Should I refuse to serve in the military out of a moral standpoint?

As an Israeli citizen I am forced to serve in the military for roughly three years. However, due to my health conditions I am positive that I can get an exemption if I wanted to. So now I have a dilemma of whether to serve or not and I want to do whatever would be more morally right. My thought process is this: If I refuse to serve in the military, there’s a higher chance that it would influence other people to not serve in the military as well and so eventually the power of the Israel military will decrease and Israel would have to resort to a peace solution with the Arabs in Palestine (as they can’t maintain their occupation of Palestine any longer) and thus it would reduce the deaths caused by the Israel/Palestine conflict. But on the other hand, it is also possible that even if the power of the Israel military would decrease they would still try to maintain their occupation of Palestine but because they are weaker they would lose the fight causing more soldiers to die in the process. So basically, Israel’s military power decreasing would be the main motivation for me to choose not to serve, and therefore my question is: if Israel’s military power was decreased would that result in a better future for everyone (possibly by pushing a peace solution for Israel and Palestine) or would that result in a worse future for everyone (causing more deaths as there would be less security for Israel). The future obviously can’t be predicted but what’s more likely in your opinion? so that I could know whether it’s more moral to serve in the Israel military and contribute to it or refuse to serve.


No way is there a factual answer to this. Moving to GD.

The factual answer is that- correct me if I’m wrong- members of the military are not permitted to express or try to influence politics? So even a general officer would not be deciding policy towards, say, the Palestinian peace talks. Therefore, it seems that if you care about that sort of activism you have to stay out of the military.

Health exemption and conscientious objection are completely different things, by the way. You are asking about the latter.

Btw if you as an individual are not in the military that does not ipso facto weaken it, since they can just recruit one extra guy.

When I refused to sign up for the U.S. Selective Service in 1980, I thought something similar. I objected to being used as a pawn with Carter’s dispute with the Soviet Union. I knew I was committing a crime, but thought if enough people did the same “they can’t prosecute all of us” and the whole thing would fall apart. Long story short, almost everyone signed up as required by law. I suspect your act of defiance will yield a similar level of success. (people would probably give your views more credibility of you did serve in the armed forces.)

Nonetheless, we all have to follow our own conscience. Best of luck to you.

I see this is moved. In that case, you must examine your motivations (are you trying to “weaken” the army, are you a pacifist, is it political (would fighting someone besides the Palestinians be OK?), and so on, in order to engage in meaningful civil disobedience. People will surely ask you these things, and some reasons are better than others.

If you claim conscientious objector status (that’s what we call it in the U.S.) aren’t you still obligated to complete national service in some other way? So you serve in a hospital, and the person who might otherwise have been assigned to the hospital is instead assigned to the IDF. Do you believe that would influence other people?

Or are you willing to refuse any kind of service and accept the consequences that go with it?

My motivation is to ultimately reduce the number of deaths in the world. If weakening the army would result in that then it would indeed be my goal. I know that the odds that I would actually be able to influence enough people not to serve that it would cause an actual change are very slim. But as long as I’m “working towards that goal” by not serving that’s all that matters right?

All I want is to be able to justify whatever decision I make and to not feel (later in life) that I’ve been selfish because I didn’t serve.

I won’t be obligated to do some other national service because I would be getting a medical exemption. The IDF doesn’t request you to do national service in other ways if your exemption is justified.

All morality is individual. We cannot predict the future, and we cannot be responsible for the actions of others. If you have a moral objection to taking arms and potentially being ordered to use them, you absolutely must follow your conscience.

If you feel that it is unethical to serve, than that should be your reason.
Don’t use some lame medical excuse to enable you to dodge the issue.

If you qualify for an exemption and don’t take it, you’re probably putting yourself and others at risk because you can’t fully execute your military duties. That’s reason enough to duck military service.

Take the exemption. Donate your time to some cause that satisfies your values.

Well, each individual human (okay, matched pairs of individual humans) has the potential to produce children, who produce children, who produce children, etc. into infinity. All of which will eventually die. Killing people now (the younger, the better) would therefore prevent orders of magnitude more deaths in the future.

If you seek and obtain a medical exemption, there’s no reason to think that your non-service would inspire others to decline to serve for ethical/conscientious reasons. If part of your moral calculation here involves bearing witness to your beliefs in the hope of influencing others, then surely you should identify as a conscientious objector, not as medically unfit?

