Monday, February 02, 2009

Bloody Civilians!

"The virtual soldier, who causes real death and destruction, may not be able to completely empathize with images on a screen that resemble those of so many popular warfare games. This certainly has to desensitize a person from the realities of their actions. This experience over the course of an eight-hour shift juxtaposed with the family dinner scene shortly thereafter must create a rift in the psyche."

The nature of modern war makes it difficult to morally distinguish combatants from civilians. While on its face such a statement might seem to enhance pacifist arguments against the morality of force, it actually weakens them substantially. First, most pacifists are not "absolute" pacifists. Meaning, they are not 100% all-the-time opposed to the use of deadly force. Most pacifists believe that force lacks utility; it usually leaves a bigger mess than the one it was intended to solve.

Rupert Smith argues that interstate industrial conflict reached its culmination when the U.S. dropped nuclear weapons on Japan. This may be correct, but the fact remains that the industrial base and weapons development are crucial aspects of U.S. military doctrines. Many civilian products were initially designed for military application (which is no surprise to many), however many Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Raytheon et. al products are designed exclusively to increase the fighting capabilities of modern militaries.

Civilians in those industries should have no illusion that their hands are just as bloody as the soldiers using the products. I am not arguing that there is no moral justification for those industries or its employees. Force is a necessary evil in a depraved world and it is possible that their work leads to less bloody conflicts, or conflicts with quicker and more decisive endings.

Yet, pacifists and just war theorists alike perpetuate a false dichotomy between the civilian and soldier. The pacifists enjoy the benefits of defense, the benefits of an ordered society enforced by the threat of violence while not willing to pay any of its costs and in many instances morally condemning those who do. Just war theorists also like to pretend the civilians in defense industries are morally distinguishable from combatants because it makes a constantly revised theory even more complex.

At the end of the day, civilians and remote war fighters have to work out the morality of their actions while understanding they also are soldiers at war.


M.B. said...
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M.B. said...

I'm not sure what you're suggesting here when you allude to a "false dichotomy," but the result of this kind of thinking sounds like it could be disastrous.