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A soldier's dilemma.

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Sarrisan
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I'd like to start by clarifying that I am not a soldier myself, though I am considering becoming one. I consider myself knowledgeable about the core of Objectivism, though still a newbie. If the answer to this is something embarrassingly simple, then I apologize and merely ask assistance as to where I can do further reading.

Now, I know that Objectivism rejects unearned and unaccepted duty and responsibility. But when you take a responsibility upon yourself, of your own free will, you are morally required (Though perhaps that is too strong a word...) to fulfill it, yes? For instance, having a child. Once you make the decision to have a child, and it is born, you cannot simply abandon it on the side of the street because you do not think that taking care of it is in your self-interest. You made the decision to have the child, and now you must care for it until it becomes an adult (Or at least arrange for it to be properly taken care of in another form).

But what if you make a decision at one point in time, and then realize later that continuing to honor it would be immoral?

Now, on to the hypothetical part of the question.

When someone joins the military, they essentially accept certain risks. For instance, you cannot expect to be allowed to go AWOL when a war comes if you joined during peace times. You made the commitment, and now you must honor it.

But lets say that a rational man (Objectivist) joins the military, under the premise that he wishes to protect his own freedom and the freedom of his loved ones, and under the understanding that the country he was fighting for was a free, more or less moral one. But then, down the line, the country takes a change of direction and becomes not so moral, and takes a military action that he believes to be irredeemably immoral (For instance, using the military as a police force to subjugate it's people). Technically, he took upon his shoulders certain risks when he signed the enlistment contract. But on the other hand, he is convinced that the way the military is being used - and thus the actions he is forced to take himself - are immoral.

What would be the properly moral thing to do, according to Objectivism?

I thank you for any of your thoughts that you can give me.

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The cheif problem here is that force is involved.

There was a time when volunteers could leave the army fairly painlessly. An officer in particularly could merely resign his commission and leave.

Unfortunately, now, there is a legal contract who's terms do not stipulate a financial penalty if you leave early (extrememly reasonable, given how much the military invests in each soldier,) but jail time. Plus, of course, try to get any kind of job above grocery bagger after a DD and you'll find it difficult at best.

So, you're facing jail time if you go. There is no real good choice here, for such a person. My thoughts would be that it would be best to be as incompetent at your job as you possibly can, and desert at the first opportunity.

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If the choice is between morality and employment, obviously morality wins. However, one must ensure that the facts are known without a doubt. Is Iraq a moral war? Was the action in Kosovo moral?

Most of the time a soldiers contract has an escape clause. The only difference being the amount of time it takes to terminate your contract. As a basic recruit in the Canadian Army you are expected to complete your 3 year Basic Engagement, but there are clauses and cases under which an early release can be granted, though it may take up to 6 months. The situation is similar as an officer, though if the military has put you through university then there is a financial penalty and a longer term of compulsory service.

Usually though once a soldier has fulfilled his initial contract it is possible to release from service before the end of the 20 year contract. In the CF it takes about 6 months. If you have already served a full contract of 20 years, as I did before joining the reserves, that release is sped up to 30 days. I used to refer to it as the PMOAIG plan... (Piss Me Off And I'm Gone :D )

The US has what is called a stop loss, which basically prevents a soldier from getting out under specific circumstances, now the question can be asked as to whether the regulation is moral or the implementation of it under certain circumstances is warranted but that is another topic.

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Obviously, I think it is important to objectively define whether a war is or is not moral. I have little or no sympathy with the soldiers who deserted when facing deployment to Iraq.

The main question here is not a legal one. Clearly, leaving the military without permission is going to mean bad consequences, almost no matter what. But morally, once you take upon yourself a responsibility, do you have an obligation to fulfill it, no matter what?

My view on it is that it's a matter of degree. Obviously, the perfect job does not exist. The military, I am sure, is the same. You are going to have to deal with some things that you are not going to like. For instance, I consider the Vietnam war to have been a pointless altruistic venture, but it is not immoral enough in the sense that I would desert if faced with serving there (Of course, there are a whole LOAD of factors when considering that context, not the least of which being that service was compulsory).