Your key question is whether (marginally) weakening Israeli military capacity will lead to less deaths (because Israel has a greater incentive to seek and accept a peace settlement) or more deaths (conflict intensifies as Israel is perceived to be more :“defeatable”). Obviously nobody can offer you a definitive answer about this. You should also bear in mind that those who do offer answers are quite likely to be offering faith-based rationaliisations; they are motivated to believe that a strong defence capacity will lead to peace and therefore they more easily come to believe that. Or they are motivated to believe the reverse, and so come to believe that. Finally you should consider that the answer may not be a simple binary; conceivably, a militarily weaker Israel could lead to an intensification of the conflict, leading to an earlier peace settlement than would otherwise have happened. Does that lead to more deaths or less deaths overall? Impossible to say.

And, finally, I point to a possible further complicating factor; when you talk about an early peace settlement you talk about reducing “deaths caused by the Israel/Palestine conflict”, but when you talk about a militariily weaker Israel you speak of “causing more soldiers to die in the process”. Are you attributing a particular ethical signficance to the deaths of soldiers in particular, in distinction from other deaths? If so, you need to be clear about what that is.

The bottom line, I think, is that the basis that you are seeking to answser this question on is unlikely to offer you a satisfactory answer. “Which course of action will result in fewer deaths?” (or “. . . fewer of the deaths that I prioritise avoiding?”) is unlikely to be capable of answer with any certainty. It’s quite possible that, consciously or subsconsciously, you will end up accepting whichever answer points to the course of action to which you are drawn for other, possibly unacknowledged, reasons. And of course either way your personal actions can only affect Israeli military capacity in the most marginal way.

There are other ways of approaching the question, e.g.

  • Should we, as a community, be relying on military force to address this question? Is that approach likely to minimise deaths? If you conclude “yes”, then serve; if you conclude “no”, then don’t serve. But, in either case, don’t base this on any calcuation of what your individual actions will achieve; instead think of what the community’s collective actions will acheive, and of whether you want to be part of those actions.

  • Am I, as an individual, willing to use violence in this context? Is it justified? Is it conscionable? If no, then don’t serve. Again, you don’t need to justify this by an appeal to what your refusal to serve may achieve. Nor do you need to believe, or assert, that others should not use violence; just that you should not.

That isn’t how it works in Israel. There is compulsory service if you are over 18 with some few exclusions.

So, is a strong Israel going to cause more deaths or less deaths than a weak Israel? I would say it would cause less. The reason why is that the Rubicon has already been crossed. Israel currently is strong, so that gives a measure of stability simply because you know what the situation is. If Israel were to become weaker, then the shifting of the power balance would make it more likely for conflict to occur. Instability and chaos always bring death. Syria is a great example of this. No one is under any illusions that Assad was an angel when he had a monopoly on power, but there was a certain amount of security in Syria when he was seen as undefeatable. It was only after his position weakened and a large part of his army deserted while other groups thought they were strong enough to challenge him that Syria turned into a hellscape. We can see the same thing in Iraq and really in many, many conflicts. When the balance of power changes, the scrambling for new positions tends to bring with it a great deal of destruction. Shifting that balance of power in a place as explosive as the Middle East is playing with fire. Yes, that means it sucks to be Palestinian, but asking for a military solution to solve that crisis is fool-hardy.

Do strong armies or weak armies cause more death? The question answers itself.

Become a businessman and do business with Palestinians if possible. Political and military impact by one individual pales in comparison to the impact an individual can have in voluntary arrangements.

Do strong armies or weak ones deter more threats? And, since some folks don’t get deterred: do strong armies or weak ones find it easier to gun down would-be killers? And: to the extent that a strong army can prevail using conventional weapons, and a weak one is more likely to resort to WMDs — what?

I guess the US military was weak, that’s why it resorted to WMDs. Which weak armies resorted to WMDs?

Strong armies tend to provoke conflict. See the US and Israel.

If an army is weak, it represents little threat. In this case it is either not bothered by other armies, or it pays tribute in one way or another. Both preferable to competitive military buildup of the goal is avoiding death.

Witness the US military buildup of the ‘80s. They had a bunch of conventional weapons laying around so military adventures were seen as less costly. This led to Iraq I and II, Clinton’s bombings, Afghanistan occupation, etc.

The Syrian regime was not attacked because they were weak. They were attacked because the Saudi-backed jihadists had gained strength. Then we saw further foreign interventions into the conflict making both sides stronger and increasing death precipitously.

The Soviets and Chinese had strong militaries leading to disastrous domestic outcomes.

The second is more likely, IMO.

Who is more likely to be attacked, the weak or the strong? The question appears to me to answer itself. Hizbollah and Hamas and the others aren’t going to be more likely to negotiate with a weak Israel than with a strong one. And a strong Israel is more capable of enforcing an agreement if one is reached.

Do what you think is right. My perspective is skewed by the fact that
A) I am not Israeli
B) I don’t think the Palestinians are being treated particularly badly.