Wednesday, April 05, 2006

It's still murder

Does anybody else find the entire concept of not holding soldiers responsible for their (politically instructed) actions rather ridiculous?

I know it's not the done thing to say so - in fact, if I shouted this aloud in a street in America I'd probably be handbagged to death by otherwise sickly sweet and perfectly reasonable Democrat-voting mothers - but I think, and always have, that soldiers should be held as accountable for their actions as you and I or the prime minister or president (wait, those last two don't count, do they?).

Really, since when did soldiers become mindless automatons? (The depressing answer to that question is, incidentally: when they were "programmed" day after day to act like mindless automatons:

Many people think killing is a natural act, but Col. Grossman argues that it isn’t. He discusses how new and innovative pop up targets, video-based firearms training simulators, and Simunition®-based training are used to facilitate overcoming this innate resistance. These devices are then combined with high repetition to condition a correct response even in the face of fear.)

Because whatever their training, soldiers are still human beings; living, breathing, thinking, decision-making human beings. And in the world I've always lived in, following someone else's instructions doesn't get you off the ethical hook.

I don't particularly care if these views are controversial either, because when the only other option is shutting up and essentially condoning the deaths of innocent people, there's a line dividing silence and protest, and I know which side I'm on.

It's not as if people don't know what they're getting themselves in for when they join the army. Understandably things were different in this world five years ago, and the likelihood of being called into action would have been much lower than today, but the basic gist of the army, as I understand it: they give you guns and training and angry drill seargants, and they teach you how to kill other people in the most efficient way possible.

It's not exactly Play School.

This isn't an argument for pacifism. I'm not a pacifist. This is an argument against blind loyalty, and an argument against the lack of responsibility for one's own personal actions. If I sign up for a job where I know a potential consequence is killing others in (often somewhat shady) "defence of my country" I'm making an ethical decision then and there. If I continue this position when a war breaks out or is declared, I am making another. Finally, if I am assigned to duty in such a war, I have one final decision. The penalties may be harsh to desert at this point, but there is no such thing as a situation where you're without a choice. Even making no decision is making a decision.

So if you're telling me that this war might be bad, that the innocent deaths are unnecessary, and that there's blood on the hands of these - American, English, Australian and so on - governments, then I'm sorry, but I fail to see why the soldiers aren't just as guilty.

It doesn't matter if you put the gun in my hand and tell me to pull the trigger, once I do it, I'm the murderer.


moe said...

do note that there are consequences for the soldier (ie. death, incarceration etc.) for not pulling the trigger in circumstances as mentioned.
I'd rather murder 50 babies than die myself.

Renee said...

I should give you the article I did recently in my journo class that looks at two soldiers inthe Boer War who were executed for killing civilians who had apparently surrendered... it goes into both sides of the argument of the consequences of being a soldier and having to kill. There's also an Australian movie released about it called "Breaker Morant"

pandaobscura said...

Moe: agreed, but that's why I pointed out that the decision is made several times, not just at the point of pulling a trigger.

Renee: I'd be interested in looking at that for sure. And shamefully I've never seen Breaker Morant. Never seen Gallipoli either!

Raz said...

Broadly speaking, I agree...I don't know if it's necessarily so black and white though.

I think there are a lot more issues involved and it's not such an easy picture to paint..

(sorry that was a lame comment, but it's either that or an essay..)

pandaobscura said...

I probably ran the risk of making this into a black and white issue when, of course, it's not really, but there's such a great tendency for everybody to absolve soldiers of guilt that I think the argument was more effective this way.

More to the point, while I do agree that it is a complicated issue, I still think there's a certain point where it really just comes down to it being a position where you go and kill other people because you got told to. Mine isn't so much a moral argument but a plea for personal responsibility.

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