Can joining the military be a neutral act?

…Especially in today’s polarized climate? Can someone join the military and see it – and have others see it – as just a job, no different than becoming a butcher, baker, or computer chip maker? Or is to join up automatically seen as a moral/ethical act (in the implicit support of whatever actions the military is currently involved in), a cultural act, and a political act?

When I joined the military and people would say “how can you be a baby killer,” I would answer, “would you rather have me making those decisions, or Joe Redneck?”

Yes, you can be a flaming liberal and be in the military. Absolutely. I knew many. It’s not just a job. As a leader, you help form the ideals of those around you, and counter the ideals of those you don’t agree with. We’re not all brainless automatons, you know.

But I think you’d get pretty nervous if we, collectively, decided to start making our own decisions about how things should work in this country. Think military coup. Want that, or soldiers who still feel obligated to more or less obey the instructions of their civilian leaders?

Not exactly clear where you’re going with that last part of your answer, at least as it regards to my question…

The armed forces will always have enough personnel, whether it’s by increasing incentives, lowering standards, or instituting a draft. So a person’s decision to not join the military isn’t going to reduce its numbers. That isn’t the problem. Nor will it change whether we go to war, with whom, when, or how. Those decisions are made by politicians.

The problem is whether the armed forces will have qualified, and conscientious people. Who would you rather have in the armed forces during combat?

The problem I see with your question, and I am in NO WAY being critical, is that the two parts of it are different.

First part as I read it is: Can YOU, personally, do this?
Second part as I read it is : But will other people think…

See the problem?

Others will often bring their personal biases into things, and since one cannot please everyone, I think this is a no-win situation.

As tot he first part, I believe it is possible, to an extent. There are jobs that do not involve “military” stuff such as fighting. Such as Chaplain, Medic, etc. But one way or another, you would be supporting the military. As to whether or not that qualifies is, of course, something only you can determine.

And remember that even in these MOS categories, you could wind up in a hostile area / under fire. I don’t know where that fits with “just a job.”

Rather than just be questioning, I will give you my personal answer with all my biases and opinions: No, I don’t think so, although you could come close to it being neutral on a personal level. You would still be supporting the military of your country, however peripherally, though. So, consider all the possibilities, it isn’t for everyone.

This was a very good and interesting question.

Even without today’s polarized climate, this choice, given what it entails is ethically extremely loaded. Certainly not morally neutral. Or at least it should be perceived so by anybody who enlists, which is probably not the case. That’s not just “a job”. A soldier is at the core a professionnal killer, or at least a killer’s support team member. That can’t possibly be morally neutral. Plus it’s also the choice of taking your chance at being killed for some reason or another, which isn’t exactly morally neutral, either.

Apart from executionner, there are few jobs which are less ethically neutral.
And on course, if you enlist in time of war, it implies to me that you’re supporting this particular war. Or rather, once again, it should be clear in your mind that it’s precisely what you’re doing, even if you delude yourself into thinking otherwise.
People who enlist are IMO way too often way too casual about this choice (often less true for officers, who generaly have made an early career choice, and have thought it out). Way too many people enlist because they don’t know what else to do, because it strikes their fancy, because they hope to have some adventurous experiences, because they think it will help them acquire some useful skills, because they want to do something involving a lot of physical activity, because they’re “patriot”, even some because they hope to dig chicks more easily… and all sort of other similar reasons that all have in common the absence of serious consideration of what it means to belong to the military.
Basically, when you enlist, you’re trained to become either a criminal or a hero. And which one it will be is a coin toss, because it won’t be up to you to choose (though actually you still can choose, and some do so, but with most unpleasant consequences).

Killing an human being and risking your life for a cause are arguably the two most morally important choices one can ever make in his life. By joining the military, you’re surrendering the ability to make these decisions for you to somebody else. Yeah, joining the military is definitely not a casual decision, and not “yet another job”.

Nicely put.

