1.28.2008

moral illogic: supporting peace, but not war resistance

Wmtc readers, once again, I ask for your help.

You helped me find my way in my new country when I thought Canadian Tire sold only tires and a Green P was a choice of side dish. You taught me strange expressions like Meech Lake Accord and Arrogant Worms. You comforted us when we lost our dearest Buster, and cheered for us when we found jobs. You helped me fashion my comment policy and keep this blog free of trolls.

You're an intelligent lot, with a strong moral compass and finely tuned bullshit detectors. So once again, I ask you to explain something to me.

A person claims to oppose the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. He (I'll use "he" for argument's sake) claims to "100% oppose" the Resident and the current US agenda. He claims to want peace.

Yet he also says, "Soldiers sign contracts, and they have to do what they're told. It's up to civilians to end the war. But until it ends, if soldiers refuse orders, they must pay the consequences, whatever the US determines that to be."

I ask you, knowing...

... how military recruiters lie,

... how soldiers are involuntarily re-enlisted ("stop-lossed"),

... how under the internationally recognized Nuremberg Principles, a perpetrator of war crimes is responsible for his own behaviour, that "I was under orders" is not a legal excuse, and that international law supersedes the orders of any sovereign nation,

... how the Uniform Code of Military Justice says a soldier has a right and a duty to refuse to obey illegal orders,

... how history shows that there will never be a shortage of people to blindly follow orders, with horrific results, but there has always been a shortage of moral courage to refuse immoral orders,

...knowing all this, tell me how can a person who claims to oppose the war also claim that all soldiers must continue serving, or else go to prison?

Please explain this to me.

32 comments:

skdadl said...

I don't know the answer, L-girl, although I know that person, too many of him.

It is as though our entire culture has lost the memory of Nuremberg. "He signed a contract" is mindless and in danger of being immoral, and yet it has somehow become some kind of safe haven for the timid in a confusing new world.

Good for you for challenging that logic. We all have to push back harder.

M@ said...

how can a person who claims to oppose the war also claim that all soldiers must continue serving, or else go to prison?

Same way a person who agrees the Bush administration is a thoroughly corrupt, self-serving, and dishonest group of morons also thinks that the 9/11 truth movement is nothing but a bunch of nuts and the "official" description of events represents the reality of the day.

Same way a person who is confronted with an overwhelming mountain of evidence that both the 2000 and 2004 elections were stolen, and that electronic voting machines and other methods were used to take away democratic votes and give votes to republicans, can respond "election's over; get over it."

However, I'll tell you this little story. I was speaking with a guy who is a currently serving member of the Canadian Forces. I asked him what he thought of the resisters, and he said, well, he didn't agree with the war in Iraq, but it was their duty to carry out the job they had signed up for.

I told him I understood that position, but I didn't entirely agree when they were actually asked to do more than they signed up for. He was skeptical; he didn't know the details about stop-lossing and recruiter deception. But he agreed that, if the soldier didn't actually sign up for something like that, then yeah, maybe they had a point.

I didn't push any further; we were just having a couple of beers and I didn't want to get into a heated argument. But I mention this because this was exactly the kind of person you might expect to respond the way you've described here; but he was actually open-minded enough to say, sure, he could see how a situation like that might be wrong. And this was a guy who had literally risked his life in his uniform before.

So it's not hopeless. People are slowly learning the facts, and it's making a difference. I'm glad you're doing this work -- keep it up.

redsock said...

Same way a person who agrees the Bush administration is a thoroughly corrupt, self-serving, and dishonest group of morons also thinks that the 9/11 truth movement is nothing but a bunch of nuts and the "official" description of events represents the reality of the day.

Say, this M@ guy is pretty perceptive.

L-girl said...

Thank you, Skdadl.

"He signed a contract" is mindless and in danger of being immoral, and yet it has somehow become some kind of safe haven for the timid in a confusing new world.

It occurs to me that this is runaway capitalism. The business transaction (a signed contract) takes precedence over any other considerations - moral, ethical, human.

L-girl said...

I didn't push any further; we were just having a couple of beers and I didn't want to get into a heated argument.

Ah, but you challenged his assumptions in a positive way, you moved the conversation forward. Good on you!

But I mention this because this was exactly the kind of person you might expect to respond the way you've described here; but he was actually open-minded enough to say, sure, he could see how a situation like that might be wrong. And this was a guy who had literally risked his life in his uniform before.

So it's not hopeless. People are slowly learning the facts, and it's making a difference.


Awesome. Thank you.

