Huffington Post: Just War Theory: Are We Protecting the Moral Conscience of Soldiers?
by Rita Nakashima Brock and David B. Miller
Originally published 10/14/2010 at huffingtonpost.com
Two Commissioners serving on the Truth Commission on Conscience in War describe a recent exchange at Duke University between Defense Secretary Gates and Iraq War veteran Logan Mehl-Laituri, regarding the manner in which Christian service members are treated under current military regulations.
Mehl-Laituri supports the right of service members to apply for, and receive, conscientious objector (CO) status based upon their beliefs that a war is unjust, applying Christian just war principles. Currently military regulations afford conscientious objector status only to those whose faith teaches objection to war in any form. When Mehl-Laituri inquired about the constitutionality of current regulations, Gates defended the status quo, including by stating that no one is forced to re-enlist. The Commissioners respond that the Secretary’s answer does not address the fundamental issues raised and also ignores the “stop loss” policies that have been in place. They argue for much needed change in CO legislation.
The limitation of CO status to those who object to all wars flies in the face of what the military itself teaches. Those who enlist receive instruction in principles of just war both in basic training and in the war colleges. They are told that in war, especially, keeping a moral inner compass is crucial. Yet, if they believe a war is unjust, they are trapped between having to face prison for refusing to deploy or sacrificing that moral compass to fight.
So significant and far-reaching has been this compromise of moral conscience that the VA psychiatric community now recognizes “moral injury” as a clinically identifiable condition in urgent need of treatment. An article last December, by a group of VA clinicians, defined it as psychological harm caused by “perpetrating, failing to prevent, or bearing witness to acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations” (Clinical Psychological Review, v. 29. n.8).
[T]he majority of religious and nonreligious persons alike use some form of just war theory to guide moral conscience. Just war establishes minimum moral conditions for the taking up of arms to kill another soldier. Such a code emerged among the ancient Greek philosophers and entered Christianity in the late fourth century, once Christians were able to serve in the imperial army. A version of it is what the U.S. military teaches.
Despite this long precedent and the military’s own instructions, the right of selective conscientious objection (objection to a particular war) lacks legal protection in the U. S. Despite the fact that we have signed international laws that have been used to convict soldiers in other nations of war crimes, we ignore in our military the right of soldiers to disobey an order to prosecute a war they believe is immoral. …
Members of our military forces must have the right of selective conscientious objection. As moral citizens of a democracy, we must not tolerate policies that injure our own sons and daughters. We ask a great deal of those we call upon to take life on our behalf. We should not ask them to commit moral suicide.