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February 11, 2008

Comments

You have got to be kidding me.

Katherine: I wish.

There have been a lot of stories suggesting that military mental health care has a long way to go, and Lord knows they're grabbing every warm body they can to deploy, but that's just mindboggling.

This may be a stupid question, but shouldn't someone be prosecuted under the UCMJ? Surely incredibly reckless acts that endanger the safety of an entire unit should be punished...somehow, right? If not, it seems that commanders have every incentive to push people that have no business in combat into Iraq and then send back the really bad cases...

This may be a stupid question, but shouldn't someone be prosecuted under the UCMJ? Surely incredibly reckless acts that endanger the safety of an entire unit should be punished...somehow, right?

I wouldn't be surprised if there was convenient looking-the-other-way in this case, but the email indicates that some wires got crossed and some info wasn't passed along at the appropriate time.

I'm sure that military recruiters have seen every trick in the book as people attempt to avoid service, so I'm betting there's little chance of accountability here. It seems logical to me that the standards protecting recruiters from people acting crazy to get out of duty would have to be strong; there's simply no way the military would ever incentivize in that direction. I don't see how they couldn't err on the side of "assume they're faking it."

Maybe I'm just jaded, but this really doesn't register on my shock-meter at all for some reason. It's ridiculous on one level, but still strikes me as utterly plausible.

Adam,

I sort of see what you mean regarding suspicion of fakery. But if that were the case here, would this soldier have been checked out and given a clean bill of health by an army doctor? The army certainly has to worry about fakery to some extent, but it seems that soldiers who are not physicians are unqualified to differentiate serious mental illness from fakery, ne?

It just seems that you shouldn't be able to pull a soldier from a mental hospital without getting an army physician to sign off...otherwise you have people making medical decisions for which they are totally unqualified to make.

[...] I'm sure that military recruiters have seen every trick in the book as people attempt to avoid service, so I'm betting there's little chance of accountability here. It seems logical to me that the standards protecting recruiters from people acting crazy to get out of duty would have to be strong;
I don't follow why you refer to "recruiters."

The poor guy is a specialist; he's therefore been in for well over a year. What do "recruiters" have to do with his case?

The primary problem here is one I have trouble writing about at times, because of my personal relationship to it, and it's the Armed Forces' culture as regards mental health, mental illness, and seeking treatment, which is to say, it's back in the Dark Ages.

There's a total stigma for seeking treatment, and it can't be done without going in your record, and being held very much against you in your career, in terms of being considered for assignment and promotion.

This includes simple and common depression, which is widespread in the general population, let alone amongst personnel in war zones, where I'm strongly inclined to suspect it's to be moreso, let alone more serious depression, let alone more serious forms of mental illness, such as bipolar disease, and other forms.

There needs to be a massive change in the culture of our Armed Forces, led from the top, likely possibly or apt to happen only with direction from the political leadership, absent an extremely smart set of Joint Chiefs stepping up, to make seeking help from mental health professionals something military personnel are encouraged and required to do, and for which there is no stigma or negative effect whatever.

If that kind of culture and legal protections in the UCMJ were in place, this kind of crap couldn't happen, and neither, at least insofar as it could be realistically promulgated, could most of the rest of the tragedies that take place as regards our military personnel not getting the mental health care they deserve and are so entitled to.

Bipolar is horrible.

I have a close friend who is moderate bipolar 1, and sometimes she just can't function in perfectly ordinary situations. I can't imagine her in a combat zone.

I can understand that the military has to err on the side of faking, but there are some things you don't mess with. Bipolar is one of them.

Two Different Encounters:

1.
Lone Survivor, by Navy SEAL Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell, is a book describing the heroism of a SEAL Team in extreme circumstances. The Team was observing a Taliban camp, and their goal was to capture (preferably not kill) the leader of the bad guys. The Team was discovered by a group of goat herders and the Team was faced with a difficult decision; either kill the herders or let them go.

Luttrell made the deciding vote and, citing his Christian upbringing, voted to let the herders go. Shortly thereafter, the Team was assaulted by hundreds of Taliban fighters, and everybody was killed with the exception of Luttrell, who was wounded. The book is recommended reading. Luttrell was personally awarded the Navy Cross by President Bush.

2.
Sgt. Evan Vela’s sniper team was discovered by a wandering Iraqi in a very bad neighborhood. They took the man into custody without harming him. When the man started yelling to men of military age 100 yards away, who the soldiers believed had weapons, Sgt. Evan Vela silenced him. The sniper team went unharmed.

Sgt. Evan Vela was sentenced to ten years in prison on Sunday.

Just leave.

Um, Bill, how is your comment even remotely related to this post?

Sgt. Evan Vela silenced him.

Where "silenced him" naturally means shot him dead, planted a weapon on him, and lied to investigators.

9-11 changed everything.

Turbulance:

I think it boils down to the opening line: ‘I couldn’t be more angry about Iraq’.

“Was I afraid of these guys? No. Was I afraid of their possible buddies in the Taliban? No. Was I afraid of the liberal media back in the U.S.A.? Yes. And I suddenly flashed on the prospect of many, many years in a civilian U.S. jail alongside murderers and rapists.”
-Marcus Luttrell, Lone Survivor

Marcus Luttrell should have been more worried about his own Commander in Chief than the media. He went to every funeral. He met all the parents.

Bill: in case you were wondering, and in case you hadn't noticed, I am angry about our having gone to war, not angry at our soldiers. I have never, to the best of my knowledge, taken my anger out on them. On the contrary, I have generally pointed out the extent to which what I take to be mistakes made by the civilian leadership have harmed them.

In this case, as well, I take this to be a story about how pressure to get enough people to Iraq led to something that would surely have harmed the soldier in question, and might easily have led to the death either of that soldier, of his fellow soldiers, or of Iraqis. The story did not say who he was having homicidal thoughts about, and I did not assume it was Iraqis (or that it was not. People who are homicidal are crazy, and no assumptions on that score can be made.) But surely having someone who is genuinely mentally ill in combat could easily lead to soldiers getting needlessly killed, just as it could lead to others getting needlessly killed.

I therefore also fail to see the relevance of anything you say to what I wrote. I could speculate -- e.g., that in your mind "anti-Iraq" means "anti-soldiers", or that "being mad at a decision that needlessly places them at risk" somehow translates to "being mad at them for not taking more risks" -- but I think it would just make me angry, and I don't feel like being bothered by anger just now.

I can't tell what bill was thinking overall, but this seems to be an anti-Iraq-War statement, so far as I can tell:

[...] Marcus Luttrell should have been more worried about his own Commander in Chief than the media. He went to every funeral. He met all the parents.
That's along with the conclusion of bill's previous comment: "Just leave."

It's possible to interpret bill's rather free-associative sort of response here as something along the lines of "that's a bad story about what's happening to our soliders because of the war in Iraq; here's another example of how I think a soldier was treated badly in Iraq; I think we should blame George Bush, and I think we should leave."

Mind, I don't think I'm particularly qualified to read bill's mind, and I don't put much confidence in this interpretation. But it does strike me as a possibility.

