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The Good Samaritan arrives early

Among my statements that were included in the film "Soldiers of Conscience," my thought experiment about the Good Samaritan has evoked the most passionate feedback.

Some people have found it very helpful as a metaphor that expresses their moral sense that even good Christians must sometimes engage in violent acts in defense of themselves or others.

Conversely, some have taken offense. A person I'll refer to as TJ, a Methodist pastor, expressed his reaction in an email to me:

"First, please do not continue insult the story of the good samaritan by your interpretation. ...You are as ill-equipped to discuss theology, and especially in such a repulsive way, as I am to discuss military combat strategy...Your profile lists your interests to include faith and ethics. That, sir, may look good on your profile, but you and I both know that ethics and morals go out the window in war. To say otherwise... is insulting to the intelligence of all people who have ethics and morals in …

On Conscientious Objectors, Soldiers, and Courage

I posted this on the POV.org blog in response to viewers of Soldiers of Conscience praising the featured conscientious objectors' courage.


A consistent--and, in fact, necessary--assumption of war pacifists is that the soldiers on both sides of a war are not fully autonomous human beings. Aiden reveals that assumption when he states, "the vast majority of Iraqi soldiers and insurgents are really poor, uneducated men with no prospects, forced into a life of violence not by belief, but by economics." I'm sure he would say the same thing about American Soldiers--that we are "forced or fooled" into choosing to serve their country in uniform.

I cannot tell you how many times, during my masters and doctoral work at civilian universities, and at professional conferences on both ethics and education (my fields of study), people have said to me, "Why would someone as intelligent as you ever join the military?" They are dumbfounded when an actual encounter wit…

Radio Interview on KQED San Francisco

Wow, I just endured a frustrating interview. The anti-military assumptions and leading questions of the host, Michael Krasny, were the most biased I've ever encountered.

I was just waiting for him to begin a question with, "Given that killing in war is immoral and the war in Iraq is wrong and that the only psychologically healthy people in the military are those who apply for conscientious objection, a process that the military makes unnecessarily difficult, what do you think about...."

Is he that biased on every topic?

The other people on the program were:

Gary Weimberg, the co-director of Soldiers of Conscience, who in the beginning of the interview played along with Krasny's line of questioning but later on challenged some of the host's assumptions;

Aiden Delgado, who is marvelously articulate and a genuine, Buddhist conscientious objector (CO). I'd want to talk war and morality with him over a beer, except that his Buddhist views are ulimately irreconcilabl…

Slides I use to discuss the moral justification of killing in war

Several folks have asked if I have a paper or presentation I can share that would help them lead a discussion with their Soldiers on the moral justification of killing in war.
I have intended for months to write a concise paper, or at least put notes to the slides, but alas I haven't. So, I post these slides, knowing full well that bullets don't tell the whole story...but I hope that these are at least helpful. Talking openly about the morality of killing with our Soldiers accomplishes a lot on its own. I know that someone out there will take this discussion to the next level. Please share back with me the insights you discover.














A Challenge to "Pacifists"

I received an email today from someone who objected to my reference in "Soldiers of Conscience" to the Story of the Good Samaritan.

Here is part of my response to him. I welcome feedback on my challenge. Am I off base?

My point in offering the hypothetical about the Good Samaritan is to point out that it's easy to oppose the use of violence in the abstract--when one is not personally facing it. It's easier to console victims than to prevent their victimization.

I invite you and any others who share your pacifist beliefs to practice what you preach--to disavow in your own lives both violence and the threat of violence. I challenge you to post on your windows and doors an announcement that you will neither ask nor permit the police to intervene for your protection, nor will you use any violence to protect yourselves or your property. After all, the police accomplish their mission (protecting the innocent) by using force. For good measure, wear a large pin on your shirt an…

"Soldiers of Conscience" film screening

Last week I attended a screening for the documentary "Soldiers of Conscience," which addresses the moral question of killing in war. I am one of the people featured in the movie.

It's a high-quality, interesting work that will generate healthy discussion on this overlooked topic.

Some military folks find the film to be too "pro-conscientious objector," pro-pacifist. I agree that it offers (superficially) compelling arguments from several articulate COs from the current war in Iraq, but any imbalance is caused by the more-developed narrative that pacifists employ. The military profession, in contrast, doesn't have an articulated moral justification for killing in war (unless you count my unofficial writings). Consequently, in the film I'm the only military person who offers moral (rather than legal or practical) arguments. Overall, I judge the film to be "fair yet unbalanced."

I recommend it. Its national broadcast premiere is on PBS on Thursd…

NBC Dateline

I received word this week that the "Dateline" episode this Memorial Day Weekend, on Sunday 25 May at 7pm EDT, will address the guilt that many soldiers experience after killing (justly) in war.

Dateline came by my office last October and filmed an interview. I hope that the show will raise awareness on the issue. A big first step to helping our soldiers make sense of their experience of killing in war is breaking the taboo and becoming more honest about the moral reality of war. A second necessary step is having a shared vocabulary that enables soldiers and citizens to talk about the wrestle through the concepts and experiences. Traditional Just War Theory is woefully in adequate in addressing the moral issues of individual killing. Hopefully my writing has contributed to both goals. More needs to be done. I invite you to join the discussion and the cause.

Killing enemy combatants--a justification

Introduction
The profession of arms talks about ‘morality and war’ using legal terms and concepts. For example, we justify our decision to deploy and fight when the President orders us because we signed a contract to obey the officers appointed over us. Similarly, we consider ourselves blameless when we kill enemy combatants as long as we do not violate the laws of war or the rules of engagement in doing so. These legal rules are so important to our professional identity that all soldiers receive instruction on the laws of war in basic combat training and then annually thereafter, and soldiers at war review the rules of engagement much more often, sometimes daily.

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.

Currently, we milita…