Why do I fight?
Every soldier agonizes over this question at least once before they enlist or deploy; at least, I hope they do. I certainly did.
I heard the drums and marched off to war. I led soldiers in a war zone. I told them to kill and I risked my own men’s lives.
Still, I struggled with violence and still struggle to understand why I fought. To fully understand violence I must fully understand myself. After having posted for a few weeks, I feel the need to put my blog, On Violence, in context.
So, why do I fight?
I joined ROTC for many reasons, none substantial, without confronting the issue of violence. Then, during my MSIII year, I first learned about Just War theory. Put too simply, Just War theorists says some wars are just and others are not. It is an ethical framework that allows nations to defend themselves. Wars should be wars of self defense, only as violent as they need to be—options of last resort. Created by Christian theologians, Just War theory bridged the gap between the peaceful nature of the Bible and the cruel reality of life. As I sat in class learning this theory, I realized that, despite our leadership’s assertion to the contrary, Just War theory didn’t mesh with U.S. foreign policy.
Any logical, unbiased follower of Just War theory would not have allowed the Iraq War. We acted preemptively, incorrectly and without adequate authority. As my class discussed the theory, I stood intellectually alone on this issue. Everyone in the classroom agreed that Operation Iraqi Freedom was a just cause.
Yet, here I sit, having deployed to Afghanistan and prepared to go again; or to Iraq, if needed there. So, why do I fight for a cause that I don’t believe in? When I accepted my commission to become an officer in the US military, I prepared for the fact that I could deploy to Iraq. Though the war was unjust in our initiation, the war would continue whether or not I deployed. Just War theory has a second critical dimension that I could defend: waging a war in accordance with Jus in Bello.
“Jus in Bello” means that during a conflict an army must discriminate among legitimate targets—civilians and combatants—and limit the violence where ever possible. I interpret it like this: a military at war — and ours is no exception — has the potential to do many horrible things. The line between horrible and honorable is leadership: Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers.
An officer leads, develops and exemplifies the moral character of his unit more than any other soldier. The top brass, at any level, can either lead his unit ethically or he can let it slip into moral decay. As an officer, I look back proudly and say that I tried to save more lives than I took. That is why I fought and fight.
Why do I fight?