I had an exchange recently with a former colleague (who is still in the military). He had expressed his thought that trying to get out of the military before my contract is up was welching on my word, and therefore I had lost all credibility to maintain a position on our wars & foreign policy. Here’s a small snippet from our conversation…I thought my readers here might find it relevant. And yes, the conversation was long enough for this to be considered a ‘snippet!’
“If the military agrees to let me out when I ask (which they haven’t yet, but I’ll keep asking), that is also a part of the contract. I’ve done nothing but work within the bounds of the regulations. My actions thus far have all been IAW with the rules, contracts, principle, etc. As for the analogies, you’re right, there are no perfect ones to draw. I too made a commitment to my husband, and we take that very seriously – through thick and thin, sickness and health. There is a difference between those external difficulties and personal behavior, though. For instance, if one of us were to unilaterally change the terms of the agreement (for example, he beats our children, I abuse him, or he decides that fidelity is no longer a worthy pursuit, etc), then the conditions surrounding that agreement have changed drastically, and that’s worthy of serious consideration moving forward. Obviously, I do not look at my marriage as just a contract – it is much more than that. But the point remains: do you stay in a bad situation (for yourself or your kids) when there is little hope for improvement just because you said you would? I entered the military wanting to fight (9/11 happened my senior yr of hs and I went to basic after graduating), but after a lot of experience, a little more wisdom, and a lot of research/reflection, I recognized that war isn’t the noble undertaking I thought it was – we do not fight defensive wars, and in my opinion we have reaped more death & destruction than we have helped. I have little hope of that changing because wars aren’t fought for humanitarian reasons (humanitarian war – one of the greatest oxymorons ever). The point is that both parties to a contract must uphold their end. One party should not be held to a different standard than the other.
As to the rest of your message, please don’t mistake my desire to not kill innocent people and destroy innocent property in the pursuit of bad guys for approval of what bad guys do. There are certainly horrible things happening around the world, and ISIS and al-Qaeda are among the worst perpetrators of crimes against humanity. But do you not also see that ISIS didn’t exist before Western intervention? Do you not see how two-handed it is for us to support ISIS in Syria because we don’t like Assad, but to fight ISIS in Iraq? Do you not see how Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries have fallen into chaos and hell after our efforts to “root out terrorist havens?” Would you not be incensed if someone came to your homeland with an army, airplanes, and bombs to burn your crops, raid your home at night, and shoot your dog? I would – and I would fight with my life to defend my family, our home, other people, etc.
I follow a principle called the non-aggression principle, which states that the only morally justified use of force is that required for defense. Defense as it’s defined in the dictionary – NOT ‘pre-emptive’ attacks or speculation based on what someone MIGHT do. In any dispute about who is an aggressor (immoral position) versus a defender (moral position), it’s helpful to look at where the fighting is taking place. It’s a very hard sell to say that flying 8000 miles to “liberate” a people (while simultaneously destroying their land, economy, and sometimes lives) is any sort of defense. I think we’re the aggressors. I think the 2003 Iraq invasion was one of the biggest war crimes in recent history, but no one responsible will ever get held to account. These other military engagements are no different.
I’m getting off on a tangent though – the point is not that bad things don’t happen and that people who do bad things shouldn’t be held accountable. They absolutely should (and I believe that will happen in the next life if not in this one). I think if you are so moved by the plight of someone around the world, you should make a moral decision for yourself and take yourself and your property to fight for what you think is a just cause. If, say, you’re Mohammad Ali who gets drafted to fight in a war he doesn’t believe in against people that are no threat to him, then you should not be forced to risk your life because someone else deems it a worthy cause. Decisions about how to risk your life can only appropriately be made by that individual. It is noble and good to go to the defense of others. But as a member of the US military, you have basically offered to be a hired gun. You don’t get any say as to what is a just (or even practical…our efforts in Afghanistan are a good example of impractical waste) endeavor…you follow orders. Why then do we defend pregnant Christian women in Iraq, but not Africa? Why then are we not fighting child sex rings in Asia? Why are some ‘humanitarian’ efforts more worthy than others? The answer is that the government does not make war decisions based on the right thing to do – it’s because we have a vested interest in controlling a certain area/resource. To me, that is not justification to use deadly force.”
Needless to say, I have many peers and friends who are disturbed or bothered by the position I have taken, and this necessarily becomes somewhat awkward. I don’t know if I convinced him of anything, but since he didn’t write back, I’ll probably never know. He is certainly not the only colleague to reach out and express either support or disdain for my stance, and I try to remain sensitive to the fact that these are difficult words to hear for someone who has “signed the dotted line.” I only hope to inspire critical thinking among my friends who are hired hands.