11.17.2008

involuntary military service is a form of slavery

While I was reading Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes (post here; interview with the author here), I thought a lot about what freedom means. What it means to be a free person.

Hill's novel explores slavery, the slave trade, and the journey of the African peoples to North America and beyond. In one part of the book, some slaves are able to earn money through their own skills; their owners allow them to hire themselves out for day labour. So for a tiny portion of their life, they are paid for their work.

But they are still slaves - because the condition of involuntary servitude isn't only determined by whether or not a person gets paid for his work.

Although these people are temporarily earning money, they are not free to make the decisions that determine the course of their own lives. They are not free to marry as they choose. Not free to raise their own children. Not free to refuse to have sex with their owner. Not free to get up and leave.

They are still owned.

In those days, some people rationalized slavery by pointing out that slave owners provided slaves with food and shelter. But it's clear people would rather starve "on their own bottom," as a character in The Book of Negroes says, than eat and be sheltered but be owned.

So if slavery is not only about being paid for one's labour, what is it about?

What is freedom?

When I tried to answer that question for myself, two things came to mind: bodily integrity and freedom of conscience.

Bodily integrity is the freedom to own one's own body. It includes reproductive freedom, sexual freedom, and the freedom to form relationships. It includes freedom from rape, and from torture. It includes freedom from the fear of death by execution.

Bodily integrity includes freedom not to be killed, and from knowingly putting oneself in a situation where there is a great likelihood of being permanently disabled or killed. It also includes freedom from being forced to kill.

If bodily integrity is freedom of the physical body, freedom of conscience is freedom of mind. Freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of belief. Freedom of religion or the absence of religion. Freedom of moral judgement.

Refusing to participate in war is the intersection of the two. People have the right to refuse military service both for reasons of personal conscience and for reasons of bodily integrity.

Every human should have the right to refuse to kill, or to be in a position where she or he may have to kill. If at one point in life, that person felt that military service was the right course, but later changes his mind, he should be allowed to do so.

How can a government compel a person to fight a war against his will? Conscription, whether written in law or done in practice, is a completely inappropriate intrusion of state into our bodies and our minds.

* * * *

Long ago, I wrote about the moral illogic of supporting peace, but not supporting war resisters.

The claim that a signed contract - no matter how many times it was broken by the military, no matter what lies were told to compel the recruit to sign, or under what conditions the contract was signed - should take precedence over a moral decision to not participate in an invasion, war and occupation is sheer lunacy.

Yet the most frequent argument we hear from Canadians who oppose allowing US war resisters to stay in Canada (a minority of Canadians, to be sure), is "but they volunteered".

So they volunteered. Even if I concede that highly questionable point, if they volunteered, should they never be able to un-volunteer?

How can a government compel a person to fight a war against his will?

* * * *

Last week, I had the opportunity to listen to a recording of a war resister's IRB hearing. (I was transcribing it for his lawyer.) I heard about what the resister experienced in Iraq, and what the Iraqi people are experiencing at the hands of their US occupiers. Then I heard how the US soldier was abused and persecuted by his own military when he tried to get out.

Then, as one of my sister Campaigners said, to cheer myself up, I went to see the film "Body of War". I cried through the whole movie, and only later realized that part of my sorrow was from the story I'd been listening to for two days.

This morning, I heard another resister's story. And I thought, this is a form of slavery.

The US won't let these people exercise their human right to refuse to kill or be killed. The US will put them in prison. Canada must let them stay. It's the only humane thing to do.

13 comments:

James said...

The claim that a signed contract should take precendence over a moral decision to not participate in an invasion, war and occupation is sheer lunacy.

Every other kind of contract has a clause about what means are available to both parties to terminate the contract. For some reason, many people not only think it's reasonable that military service contracts don't have such a clause for the soldier serving, but they seem to think it's unreasonable for anyone to think they should have such a clause.

And besides, is it really that smart, from morale and safety points of view, to not only hold on to people who don't want to be there, but to give them guns and explosives?

M@ said...

if they volunteered, should they never be able to un-volunteer?

Exactly. It would be interesting to ask those contract-lovers whether they would be fine with themselves being jailed if they broke their own employment contract.

Btw, was this in the contract in '91? Who's going to jail for that one?

L-girl said...

Thanks guys!

And besides, is it really that smart, from morale and safety points of view, to not only hold on to people who don't want to be there, but to give them guns and explosives?

