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Showing posts from 2007

"Good" in war is the lesser of evil choices

Part of the reason that many Soldiers suffer psychologically from combat is that the language we use to talk about war too often fails to capture its moral reality.

There have been "good wars," but war itself is not a good in the same sense that being honest or generous is good. War always represents a failure--of diplomacy, of human cooperation. War can be good only in the sense that waging it is the lesser of bad choices. I.e., it is better to fight than to be enslaved, even though the killing and destruction that war entails is awful, because being enslaved and all it entails is an even worse outcome. At the individual level, it is better to kill some responsible parties than to allow innocents to be killed. Many morally right choices in war would be morally wrong in any other circumstance.

This explains why Soldiers often experience guilt after killing enemy combatants. They made the morally right choice, but it was still a lousy choice for a human being to have to …

If you have killed in war...

...I would love to hear from you about how you make sense of the experience, i.e., how you justify it morally.

I asked this same question in 1997 just as I began my study into the moral justification of killing enemy combatants in war, and the responses were fascinating. Now I hope to learn more, and perhaps to develop a taxonomy of justifications that could become part of Soldiers' professional education. I know how I would justify killing (although I have not killed anyone), but I also realize that there may be other approaches that work for other folks.

I would love to hear from you, if you have killed in war. Your information would remain confidential unless you prefer otherwise.

Pete Kilner
LTC, Infantry

Observations from Iraq

Earlier this year, from 21 April --9 June, I had the privilege of traveling around Iraq and interviewing Army junior officers. I pretty much was able to visit a different company each day. In all, I interviewed 142 captains and lieutenants, all of whom were current or past company commanders or platoon leaders in the war. I was so impressed by their competence and commitment; I'm humbled the wear the same uniform as these heroes.

The purpose of the interviews was to gain a deeper understanding of the most demanding leadership challenges that our junior officers are experiencing in the war.

Inevitably, issues of morality came up in our conversations. Here are some of my impressions:

1. Our Soldiers are exhibiting remarkable restraint in the use of violence. Time and again when listening to their stories, I found myself thinking, "Shoot the bastards" or "Just bomb the building!" when in reality the Soldiers on the ground chose not to employ heavy-handed force-…

Soldiers of Conscience documentary

Soldiers of Conscience ( is a feature-length documentary on conscientious objection. I am featured in the film as one of the people who argue for the moral permissibility of participating in war. The producers, Gary Weimberg Catherine Ryan of Luna Productions, did an admirable job of interviewing people on both sides of the CO issue, but I have to admit that the COs they feature are exceptionally articulate.

That makes sense. The COs are folks who had to argue their way out of military service. They can articulate their position. I am really the only person on the "killing in war can be moral" side who had given the issue the thought it deserves, and it showed.

Soldiers of Conscience is a film that will challenge your beliefs. I'm still confident in mine, but I know other military folks who were disturbed by the questions the film raised in their own consciences. For me, this is just more evidence that we in the military profession have to do a lot o…