Hilzoy;

I’ve had an aversion to the whole thing since being there (not in nearly the role of a Sgt. Vela or a PO Luttrell). It got worse when a young man from my town got killed after getting out of his Humvee to interact with the population. If we are both ‘for the troops’ and ‘against the mission’, we share the same convictions.

I'll try to maintain a better sense of 'relevance'.

With respect;

I should add, though, that it does seem to me that that may be what bill was trying to say, more or less. He's not exactly skilled at crafting nuance, I'm afraid.

One does have to give him credit for some original perspectives at times, though.

The two examples Bill cited are admirable. In fact, the incidents, as given by Bill, increased my appreciation of US armed forces considerably.

In combat the safety of troops is not the paramount consideration. The safety of non-combatant civilians is the most important thing to respect, even if it means endangering your own unit and your mission. PO Luttrell's team acted honorably and in accordance with the laws of war, with great cost to themselves. Sgt Vela acted cowardly, thinking more about his own safety than his duties towards non-combatants. Thus, the Navy Cross and prison sentence go to right people, respectively.

“In combat the safety of troops is not the paramount consideration.”
-most likely a college student, probably from a wealthy family

“When they find the bodies, the Taliban leaders will sing to the Afghan media. The media in the U.S.A. will latch on to it and write stuff about the brutish U.S. Armed Forces. Very shortly after that, we’ll be charged with murder. The murder of unarmed Afghan farmers.”
-Lieutenant Michael Murphy, USN, now dead

We should recognize privilege. Some among us take it for granted.

Yossarian...decided right then and there to go crazy.
"You're wasting your time," Doc Daneeka was forced to tell him.
"Can you ground someone who's crazy?"
"Oh, sure. I have to. There's a rule saying I have to ground anyone who's crazy."
"Then why don't you ground me? I'm crazy. Ask Clevinger."
"Clevinger? Where is Clevinger? You find Clevinger and I'll ask him."
"Then ask any of the others. They'll tell you how crazy I am."
"They're crazy."
"Then why don't you ground them?"
"Why don't they ask me to ground them?"
"Because they're crazy, that's why."
"Of course they're crazy," Doc Daneeka replied. "I just told you they're crazy, didn't I? And you can't let crazy people decide whether you're crazy or not, can you?"
Yossarian looked at him soberly and tried another approach. "Is Orr crazy?"
"He sure is," Doc Daneeka said.
"Can you ground him?"
"I sure can. But first he has to ask me to. That's part of the rule."
"Then why doesn't he ask you to?"
"Because he's crazy," Doc Daneeka said. "He has to be crazy to keep flying combat missions after all the close calls he's had. Sure, I can ground Orr. But first he has to ask me to."
"That's all he has to do to be grounded?"
"That's all. Let him ask me."
"And then you can ground him?" Yossarian asked.
"No. Then I can't ground him."
"You mean there's a catch?"
"Sure there's a catch," Doc Daneeka replied. "Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy."
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane then he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed.
"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.

In the original manuscript, it was Catch-18, but Leon Uris's novel of the Warsaw ghetto, Mila 18 came out that year, so they changed it.

True that.

"True that."

Indeed. I think the alliteration works better.

I don't follow why you refer to "recruiters."

The poor guy is a specialist; he's therefore been in for well over a year. What do "recruiters" have to do with his case?

Sorry, Gary, that was inaccurate; I'm not very good with military argot. He was brought back by his CO and some counselors and was only in Kuwait for a month before he was brought home; he's apparently a specialist based on a previous tour of duty.

By recruiters, I simply meant whoever's responsible for rounding up people who are called to duty; I don't know the generic term. Regardless, I apologize if I was unclear -- the point I was trying to make was that (whether they're recruiting or recalling or whatever) I'm sure those guys have heard a lot of reasons why someone can't go back, and I imagine they're pretty inured to it. Of course, I don't know what the protocol is in that situation, if that's what you were taking issue with.

This strikes me as a snafu -- albeit a serious one -- that was nevertheless corrected within a month. I'm not sure why this is cause for alarm; on my list of "crazy things related to the Iraq War" this wouldn't rank very high, which probably says something in and of itself.

Here's a rare moment I'll say something positive about Robert Gates, which is to note this:

[...] By that time, Gates was writing personal notes at the bottom of every condolence letter sent to families of troops killed in battle. “I want the recipient of that note to know that the secretary of defense actually saw that letter, signed that letter, thought about that letter,” he told me on the plane ride back from Fort Hood. “It forces me to pay attention to every single one of the young people killed — how they died, where their hometown is, what other members of their unit were killed. I’ve kept count — 796 Americans have been killed in Iraq on my watch.” (This was as of Nov. 27.) He denied that he keeps count as an explicit corrective to Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, who at one Congressional hearing admitted that he didn’t know how many troops had died in the war that he helped to start. Still, the contrast has been widely noticed, not least by marines and soldiers.
I'd prefer to not have the dead marines and soldiers. But being able to name the number of them is a step.

Adam, "recruiter" is a a Military Occupational Speciality (MOS), specifically Recruiter Noncommissioned Officer (79R), or for the Marines, MOS 9815 or MOS 8412.

Once a soldier has enlisted, the recruiter has nothing more to do with them, and vice versa.

I am angry about our having gone to war, not angry at our soldiers. I have never, to the best of my knowledge, taken my anger out on them. On the contrary, I have generally pointed out the extent to which what I take to be mistakes made by the civilian leadership have harmed them.

I know the PC position for various reasons is to show solidarity with the troops and blame the leaders, but I think that this is stretching the troops/leadership distinction with regard to culpability for the Iraq disaster a bit far, especially since the US has a volunteer army. While everybody deserves to be judged on what he's actually done and not done, there simply is a certain amount of collective guilt shared by those taking part in a war of aggression resulting in hundreds of thousands of dead people - reading these support the troops posts sometimes one is left wondering who actually killed all those Iraqis.

OT - WTF? Is there some kind of "do-over" exception to the fruit from the poisonous tree doctrine?

"I know we tortured the heck out of you when you refused to answer this question before, but can you tell me about your involvement in the 9/11 attacks? And don't worry, we're done with the torture, so you can relax. Here, have some Starbucks."

novakant: Wow. I guess though that we should give the young Specialist credit for finding the appropriate outlet for his homicidal impulses. I mean, if you’re feeling homicidal, volunteering for the Army with the near certainty you’ll be sent to Iraq just seems like the responsible thing to do. When you snap and give in to those impulses hopefully it will just be some more Iraqis dying and they’ll be generally invisible among those hundreds of thousands…

"...sometimes one is left wondering who actually killed all those Iraqis."

George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, Paul Wolfowitz, and all the other senior folks who planned and executed the war are the responsible parties. Not the duly enlisted personnel, non-coms, and officers below the rank of general who aren't supposed to pick and choose which wars they fight in, and whom we'd legally punish with imprisonment if they did not.

