Articles CPP Newsletter Online V11.1

An Objection to Conscientious Objection by Maureen C. Kelley

Kelley, Maureen C., “An Objection to Conscientious Objection: Conscience on Trial,” Responses to the War by Philosophy Majors, Newsletter of the Concerned Philosophers for Peace, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Spring 1991).

Tragically, it has taken the violent overtures of the Gulf War to bring important issues of peace to the public attention. Of particular concern to students was the threat of a renewed draft, and with these worries of conscription came pleas of conscientious objection. As an undergraduate, I found myself questioning not the merit of conscientious objection per se, but rather, the legal system by which conscientious objector status must be obtained.

I was at first concerned with the limiting definition of pacifism inherent in requirements for conscientious objectors. Federal law defines conscientious objectors as those who object to participating in war in any form. The meaning of ‘any form’ remains ambiguous. Does it refer to forms of participation, or to types of warfare? Given that the federal government has created a second category for those who object to war, but who do not object to performing noncombatant duties in the armed forces, it has been commonly accepted that ‘form’ refers to violent combat. Those seeking status as conscientious objectors then, must refuse to serve in any combatant role.

Accepting Duane Cady’s notion of the ‘pacifist continuum,’ this narrowed definition restricts objector status to the most extreme forms of pacifism. Individuals must espouse, at the very least, non-lethal force pacifism. Federal law does not recognize nuclear, or ecological pacifists, and it certainly does not recognize selective objectors, or persons whose consciences permit them to participate only in “just” wars. In fact, all consequentialist forms of pacifism are ruled out on the grounds that such views are deemed ‘inconsistent’ or ‘insincere,’ as compared to the deontic, or ‘principled’ forms of pacifism. In practice, most federal boards cater only to absolute pacifists, welcoming the Mennonites and Quakers, while shunning those who may find the use of force justified in limited cases. As a result, federal law has been allowed to demarcate the parameters of pacifism.

Unfortunately, government authorities have not stopped at the boundaries of pacifism, but have ventured to measure the ‘sincerity’ of pacifist claims as well. A registrant’s opposition to war must be unequivocal in the eyes of the board members, in order to achieve objector status. Several problems arise with such a measurement. First, the forum in which the sincerity of claim is determined is essentially a legal court. And while courts of law are commonly known to be decisive in matters of fact, they are infrequently known to be competent in probing matters of conscience. A vigorous cross-examination can bring out the most stubbornly held facts, but can rarely shed light on a person’s deepest convictions. In such cases, the person seeking conscientious objector status may be severely hampered by verbal limitations and thus subjected to arbitrary criteria. As one court stated, “the best evidence [on a registrant’s sincerity] may well be, not his statements or those of other witnesses, but his credibility and demeanor, in a personal appearance.” A registrant’s claim may thus be rejected if he or she gives evasive answers or appears anxious. Such an examination may reveal that the individual is inarticulate, confused, or nervous; none of which are grounds for proving insincerity.

The objectivity of the judges may also be called into question. Board members have been referred to as, “community influentials,” “extensions of the local control structure,” and “managers of the national government’s function.” In all cases, they are agents of the state, employed to protect the interests of government and subsequently, entrusted with the rights of registrants. A survey conducted during Vietnam, found that the majority of board members were ‘never active’ in politics, and two-thirds surveyed held some form of public office during their lives. Members are not typically known for holding unorthodox beliefs or divergent views, but rather for embracing a traditional system of values and ideas. That traditional set of values may very well be one which condones the act of war in the name of ‘national duty,’ and sheds disfavorable light on anyone who shrugs such a ‘duty.’

As indicated by these procedural and structural shortcomings, the system through which conscientious objector status is obtained merits serious reevaluation. In the most extreme judgment, it seems only to be a governmental artifice, designed for the purpose of thwarting those who seek its refuge. Perhaps then, we should be wary of seeking refuge from violence with those who have been the historical perpetrators of violence. As ultimately, it is not the private conscience which should bear the onus of proof, but the act of war.

Maureen C. Kelly is a senior philosophy major at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Articles CPP Newsletter Online V11.1

Just War: Strategy and Tactics by David J. Ulbrich

Ulbrich, David J., “Just War: Strategy and Tactics,” Responses to the War by Philosophy Majors, Newsletter of the Concerned Philosophers for Peace, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Spring 1991).

The concept of ethics being applied to warfare may perhaps seem in some views to be an immoral contradiction in terms. Other contrary views may presume that there is a very questionable place for any ethical criticism on an amoral battlefield. These viewpoints are recognizable as pacifism and warism. According to Duane Cady’s book, From Warism to Pacifism A Moral Continuum, viewing ethics of warfare in these two relative extremes is too simplistic. One must also comprehend that the potential danger of massive destruction in warfare is especially poignant in the twentieth century with nuclear, chemical, and biological capabilities.

