As I am heading off this summer to be trained as a Chaplain in the U.S. Navy, and I consider myself to be just shy of a pacifist, I am highly interested in questions of military ethics. I deal very often with both inward and outward doubts about the possible hypocrisies involved in becoming a piece of the infrastructure of a machine whose actions I may often disagree with. In the end I have my reasons as to why I'm still going through with it and I will have to deal with the specific dilemmas as they come. What I will be able to take from this class, I think, is a well structured rubric as to when I personally feel military intervention is allowable, if not absolutely necessary. How this will help me I'm not sure, except to say that being able to explain and understand my position clearly, while working in a community that is predominantly hawkish and right-wing, might allow me to retain my sanity and stay useful to my parishioners and clients.
My thinking is primarily a synthesis of Hans Jonas and G.E.M. Anscombe, but it has been influenced by nearly every author we have considered. Obviously I have in my life been influenced on the subject by a great many sources not covered in this class, for the purposes of this paper, I will consider only a handful of outside sources. Writing this paper as a seminarian, I will be unapologetic about my Christian perspective, but will illustrate my clear agreement with Juergen Habermas that we must, as individuals and governments seek to resolve conflicts in the logos, outside of our religious perspectives. My personal distaste for violence, and therefore the use of military force comes as much from a sense of pragmatism as ethical forbearance. Nothing creates enmity like violence; this robs both the aggressor and victim of quality of life. From that point on, the aggressor has to concern themselves with fending off the repercussions of the act, while the victim either loses their life in total or their quality of life is diminished both in whatever physical capacity the aggressor has rendered, but in that they now have a credible fear of and anger toward the aggressor.
In cases where the victim loses their life, the victim's associates become victims by extension (which may occur even if the victim survives), in addition, society may have responsive measures built in to try to provide for "Justice" which takes up society's resources making everyone in the system whose resources have been pooled (via taxation) into this response partners in the victimization. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has the most eloquent and descriptive explanation of this phenomenon I have heard: 'The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.
' Dr. King illustrates both the moral problems with employing violence and the pragmatic drawbacks. When an individual is faced with a situation that can seemingly be positively resolved with violence, the individual has two choices that may solve for them the pragmatics, the first is forbearance, forgiveness, cooperation, and even pacifism, the avoidance of violence, this is the option that Dr. King promotes. The other option of course, is to commit violence. Dr. King's model is apt, especially so when the context from which one operates places them as a representative of a group from which acts of violence committed by or against an individual cannot help but trigger an unmanageable cycle of violence. It does not consider that violence can theoretically be applied in a way that does not trigger a "descending spiral". The trick is that you have to completely annihilate your opponents ability to do you harm, when you do this you will surely victimize your opponent.
Who started it is irrelevant to the model and as I stated before, there will be victims by extension. Whether through further acts of violence or by non-violence you have to deal with them, while, it can be assumed, defending against acts of violence to yourself. The outcomes of this fall into two categories: either you are successful and you annihilate your enemies while either talking your way into the good graces of, or further annihilating all, secondary victims, or you fail and are visited by the compounded repercussions of the reactions (most likely violent) of all non-neutralized victims of your violence. For an individual it seems pretty obvious that the headaches involved in any act of violence, physical or otherwise, make it an unattractive choice. Compounded with my Christian ethos I find it is not a difficult thing to avoiding harming others and, in my upper-middle-class academic western world, I find it both simple and expedient to forgive the small violence that is done to me.
So it is with my all-or-nothing perspective on violence that I approach the subject of military violence. The difference from personal choice to forbear and group choice lies, for me, in leadership and responsibility. I agree with the idea presented by St. Augustine that leaders have an obligation to protect and defend their charges, and therefore must have the power to wage war when necessary In much the same way as I have often considered that the use of deadly force to defend one's life, while not clearly moral, can be justified if the person who saves their own life is responsible for others (such as the case of a parent of young children) or to protect others from the same aggressor. I would note that the violence-cycle headaches are by no means mitigated by these factors. Theologically I find this position supported by scripture in Jesus' response to the tax collectors. While escaping a rhetorical trap that had been set for him, Jesus also illustrates the responsibilities that are laid upon leaders of state, while reminding the Pharisees in double intended that in the end all things belong to God. G.E.M. Anscombe also addresses this, I would disagree that the life of a soldier or a ruler is by nature unjust, vicious or simply, a bad life.