I don't believe "collective guilt" extends to those who followed legal orders, and committed no war crimes, in any way whatsoever. I see no legitimate grounds for that charge, absent a stance of general pacificism. The war was wrong, but it was legal by U.S. law, at least as judged by all competent legal authorities then and since.

Novakant, you're wrong. In order to have an army that doesn't go coup constantly (see just about any SA country, East Timor etc) the soldiers *must* be completely responsive to civilian leadership- from the corporal to the general. It's the *only* way compatible with democracy. If you start giving the army the right to ignore what orders they don't like, you can't stop it. Being part of a volunteer standing army requires thought and comittment on the part of the soldier and a kind of discipline that doesn't occur in any other organization because of this.

Don't blame the soldiers for the civilian leadership failures. It goes down a bad road.

These problems would be solved if we didn't have a standing army. Just sayin.

So would all the problems with the primay system :-)

there simply is a certain amount of collective guilt shared by those taking part in a war of aggression

It's nothing compared to the collective guilt shared by all of us who failed to prevent the war from starting, who have failed to remove its architects from office, and who have allowed it to continue by paying for it.

Where are the thousands and tens of thousands of people in the streets? Where is the widespread refusal to pay taxes to fund the war? Where is the general clamor for impeachment?

Very, very few folks have made themselves uncomfortable in any way in an effort to stop this war. Myself included. Some, perhaps, have written to or phoned a Senator or Congressman. Many have shared their thoughts on blogs, and that's worthwhile, but that doesn't cost anyone anything, and it doesn't change policy.

Servicepeople have to break an oath to refuse to serve, or to refuse to follow an order that isn't baldly illegal, and they face extremely severe punishment if they do either.

What's our excuse?

Adam, there's nothing unusual about things being both plausible and shocking.

To briefly comment on Bill's posts in this thread:

What I take away from them is that it's the person in uniform who takes it in the neck. Can't say I disagree with that. It's also, I think, pretty consistent with the point of hilzoy's original post.

Thanks -

These problems would be solved if we didn't have a standing army.

This is a very apt, and interesting, point.

It seems kind of clear to me that the original plan was that we would *not* have a standing army.

If we want to give up a standing army, we will also have to give up the role we currently play in the world as "superpower" -- a nation capable and willing to project and maintain force anywhere in the world, at any time.

That's a change that I, personally, would welcome, but it would not be a purely and unambiguously positive one. We, and others, would pay a cost. The cost should be counted before we made a decision like that.

It's kind of an academic question given our current position in the world, and would take enormous effort to make it not academic. But it's not an uncomplicated issue.

Thanks -

So would all the problems with the primay system :-)

And cure cancer!

If we want to give up a standing army, we will also have to give up the role we currently play in the world as "superpower" -- a nation capable and willing to project and maintain force anywhere in the world, at any time.

i can live with that.

Usually when I say disband the army, I am just referring to the army and not, e.g., the Navy and Air Force, which I believe should be kept around, although in a lesser form. Thus, we could generally "project force" anywhere in the world at any time, but if we wanted to do something like, e.g., invade Iraq, it would require much more thought and sacrifice for the nation as a whole than the current debacle.

Of course there would be downsides. I imagine China might think that invading Taiwan is a better idea. The same with North Korea and the South. Japan would likely up its military spending a fair deal. And of course the U.S. could not carry out many of the humanitarian interventions it currently conducts, though query whether Europe might pick up the slack.

Never thought it all the way through though.

“In combat the safety of troops is not the paramount consideration.”
-most likely a college student, probably from a wealthy family

I am a college graduate, but I am also an officer in the reserve of the Finnish Defence Forces (and no, those two things are not equal. I served before my studies, started my conscription as a usual private, being demobilized as a 2LT.) My training has actually included the idea that if you must choose between killing non-combatants and exposing yourself to the enemy, you choose the latter, no matter the consequences to you or your mission.

The military is the tool for the political leadership, not a purpose for itself. In civilized countries, the political leadership has made the decision not to wage war against civilians, solemnizing this decision in Geneva conventions. There are lots of good reasons for this, but primarily, the political leadership has made a strategic decision, which must be carried out by the military. If it entails dying, then so be it.

In civilized countries, the political leadership has made the decision not to wage war against civilians, solemnizing this decision in Geneva conventions.

(Emphasis added.)

Yeah, but there's the difference. You live in Finland, a civilized country. We live in the United States, a proto-fascist police state run by a bunch of thugs. It's apples to oranges.

Where are the thousands and tens of thousands of people in the streets? Where is the widespread refusal to pay taxes to fund the war? Where is the general clamor for impeachment?

What good would any of that do? I suppose it might be noble in a way to get thrown in jail for tax evasion, but I'm not really sure it would advance the cause.

I call my two Republican sycophant-Senators on occasion, but I don't have any illusion that it accomplishes a damn thing. Frankly, it just makes me feel one iota better when I read posts like yours.

I do some activism for a political party that mostly represents my views, but we all know that if you're not a Republocrat or Demoblican your opinion doesn't count in this country. And as long as the Democrats continue to act like wimps, afraid that their mandate will somehow vanish if they start doing what the public elected them to do, not much is going to change.

There are marches in the streets. Perhaps I should join them, but I don't have any illusion that they'll change anything either.

Servicepeople have to break an oath to refuse to serve, or to refuse to follow an order that isn't baldly illegal, and they face extremely severe punishment if they do either.

Right. Now, I'm writing this as a German citizen, and novakant brought up a point which I've wondered about myself when reading American blogs, including this one - certainly, there has to be point at which supporting the troops isn't acceptable anymore, and deserters should not be regarded (by their society) as people who aren't fullfilling their duties, but made the right (and to be encouraged) choice, no?

Another aspect: people who join the military. Is there a point where this becomes indefensible, from a moral perspective? In the context of the Iraq war, I have a hard time imagine a plausible scenario, after all the place won't be pacified with nukes or anything like that in the future and I'don't regard it as some sort of criminal enterprise as a whole. Opinions differ on that, of course.

Servicepeople have to break an oath to refuse to serve, or to refuse to follow an order that isn't baldly illegal, and they face extremely severe punishment if they do either.

Right. Now, I'm writing this as a German citizen, and novakant brought up a point which I've wondered about myself when reading American blogs, including this one - certainly, there has to be point at which supporting the troops isn't acceptable anymore, and deserters should not be regarded (by their society) as people who aren't fullfilling their duties, but made the right (and to be encouraged) choice, no?

Another aspect: people who join the military. Is there a point where this becomes indefensible, from a moral perspective? In the context of the Iraq war, I have a hard time imagine a plausible scenario, after all the place won't be pacified with nukes or anything like that in the future and I'don't regard it as some sort of criminal enterprise as a whole. Opinions differ on that, of course.

Servicepeople have to break an oath to refuse to serve, or to refuse to follow an order that isn't baldly illegal, and they face extremely severe punishment if they do either.

Right. Now, I'm writing this as a German citizen, and novakant brought up a point which I've wondered about myself when reading American blogs, including this one - certainly, there has to be point at which supporting the troops isn't acceptable anymore, and deserters should not be regarded (by their society) as people who aren't fullfilling their duties, but made the right (and to be encouraged) choice, no?