But if I were faced with something clearly and objectively wrong? I think that integrity would demand that I, at the absolute least, speak out against it, if not more.

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By enlisting (or accepting a commission), you are entering into a contract with the government to render certain services in exchange for pay and benefits. When you take the oath of office, you are primarily agreeing to support and defend the Consitution (see full U.S. Army oath here.) If your superiors demand that you take actions contrary to this, which are illegal or immoral - you are expected to be insubordinate. The risks you accept when entering military service should not include being forced to commit immoral acts. If I was asked to violate the Consitution or do something patently immoral, I would see it as breach of contract, initiated by the government, which frees me from the term of service to which I agreed. Thankfully, this hasn't happened.

BTW, when you do join, don't let anyone force you to say that "so help me God" nonsense. The final sentence is optional for both enlisted and officers - thanks to the Constitution, Article VI, Section 3. I've had trouble getting it removed from both oaths I signed as an officer. When I was enlisted, they made it clear one could say "affirm" instead of "swear" and drop the God line.

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BTW, when you do join, don't let anyone force you to say that "so help me God" nonsense. The final sentence is optional for both enlisted and officers - thanks to the Constitution, Article VI, Section 3. I've had trouble getting it removed from both oaths I signed as an officer. When I was enlisted, they made it clear one could say "affirm" instead of "swear" and drop the God line.

Same up here, I swore a solemn affirmation.

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This isn't meant to answer your question 100% because it's a different situation than the one you're describing, but I read your post and felt like sharing something that happened to me.

I live in Israel and here we got 2-3 years compulsery service (females-males). I went on to become an officer which added a 4th year to the service. I believed a lot in military service and that it is important to defend my country and have a strong army so that the citizens will live safely. I put a lot of efforts in during my service because I believed it is right.

Then in 2005 our government decided to forcefully remove all the Jewish settlements from Gush-Katif and other places. That is not what I had envisioned when joining the army / becoming an officer. They've picked me to be one of the 'evacuators' to which I strongly opposed. I tried arguing with my superiors, told them that I morally object to forcefully removing Israeli citizens from their homes, and that I should not be sent on that assignment. But they wouldn't hear any of it. They just said it's the government decision and we do not get to choose our missions blah blah. I was pretty torn and didn't know what to do. I was sent to be trialed but just before the trial the commanding officer invited me in for a talk and in the end convinced me to go and I wasn't trialed. I remember very vividly as I declared to him that: 'the consequences of the evacuation were not my moral responsibility as I was forced into doing this. All the Israeli citizens who will die in future wars as a result from this will not be on my conscious'. Today I am not so sure I agree with that statement, but it helped me get through it then.

During the whole thing I tried doing the absolute minimum that I could, just following orders passively and nothing more. Today I wish I'd done even less, or perhaps that I wouldn't have went and gotten trialed instead.

After it was over I felt very differently about the army. I finished my service but without the passion or the enthusiasm that I had before. Today I hate even thinking about the army, and I will probably feel this way for the rest of my life.

So in the end, when there is a question between your morality and the laws, go with your morality. I wish I had. Retrospectively I think I would have been feeling a lot better about myself today if I did some jail time and had a criminal record or whatever but stood up for what I believed back then.

I hope this helps.

Edited by Soth
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Wow, thanks for the story Soth. I won't call it 'cool,' because it's a terrible situation you were placed in, but I really appreciate your telling it. That is exactly the sort of situation I fear of being put into as a soldier, especially since I plan on going 100% if I do join (Which would probably mean Officer status).

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  • 2 weeks later...
I'd like to start by clarifying that I am not a soldier myself, though I am considering becoming one. I consider myself knowledgeable about the core of Objectivism, though still a newbie. If the answer to this is something embarrassingly simple, then I apologize and merely ask assistance as to where I can do further reading.

