Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dumbest idea of the day and why we should never, ever change our CO policy

I know I don't usually post twice in one day (or often in one week), but this article really fired me up. According to it, the Truth Commission on Conscience in War is lobbying to expand the government's definition of conscientious objection (CO) from objection to "war in any form" to allow service members to decline to deploy to wars they feel are immoral. By doing so, they feel that it "would allow for greater religious freedom in the military and improve morale among the troops."

Undoubtedly it would. But it's still so very wrong on two levels. At the lower level, how would the government be able to adjudicate a real, moral opposition to a particular conflict from a soldier that just doesn't want to go. The standards to obtain CO are high under the current definition and they should be. I realize I'm quite hawkish on this issue, but if you get through bayonet training during basic training (during which the answer to "What makes the grass grow?" is "Blood! Blood! Blood!") and you don't realize that maybe killing isn't your thing, I have a hard time believing that the time to realize it is when your unit is getting on a plane to go to war. Granted, it happens, but rarely and it's very hard to prove. Allowing soldiers to opt out of wars they don't like, but stay in the military or deploy to wars they do is so counter to the idea of good order and discipline that words could barely describe it. Soldiers don't get to vote on the wars they want to fight in or not. That is not how an all volunteer force works nor should it be the way that a non-volunteer force should work.

The second level is at a more strategic level. It's preposterous, but what if this definition existed in 2003 and every soldier in the Army decided that they were morally opposed to the Iraq War and refused to deploy. Readers know I don't feel that the rationale for war was made, but I also don't like the idea that the uniformed military could possibly decide which wars it should fight and which it shouldn't. That is antithetical to our understanding of civil-military relations. What would happen if high-ranking officers started applying for CO status because they felt a particular war was wrong. How many lower ranking officers and soldiers would follow suit, if only out of some sense of fairness? Our military has a contract with its government and citizens which does not allow for political opposition to wars. This expanded definition would allow for just that to occur.

This proposal doesn't seem to have much traction anywhere and thank goodness for that. This organization makes some highly dubious assertions and claims. I'm not terribly sure why the NY Times highlighted the cause in the first place. This is a terrible, terrible idea that would adversely affect our military services and its interaction with the nation it serves.


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