Another aspect: people who join the military. Is there a point where this becomes indefensible, from a moral perspective? In the context of the Iraq war, I have a hard time imagine a plausible scenario, after all the place won't be pacified with nukes or anything like that in the future and I'don't regard it as some sort of criminal enterprise as a whole. Opinions differ on that, of course.

Christian,

As Europeans, we have probably given much more thought to the question of acceptable resistance against the government than most Americans. After all, Bundeswehr honours the memory of Stauffenberg conspiracy. On the other hand, Rote Armeefront is not similarly honoured.

I pray that I never get into a situation where I must actually question whether a rebellion against the government would be the correct way to act. That isone of the most difficult questions fate can give for an individual to decide. Acting too early is a terrible crime, but so is blind Befehle sind Befehle attitude, too.

At the moment, however, I would say that enlisting the US military entails accepting the war in Iraq. Thus anyone enlisting (or accepting commission) is actually at moral fault, whether or not they serve in Iraq. Simply becoming voluntarily a part of that machine of illegal violence is morally wrong. On the other hand, becoming a federal peace officer in, say, US Postal Inspection Service, does not include similar culpability. The threshold for civil disobedience has not been reached, although the government is acting illegally.

Where are the thousands and tens of thousands of people in the streets?

To expand on Philip the EOC's point, when people can http://www.counterpunch.org/deraymond11292006.html>light themselves on fire to protest this war and barely get noticed, what's the point of marching in the street? That doesn't get noticed either.

I've come to the conclusion that there is literally nothing I can do to influence the decision-making on the war under this administration, and I decline to waste my energy in a futile cause. I'd rather try to get a better governement elected, and do what I can for those who are paying the price in the meantime.

What good would any of that do?

I don't know. Maybe nothing.

Individual servicepeople refusing to serve or obey orders will probably not make much of a dent either.

My point was less about effectiveness, and more about responsibility. novakant sees a collective guilt belonging to servicepeople. I say, if they are guilty, we are also, but even more so, because we are far more free to act on our conviction. By and large, we don't.

I think folks rarely know, when they embark in acts of civil disobedience, or even civil protest, what the outcome will be. That does not remove the responsibility to act.

And, you know, we have had thousands in the streets here before, and it has made a difference.

Thanks -

Well, Christian brings up a good point about the differing experiences of our different societies. In essence, the memory of Nazism inoculated somewhere like Germany from going too far down the road to militarism nowadays. In contrast, even to the present day most Americans have very favorable views of the military as an institution. Even post-Vietnam, the lesson was one of "support the troops even if you reject the mission" as you can see above.

So in general, it's much harder to convince Americans that militarization has negative consequences. There's a very real sense that fascism "can't happen here," and that those of us who think we're starting down that road are just cranks.

Sorry, Lurker brought that up expanding on Christian's point.

Apropos: US announces prisoners in planned show trials are to be killed after they've been found guilty. Next question: Is the Bush administration really thinking they can get away with this - so far, all executions of extra-judicial prisoners have been handed off to other governments - or is this just a 2008 electoral tactic, something to give the Democratic nominee a hard time over?

Thus anyone enlisting (or accepting commission) is actually at moral fault, whether or not they serve in Iraq. Simply becoming voluntarily a part of that machine of illegal violence is morally wrong.

My brother enlisted in the Army just over a year ago. He serves in a putatively non-combat role, but his unit is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan sometime next year, and could certainly end up in Iraq as well.

I have a question for anyone who thinks my brother, or any U.S. soldier, or any U.S. citizen, is "morally at fault" for any action they have not personally committed. Should the U.S. have held all Afghans responsible for the actions of the Taliban and al Qaeda? Should the principle of collective guilt be applied to all Muslims who do not speak or act against al Qaeda? Or does that just apply to Americans?

@Jesurgislac,

Yes and yes.

But this is why the legacy of torture from this administration is so maddening. As Ugh posted in a link above, they're going to rely on the pretty dubious legal argument that evidence that comes out through torture is jim-dandy as long as the evidence came out again not through torture. Anything short of a Supreme Court stacked with right-wing authoritarians will probably reject that, so it's going to make it very hard to prosecute these men.

The right-wing wackos wanted to have their sadistic moments of fun, and as a result it's going to be very hard to restore the rule of law without the risk of vile criminals going free. Guess they really showed the terr'ists, huh?

Other people have said what I wanted to say about civilian control of the military, so I'll just echo their points: under normal circumstances, it is for the army to obey the civilian leadership, not to pick and choose which wars to fight in. I believe in that very strongly, and one of its corollaries, I think, is that (under normal circumstances) I do not hold ordinary soldiers (meaning: not generals and others who are in a position to advise the civilian leadership) responsible for our getting into a particular war. And this is true regardless of their actual views: it is not their call to make, and (under normal circumstances) should not be.

The "under normal circumstances" part is, of course, meant to leave open the possibility that there are some circumstances in which this has to give way, either because the constitutional government that civilian control presupposes has somehow crumbled away, or because a given war is so obviously unjust that the requirement to obey is nullified.

I do not think that obligation is nullified by just any unjust war, any more than I think that citizens' right to armed insurrection is triggered by any injustice or failure of government. Both civilian control of the military and respect for the rule of law are very, very important things, not to be tampered with lightly. I think that, say, warrantless wiretapping of citizens is deeply wrong, but I do not think it is so profoundly wrong that it would be good for me to regard my obligations towards my government as dissolves.

That's a conclusion I think I should be very, very wary of drawing, though obviously there are times when it's the right conclusion to draw. (I think it would be the right conclusion about the Nazis.) I think people in the military ought to have the same caution about concluding that the requirement of civilian control has been dissolved: it's not any unjust war that does that.

I would only add that it is possible to volunteer to go to Iraq despite not believing in the war, for what I think are good reasons. For instance, if whether or not you went would have no effect on policy, but your going would mean that someone who had already been two or three times didn't have to, and you thought you'd do a good job and do right by your troops and by the Iraqis you encountered. Not that I'm thinking of anyone in particular...

ThirdGorchBro,

Your brother, I am sure, is serving with most honorable intentions as a patriot. Yet, by serving in the US military, even in a support role, he is actually furthering the war in Iraq, although indirectly. The same applies to any civilian working anywhere in defence industry. Thus, he is committing a personal act, although, I may say, his fault is minor.

On the other hand, an average American is not supporting the war by other means than paying taxes. This is acceptable, as I think we all agree on that the US government is not so corrupt as to merit straight-forward rebellion.

This IS an illegal war, it is in violation of the Geneva Conventions which we signed and ratified. That makes this aggressive war ILLEGAL, and therefore any order given in its advancement is illegal, as well.

I have to say, I've often thought along the lines that novakent described but I've never brought it up here or at TiO because I don't think such thoughts would be well received.