Thanks for the 9/11 Truth analogy too. :)

Jen said...

I can't answer a single one of your questions L-girl, but I can empathise with your obvious frustration.

I don't get many commenters on my blog, but in person I've heard similar things in the "they got what they asked for" vein of "well, they signed the contract...they face the consequences" for your cause or "they should quit drugs or face the consequences" in my cause. (Consequences there being death, chronic poor health, incarceration, etc).

I see this mostly as an ego problem. There is a total unwillingness to remove oneself from their ones context and point of view and consider how you might react if in the same circumstances. Mostly since, if they were being honest, this peep through the looking glass would be grim.

There was one guy at the protest for Insite on the Hill when I approached him that said that addicts didn't deserve medical care since they brought it on themselves. Nice. I looked at his cigarette and asked him how many times he'd tried to quit smoking...

In the face of serious injustice and inhumanity would I have the courage to walk away from a nation that I loved enough to go to war for, from family and friends and community or would I turn away and pretend I was never a witness? Many would have to face the reality that they would "tough it out", euphamism-speak for "turn away and ignore". I'd like to think I'd have the guts to do what Jamine & Phil and the other resisters have done for convictions I feel strongly about, but honestly I doubt it.

L-girl said...

I see this mostly as an ego problem. There is a total unwillingness to remove oneself from their ones context and point of view and consider how you might react if in the same circumstances.

Jen, that is very perceptive.

Following what you're saying a bit further, it's also a failure of the imagination. When we can't empathize with another human being, we've failed to imagine ourselves in their place.

In the face of serious injustice and inhumanity would I have the courage to walk away from a nation that I loved enough to go to war for, from family and friends and community or would I turn away and pretend I was never a witness? Many would have to face the reality that they would "tough it out", euphamism-speak for "turn away and ignore". I'd like to think I'd have the guts to do what Jamine & Phil and the other resisters have done for convictions I feel strongly about, but honestly I doubt it.

You're getting to the very heart of what draws me to the resisters.

All my life, I've looked at people who have demonstrated moral courage - everyone from civil rights workers and the labour movement to the underground railroad, Dutch people who hid Jews in their attics. Those are the stories I've always thrilled to, and always, always, I've wondered, what would I have done? Could I have done that?

Obviously I'll never know.

So as I've gotten older, I've challenged myself to become someone who at least could venture, perhaps, an affirmative answer. Someone for whom an affirmative answer would not be outlandish. Would be in keeping with how I've tried to live my life.

And maybe what disgusts me so much in the "he" of this post is the moral cowardice. You're choosing "he signed a contract" over "he did the right thing, he refused to kill"? That's a hollow, cowardly choice.

deang said...

There is no virtue in continuing to participate in something that is morally reprehensible, whether you've signed a form to do so or not. Ending the war/Ending war is hopeless without resistance from within the military itself; civilians alone can't do it. The massive numbers of troops who eventually refused to obey orders during the Vietnam War definitely helped bring that one to a close, and likely helped keep the unconscionable slaughter of Vietnamese/Cambodians/Laotians from being any higher. Today, in our much more individualized/atomized society, soldiers who resist are doing so for a variety of personal reasons, but they still deserve support and sanctuary, as even their individual resistance may reduce by a small amount the number killed. That is the goal, it seems to me. If someone thinks that signing a form takes precedence over reducing death and misery, they've lost sight of the aims of war resistance.

Lone Primate said...

You ought to email Clark Kent... y'know, Superman who never came out of the phone booth and just spouted the official line on Afghanistan while leaping tall buildings of moral objections in a single bound... whatever his name was (I forget now) and find out what he thinks. I think you'd have your answer right there.

L-girl said...

There is no virtue in continuing to participate in something that is morally reprehensible, whether you've signed a form to do so or not.

There it is in beautifully concise form. Dean, you have the makings of an excellent op-ed here.

The massive numbers of troops who eventually refused to obey orders during the Vietnam War definitely helped bring that one to a close, and likely helped keep the unconscionable slaughter of Vietnamese/Cambodians/Laotians from being any higher.

That's a great point I often forget to include.

as even their individual resistance may reduce by a small amount the number killed

And maybe, just maybe, if Canada lets them stay, other objectors will be able to become resisters.

L-girl said...

You ought to email Clark Kent... y'know, Superman who never came out of the phone booth and just spouted the official line on Afghanistan while leaping tall buildings of moral objections in a single bound... whatever his name was (I forget now) and find out what he thinks. I think you'd have your answer right there.

I think you're right. Too bad I banned his ass. (If we're thinking of the same person.)

