Is It Moral for a Soldier to Kill?

born-to-killIt seems everyone, no matter how rational they are in some areas, has areas of thought that arrive from the id, only to be rationalized by the ego as “fact”. Here’s a quote on religion from Stefan Molyneux’s book Universally Preferable Behavior: a Rational Proof of Secular Ethics that illustrates what may be one of his: “No sane man experiences God directly. In his daily life, he fully accepts that that which cannot be perceived does not exist.”

The first statement is made with absolutely no justification. Attributing direct experience of something you can’t understand (for example, a near death experience) to a higher power may mean you are incorrect, but I hardly think it makes you insane. The second statement is patently false. I accept that mathematics exists. I accept that love exists. So do most people. Yet both love and higher math exist only in the mind.

So, is what Stefan calls a “null zone”, which I’d define as an area where conventional thought holds that wrong is right, and might be better termed a zone of moral inversion, real? Let’s examine one:

Our belief in the virtue of the military also lies in this “null zone.” If a private man is paid to murder another man, we call him a “gun for hire,” and condemn him as a hit man. If, however, this man puts on a green costume with certain ribbons and commits the same act, we hail him as a hero and reward him with a pension. The little truth (I should not murder) is perfectly consistent with the great truth (murder is wrong) – yet in the middle there lies a “null zone,” where murder magically becomes “virtuous.”

I would argue that patriots who believe that soldiers are virtuous for serving their country and killing the enemies of the state truly are in the null zone. As to the politicians who send troops in to achieve the monetary goals of their backers, possibly a few of them truly believe that what they are doing is virtuous, and they are also in the null zone. But I guess I’m a cynic; I think most of them know exactly what they are doing, and are merely immoral.

So does being a soldier make you immoral? Of course not! The null zone is the belief that following orders and serving king and country is what makes a soldier virtuous. A soldier who kills an enemy can be virtuous for the same reason that a police officer who kills a terrorist who is about to detonate a bomb that would otherwise kill innocent people is virtuous. Killing in defense of others is virtuous for two reasons: First of all, protecting the weak is virtuous; second, taking on the burden of having killed in self defense for another is virtuous.

Here’s an odd inversion of typical thinking that falls out of this: The best time (morally) to be in the military is when your country is being attacked. Of course its likely the worst time in terms of your own survival, but you are far more likely to kill virtuously. Killing can only be virtuous in defense. The maxim “the best defense is a strong offense” is immoral (or at best amoral) outside the realms of intentional competition (sports and business for example). Much better is “walk lightly, but carry a big stick”.

About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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