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Objectivism and Military Service

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At first inspection, the rational individualism of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism seems contrary to the requirements of military service. Everyone dressing alike is the most visible fact. Following orders without question is the deeper problem, of course, especially as that can lead to your own death. Groups are sacrificed in feints and gambits. The military shares well with other institutions the vice of inertial conservativism. Innovators such as Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell and Adm. William Sowden Sims were perfect examples of those whose heroism was not in standing tall against deadly weapons but in persistently confronting mediocrity to the detriment of their own careers. 

(Note: This is from a discussion on Rebirth of Reason, which was recently re-launched after being down for about six months.)

However, in fact, admirers of Ayn Rand’s philosophy and fiction can be found easily in U.S. military ranks. See, for example, Love My Rifle More than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army by Kayla Williams (W. W. Norton, 2005) and The Leader’s Bookshelf, edited by Adm. James Stavridis USN (Ret.) and R. Manning Ancell (Naval Institute Press, 2017). But it is also easy to find Christians in the military, even though Christianity insists that we love our enemies, turn the other cheek, and obey a commandment not to kill. Clearly, people have the ability to explain away their moral standards in order to rationalize their choices. I assert that military service per se is as morally neutral as any other career. The ethics of its practice depends on the values of the actor. 

From November 22, 2014 to October 29, 2019, I was a petty officer in the Maritime Regiment of the Texas State Guard. About a dozen states have their own active home guards. By law, they are within the same state departments as the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard. (There is no Navy National Guard.) They all report to the same adjutant general. By federal law, the state guards cannot be federalized or sent overseas. They answer to their governors only, never to the President. Generally, today, they are not issued weapons, though most states grant that power to the governor in response to an emergency. Historically, the Texas State Guard has patrolled the international border with Mexico, been military police, and provided civic riot control. Generally, the primary purpose all state guards today is emergency response to mass casualty events such as tornados, floods, fires, and hurricanes. My primary duties were editing and writing policies, plans, and procedures for the general staff. I also was assigned to 14 months of fulltime employment as a specialist in the Domestic Operations Taskforce where I was one of six state guard sergeants working for national guard colonels in plans and training. My direct supervisors were young lieutenants and captains returned from combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. In my five years, I was deployed as a computer operator in command and control for four emergencies. The last of them was Hurricane Harvey, for me, 24 straight 12-hour duty days. Among the citations on my ribbon rack are two humanitarian service awards, two meritorious service awards, a national guard service award, and an adjutant general’s individual achievement medal. 

That last speaks directly to the Objectivist virtues of military service. Contrary to the common narrative that individuality is erased in the making of humans into mindless killing machines, the military encourages and rewards initiative, values human life, and reinforces dignity, respect, and self-esteem. As with any other profession, you bring yourself to its practice. 

“Honor is self-esteem made visible in action.” – Philosophy Who Needs It.

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Free Will—Right away they teach you, NAVY stands for Never Again Volunteer Yourself. Every branch boot camp does it their own way. The lure is often an easy-sounding assignment that turns in to a minor hell. Do not take the easy way out.

The lesson is not that you should hang back and let other people do your work. The lesson is really to not throw yourself away. Think about it before you take up a challenge.  Choose your battles. When you confront the organization at large, or a superior at rank, your buddy will ask, “Is this the hill you want to die on?” You decide.

Independence—“With all due respect, sir, I disagree.” You still follow orders. You are free to explain your reservations. The positive expression is recommending a creative solution to an existing problem. It is as simple as telling your buddies to stop what they are doing and talk about what they want to do next because charging through the brambles is only going leave you all with scratches. 

Integrity—Never compromise your values or deny your virtues. 

Morality—Every choice is an answer to the question, “Right or wrong?” Objectively, no dichotomy exists between the moral and the practical. The mundane daily tasks have long term consequences. For want of a two-penny nail, the battle was lost. More complex decisions follow broader principles. In America, no soldier is required to carry out an unlawful order. 

Justice—. Justice is recognizing the fact that your actions always have consequences for other people. Moreover, justice is pro-active. You do not wait for others to be in harm’s way, to be in need before you act. Taking care of other people is integral to a military unit. That does not mean being a slave to the whims of others, no matter how high their rank. Justice in action is rational benevolence.

The more common understanding of that is the protector-guardian role of the military. The simplest analogy came from the retired Marine Corps master sergeant who taught our class in advanced leadership: There’s sheep. There’s wolves. And there’s sheepdogs. We are sheepdogs. Most people think of justice as punishment for the guilty. That is a secondary consequence of egocentric justice. 

Pride --- “Pride is the recognition of the fact that you are your own highest value and, like all of man’s values, it has to be earned—that of any achievements open to you, the one that makes all others possible is the creation of your own character...” -- Galt's Speech

“And, above all, it means one’s rejection of the role of a sacrificial animal, the rejection of any doctrine that preaches self-immolation as a moral virtue or duty.” – “Objectivist Ethics” in The Virtue of Selfishness.

 

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Joining the military, especially the American military is highly immoral.

The soldiers fight and murder for the material interests of American plutocrats. There is nothing brave or honourable about it.

Just kids who are either too poor to see another shot at a good standard of living or too naive to see beyond the jingoistic propaganda.

Edited by Xiti
changed a word

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17 hours ago, Xiti said:

Joining the military, especially the American military is highly immoral.

The soldiers fight and murder for the material interests of American plutocrats. There is nothing brave or honourable about it.

Just kids who are either too poor to see another shot at a good standard of living or too naive to see beyond the jingoistic propaganda.

At this point, there is no immoral draft on behalf of the elected representatives, leaving free the choice to join or not.

As an American, the line from Atlas Shrugged " If a man dies fighting for his own freedom, it is not a sacrifice: he is not willing to live as a slave; but it is a sacrifice to the kind of man who's willing." would suggest a different moral conclusion.

Are your expressions cited here an example of you fighting for your own intellectual freedom, Xiti?

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