L-girl said...

Lone Primate or M@ (or anyone else, of course), if you're in the mood for debate, I abandoned one over at Common Dreams. I said my piece and signed off, but now several statements with objectionable (to me) views are now the last points on the thread. The poster seems rational and respectful (although wrong) and I know you both enjoy a challenge. Just lettin' ya know...

asfasf said...

Unless this guy actually saying that (because they signed a contract), soldiers have a greater moral obligation to follow orders than to resist them -- which doesn't appear to be what he's saying by your account, and I suggest clarifying if it is -- then I'm sorry, but I don't think there's necessarily any ethical or logical contradiction in this person's opinion.
It's a basic principle of civil disobedience from Thoreau through to Gandhi and MLK that the resister expects and accepts whatever legal consequences follow from their disobedience.

L-girl said...

I'm sorry I can't offer any further clarification. Many people have said what I've paraphrased here. I don't have any greater insight, hence my post.

But please note that the people saying "but he signed a contract" are not suggesting that the soldiers engage in civil disobedience of any sort!

They are suggesting that the soldiers must continue fighting, even if they oppose the war, because they have signed contracts. The person says it's up to civilians to end the war, but up to soldiers to fight it.

L-girl said...

Also, a further note to head off any possible arguments regarding the war resistance and civil disobedience.

The US war resisters in Canada do not claim to be engaging in formal civil disobedience. They are conscientious objectors to the war in Iraq, they have gone AWOL or refused deployment, and are seeking residence in in Canada. Period.

Civil disobedience and war resistance are two distinctly different forms of action. Let's not muddy the waters arguing about Ghandi.

redsock said...

asfasf:

According to rules of international law that have been in place for many decades, the invasion and occupation of Iraq is illegal. Those same international laws state that it is the duty of military personnel to refuse to follow illegal orders. Therefore, the only military personnel obeying international law are those who have refused to fight in Iraq. ... And you are saying these resisters should be the ones in jail?

What about this? A hitman has agreed with someone to kill a third person. As he's stalking the victim, getting ready to commit murder, he has second thoughts and does not go through with the killing. He has broken his agreement with the person who wanted the third person dead. Did the hitman do the right thing?

L-girl said...

I think the hitman analogy is great.

If one agrees to do something immoral, reneging on that agreement is moral.

Jere said...

"You're choosing "he signed a contract" over "he did the right thing, he refused to kill"? That's a hollow, cowardly choice."

That about sums it up for me.

It's like the way some people seem to have no desire to challenge something, simply because it's "the way it's always been."

Like with ads on baseball uniforms. People will defend it by saying "baseball's always been a business." Okay, and? Does that mean I'm forced to want it to be that way? I mean, if you've got a legitimate excuse, by all means, let's hear it, but I don't wanna hear "well that's what they did before...." (They also didn't let black people play back then...)

Or like the saying "boys will be boys." That expression just means "oh, males have been raping females for thousands of years, so I'm not gonna go out of my way teaching my son right from wrong."

(But the hitman analogy is way better than these....)

redsock said...

Another related bullshit reasoning/excuse is:

"It wasn't a good idea for us to go to Iraq, but now that we are over there, we can't just quit, we have to stay and finish the job."

...

"It wasn't a good idea for you to rape my daughter, but now that you have begun, you can't just stop, you have to finish the job."

L-girl said...

It's like the way some people seem to have no desire to challenge something, simply because it's "the way it's always been."

Let's see... slavery, apartheid, women having no legal rights... what else would we have under that way of thinking?

Or like the saying "boys will be boys." That expression just means "oh, males have been raping females for thousands of years, so I'm not gonna go out of my way teaching my son right from wrong."

That's a great example, the best.

These people might have a vague wish for things to be different, but they don't realize that things can - and do - change. Even though the evidence is everywhere around them.

L-girl said...

"It wasn't a good idea for us to go to Iraq, but now that we are over there, we can't just quit, we have to stay and finish the job."

I wonder what "finishing the job" would look like. The complete extermination of Iraqis?

Jen said...

Generations of people just toughing it out... whatever "it" is.

impudent strumpet said...

Do we know that they know/accept that the war is illegal?

Do we know that they actually know all those givens? (In the great tradition of projecting my ignorance onto others, I only learned recently that the Nuernberg principles were an actual written-down thing and didn't know until this post that soldiers have the duty to disobey illegal orders - I would have assumed the opposite).

L-girl said...

Do we know that they know/accept that the war is illegal?

Do we know that they actually know all those givens?


Good questions.