I am in the Augustinian just-war tradition. I believe that there are certain instances in which war can be morally justified. For example, a war, either in defense of one’s own country or in defense of another defenseless country, could be morally fought. I feel that the Persian Gulf conflict would be an example of the latter case. Hussein’s Iraq had valid claims against Kuwait. But Iraq had no justification for invasion. In fact, I would venture to state that the commonly-used phrase “No War For Oil” was more applicable to Iraq than to the U.S. When told to leave or else face the consequences, Hussein stubbornly stood his ground. Being left with no legitimate recourse, the United States with allies set about to liberate Kuwait and neutralize Hussein’s forces.

A good way to discuss warfare is to differentiate between jus ad bellum (“when to fight”) and jus in bello (“how to fight”). In examining the Persian Gulf conflict, one can see relative separation between the “when” and “how” to fight. It is clear that President Bush was directing the overall strategy of the war or the jus ad bellum, but he clearly also left the tactics to the military leadership. In For the Common Defense by military historians Millet and Mazlowski, strategy is the general concept for using military force in obtaining the goals of war (xiii).

Leaving tactics–the jus in bello–to the military and its own qualified leadership makes good sense. Again, from Millet and Mazlowski, tactics differs from strategy in that “[t]actics is the actual conduct battle, the application of fire and maneuver by fighting units in order to destroy the physical ability and will of the enemy’s Armed Forces (xiii, emphasis added). The Persian Gulf conflict’s tactics involved a massive air assault which not only broke the Iraqi army’s material ability to fight but also their psychlogical ability to fight. Only when the Iraqi army had been thoroughly suppressed from the air was there a ground assault. It is also important to note that the United States made an intentional effort, when possible, not to kill innocents or noncombatants.

All-in-all, I feel the Persian Gulf conflict was a “just” war.

David J. Ulbrich is a sophomore history and philosophy major at the University of Dayton.

CPP News CPP Newsletter Online V11.1

1991 Announcements

Gay, William, “1991 Announcements,” Newsletter of the Concerned Philosophers for Peace, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Spring 1991).

CPP President. Duane Cady has been elected CPP President for 1991. He succeeds James Sterba, who served in 1990.

Papers for October Conference. The fourth annual conference of CPP will be held in Knoxville October 25-27, 1991. Our host is the Univ. of Tennessee, with Sheldon Cohen in charge of local arrangements. For the first time we have a theme, namely, Nationalism and Militarism in Regional Conflicts. Henry Shue of Cornell University’s Prog. on Ethics and Public Life, and tentatively Michael Klare, Assoc. Prof. of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College, will be our invited speakers. Papers on aspects of the conf. theme are preferred, but other war and peace issues are not excluded. Papers, limited to 20 minutes reading time, can be submitted in duplicate to Laurence Bove (Walsh College, 2020 Easton St., N.E., N. Canton, OH 44720) by July 1st.

Call for Papers. William Gay is seeking papers for a joint American-Soviet volume on philosophical reflections for the 21st century. The perspective is social political philosophy, with an emphasis upon issues of war and peace. Seven North American essays will be included along with seven Soviet essays. The coeditors are William Gay for Concerned Philosophers for Peace and Tatjana Alekseeva for the Institute of Philosophy in Moscow. Both an English (Rowman & Littlefield) and a Russian (Politizdat) edition will be published by 1993.

Essays may be submitted on any of the following topics: Post-Perestroika Ethical Views of Nuclear War and Deterrence; Political Realism, Morality, and the Future of the Nation-State; Nonviolent Alternatives to War; Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy in the 21st Century; Feminist Views on Conflict and International Relations; Peace and Justice from a North-South Perspective; and Ethics and Environmental Concerns. All American essays will be selected by blind review. The text should not exceed 25 double-spaced pages. Papers are to be sent in duplicate to William Gay (Department of Philosophy, UNC at Charlotte, Charlotte, NC 28223).

Longwood Series. You should have received an announcement of the publication of the papers of CPP’s second annual conference in 1989. The book was issued in October by Longwood Academic in Wakefield, NH under the title of In the Interest of Peace: A Spectrum of Philosophical Views, eds., K. Klein and J. Kunkel. Longwood has recently agreed to publish a series of volumes consisting of selections from future CPP conferences. Kenneth Klein has been named the General Editor for this series. The next volume will be the 1990 Notre Dame papers which are currently being selected and edited by Duane Cady and Richard Werner. This volume is expected to be out in the fall.

Nominations for CPP Officers. If you know someone who might like to serve as a CPP officer during the coming years please submit her or his name to Joseph Kunkel. The office of President is an annual position. The Executive Secretary is a three-year term beginning in 1992. And the two representatives from each of the three APA divisions overlap with two-year terms. Concerned Philosophers for Peace can only be vibrant with your continued support.

CPP Meeting at Central Division of APA. CPP will conduct two sessions in Private Dining Room no. 6 of the Palmer House in Chicago on April 24, 1991. From 7:15 to 8:15, John J. Mearsheimer (University of Chicago) will speak on the topic “Why We Will Miss the Cold War” and from 8:30 to 9:30, a panel composed of Tomis Kapitan (Eastern Carolina University),Robert Holmes (University of Rochester), and R. Paul Churchill (George Washington University) will address the topic “War and Peace Issues in the Middle East.” A CPP business meeting will follow from 9:45 to 10:15.