No, joining the military is not morally neutral. What you have to decide is whether it is morally compatible with you.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do you think a country has a right to defend itself?
  2. Do you see having a professional military as being inherently immoral?
  3. Do you think your own military is an immoral organization?

Once you’ve decided that there’s nothing wrong with your country having a military, then it would be hypocritical to say that it’s immoral to be a part of it. Of course, you can agree that it’s okay in principle to have a military, but that your own military does despicable things and therefore you cannot be part of it (I imagine many Germans felt that way in 1939).

But if you are by and large happy with your country’s military, and think that on balance it is a moral organization, then there’s only one question left: Do you believe that joining the military, and therefore forfeiting your right to decide where and when you will use violence, is moral? In other words, are you happy with the military as constructed, wherein the decision to use violence is made by civilians and carried out through the chain of command?

If you can answer yes to that, then it’s perfectly moral for you to join the military, and to shoot and kill people when ordered to do so (within the laws of warfare).

If you disagreed with any of the statements above, you have some thinking to do about the role of the military and what it means.

Sorry, I probably read too much into your question.

It’s interesting though. I read an article recently, I think it was in the NYT, about how Amnesty International was assailing the US for “outsourcing” the war. One of the complaints was hiring civilians to provide security, gather intelligence, etc.

I’ve heard lots of stories about soldiers getting out of the military and immediately turning around and working for corporations like Halliburton, making lots more money and doing much the same things they did as soldiers.

I think if you have a mercenary mind-set, you can think of the military as just a job. They pay me. I do what I’m told. If that involves killing, so be it. Doesn’t matter to me where I am, or who I might have to kill. It doesn’t have to be a moral or political act, if you’re essentially an amoral or apolitical person.

Pretty much everyone I know who has joined the military (say 5-6 people I’ve known well, and a few others) joined because it was a job compatible with their abilities and career interests (or general lack thereof) or their parents encouraged them to join. These guys did not join during wartime, but did serve during the first Gulf War. I’ve known only a couple who had a general concept of the military’s role in society, and that was a factor in their decision.

A lot of people who join are 18 years old and either aren’t college material or don’t have money for college. They are making a pragmatic personal decision, not a moral or ethical one. For them, war is a risk, not a motivation one way or another.

Some very interesting responses; lots of stuff to mull over. Will leave it at that for now – just deleted a long post because I was finding it difficult to articulate my response…or maybe it was just mentally formulating that response that was the hard part.

I think above speaks to the primary issue.

What separates the military from other most other professions is not its comparitive value to society. It is not the level of danger servicemembers may face. There are plenty of other jobs out there more dangerous then surving in the military.

The biggest difference is the act of faith involved. Joining the military means agreeing to give up a great deal of personal choice when it comes to where you will live, what you will do and how you will be used. It means having faith that your nation will use you to correct ends.

Whether you believe joining the military is a neutral act or not largely depends on whether you feel making such a leap of faith can be a neutral act.

Sorry to come back late to this thread, but i just ran my name in the search engine (by the way, how comes it digs up only relatively old threads? None of the ones I know I’ve been quoted in during the recent days came up.)
Precisely, this is this third question I have an issue with. Were I a Swiss or Norwegian citizen, I might have a reasonnable expectation that my country’s army won’t be used to further immoral goals. But being a french citizen, and knowing that my country’s record is a long way from being spotless, even in relatively recent times, I feel better off being a consciencious objector. Were I an american citizen, I would have exactly the same opinion, and wouldn’t enlist. I’m not fond of the idea of aiding in the bombing of the cambodian countryside or the backing of african dictatorships or such things…

Being used on a regular basis for immoral purposes (or in immoral ways) resulting in death and misery for many people make the french or american army organizations of very dubious morality IMO. Expecting, as an enlisted or drafted soldier, that you will only be send to fight for noble causes requires a leap of faith which honestly neither country (nor many others) deserve as they have proved time and again.