I don't think that soldiers should refuse orders in the field. On the other hand, officers can resign their commissions, and enlisted soldiers have the option of refusing to reenlist at regular intervals. And soldiers in the reserve have the option of not volunteering for active duty. The decision not to resign your commission and the decision to volunteer for active duty and the decision to reenlist are free choices -- they're not compelled by the government or by your oath of service in any way.

I think it is extremely disrespectful to our servicemen to pretend that there are no moral implications to those decisions.

I'm not saying soldiers who make those decisions are "morally at fault" for everything bad the US government does. But I do think it is immoral to join an army when you have a good-faith belief that the army is violating the laws of war, participating in a war of aggression, or seriously violating its own standards of conduct. Those are all fuzzy lines to some extent, and I'm not saying that my views on those lines should be controlling, but I do think soldiers have a responsibility to consider those questions before rejoining; if they don't, that's moral negligence IMHO.

The fact of that matter is that the United States launched a war of aggression. That is wrong. It may not have been clear in 2003, but this isn't 2003, and people rejoining in 2008 are making an affirmative choice that they either don't think they're involved in a war of aggression or they do but think that's not morally important. Obviously, they shouldn't be prosecuted for that, but I'm not sure why I'm supposed to pretend that they didn't make moral choices that I don't think I could ever justify.

It seems that a lot of our (as a society's) basic notions for reasoning about soldier responsibility are premised on older visions of soldiers being called up in drafts to fight in true national emergencies. We have a volunteer army and Iraq certainly isn't a national emergency but I'm not sure our national psyche has really adjusted to those new realities.

I started to write a nasty response to you, Lurker, until I re-read Hilzoy's comment directly above yours and realized I shouldn't be using my brother, or anyone (such as the much-missed individual that she's not thinking of in particular) as a cudgel in this kind of debate.

Instead, I'll just plead with you and novakant and anyone else to remember that starting down the road toward collective guilt can take you to some very dark places in the end.

9/11 changed everything? Nice fscking meme, but it's bullshit. You know what changed everything? American and British interference in middle eastern affairs for the past 75 years. 9/11 was just one more play, granted it was a massive one, bigger than anything the US military can do in the middle east, short of turning it into glass.

No one I know has a problem with the soldiers, it's the idiot leaders that we have a problem with, anyone who says otherwise is a repugnant moron.

The only solution to this problem is to get all western nations the fsck out, and try to contain the mess that follows on its borders.

KCinDC: 9-11 changed everything.

Yeah, it enabled the US to do blatantly what it had tried to do surreptitiously since the 1950s: steal Middle Eastern oil.

I am a Navy physician and I can assure you that anyone who is on a new psychiatric medicine within 3 months of deployment is non-deployable. There could not have been a medical officer involved or aware of this mans status if this story is true. Any medical officer that let a guy like this deploy and gave him a clean bill of health is either totally incompetent or completely reckless with his/her own career.

I think that the deployment of this soldier was done entirely outside of the medical officers knowledge, probably by mistake. No line officer would want a homicidal/suicidal soldier underneath him, no matter how bad we need soldiers in Iraq. I would also guess this may have been done outside ANY officers knowledge, entirely by his enlisted superiors because most officers are acutely aware of consequences relating to actions such as this.

I think this had to simply be a breakdown in communication, which can happen in any organization, even the military.

I think that soldiers are of course making moral choices, as are the rest of us. If I thought either that the decision to remain in the army, or the decision to volunteer believing that one would be sent to Iraq, were best described as "choosing to further the war in Iraq", and that there were no possible countervailing considerations, then I would think it was wrong, essentially for Turbulence's reasons.

I don't think that's always the best way to describe it, any more than my decision not to emigrate is best described as "choosing to support the Bush administration with my taxes". That is an effect of my not emigrating. It is not, however, why I am not leaving. One of the many reasons I am not leaving (and, fwiw, I could emigrate) is that even though I recognize that what a random citizen can do to affect US politics is pretty limited, I am trying my best to help.

To say that I'm wrong to decide to stay would, I think, require a lot of argument about the effects of my staying and paying taxes, the effects of my feeble efforts at political argument, etc., etc. I don't think this is true. To say that I'm morally at fault for staying would, I think, require the further claim that the reasons for emigrating are obvious enough that I am at fault for not recognizing them. I'm sure this isn't true.

I think the case of soldiers is analogous. There are a lot of considerations that go into someone's decision whether or not to volunteer believing that s/he will end up in Iraq. The effect of that person's deployment on policy is likely to be minimal. On the other hand, going does require participating, just as my staying here requires my participation, at least financially, in perpetuating the Bush administration. All these things need to be taken into account.

One thing that might factor in would be: suppose you haven't gone before, and you think that both because you're not psychologically exhausted by previous tours and because you're generally decent and try your best to respect the laws of war, you might be less likely to kill Iraqi civilians who were not threatening you, which would be good for them, good for the people under your command, and good for the US. If that were part of your motivation, I do not think it would be right to describe you as having chosen to support an unjust war.

It's all an instance of the general question: when you are part of an organization that is doing something wrong, at what point is it inexcusable to stay on, even if you are trying to change that organization's behavior, or to mitigate its harms? I do not think that that's always an easy call, nor do I think that it illuminates much to say: any time you stay, you are choosing to support the wrong the organization is doing.

Ymmv, of course.

Please understand I'm honest to God saying this with respect, but the US has a 230 year history of uninterrupted civilian control of a representational democracy. I'm not an expert, but off the top of my head, I can't think of any European country that can say that. It wouldn't be possible if people rose up against the government every time we elected a total noodle head to the presidency. I'll grant you the terrorist attacks on the US gave him more scope to screw up than any other president, but I think you are mistaken when you say the army should desert en masse to protest what that evil chimp has managed to do.

Yes, it's a BAD THING that we're in Iraq. No, it's not a bad thing that we're in Afghanistan. Yes, we're in the process of screwing up the second, but we're also in the process of finding the best person to fix things.

The soldiers in the army are doing the right thing in following their oaths. There is nothing they've been asked to do that's clearly unconstitutional. That's the only leeway they have in those oaths.

And please realize there's not a soldier I know of that's said "Why yes, this is an immoral war, but I don't care". Most won't think that way because that leads down the road to coup. Others think as strongly as you that what they're doing is right.

I will follow TGB's lead and not try to personalize the discussion of individual soldiers' culpability.

A couple of important points, specifically regarding officers. Until someone has served x number of years (I believe it is 8) there really is no resigning of commission, there is only going into the reserves. This does not get one out of being called up as many stories have pointed out.

But a more important point needs to be considered, and it is, to some degree an offshoot of hilzoy's comments about why one would chose to enlist, re-enlist or volunteer to go on active duty.

Forget for a moment whether the war is legal or not (which can be argued both ways basically without resolution), that decision is not for individual soldiers to make.

But even more so, a larger question is what you want the composition of the military to be going forward. Some of the people who would be most likely to leave are exactly the sort of people we would want in the military after all this is said and done.

I would go farther than that and say they are the type of people we need in the military.

