I don’t want to defend any specific U.S. military interventions, since I don’t really know the exact motives behind any of them. Instead, I want to focus on the philosophical argument that the U.S. should or should not intervene in other countries to protect human rights.
For those who know my philosophy, I base my ethical system on the rights of individuals. Basically, each individual has certain rights (life, body, freedom, etc.) that must be evaluated in each moral decision. This is the system I use for judging moral decisions on both an individual and societal scale.
As for the topic, the standard argument for U.S. intervention goes like this:
1. There is a foreign government that is imposing ____ human rights violations on its citizens.
2. The U.S. has the power to invade and overthrow the government, and therefore stop the violation of human rights.
Therefore, the U.S. should intervene and overthrow the foreign government.
The opposition generally claims that it is not the job of the U.S. to play world police, or intervene in the affairs of other countries. To refute this argument, I want to point out the arbitrary distinction between nations. Consider this:
Imagine that a revolutionary army takes over Arizona and establishes its own government. This happened quickly enough that the national army is about to move in and overthrow the uprising. During the time in between, the revolutionary government imposes laws that restrict freedom of travel (like North Korea), freedom of speech, and has started to hunt down people who oppose the new government.
Should the national army overthrow the new government? The people of Arizona are having their rights violated, and the only way to prevent it would be a military intervention. Most people would argue that yes, it is clearly obvious that the national army should overthrow the new government.
The main distinction between the above case and global policy is that the people of Arizona are U.S. citizens, and that it is the job of the U.S. government to protect its citizens. However, it’s hard to argue that a person born in Arizona deserves a greater right to protection than a person born in Libya simply because of their place of birth.
What I want to argue for (though will do so mainly in future posts) is the need for universal ethics, that see human beings as a universal entity rather than divided into nations.
I’ve been wondering about the morality of being a soldier in war for a while. At first thought, most people respect soldiers and consider their sacrifices praiseworthy. However, there are instances of cruel treatment among soldiers, and we often see soldiers of an opposing military as immoral.
To start with, “our soldiers are moral and the enemy is immoral” is not a valid way of thinking. It is similar to two people fighting, and one of them claiming that “it’s okay for me to hit them, but not okay for him to hit me”. This is called being a practical solipsist, and is not a valid base for morality by any standard.
I think the best way that war is justified is by claiming that it is a “just” war. For example, countries that were being attacked during World War II were morally justified in defending their countries. However, what is the case during aggressive wars (wars that are not in self-defense)?
I don’t want to talk too long about the Iraq war due to the controversy surrounding it. A lot of people believe that the war has been a waste of human life and resources, and they have good reasons for believing this way. So what is a soldier in the army morally required to do?
Imagine being a soldier in Iraq. Now imagine your unit is ordered to ransack a building that is currently holding about a dozen enemy soldiers. This building is in a civilized community, so you know that the chance of innocent bystanders being killed is high. What do you do? How do you judge whether or not to carry through with your orders? Common moral theories such as utilitarianism could provide a useful way of judging, but would present a problem: how can a unit function if each mission has the possibility of refusal? Also, soldiers cannot be expected to fully understand the aggregate effect that their actions will have.
So here’s the dilemma: are soldiers supposed to judge each order based on its moral value (and thus make the unit ineffective and unreliable), or are soldiers supposed to blindly obey any order that their superiors hand down?
I still haven’t fully formed my opinion on this, so I want to see if anyone out there has any ideas on this subject. I’ll have my opinion up in a few days.