I would say that the life of a soldier is likely to put one in the position to be ordered to do things that are unjust and be under obligation to do them. Being a leader of state puts one in the exceedingly precarious position of having the power, and sometimes the responsibility to order what would be a grievous crime if committed by an individual, and then the possibility of being wrong. I think these factors only make clearer the necessity to know exactly what criteria are being acted upon and what is intended. So I have thus far concluded the following: first, that the choice to employ violence has grave repercussions that are difficult or impossible to manage; secondly, that military force (physical violence) can be employed by a leader on behalf of a people and under certain circumstances be just and necessary.
These conclusions produce two key questions: first, if a state can justly do violence to another state or group of individuals, then how is the state affected by the descending spiral model? And second, under what circumstances does it become just to employ violence? The state is affected just as an individual would be by the descending spiral of violence, the difference that compels a state to engage in violence is that while each person within a society has the right to respond with forbearance, forgiveness and nonviolence to the world around them to whatever extent they choose, unto death, the state as represented by the leader does not have the right to make that decision for the individuals they are charged with the protection of. A head of state is forced to act either on the perceived norm of tolerance by the population, or assume that the individual will accept no slight against them (although democracy can give a leader some peace of mind, as they may be voted out if the populace disagrees with their choices).
In the latter, a leader is likely to employ military force without a great deal of prudence. In the former a leader must decide how much violence or threat the majority of the population would accept upon them or their families before acting. Therefore, unless a nation should codify non-violence as a state into law, disband the military by consensual choice, and follow through in serenely accepting what comes of it, heads of state will feel compelled, and rightly so, to occasionally employ physical violence against other states or other groups. Unfortunately, although foreign heads of state, or leaders of other groups attacked militarily may sympathize with the leader who has chosen to attack them, they are also compelled to retaliate in kind on behalf of the populations they are responsible for. The cycle of violence not only applies to violence committed by one state against another, but there is often an even greater certainty that it will be responded to in kind when it is done on the global stage. Knowing the reality that violence begets violence unless the party to whom violence is done can be completely annihilated or neutralized begins to lay the foundation for ethical implementation of military force.
Leaders must accept that if they decide that protection of their population forces them to military action, they are implicitly responsible to completely neutralize and / or completely annihilate any actors that could and would harm their charges (the people of their state), both eventually if not attacked first, and in response to attacks. This model precludes nation-building, forced regime change, liberation or any other use of military force that does not simply result in the destruction of one group's capacity to harm another. Under the "descending spiral" model, military "nation building" would be analogous to a surgeon trying to operate on an awake and unwilling patient, only to find that once they are cut open, the organs the physician needs access to are obstructed by the fact that many of the organs around it have grown razor-sharp teeth and will bite the physician when she attempts to alter what needs to be changed. Every time the scalpel is knocked off course and nicks another organ that was previously docile, not only does it bleed profusely but it also grows it's own maw of razor sharp teeth and tries to attack.
Anscombe attacks with great skill the principle of double effect, he illustrates that it is folly to attempt to declare innocence in intention, when doing something which will certainly result in the death of others, as an example he talks of a Catholic school boy who was taught that the deaths of hundreds of thousands in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were accidents. Not only do I agree with Anscombe on the issue of deluding the issue with false or unlikely intention, but I think that accepting intentionality to do harm may be key. If causing the death of many makes one a monster, than a leader that does so must be able to look at the potential good that will come of it and say "So be it". Before choosing to invoke military force, a leader must know as best he can what will be necessary to re-institute peace, which may actually include a great deal of violence, and the acceptance of casualties that are not noticeable at first glance. This may shift the valence of a military solution once again towards non-violent options. By both accepting that "Nation Building" is not an option and that the objective is indeed to annihilate or cripple parts of another population, the following conclusion is realized: you cannot use military force to take resources away from another population unless it can be taken in necessary quantity during the (preferably brief) period of time in which planned violence is being executed, or you freely accept that you are willing to, and have the resources to wage constant and protracted war against the whole of a population (not just their soldiers) over an extended period of time, factoring all the new resource allocations that would entail.