It's all an instance of the general question: when you are part of an organization that is doing something wrong, at what point is it inexcusable to stay on, even if you are trying to change that organization's behavior, or to mitigate its harms? I do not think that that's always an easy call, nor do I think that it illuminates much to say: any time you stay, you are choosing to support the wrong the organization is doing.

This is a much much more nuanced position than the usual arguments I saw above of bleating "any question of morality inevitably leads to soldiers performing coups". I'm glad to finally see what I consider to be a serious argument. Thank you.

I don't think your comparisons of emigration is effective here. One can refuse to rejoin the army with far fewer adverse consequences than emigrating. For many people, emigration is not even possible. And paying taxes involves funding a vast array of programs -- rejoining implies service in an illegal war of aggression. I don't think there's any basis for declaring that these are comparable: in one case you're making an affirmative choice to rejoin an army that is acting in violation of some extremely important laws of conduct (often at the orders of the civilian government) while in the other case you're guaranteed to be supporting some government no matter what.

I'm also not certain that I find the argument that people should serve because they can change the army from within persuasive. Much of the problem with the army is in its civilian leadership; we all seem to agree that soldiers cannot resist that leadership. In which case, the only way to give any feedback at all boils down to refusing to rejoin. Things might be different if we were talking about a high ranking general who had the ear of civilian leaders, but on average we're not talking about high ranking individuals.

I'm really not certain that I find the argument about keeping others from serving persuasive. If you thought that rejoining the war was otherwise immoral, how would other people's willingness to do so alter your decision? If you think they decided correctly, then there's no issue, but if you think they decided incorrectly, I don't see how their decision reduces your responsibility (assuming that you yourself are convinced that the participating in the war is wrong).

Most won't think that way because that leads down the road to coup. Others think as strongly as you that what they're doing is right.

femdem,

Are you saying that when soldiers refuse to reenlist, they're fomenting a coup? That doesn't seem right.

If not, what are you saying? I'm not talking about soldiers refusing orders and violating any oaths. I'm talking about soldiers making perfectly legal choices. Would you care to address the issues I've raised?

No, Turbulence, I'm saying you're not God and you don't have the foggiest idea of why soldiers have re-elisted and you're doing yourself a disservice by making the blanket case that all soldiers who have re-elisted are morally culpable for what the civilian leadership has done. I find your arguments as weak as those who say "America, love it or leave it".

Turb: I was specifically thinking of a decision to volunteer that one believed would lead one to end up in Iraq, when one knew that if one did not go, someone else would be sent, and that person would be likely to have served several tours already. Under the circumstances, I think that without any disrespect to that other person, one could think: if I am a decent person who tries not to kill anyone needlessly, I might be in a better position to actually manage not to, given that I am not already psychologically exhausted. And one could think that without disrespect to one's imagined alternative: several tours in Iraq could stretch anyone's psychological resources.

And about adverse consequences: my tax dollars are paying for the Salt Pit, black sites throughout the world, not to mention the war. I am unlikely to find myself personally killing anyone, but I don't think I have no involvement in people dying, or that the length of the causal chain should necessarily excuse me. It wouldn't in, say, Nazi Germany.

In the case of me, as in the case of a soldier deploying to Iraq, I just think it's normally a lot more complicated than saying: I am helping to pay for horrible things, QED, or: a soldier is participating in the war, QED. There are cases where the additional complexity doesn't matter: some governments, and some wars, could be so thoroughly evil that none of it would matter. I just don't think we're there, in either case.

@john miller | February 12, 2008 at 12:38 PM (elaborating a great point by hilzoy)

That's very true. And it's probably another way in which GWB has fucked up the military for decades. No telling how many honorable, patriotic people who would be well-suited to the military will decide that it isn't for them.

Sorry Turbulence, that came out sharper than I meant. My daughter is reading over my shoulder and I've been trying to explain to her what the discussion is about (snow day here in OH).

I never claimed any questioning of morality would lead to a coup. I said allowing soldiers to make their own decisions of when support an action would lead down that road. Big difference.

hilzoy,

Thanks for elaborating your argument. It does indeed sound more plausible now. I'll have to think it over.

john,

Thanks for your explanations as well. More food for thought.

I think hilzoy is putting it excellently, as usual.

An earlier version of this post included some reflections on friends of mine in the military, but I decided to join others in not invoking specific persons.

In more general terms, I think we should sincerely hope that good people stay in the military. If we demand that everyone with integrity leaves, do we really want those who are left enacting this country's foreign policy, however misguided? That's a true recipe for disaster.

Stories like this, the stories of untreated physical or mental illness, lack of PTSD treatment, the suicides, are just heart-breaking. And there have been studies over the years to show that even the most "stable" of combat troops will hit a breaking point eventually without recuperative time. I don't know if that applies to this specific soldier, but I know the current rotations haven't helped matters any.

Posted by: von8 | February 12, 2008 at 12:22 PM

I appreciate your perspective, and have no doubt that some mistakes occur due to typical bureaucracy versus poor judgment. This is probably a particularly severe case. But attributing PTSD to a lack of character or mental toughness is still a prevalent attitude in military culture, as Gary Farber discussed upthread. It's generally not an attitude among military medical personnel, but I was wondering what your experience was dealing with that mindset.

Posted by: john miller | February 12, 2008 at 12:38 PM

I agree with your last points especially, and don't think it's limited solely to the military, since I've seen the same dynamics play out in charitable organizations, schools, and so on. There's burnout and disillusionment by the rank and file and mid-range, especially when there's a lack of confidence in the mission or top leadership. Good people leave, or in some cases are actively driven away. Of course, there's also an element of physical peril to many military jobs (and some NGO gigs) that shouldn't be forgotten. But to me, it's one more argument for setting a high threshold for any military action. Even a "successful" operation can be devastating to the organization as a whole.

Two comments at random:

1) Blame for the war
IMHO, some of the blame should go to Saddam Hussein and Ali al-Majid. Without their 20+ year record of behaving like genocidal maniacs, the war might not have happened.

2) Femdem- what about Britain
Legally and geographically a part of Europe, Britain has a 348 year history of constitutional representative democracy.

JS, I'd thought about that, but then Charles III (?) made me dismiss it. But I'm *not* an expert and I'd happily say I was wrong.

Some of this debate about whether individual soldiers should re-enlist depends on what they know is or isn't going on in Iraq. I don't know, so I have no firm opinion. If you take the Lancet 2 paper at face value, a large fraction (roughly 30 percent of those where the actors can be identified) of the violent deaths were inflicted by US forces. If that's true, and if someone's personal experience indicated that this was likely to be true (because they'd seen numerous instances of US-inflicted brutality), then I'd say that person should not re-enlist. They should tell the world what they'd seen instead. Though it's easy for me to lecture others, not being in that position.

And of course it may not be the case that the US is doing much of the killing.

Hilzoy has, as usual, argumented the case for joining the US military very well. I would not make the same choice myself, but I believe that one can (and in many cases, does) serve in the US military with moral integrity. And if people believe in the moral correctness of their actions, who am I to judge them?