I don't know.

I only know this person (in reality, an amalgam of persons) claims to be completely against the war and wants it to end.

Could they oppose the war but not know or accept that it's illegal? Possibly.

As for all the givens, they probably don't know all those things.

But they're also not listening to find out. They're hung up on this "signed contract" like it's so friggin sancrosanct.

impudent strumpet said...

What you need then is a phrase that's stronger than "signed contract" to describe one or more of the givens. Something about an oath, or $(Good_Strong_Adjective) duty.

L-girl said...

What you need then is a phrase that's stronger than "signed contract" to describe one or more of the givens. Something about an oath, or $(Good_Strong_Adjective) duty.

Anybody?

asfasf said...

I plead guilty of posting hastily without reading your previous posts on this topic which would have make the context obvious.
No, I don't suggest that it is right that war resiters (particularly in the case of this war, but also in the vast majority, if not all, others) suffer legal punishment.
The most important thing is not to support the war.
Canada has a legal and ethical duty to protect war resisters who claim asylum.
How the resisters themselves ought to deal with the problem of unjust legal punishment is arguable.

L-girl said...

Asfasf, thank you for coming back to clarify. More importantly, thank you for supporting US war resisters in Canada (and war resistance in general). The resisters need your support.

If you haven't already written to Stephane Dion, please do. It's a critical time and we need to get this resolution passed.

Tom said...

You could point out that the Bush Administration broke the contract, by not providing decent treatment of returning vets; medical care, psychological counseling, etc.

Cornelia said...

I guess some people are just weird, unenlightened, authoritative, conservative and maybe even sadomaso.
Of course it is extremely hypocritical and I oppose it to the utmost.
It's up to every person to decide for him- or herself and one needn't take any bullying and moralizing and emotional abuse.
If somebody asked me what I have to say regarding the US military personnel shortage, then I would say: "Stop the Iraq war, bring them home, treat your servicepeople better and above all, stop detainee abuse and violiations of the Geneva convention right away, then you won't have such trouble with personnel shortage any more!!"
This is somehow - at least somehow - similar to some point I want to make regarding management. If some bosses regret that so many of their workers are getting another job asap, couldn't that be caused by conditions in the company they find extremely distressing and unpleasant? Apart from people getting an even better job, I mean!
There are some similarities to things that have to do with other jobs, not only differences.
Bush and his Republican accomplices seem to think they can get away with everything exploitative and abusive and it's the very people who believe one allegedly has to put up with everything that the Bush Government, Halliburton and their likes can profit from to the utmost. That's somehow just like it's easier for some exploitative bosses and politicians whose views on welfare and worker protection laws nearly border on those of the Republicans get best aided and abetted (I use these wordings on purpose!) by those who claim one must put up with everything, however awful it is. They are among their first and best political accomplices, I hold.

I have written more regarding maintaining boundaries and the freedom to choose one's job and whom what to help with and human rights issues with particular reference to women's rights and feminist issues on my myspace blogs, so for anyone who would like to check that out, I am posting the link:

http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=373481999

Cornelia said...

What draws me to the resisters is that I always like people who make their own decisions, act independently, maintain boundaries and don't let anybody force them to do things they don't want to do and who won't put up with moralizing, bullying and stuff.
And of course I like helpful people and people who dare to take a stand and to stand up against wrongdoing and abuse and crimes just as much!

Cornelia said...

The hitman analogy is great!
And of course it is because of political reasons way harder to get something like that Iraq contract declared legally null and void, that doesn't mean we have to agree.
And regarding the civil disobedience thing, if an asylum seeker does seek protection from persecution for political activitIes against a dictatorship for example, he or she is entitled to that, right?
To me it's even quite clear that if you have done something which is either perfectly okay under human rights and violence protection act or at least not really that wrong, but still quite harmless, why on earth would they be crazy to have to pay a fine or something? If one doesn't get into trouble for something like that, why would one mind that? Of course bullying, intimidation and abuse would never be justified!!! But if simply one manages not to get into deep trouble for something without doing anything which would offend against violence protection act, human rights and stuff, why would that be such a big deal?
Whenever people say something like ditching the consequences of their actions, which is meant to be very negative in this context, I would like to point out what is really awful and horrid and criminal: THE INTIMIDATION BOTH MAFIA MEMBERS AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE OFFENDERS AND OTHER ABUSIVE PEOPLE AND BULLIES SO OFTEN USE IN ORDER TO KEEP PEOPLE FROM REPORTING THEM AND GETTING LEGAL REDRESS AGAINST THEM.