Term Paper: Military Orders

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[. . .] These can come from his or her own mind and ideas, or they can come from the thoughts and beliefs of other people. Whether they come from those in positions of power and in the form of orders will depend on what the person is willing to accept.

Since there are not considered to be any absolute truths in relativism, everything is "relative" to other things. The decision of the soldier to follow the order or not would then relate to whether doing so would fit with that particular soldier's ethics. That would be a very different military than the one that is actually seen, where people are given orders and expected to follow them without question. When they do not question orders things operate much more efficiently, but the internal conflict in the mind and heart of the specific soldiers can be very high. They can become uncertain based on their own beliefs of ethics, values, and truths, which can make accepting what they are told to do when it clearly goes against what they feel comfortable with very difficult.

Personal Views

One of the most difficult areas of ethics is to talk about personal views, because everyone believes something different and has different values. When it comes to the military, however, virtue ethics are much closer to my own beliefs than relativism. I understand that there may not be absolute truths, but it is wrong to use that as an excuse to avoid following orders. When a person joins the military, he or she knows that orders must be followed and that these orders are not to be questioned. In that sense, it does not matter if the person thinks the orders are unethical. What matters is that the person focuses on fulfilling the orders without question or hesitation. This is what soldiers do. That does not mean that they are not capable of thinking for themselves. Instead, what is meant by this is that soldiers know that orders are given for a reason, and that those orders are to be followed. To do anything less would be a disservice to their country and their fellow soldiers who are relying on them. That is an important consideration for anyone who is considering joining the military.

My own personal belief is that virtue ethics make a lot more sense when it comes to following military orders that may be unethical. Not only are ethics relative to a person, they are also relative to a situation. As was talked about in the example of killing in wartime as opposed to killing for other reasons, taking the life of an enemy during war can appear to be completely justified. Because of that, people who would otherwise not harm a person may join the military and not have any type of ethical dilemma over taking the life of another person. If someone is actively trying to kill you, you most likely would not just stand around and allow them to do it. You would either try to hide and protect yourself, or you would attempt to kill or maim them so that you would no longer be at risk. That is what most people would do during peace time, but they would also not go around armed and/or expecting to be shot at or otherwise harmed like they do when they are in the military and at war.

One of the most important things to remember about virtue ethics is how it addresses the issue of pleasure and pain. For people in the military, the pain of what will happen to them if they do not follow orders is often much greater in their minds than the pain they will feel if they take a life or perform other actions that they would normally shun or avoid. Unfortunately, they do not really know how they will feel about these things until they happen. Once those things take place, they cannot be removed from the mind or the memory, which can scar a person and leave them vulnerable to mental health issues and other problems. While that is not the point of this paper, it is important to be aware that people who are in the military face difficult decisions about ethics and other facets of life that people who are not in the military may never face and may never even consider.

The difference between pleasure and pain can also be difficult to discern in some ways, which can leave a person even more confused about how he or she wants to handle the issue of what is or is not ethical. During military exercises or deployments, lines can become blurred and issues of right and wrong can become confusing. As that happens, the person may begin to question his or her ethics and whether different choices need to be made. That can lead to big changes for people who already struggle with whether their ethics are the "right" ones for them and whether they should be changed in order to be more accepted or fall in line with the people around them and/or the people who are leading and guiding them. Many people adopt the ethics of people they trust and are closest to, which is something that seems much more logical. Those people find their truths, and that makes much more sense to me than saying that there just are not any truths at all.

Conclusion

As can be seen, ethics are something that is very personal and very unique to each person. That is important to keep in mind, even in the context of the military. While soldiers are trained to do what they are told and be effective, they are still human beings and not robots. They have thoughts and feelings and beliefs that may not completely coincide with those of their peers or their leaders. They will need to repress how they feel in light of the orders they are supposed to follow, or they will need to change how they feel to be more in line with others to whom they look up or to whom they must report. That is not an easy thing to do, but working with virtue ethics can help people move forward with an understanding that ethics may be much more situational and contextual than they thought in the past. This new way of looking at things can help them make difficult choices about who they are, what they believe, and what they will do when they are ordered.

That is not to say that a soldier should never say no to anything, even a direct order. He or she has the right to do that, but must understand that it could cause a serious problem in his or her military career. Being dishonorably discharged, for example, can carry a lifelong stigma that is difficult to get rid of. While it will not affect the ex-soldier in all aspects of life, it can have far-reaching consequences, some of which would really not be expected. People who have serious ethical conflicts about taking orders unconditionally may want to avoid getting into the military, because it can become difficult for them if they decide that taking orders is not right for them or that the orders conflict too strongly with the beliefs they have. Many people do not think about this before they sign up, but it can leave them struggling with perceived unethical orders as their career advances.

References

Baghramian, M. (2004). Relativism, London: Routledge.

Crisp, R. & Slote, M. (1997). Virtue Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Darwall, S. (2003). Virtue Ethics. Oxford: B. Blackwell.

Devettere, R.J. (2002). Introduction to Virtue Ethics. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

Gellner, E.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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