Hans Jonas talks about the responsibility of knowing in the text, stating that "Knowledge... becomes a prime duty beyond anything claimed for it heretofore, and the knowledge must be commensurate with the causal scale of our action". In the modern, pluralistic world in which we live, the ripples caused by an act of state violence can have far reaching impact and trigger global events that have the potential to make the Guns of August look like a small boy popping off firecrackers in his backyard. Before military action is taken, the reactions and results must be mapped out, calculated and weighted as thoroughly as possible. Once these predictions and calculations are made, the leader considering military force must either accept that should the worst case scenario result, it will still have been worth the anticipated gain or that the dire situation has resulted in a projected status quo that will be far worse that the worst case scenario. It goes without saying that it is also the leader's responsibility to add up the resources at their command and if they are unsure of their ability to successfully implement military force, either resort to other options or know, and openly accept that they are endangering the population they are to protect, opening them to neutralization and / or annihilation. It is at this point that I adapt and add what I have learned from Immanuel Kant.
The two maxims against which Kant suggests we hold our ethical decisions will declare war immoral every time. Perhaps our decision-making head of state may wish that anyone in his position would make the same decision, but when you cause the death of another person (with the possible exception of euthanasia and that's a whole other paper) you are using them as a means to your end and no end of their own, even if your end is self-preservation. To utilize Kant for my purposes a single exception must be made. The second maxim may be broken by a head of state for the express purpose of protecting those under his charge from violence. What then, does this altered test provide for? It rules out the use of military force for economic gain, intimidation, colonization and other forms of posturing.
Furthermore, if you cannot use people, or in this case a people, as means, then the spoils of war become unethical prizes, and if acquiring resources as a by-product of committing violence is not permitted, then the temptation to rationalize the necessity to commit violence is also taken away. The final test is a response to the final obvious question one asks (or at least certainly should) before committing a considered and premeditated act of violence. The simple question is "Have I exhausted all possible routes to the minimum acceptable outcome that do not require violence?" in discussing the "rules" of just war theory, the Christian and Jewish faiths agree that "lethal force... may be used only as a last resort after all peaceful alternatives have been exhausted". A further point of meditation I would consider is "If my enemy was in any way more like me, what options would I consider using that I have not?" this is a practical oversimplification of Habermas.
If either of these questions leaves our hypothetical leader with reservations, than it is time to return to the drawing board. Placing the previous tests against the inclination of a ruler or head of state to exercise military force provides for a kind of specialized casuistry. The decision to exercise military force must be, in my opinion, tested against following criteria: 1. That the decision be made while mindful that violence begets violence and that in order to "win" in violent confrontation, an intention to cripple or annihilate your enemy must be openly accepted, and followed through with. 2. That every foreseeable outcome, reaction and necessary response is mapped out to the extent possible.
3. That these mapped outcomes are weighed in terms of resources, lives lost and destroyed, and the implicit monstrosities unleashed by violence, and that the "worst case scenario" is the outcome considered. 4. That your people have the will and resources to do what you are considering with a high probability of success, or that the outcome of inaction will probably lead to the annihilation of your people. 5. That after realistic consideration of all the costs of the worst case scenario, those costs are still preferable to those of maintaining the status quo, or the immediate foreseeable results of inaction.
6. That the only purpose of the military action is to protect people under your responsibility from direct physical harm 7. That all possible non-violent avenues that you would exhaust to make peace with someone just like yourself have been attempted with your perceived enemy. If the case for violence passes all of these tests, then I would say that a leader is in a position in which they are compelled to employ military force on behalf of their people.