I know! It shows how desperate they are for bodies.

Btw, was this in the contract in '91? Who's going to jail for that one?

Wow, thanks for the link.

Wild English Rose said...

"Every human should have the right to refuse to kill, or to be in a position where she or he may have to kill. If at one point in life, that person felt that military service was the right course, but later changes his mind, he should be allowed to do so."

This is really well put. I was discussing with a friend the other day - in the context of Remembrance Day - that we remember that soldiers risked their lives in the World Wars but forget that they also sacrificed a bit of themselves when they killed others. In some ways this could be considered a bigger (or at least as big) a sacrifice as risking your own life. None of us go through life without risking our safety in some ways (more or less depending on nationality, occupation etc.) but most of us expect to get through life without ever killing someone.

L-girl said...

Thank you, WER.

they also sacrificed a bit of themselves when they killed others

How true.

Thus the huge incidence of depression, domestic violence, substance abuse, suicides and other horrors among veterans.

Cornelia said...

I think all oppression (and offenders's) strategies just have a lot in common...as already outlined for example on
http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=373481999&blogID=438563659

Cornelia said...

The freedom to choose one's profession is a point I have made time and again. Not without ample reason, it seems...

Cornelia said...

Even if somebody allows for certain arguments like contract voluntarily signed up for and securing the defense capacities of the country and all that, the point remains that there have been very grievous and severe hardships and they should be taken into account and their bearing on the refugee cases (and even more the political solution!!!) should be recognized.

Chasing Distractions said...

I completely agree with you - so much so that I had to submit your post to ZoomIt.ca

Check it out:

http://arts.zoomit.ca/we-move-to-canada-involuntary-military-service-is-a-form-of-slavery/

L-girl said...

Thank you, Chasing Distractions. I actually saw it in my Statcounter. Much appreciated.

Cornelia said...

Trying to force people to do something they don't want to do is just plain awful!!! And it's with ample reason and well-advised to be wary of people who don't get that and some of them would not even have realized that slavery is wrong!!! And others would have gotten that, after all it's common knowledge over here at last, but just that and they would not have transferred this insight to other forms of bondage, duress, bullying and abuse of rights. They would not even dare to long (and work and stand up!) for a freer world and they would think it's us who are in the shadows and them who are in the light but it's just the other way round and they would be happy to abuse us for not putting up with everything if we let them (which we won't, of course!). Sorry but unfortunately I have had some abusive experiences with sadomaso idiots and bullies...so this is why I am making these points! I just hope realizing something about offenders' and oppression strategies can be helpful and enlightening in case one comes across these idiots or the trash they have written...I didn't want to make anybody sad...

Χαρίλαος said...

I am turning 18 in a month and I am currently serving my third month in the army.Military service in my country( Cyprus ) is involuntary and 24 months long.The reason military service is compulsory here and so long is because turkey is currently illegally occupying 37% of my country since 1974.Therefore the demands of our army have been maximized and all boys are forced to serve for 2 years as soon as we finish school.In the beggining I was a 17 year old boy full of energy and very proud to be serving my country.I could not understand why some soldiers were unhappy and unwilling to serve the army.Now,almost 3 months after involuntary joining the army I am a depressed,dissapointed,angry and desperate human being.Our military system is totally fucked up.Our 'training' finishes now and for the remaining 21 months of my service il be doing nothing.Il just be wasting my time doing all sorts of cleaning and 'taking care' of military equipment that I will never use and that no-one will teach me how to.I will also be standing in certain areas of my military base for 8-10 hours a day just to make sure no-one tries to enter the base.Basically I know that the kind of service I am serving is a complete waste of time.I am a young man who wants to work and help my single mother & my younger brother with every aspect of their lives and study at the same time.But I cannot.My government is keeping me from helping my family for the next 2 years and from choosing how I want to live my life.They are making my life and my mothers harder.The only way I can get out the army is to go to a military psychiatrist and pretend I am mentally ill! This is bad because in all government documents I will be stated as a mentally ill person which is far from true.I dont know what to do , I am desperate for a solution that will allow me to choose what I want to do with my life for the next 2 years not waste them doing nothing helpful for me and my family.Wiat do you think about my situation? I strongly believe I deserve to choose what I do with my life

L-girl said...

What do I think? I support you and wish you luck. I wish I could help. Take care and all best.