In less than a month from now, I am going to graduate from my university and be commissioned as an officer in the U.S. military. As I've progressed through my higher education, I've often had vague doubts about my the nature of my upcoming military service and commitment. As the reality of the event draws closer, I have been forced to stop pushing the issues aside and to think long and hard about my life and what I'm doing.
First, I am NOT any kind of absolute pacifist. I believe that war is horrible, but I also believe that it is often necessary and accomplishes good. (e.g. The Revolutionary War, WW2, the recent international intervention in Libya, etc...) However, throughout the last decade, the U.S. electorate and government have shown that they are unable to make good decisions about when to go to war. This disturbs me. I am going to be trained as a pilot for a few years, and when I get out of training, I don't want to be bombing people who are just defending their homes against what they (ignorantly) see as a U.S. invasion. I also don't want to be causing collateral damage, killing and maiming innocent men, women, and children, unless if there is a DAMN good justification for the conflict. I just don't see this justification at all for U.S. operations in Iraq, and I only see it a little bit in Afghanistan.
For those of you familiar with just war theory, most of the text above talks about Jus ad bellum (according to Wikipedia, "a set of criteria that are to be consulted before engaging in war, in order to determine whether entering into war is permissible; that is, whether it is a just war"). While this is my primary concern, I am also concerned about Jus in Bello ("conduct during war"). The major military scandals of the past decade (e.g. Abu Ghraib) have been bad enough, but many of those situations can be explained away as being the work of "a few bad apples" out of a very large military. What really concerns me is something that I shall call the deep institutional "conservatism" of the U.S. military. (some branches more than others) When I say "conservatism", I'm talking about something that goes far beyond simple politics. (Although loving Bush and hating Obama is certainly part of it) I'm talking about a culture where homophobia, racism, and other despicable attitudes are far more prevalent than anything that I have encountered during my time at my (quite conservative) high school or at my (also quite conservative) university.
A lot of military personnel that I have encountered during my four years of training to be an officer seem to be the somewhat more disciplined spin-offs of the stereotypical dumb high school jock. They tend to be very anti-intellectual (whether it's an 18-year-old enlisted person who just finished high-school, or a 30-40 officer with a master's). They tend to be very politically conservative. They tend to be "Christians". As mentioned above, a disproportionate number are racist and/or homophobic. They also tend to have attitudes towards war and violence that I don't like one bit. As far as those kinds of specific attitudes, (i.e. towards war and violence) in my own mind, I tend to give a philosophical "free pass" to those who have served honorably served in combat, but the vast majority of people that I am talking about have never fired a weapon in the heat of battle, and never will (that's the majority of the U.S military). I don't want to be in a chain-of-command where these kinds of people are my superior officers, sending me, as an aviator, out on missions to kill other human beings.
I apologize if my thoughts have been incoherent, disorganized, or unclear; this is an increasingly difficult topic for me as I become more and more confused and draw ever closer to my commissioning. Any advice from those of you who have served, serve now, or those who just want to chime in? I am primarily concerned with the Jus ad Bellum problems discussed in the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs, but I would also appreciate input on the military culture/Jus in Bello problems discussed in the 4th and 5th paragraphs. As a closing thought, here is a bit of poetry about pilots from Vietnam. It's called The Pilots by Denise Levertov.
Because they were prisoners,
because they were polite and friendly and lonesome and homesick,
because they said Yes, they knew
the names of the bombs they dropped
but didn’t say whether they understood what these bombs
are designed to do
to human flesh, and because
I didn’t ask them, being unable to decide
whether to ask would serve
any purpose other than cruelty, and
because since then I met Mrs. Brown, the mother of one of their fellow prisoners,
and loved her, for she has the same lovingkindness in her
that I saw in Vietnamese women (and men too)
and because my hostility left the room and wasn’t there
when I thought I needed it
while I was drinking tea with the POW’s,
because of all these reasons I hope
they were truly as ignorant,
as they seemed,
I hope their chances in life up to this point
have been poor,
I hope they can truly be considered
victims of the middle America they come from,
their American Legionnaire fathers, their macho high schools,
their dull skimped Freshman English courses,
for if they did understand precisely
what they were doing, and did it anyway, and would do it again,
then I must learn to distrust
my own preference for trusting people,
then I must learn to question
my own preference for liking people,
then I must learn to keep
my hostility chained to me
so it won’t leave me when I need it.
And if it is proved to me
that these men understood their acts,
how shall I ever again
be able to meet the eyes of Mrs. Brown?
My peers who are getting their commissions may be as "unawakened" as Levertov says the poem's pilots may be. Unfortunately for me, I do not think that I can claim the same excuse. Thus, this post. Thank you for your time and thoughts fellow XKCD fans.