Now, I know that Objectivism rejects unearned and unaccepted duty and responsibility. But when you take a responsibility upon yourself, of your own free will, you are morally required (Though perhaps that is too strong a word...) to fulfill it, yes? For instance, having a child. Once you make the decision to have a child, and it is born, you cannot simply abandon it on the side of the street because you do not think that taking care of it is in your self-interest. You made the decision to have the child, and now you must care for it until it becomes an adult (Or at least arrange for it to be properly taken care of in another form).

But what if you make a decision at one point in time, and then realize later that continuing to honor it would be immoral?

Now, on to the hypothetical part of the question.

When someone joins the military, they essentially accept certain risks. For instance, you cannot expect to be allowed to go AWOL when a war comes if you joined during peace times. You made the commitment, and now you must honor it.

But lets say that a rational man (Objectivist) joins the military, under the premise that he wishes to protect his own freedom and the freedom of his loved ones, and under the understanding that the country he was fighting for was a free, more or less moral one. But then, down the line, the country takes a change of direction and becomes not so moral, and takes a military action that he believes to be irredeemably immoral (For instance, using the military as a police force to subjugate it's people). Technically, he took upon his shoulders certain risks when he signed the enlistment contract. But on the other hand, he is convinced that the way the military is being used - and thus the actions he is forced to take himself - are immoral.

What would be the properly moral thing to do, according to Objectivism?

I thank you for any of your thoughts that you can give me.

SARRISAN 1 SEPTEMBER 2008

"But lets say that a rational man (Objectivist) joins the military, under the premise that he wishes to protect his own freedom and the freedom of his loved ones, and under the understanding that the country he was fighting for was a free, more or less moral one. But then, down the line, the country takes a change of direction and becomes not so moral, and takes a military action that he believes to be irredeemably immoral (For instance, using the military as a police force to subjugate it's people). Technically, he took upon his shoulders certain risks when he signed the enlistment contract. But on the other hand, he is convinced that the way the military is being used - and thus the actions he is forced to take himself - are immoral."

The truth about Objectivism, Sarrisan, is that it is unflinching in its response: that soldier cannot be merely a kind soldier going about the course of his duties (those duties actually cause him to do that which he knows to be wrong). He cannot simply defy his military superiors either; because as such he remains a soldier. The steely position of Objectivism is to see to it that that soldier resigns and accepts a court-martial, or perhaps he flees to a different land, he suffers exile. He becomes an un-soldier in those conditions. He turns a 360 degree turn from where he was as a soldier taking orders that he knows to be wrong.

Switching gears now to the creation of Objectivism by Ayn Rand, we must ask ourselves a few questions. Did she take these steely positions because she was a woman without children, without the nuances and complexities of motherhood? Or did she choose not to be a mother in loyalty to her philosophical position?

Would she appreciate us looking at the context in which her ideas were shaped? If she could write about Marilyn Munroe in the context of American society at large, perhaps she would not have a problem with us writing about her in the context of her day and time.

The challenge for the modern Objectivist, as I see it, is how to look at people. We can more easily slot a policy or a regime into a category (such as communistic, socialistic, collectivist) but it is not so easy when we are assessing the lives of those around us. That is why when you talk about the decision to have a child or the soldier's doubts as to duty, the lines of thought can become blurred. The most objective thing a mother can do is fill out a form in the child's name: questions of health, discipline and spirituality are not so easy to define.

Last night I came across an old chat room discussion on this forum's website between SMS in France and a number of other members. This discussion resulted in my signing up. I had read Ayn Rand's work as a young Bahamian women and I found her story so exciting. She had escaped from behind The Iron Curtain. When I was a child, we were just hearing about the Gulag and all that. She came from the cruellest of winters, from the cruellest of regimes. She, it is reported, left a lover behind.

When I read Ayn Rand's later essays (one on the pious treatment of Marilyn Munroe, celebrating the sensuous beauty of M.M.) I was struck by the rich sensuousness of Ayn Rand herself. She, an Objectivist, writing of barren landscapes in her novels. childless in real-time, had a rich woman's heart. I love her even today.

