SACRIFICE AND RISK-ACCEPTANCE

Few concepts are more commonly evoked on military memorial days than that of sacrifice. On solemn days of memorial, civilians and military personnel alike gather to pay tribute to men and women who have made 'the ultimate sacrifice'. The type of sacrifice they refer to is the loss of one's own life to protect others; sacrifice that goes beyond what morality demands of them. Although this type of sacrifice is morally exceptional goes beyond what obligation may require, there is also a sense in which soldiers are obligated to at least be prepared to lose their lives in the fulfilment of professional duties. As Babak Rahimi explains, 'soldiers are not merely those who die on the battlefield, but they also become figures that attain an immortal reality through self-sacrifice' (Rahimi, 2005, p. 1). To this, propo- nents of the 'functional thesis', which holds that soldiers are called to be virtuous insofar as those virtues enhance the function of the military unit (Ficarrotta, 1997), add that 'military folk will not be able to do their jobs if they are not, to a certain degree, selfless' (Ficarrotta, 1997, p. 64). 'Otherwise', the function theorists argue, 'they would not be able to tolerate even the ordinary hardships of military life, much less be willing to risk their lives' (Ficarrotta, 1997, p. 64). According to this view, a more limited sense of sacrifice, associated not with giving one's life willingly, but with accepting the risks to one's own life readily, is intrinsic to the practice of soldiering: soldiers risk their lives for their countrymen, their fellow soldiers, and for innocent civilians on either side of the conflict. This latter sense of sacrifice - which entails placing oneself in the position of danger - is intrinsic to the practice of soldiering (in the same way as it might be the practice of policing or firefighting, for instance). This type of sacrifice is present in St. Thomas Aquinas' discussion of military courage: Gregory Reichberg argues that Aquinas' radical redefinition Aristotle's account of courage by 'shift[ing] the meaning of bellum from causing violence to receiving violence' (Reichberg, 2010, p. 343) indicates strong association between martyrdom and courage in his mind. Furthermore, by associating courage to the defence of what is good, Aquinas 'rules out any possible exer- cise of courage in unjust wars' (Reichberg, 2010, p. 341). Being aware of this position helps to illuminate the fact that for Aquinas, courage entailed a readiness to be victimised to unjust violence in defence of what is good. Soldiers are uniquely and vocationally called to defend the common good in a formal capacity: during war. This readiness-to-victimhood constitutes the type of sacrifice to which all soldiers are obligated.

However, despite the apparent association between soldiering and sacri- fice, the word does not appear at all in the Australian Army's 242 page Law of Armed Conflict (Australian Defense Force [ADF], 2006), nor in the United States equivalent (Johnson & Gillman, 2012). It does, however, appear in the 2006 US Field Manual on Counterinsurgency (United States Department of Army [USDA], 2006, pp. 7-21):

Combat, including counterinsurgency and other forms of unconventional warfare, often obligates Soldiers and Marines to accept some risk to minimize harm to noncomba- tants. This risk taking is an essential part of the Warrior Ethos.

Being an essential moral component of soldiering, it is worth consider- ing how contemporary just war theories might explain sacrifice. What might a deontological, rights-based conception of sacrifice look like? It would begin by stipulating that the right to life which all noncombatants possess imposes a duty on against others not to kill them. If a squad of enemy troops is holed-up in an apartment block filled with civilians, those civilians' rights to life mean I am obliged not to bomb the build- ing. I can, however, send a squad of my own soldiers into the building under instructions to kill nobody except enemy soldiers. Doing otherwise would fail to uphold the jus in bello principle of discrimination which is informed by the interplay of rights and obligations surrounding comba- tants and noncombatants. Notably, by connecting risk-acceptance to dis- crimination, rights-based just war theories see self-sacrifice as a duty of soldiers; upholding the principle of discrimination requires a sacrificial disposition. Because soldiers - at least in Western nations - volunteer to join the military, they consent to certain obligations: the obligation to obey the civilian leadership of the military in deployments, the obligation to obey commanding officers, and the broader moral duty to avoid harming noncombatants. Wherever soldiers are deployed, they must protect the innocent people who are there, because the principle of dis- crimination requires it. The question of a 'self-sacrificial duty' emerges as problematic in cases of humanitarian intervention: cases in which soldiers - many of whose purpose is the protection of their own nation, countrymen, families and values - are asked to take those risks when tradition objects of protection are not at stake. This is noted by Martin Cook, who sees humanitarian interventions (specifically, Bosnia and Kosovo) as difficult to reconcile with US soldiers' self-understanding 'precisely because the reasons for those deployments do not clearly link up to the moral core of professional self-understanding - that is, defence of the vital interests and survival of the American people and state' (Cook, 2004, p. 75). In these cases, why should soldiers risk their lives? In Kosovo, 1999, NATO undertook a stra- tegic bombing campaign as a means of quickly and safely (for NATO troops) ending the genocidal Serbian attacks on Kosovar civilians. However, as Walzer notes, 'risk-free intervention undertaken from far away […] is likely to cause an immediate speed-up on the ground' (Walzer, 2004, p. 17). Therefore, as a matter of military fact, more troop-risky modes of warfare needed to be employed in order to actually protect the innocent. The problem, he notes (ibid.), is that it is unclear under why that risk should be taken.

