaeda in Iraq had put explosives into the walls in several places. The Soldiers got all the children and civilians out safely and disarmed the explosives. Hundreds of innocent lives saved. It was a close call.

That's the kind of event worth getting riled up about.

I would engage and refute your argument, but I couldn't find an argument, which is defined as a reasoned set of propositions put forward in support of a conclusion.

I invite you to read the many arguments that I have put forth in this blog, and I welcome your critiques. Remember, you must either dispute (with evidence) the truth value of my premises, or else dispute that the premises lead to their conclusions.

Please note that name calling is not a legitimate form of critical thinking.

October 17, 2008 at 11:46 AM  
Blogger Noah Berlatsky said...

How would you prevent the police from helping you exactly? And wouldn't the steps you suggest (essentially daring people to attack you) actually be an incitement to violence?

Pacifism isn't about winning a bet or proving anything in particular to you. It's about attempting to renounce violence. The reductio ad absurdum you propose seems like a way to intentionally provoke violence. I don't think it's a good faith argument.

As a turn about, why doesn't everyone who is not a pacifist walk around with a shirt promising to shoot anybody who messes with them? Would this reduce violence? Or in many situations might it not be seen as a dare and result in harassment and conflict?

May 12, 2010 at 11:20 AM  
Blogger Pete said...

Noah:

I think the point of my challenge to pacifists is pretty darn clear.

Don't say that pacifism simply "attempts to renounce violence" (your words)--actually RENOUNCE violence in your own life. If you truly renounce violence in all its forms, then practice what you preach--publicly declare that you will not permit violence to be used for your own protection. If you are not willing to do that, then you should not renounce violence done to protect other innocent people.

To renounce the violence of protecting others (soldiers) yet accept violence to protect yourself (police) would be a pathetic correlary of NIMBY.

One common characteristic of pacifists is that they have never been the victims of violence. Once you have been, you will realize that not all acts of violent force are evil--some are good because they oppose evil.

I still await a reasoned critique to my challenge.

May 12, 2010 at 9:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is true that Jesus never had anything bad to say to Soldiers. Also, he broke bread with prostitutes, tax collectors, zealots and the like. Do I follow your point correctly that the "virtues" of all those Jesus did not condemn are worth emulating? If so, we should steal (tax collectors), sell our bodies (prostitutes) and, oh yes, kill Soldiers we don't agree with (zealots). In answer to your challenge, it is not reasonable to advertise and incite attacks upon oneself just to prove one's pacifism. I am currently running missions into Iraq. I am currently the scout vehicle for convoys running up and down Tampa and the only thing I've been afraid of while I've been here, despite everything outside the wire, is the prospect of applying for CO status. I invite you to call me a coward and heap whatever ad hominem ridicule you want, but it doesn't change the fact that I am in harm's way nearly everyday, and have been for the better part of a year. Because I am a pacifist does not mean I will not wear my IOTV and my kevlar. It does not mean that I won't bolt my doors and prepare for the protection of my family. It means that I believe it is not only wrong but ineffective to simply visit violence tit-for-tat upon those who do the same, perpetuating a cycle that never ends except by attrition. And honestly, sir, do you believe democracy has taken hold here? It's a laughable assumption that only our gullible, American consumerist society could believe. It pains me when someone thanks me for my service, because they are disgusted when I tell them. My story is the same as many others. I continue to carry a weapon, but the first round in each magazine is turned backwards. I carry a CLS bag, and the size large plates of body armor should prove to make a good human shield.
I cannot present you with a well-reasoned argument to your arguments. I suppose this means that you will dismiss my entire post, with a polite nod to my service, which you will probably question. As for me, I plan on applying for CO once I rotate home, and I WILL be shunned, spit upon, and dismissed as a coward by the military I have served honorably. Then I will renounce it, because it has renounced me. I live consistently.

November 12, 2011 at 5:07 PM  
Blogger Pete said...

Anon:
You are a deployed soldier who goes outside the wire, yet you intentionally disable your weapon!!! You have a duty to protect not only your own life, but even moreso the lives of your fellow soldiers and civilians who depend on you.

If you get into a TIC and cannot perform your duty because you willfully disabled your weapon,and as a result one of the people who relies on you for protection is killed, you will be guilty of murder.

You ARE a coward. You don't have the guts to tell those who rely on you that you aren't willing to do the job you're receiving a paycheck and benefits to perform. Your actions and word demonstrate deficiencies of courage, integrity, and honesty.

You have a moral duty EITHER to do your job as a soldier OR to tell everyone around you that you won't do your job and cease defrauding the country.

BTW, Jesus DID yell the prostitutes and wrongful tax collectors to stop their sinful ways. He never said any such thing to Soldiers.

November 13, 2011 at 3:42 PM  

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