But I really look at the vista that was 1950's America. There was so much wealth; but Americans were happy with simpler lives. I place in this context the pictures in my child's mind of "Frosty the Snowman" and the town with just a few modest buildings. Ayn Rand began her influence on America in such a context. The American mind was simpler, less cluttered and very generous in spirit.

Thank you for allowing me to share a little today.

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Hmmm...my son is enlisting- he is almost there. Already took the ASVAB, his physical, and is now just waiting to go in and sit down with the recruiter go over the jobs/fields he would be qualified for to pick one. He is only 17, so I have to sign for him. I wasn't going to do it- but I just could not find any good reasons to tell him no - and believe me, I have tried! The kid's mind is made up.

I have had this conversation with him regarding when you go in the military, you are basically signing your life over to them. I am not against the military per se, but the subject brought up in this thread I am concerned about with him. He wouldn't call himself an Objectivist (actually, even I just refer to myself as a student of Objectivist, since I have only been aware/studying it for a few years now), but I am happy to say that he thinks for himself (most of the time, haha) and does have what I would view as a good moral basis to lead his life. Of course - the threat of death terrifies me as well, but hey, he could get hit by a car walking home from school, so that is what I tell myself.

To the original poster: I hope others will post to this thread, as I would also be interested to see more answers on this subject and share them with my son.

By the way - for others that have children mulling over joining the military - after all these years they STILL do not have a pamphlet for the terrified parent. I know - I asked.

Edited by SherryTX
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By the way - for others that have children mulling over joining the military - after all these years they STILL do not have a pamphlet for the terrified parent. I know - I asked.

Thats because you are not their concern. Your son will tell you what it is like. Some of what he tells you will leave you shaking your head in wonder (of both the good and not so good kind), some most is mundane and some is downright baffling, but through it all you have no control.

There is no more certain cutting of the parental umbilical than signing on that dotted line.

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This is a topic I had thought about as well, and I have come to the conclusion that if I became a soldier it would be to protect my freedom and the freedom of those I care about. In other words, if I became a soldier it would be for an army controlled by an objectivist state. The USA government is very far from an objectivist state. I cannot in good conscience sign that I will give my life for someone's right to my money, my time, or my thoughts. Now, say I did join a military, and it was forcing me to do things which violate my moral code, it would be my moral obligation to defy those orders and serve whatever punishment, even death. I would rather live free or die, than be a slave.

People who, say in a fascist regime, cite the soldier's oath as their excuse for murdering, raping, or committing acts of immorality, are abdicating personal responsibility. Becoming a soldier does not make you a robot. Remember that -you- are the one that has to live with the things -you- have done after you retire.

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The main question here is not a legal one. Clearly, leaving the military without permission is going to mean bad consequences, almost no matter what. But morally, once you take upon yourself a responsibility, do you have an obligation to fulfill it, no matter what?

No. Normally I'd say that if youve entered into agreement with someone and violated it then you would have some moral obligation to compensate them for part of their losses (how much would depend on circumstances). But since the military is funded by involuntary taxation youre essentially paying for your own training, so it doesnt really make sense to talk about the money that the military 'wasted' on you. So I dont think that any moral obligation to compensate them would exist since your future tax money will most likely refund them several times over. Who would be receiving the compensation anyway? The state?

Jailtime for mlitary deserters is ludicious since its clearly a civil matter which should be treated like any other case involving breach of contract.

Edited by eriatarka
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But since the military is funded by involuntary taxation youre essentially paying for your own training, so it doesnt really make sense to talk about the money that the military 'wasted' on you.

Not even close. Yes the military is funded with stolen money but there is no way that a soldiers taxes pay for his training. I've been on courses in which I "spent" $20,000 in a single day.

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  • 3 weeks later...
Not even close. Yes the military is funded with stolen money but there is no way that a soldiers taxes pay for his training. I've been on courses in which I "spent" $20,000 in a single day.

This is interesting. With the tax free benefits of being deployed, in 2007, my taxable income was so low that I was refunded all of the taxes I paid that year. The military definitely passes the bill to US citizens.

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