The military must subordinate itself to civilian control to prevent military rule from prevailing over rule by the People. What must be repeatedly made clear is that the civilian leadership--the Executive Branch-- must subordinate itself to the Constitution. And if the Executive refuses to accept the Constitution, or refuses to enforce the laws enacted by the People via the Legislative Branch, and refined by the Judicial, there is no other Constitutional means to control the Executive other than by the People, whose avenue of action is impeachment. In the absence of independent and strong Legislative and Judicial Branches, impeachment is the only Constitutional remedy which can control a runaway Executive which routinely acts counter to the Constitution. In a functional democracy, the People are to be aided by a neutral press which facilitates clear public discourse. America no longer enjoys a neutral press, and that is the fault of the People who must continually demand clear and open discourse, else democracy be ended. On the separate issue of moral responsibility by citizens within the military, the military structure also includes a critically important feature which provides the only possible systemic check on Executive over-reach. That feature is the officer's oath to uphold the Constitution--not the Executive branch. By this means the officer corps is rightly granted both the freedom and the considerable responsibility to refuse Executive (and all other) orders which contravene the Constitution. In this regard the US military has failed the American People, and should begin to correct this failure with a review of the opinions generated by the Nuremburg Trials. While the erosion of individual rights in favor of corporate and executive power has occurred over some decades and throughout a number of previous presidential administrations, both Republican and Democrat, the rapid acceleration of this erosion under the Bush administration has succeeded in enfeebling or disempowering all fundamental tenets of Democracy--rule by citizens--accumulated during the last thousand years of human history. It is easy and misleading agitprop to say that September 11 changed everything. What changed everything was the Bush administration's manipulation of that event to garner ever more power and control unto itself. The Bush administration has instituted the rule of kings and dictators in America, to be unchecked by any other power, and has no intention of taking a single step back. The responsibility of having allowed this ultimately falls on the shoulders of all Americans. Democracy has been our responsibility to ongoingly maintain. With an Executive which now breaks and ignores laws with impunity, it remains to be seen whether Americans can muster the strength and mental clarity to regain control of what, once upon a time, was a democracy. There is only one "fix" for America--to re-establish the fundamental power of individuals over their government--and that is impeachment of the Bush administration.

I applaud the Finnish gentleman's statement: "In civilized countries, the political leadership has made the decision not to wage war against civilians, solemnizing this decision in Geneva conventions." and suggest that no viable alternative exists to this perspective.

femdem - I suspect you may mean James II. Britain and the Commonwealth Realms won't have a Charles III until (and unless) the present Prince of Wales ascends the throne under his first name.

I would argue that the glorious revolution of 1688 that ended the reign of James II did not break the line of democratic government in Britain any more than the Watergate scandal and the resignation of President Nixon broke the line of democratic government in the US. In any case, the glorious revolution predates the US constitution by 101 years.

My brother works for Boeing designing combat aircraft. I have long had problems with this, and felt that his choice was morally questionable. But I have never condemned him. He is an engineer. He has not always worked in military contracting, but has stated that the interesting (to him) engineering work has always been in military contracting. I am fortunate in that I can pursue my career choices without any concern over such ethical issue. For this reason, it is impossible for me to weigh the relative cost (of forgoing my career choice) vs the benefit (of making the ethical choice) involved in his decision to work for Boeing. (Not that I am even sure of where his ethics are on this issue.) But at least I can look at being an engineer as a fairly interesting career choice. I can't begin to empathize with the desire to choose the military as a career choice. If you are like me, then how can either of us begin to grasp the cost associated with not being in the military for someone who has chosen that as a career.
We all of us (US citizens) do things to support the war: pay taxes, not protest more actively (including not setting ourselves on fire,) not engage in active revolt, etc. From the comments I have read, I would say that I am some what safe in presuming that the reason for this is that we have performed a cost benefit analysis and decided that in these particular cases it is simply not worth it to change our behavior. Well, let us acknowledge then that these costs and benefits are, at least partially, subjective. That being the case, we can at best draw a somewhat arbitrary line as to what constitutes acceptable vs unacceptable support for the war. When we are looking at the choice of someone who's preferences are profoundly different than ours, then that line becomes very arbitrary indeed.
Now, I am not saying that we should not draw such lines. Personally, I think that it is our moral responsibility to do so. But having done so, let us not forget where that line comes from, and that probably not a one of us has done everything s/he could to oppose the war. I feel pretty comfortable putting Bush on the wrong side of the line, but as to those who have enlisted during the war ...
Jack

"I can't begin to empathize with the desire to choose the military as a career choice. If you are like me, then how can either of us begin to grasp the cost associated with not being in the military for someone who has chosen that as a career."

Education. Familiarization. Getting to know some smart soldiers, and their culture. Reading history. Generally making the effort.

These are all ways to begin to understand why someone would make that choice.

"Now, I am not saying that we should not draw such lines. Personally, I think that it is our moral responsibility to do so. But having done so, let us not forget where that line comes from, and that probably not a one of us has done everything s/he could to oppose the war."

Just as few of us do everything we can to support our sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, husbands, wives, daughters, sons, and loved ones, who chose to serve in our armed forces, and die, if necessary, to protect our lives and country.

That our elected leadership may make criminal, or unjust,, or terrible decisions, for what they should received justice, doesn't spread moral guilt cooties against people who follow legal orders any more than it does against civilians who haven't chosen armed rebellion.

If one is a complete pacifist, and wishes to argue for the disbanding of all military forces, fine. That's morally consistent. But blaming individual people for serving in the military simply because you understandably object to this war is misplacing responsibility on people who had no more say in the wrong choice than you did.

And while I believe the war was an utter and terrible mistake, I fault no one for serving honorably in it. Not for a nanosecond. Serving in the military carries no "collective" responsibility for the choice to go to war beyond that of every other citizen, and it carries no more responsibility for someone's war crime than any civilian carries for someone else's civilian crime.

A bad war carries no implication that the people who serve in it are bad people. Maybe that seems strange from those to whom serving in the military is inexplicable, but it's true, and ignorance makes it no less true.

Neither do I think it makes sense to protest this war by advocating no one join our military. It won't result in the disbanding of the military, and I don't believe it makes any sense to either blame the military for the war, or that we don't need a military. YMM, of course, V.

Ugh sez: "Japan would likely up its military spending a fair deal."

Or, you know, not. Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution forbids Japan from having an active military. Granted, in recent years the Self Defense Force has been growing, but this has prompted a massive backlash from the Japanese population. Every attempt to change their constitution to get rid of the Peace Article has failed, even though the US has been pushing and pushing for them to change it.

I'm not going to address your other points, which I also disagree with, because those areas aren't my specialty. But Japan's not re-militarizing anytime soon, I don't think. Certainly some politicians want to, and the school system isn't very good about teaching them real history, but I still don't see Japan invading Korea again. (Though, on that point, the US K-12 educational system whitewashes our history and doesn't really teach much of anything, and you have to go to college and take REAL history courses to learn the truth.)