The aim of the intervention, after all, is to rescue people in trouble, and fighting on the ground, in the case as I have described it, is what rescue requires. But this is no longer risk free. Why would anyone undertake it?

Part of the answer could be is that soldiers undertake risk because in joining the military they are obligated to do so. Knowing that once deployed, he will need to risk his life for noncombatants, a soldier must decide in advance whether or not the particular cause is worth sacrificing his life for. He should resign or conscientiously object (regardless of the difficulties entailed), but if he does not, he must fully embrace the mission at hand, including the accompanying risks the mission might entail. This, Cook argues, is what 'professionalism' requires: either one resigns as a sol- dier, or accepts the decision of the leadership. What one must not do is fail to resign and yet subvert the mission by refusing to accept the risks soldiers are ordinarily expected to face because of private scepticism (Cook, 2004, pp. 63-64). If the soldier does not resign, but goes to war without being willing to risk his life, then he fails in his moral obligations as a soldier.

Imagine if, now at war, the above soldier is faced with having to storm a building inhabited by soldiers and civilians alike. The risk is high because of the number of ambush points within the building. Why, he might ask, should he go in to risk his life rather than calling an air strike on the building? One answer can be found by considering another moral concept commonly employed in discussing the morality of bombing areas inhabited by noncombatants: the doctrine of double-effect. Double-effect holds that an agent is not responsible for the side-effects of his action under certain conditions, the most important of which are that the action is not intrinsi- cally evil, and that he not intend that the side-effects come about. In the case of bombing an inhabited building to kill a squad of soldiers, it seems that one kills all the inhabitants of the building - including the innocent - intentionally. Thus, the bombing fails both the tests listed above. (In fact, in failing one, it fails the other, for it is the fact that the killing is intentional that makes it murderous, and therefore intrinsically wrong.) G. E. M. Anscombe, one of the great modern thinkers on intention and double- effect, notes that '[i]t is nonsense to pretend that you do not intend to do what is the means you take to your chosen end' (Anscombe, 1961, p. 51). Were it to occur that in storming the building with soldiers, a grenade tossed into a room happened to trigger a structural collapse due to poor building or prior damage, killing all those inside, this action clearly lies out- side the soldiers' intentions in a way that bombing the building does not; in bombing, the means of destroying the soldiers is by destroying everyone. The brute fact is this: in bombing the building one's act is not the targeted killing of enemy combatants, for the means chosen are not discriminate enough to target the soldiers specifically. What is in fact aimed at is the destruction of the building, with the deaths of civilians being no more a side-effect than the deaths of the enemy soldiers. A similar suggestion is made by Thomas Nagel: perhaps the bomber could argue that what was intended was only that the building in which the bombers were hiding was destroyed, and any people killed were unintended side-effects (Nagel, 1979, p. 61). However, if one genuinely wishes to mount that argument, then one has to somehow justify accepting the deaths of human beings for the mere purpose of destroying a building. No, the reality is that an accurate descrip- tion of the bombing would be targeting the building and all its inhabitants, and therefore accepting the killing of noncombatants as a means to killing the soldiers. It seems clear in such cases that the soldier is morally required not to bomb the building. Self-sacrifice in the form of riskily storming the building is morally necessary.

The description of self-sacrifice offered by rights theory above appears to adequately explain why soldiers are sometimes duty-bound to sacrificial readiness to suffer unjust harm. In fact, Michael Walzer introduces a very similar view, arguing that 'when it is our action that puts innocent people at risk, even if the action is justified, we are bound to do what we can to reduce those risks, even if this involves risks to our own soldiers' (Walzer, 2004, p. 17). However, although his reasoning is partly based on the princi- ple of discrimination and civilian rights to life, he also references Albert Camus' argument that one cannot kill unless one is willing to die (Walzer, 2004, p. 16). Walzer takes this argument to demonstrate the same ideas I have already argued for above, but there is a broader application of Camus' idea: that the soldier is the type of person who is 'willing to die' not merely in those cases where duty demands it, but in cases where no moral imperative could require sacrifice of him. In this discussion I will show how aretaic notions enrich deontologically driven accounts of self- sacrifice by accounting for supererogatory sacrifice in soldiering.

 
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