Letting Joe Say No, Or, Shouldn't All Soldiers Be More Like 'Chelsea' Manning?

An author at the Boston Review suggests that members of the all-volunteer force should be allowed to opt-out of wars on an individual basis.

The proposal is completely impractical, for reasons I assume I don't have to explain to this audience. What's more interesting are the responses, of which there are quite a few, including this one by West Point's senior military philosopher.


DL Sly said...

Wow. Just wow. I find it difficult to belief that guy went to and graduated from West Point before Xerxes and his minions took over.
Granted, it kind of goes with what the passage the VES texted me this afternoon: "One of the ways to protect yourself from the dangers associated with weapons is to: do not carry a weapon. People who carry guns are twice as likely to become victims of gun violence."
Was this social studies? NO. This was her health book.
And while I know she knows better, many in her class may not.

Tom said...

First, on a practical level this can't work.

However, on a purely philosophical level, I substantially agree with the article. If the cause is not moral enough to attract enough men to fight for it, then don't fight.

This also accords with my absolute opposition to conscription. If a society cannot find enough warriors to stand up and fight for it, it should fall.

Tom said...

Quick note: I agree w/ the article by West Point's philosopher, which I initially mistook for the original article. Much of the original article I agree with as well, but some of it is problematic.

Cass said...

Military personnel already have the ability to refuse to go to war under the current system.

It's just that, like most decisions in life, that decision is not without cost or consequences.

Grim said...


DL Sly said...

What Cass said plus a favorite quote:
From the series Babylon 5 - [emphasis mine]
"Of course he doesn't! It's easy to fight when you've got a lot of ships to work with. The real crunch comes when you are down to almost nothing. Then you either play it safe and you probably lose it all or you take a chance. After everything we've been through with your people, Sheridan was crazy to send our pilots out to fight for your ship. They didn't want to go, they didn't want to get blown out of the sky and leave B5 defenseless, and they sure as hell didn't want to die. But they did it because Sheridan *told* them to do it, and because it was right."
"This time it is possible he could be wrong."
"Yeah, it's possible. But you don't follow an order because you know for sure it's gonna work out. You do what you are told, because your CO has the moral authority that says you may not come back. But the cause is just, and fair, and necessary. That's why Sheridan is out there, and dammit, that's where the cruiser should be too!...."

- Garibaldi and G'Kar, Walkabout

Tom said...

Yes, we all have decisions. Murder (or any other crime) is choice one can make, if willing to pay the price for it.

That's a given.

Again, I'm completely ignoring the practicality of this, but a warrior should be able to opt out of a war he or she finds morally repulsive with no criminal consequences. Certainly, it could affect one's career and other things, but that's like any decision.

I'm not arguing that warriors should be able to decide whether or not to follow any given legal order. I'm talking about whether to participate at all in any given war based on the morality of it.

If it's not just, fair, and necessary, what moral authority can compel you to go? At the point that a warrior believes the war is unjust, forcing him or her to fight is enslavement, which is evil.

Grim said...


You have two principles there which are not obvious, and need to be argued.

1) Being forced to fight for your country is slavery;

2) Slavery is evil necessarily, apparently without exception.

Start here, which gives Socrates' counterargument to point (1), and a reason to think that something like Cassandra's solution provides the proper limit to Socrates' stated principles. We can leave point (2) for the moment, but I do think you need to prove that -- Aristotle has an argument for natural slavery, for example, which comports very well with several American practices that we simply don't call slavery (e.g., the way our prisons function).