"and the school system isn't very good about teaching them real history"

There's a benign phrasing of how the fascist movement in Japan has preserved and maintained latent power that is sufficiently influential that Prime Ministers have felt it necessary to continue to pay their annual respects at Yasukuni, that the Education Ministry publishes histories full of lies and omissions about Japan in WWII, that elected officials are forced to censor their speech, overt demonstrations by fascists with sound trucks are commonplace, Japan continues to insult its neighbors and the rest of the world by refusing to acknowledge its war crimes, and on and on.

And the push for rearmament isn't exactly fringe, either, nor has it lacked for advances, given the Japanese mission in the Persian Gulf, no matter Japanese public opinion.

Gary,
One of the three people from college with whom I remain in contact is an ex-marine, and my interest in history is sufficient that people made fun of me in high school by calling me 'History Buff.' But 'understanding' is not empathy, and in this case the difference is a very important one.
Jack

TeaLeavesGreen: but I still don't see Japan invading Korea again. (Though, on that point, the US K-12 educational system whitewashes our history and doesn't really teach much of anything, and you have to go to college and take REAL history courses to learn the truth.)

Not following you there...

I don't think that's always the best way to describe it, any more than my decision not to emigrate is best described as "choosing to support the Bush administration with my taxes".

I prefer to do my part in fighting against the Iraq war by making sure large, multinational corporations pay as little in U.S. federal corporate income tax as possible. Their savings more than make up for my meager contribution to the federal treasury.

Wow, that almost sounds noble.

I would hardly ever blame one individual person for entering the militairy. For most the intentions are probabely quite good and they *are* dependent on the decisions of their command.

At the same time: I have great admiration (and try to support) the Israeli refuseniks who are in prison because they refuse to be deployed to the occupied territories. I feel they follow their conscience and moral guidelines (most want to serve an protect, but not in those areas) and make the difficult choice to go against mainstream, against what their environment admires and are often punished for their position.

At the same time: they *have* to serve in the army. When we had a draft there were more options for what we call 'conscience objectors'. Now that we have a volunteer army rules are interpreted more strictly.

I don't think there is a simple answer. There are good motives (defend the country, try to make up for the damage in the occupied country, help those people, take the place of someone else) and less good ones - but participating does mean you are part of the occupation too and you being there does provide support of that policy.

I would not blame an individual soldier because I could not judge her (or his) motives. The real blame is much more with the government that put them in that position.

After Sbrenica we had a loooooooooooong investigation about what was whose fault. One of the major conclusions was that *our* government had wronged the army by puting them in such an indefensible position. That's why when the rapport came out our government stepped down, to take their responsibility. Since most people were waiting for conclusions about who was to blame for the massacre that was difficult to explain, but it touches on what is discussed here.

farmgirl says:

In more general terms, I think we should sincerely hope that good people stay in the military. If we demand that everyone with integrity leaves, do we really want those who are left enacting this country's foreign policy, however misguided? That's a true recipe for disaster.

John Miller raised a similar issue. I'm afraid I don't understand this at all. Let me try to break it down to explain why. The argument here is based on the following presmises:

A. there are "good" people in the world (those with integrity) and there are "bad" people in the world (those without)

B. the institutional behavior of a large organization (like the army) is mostly a product of the ratio of good to bad people in the organization


The first premise seems wrong to me because:

1. The vast majority of people have integrity, most of the time. My experience has been that most people behave in basically ethical ways, including most of my acquantences that have served in the US military.

2. Research like the Milgram experiment suggest that you can make a large fraction of the population (i.e., people with integrity) do unspeakable things to their fellow human beings if you arrange the situation properly; modern counterinsurgency warfare provides an excellent environment from which ordinary moral people can be pushed into performing horrible atrocities.

3. Because of 1 and 2, I believe that if you try to examine why soldiers make ethical decisions in battle, situational factors are going to dominate the much smaller variance in intrinsic "goodness". Situational factors include who is giving the orders, what the orders are, how long it has been since the soldier last slept, how many days has the soldier been deployed for, what sort of training the soldier has receieved, how many deployments has the solider made, etc.

The second premise seems wrong to me because I also don't believe that the army's institutional behavior has much to do with the people individual inside it. That sort of explanation works for small groups of people are who not bound to the group, but large organizations cannot work like that. Large organizations require explicit norms and clear mechanisms for verifying and ensuring compliance with those norms.

The army's behavior cannot be primarily a function of the kindness and compassion and judiciousness of its members. What happens when immoral people congregate in one unit? Will that unit kill civilians without consequence while a neighboring unit protects them? Of course not. The whole point of armies is to enforce uniform standards of behavior among wildly disparate groups of combatants. If my neighbor is a soldier and I know for a fact that he's an amoral monster, I would not necessarily worry that he would be killing Iraqi civilians for sport: I'd trust (sort of) the institution of the US Army to ensure that such things didn't happen and to effect corrective measures if they did.

The US Army absolutely has to be able to maintain norms of behavior no matter what kind of people serve. Now, if you think that the US Army as an instituion is so broken that it won't consistently follow laws passed by Congress, we have a much bigger problem. If that's the case, we need to disband our army at once. But I don't think anyone here is claiming that's the case, right?

Another thing: "I go because otherwise someone else will have to" doesn't run in a situation where there is a shortage in human-beingpower. In other words, if more people join, more will be deployed. There would have been no talk of "surge", if the army had a million extra soldiers at hand (instead, the extra deployments would have been called something like "appropriate situational response/adjustment"). Don't know about Gates* but Rummy made it clear that he didn't care about soldiers' life and welfare at all and would have sent even the dead back, if someone had handed him the zombification formula (with the additional benefit that zombies** have no moral qualms).

**who claims to write personal remarks on all notifications of death in order to show that he actually read them before and does not simply use the signing machine
*Discworld zombies explicitly excluded

That's why when the rapport came out our government stepped down, to take their responsibility.

Imagine that.

Thanks -

Yeah, russell. How quaint -- those "old Europeans" still believe in notions like holding leaders accountable for their clusterfucks. Obviously their governments just need to apply a little American ingenuity in the field of crisis management. Just spin, spin, spin, until it's time for an election. Then if you get voted out, blame everything on the other major party when they inherit your mess.

I am heartened that our British cousins may be catching on. Tony Blair was able to hang on for an awfully long time after staking his credibility on a failed war, so I presume they're learning about damage control. The Continental Europeans, alas, have a long way to go yet.

Sarcasm aside, it really would be great if we had both the mechanism to dissolve the gov't and hold new elections, and the customs and expectations that would lead a failed government to resign rather than tough it out and divide the nation aiming for 50% plus one. Oh well.

Here's some of what I was talking about in my first comment in this thread.

But it's not Fort Drum; it's the whole military.

I just wanted to say that I think that some people are wrong about mental illness. I have bipolar 2 and I graduated college 2 years early. I am 21 and am perfectly capable of functioning in every situation. I was capable before my diagnosis and am capable now. I want to join the army and feel it should be within my rights to do so. I don't have manic episodes. I am capable in every way. I am in great shape, can run for hours. I am saddened by not being able to serve my country. I am not crazy and regret all the stigma that surrounds mental illness.

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