Not everyone in our society, however, accepts these legal answers to moral questions. War pacifists are people who believe that war is morally unjustifiable. They claim that soldiers are morally wrong to participate in war and to kill other human beings, regardless of what’s legally permissible at the time.
I am concerned that we in the profession of arms do not do enough to prepare our soldiers to understand and justify their actions in moral terms. This allows many soldiers to needlessly suffer moral guilt, and it leaves them vulnerable to the arguments of war pacifists. Our soldiers deserve better.
In the ensuing posts, I investigate “morality and war” from a soldier’s perspective without resorting to legal justifications. My intent is to empower our profession to better understand the moral reality of war. What I write here is not doctrine. I speak only for myself—a career Army officer (infantryman) and Army-educated ethicist—and hope that our discussions around this topic will deepen our commitment to and comfort with our vocation as warriors.
These posts mark the beginning of what I hope will become an extended, coherent, rights-based argument that addresses the fundamental moral questions of war. It is divided into two sections. The first section explains why soldiers are morally justified in killing enemy combatants, and it offers a framework for moral decision-making in those tragic circumstances of war when our actions will likely cause unintentional harm to non-combatants (i.e., collateral damage). The second section challenges the age-old notion of the “moral equality of soldiers” and suggests that soldiers’ moral justification for killing in war depends on the overall justice of the war. Future additions to this essay will continue this rights-based line of argument to its logical conclusion that soldiers are not morally justified if they kill in wars that are unjust. That, in turn, will lead to examinations of the moral justification of war and of the legitimacy and limits of conscientious objection.
I invite and welcome your critique and suggestions for improvement.