Military Recruitment on Campus

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David Bernstein points out something really stupid about the universities that won't allow military recruiters on campus because they don't approve of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". The claim is that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is discriminatory, and therefore universities with anti-discrimination policies can't allow recruiters on campus. It's not discriminatory in terms of whether it allows gays into the military, but it is discriminatory against those who are openly gay. If it's wrong to discriminate against people because they talk about their sexuality, then this is a wrongful policy.

Bernstein simply accepts that this is correct. What troubles him is that military recruiters are targeted for a boycott, when they're simply following orders, orders handed down not from superior (military) officers but from the civilian government. Why isn't this a boycott of the government that instituted this policy rather than a boycott of those who merely are forced to carry it out? This really does make these university policies seem really stupid. In one respect it's a little like shooting the messenger.

He also makes a comparison I hadn't thought about. The evil our military is currently engaging is much more serious than the evil of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". These university policies undermine our efforts to combat that evil. Doesn't that mean they're doing more harm than good by focusing on eliminating the lesser evil? Anti-discrimination is an important moral consideration, but is it absolute in a way that it ignores even more significant moral considerations?

10 Comments

That is really odd. I would think a better reason to exclude recruiters would be because the institution doesn't want people to go into the military at all.

Stan Hauerwas wrote an article amusingly titled "Why gays as a group are morally superior to christians as a group". His sole point was that gays managed to get themselves excluded as a group from military service. Somehow christians haven't been able to pull that one off.

My apologies to those who support christian participation in war.

That is really odd. I would think a better reason to exclude recruiters would be because the institution doesn't want people to go into the military at all.

That's not the argument anyone is using, and it's not what the Supreme Court case is about.

Christians can't avoid serving, but they can avoid participation in war as conscientious objectors. Christians as a group wouldn't want to be excepted, because some (most?) Christians consider the military part of the government's divinely-mandating role (e.g. in Romans 13) to use the sword for the sake of justice.

I'm not sure why Christians would want to interpret Rom 13 as saying we should participate in war. While it says that the (gov't) minister weilds the sword, we should we take that as saying that we should also do so?

Given the manner in which the U.S. has generally waged war in its history, I don't see how even someone who is a Just War proponent could enter the military thinking that he would be able to live by that set of guidelines.

The Jews managed to get themselves excluded from Roman military service, I think mostly due to their not being willing to work on Saturdays. I have a feeling that the early christians also did not participate in the Roman military, but I would be happy to see some sort of evidence on that one way or the other.

You would be correct though, in stating that my position is not a common one among american christians.

If it's a genuine moral obligation, then I can't see why Christians should be excused from it.

The U.S. is probably much better at waging just war than anyone else. With the exception of the terrorist actions at the end of WWII, I can't see any major problem (and a moral argument can be presented even in favor of those, but that would take a lot more work for me to motivate than I have time to put in right now).

The evidence is strikingly slim on the earliest Christians, though a pacifist streak did develop at some point, perhaps even by the second century. That lasted until Augustine developed a Christian version of just war theory. Since then pacifism hasn't been a majority Christian view. There isn't a lot in the NT that I think goes either way, despite many claims that NT statements demonstrate pacifism. I've found all such arguments to be seriously lacking, particularly the ones based on the Sermon on the Mount, which was talking about interpersonal behavior among individuals as individuals.

It's the OT endorsement of certain wars that makes it clear to me that anyone who considers the whole Bible authoritative simply cannot consider war immoral in any absolute sense. Even the recent popes have stopped short of that sort of position. But what makes me not even go as far toward pacifism as the Catholic position is that I can't see any difference in the general moral principles that were true regarding this before Christ and the general moral principles about this after Christ. If justice required defending the innocent, freeing the oppressed, and carrying out justice on the wrongdoer back then, why does it not do so now, particularly when Paul even affirms it as such in Romans 13?

Then my first point comes back in. If it's a moral obligation for nonbelievers, why should we be excused from it as Christians, as if we're not held to the same high standard everyone else is?

I see you are quite unfamiliar with the christian non-violence position explicated by Yoder and Hauerwas. The idea is not at all that war or violence are absolutely against God's character or desire, but that the christian vocation requires non-violence as its method of witness.

The only argument I can see being made from Romans 13 for participation in war is one where obedience to the command of the ruler requires it. This is the argument used by Bonhoeffer in his ethics. I don't see why we shouldn't be allowed to make an exception to this when the ruler asks us to kill people.

In any event, is it not clear in the NT that the war christians are supposed to wage is not against humans (Eph 6:12), that the example Jesus sets and which Paul points towards is one of renunciation of our rights, including that of self-defence? The eschatological vision we get of the New Covenant in Isaiah is one where war is no longer to be found, so it seems reasonable to me that the OT itself witnesses to the pacifism which was to come. I don't see, then, why a pacifist position would undermine a reading of the OT as authoritative.

This while discussion became quite muddled after Constantine when the witness of the church became mixed up with the rule of the state.

A friend of mine just todat posted an interesting series of church father quotations on this issue, so I'll share this one from Tertullian:

Tertullian
But now inquiry is made about this point, whether a believer may
turn himself unto military service, and whether the military may be
admitted unto the faith, even the rank and file, or each inferior
grade, to whom there is no necessity for taking part in sacrifices
or capital punishments. There is no agreement between the divine and
the human sacrament, the standard of Christ and the standard of the
devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness. One soul cannot
be due to two masters--God and Caesar. And yet Moses carried a rod,
and Aaron wore a buckle, and John (Baptist) is girt with leather and
Joshua the son of Nun leads a line of march; and the People warred:
if it pleases you to sport with the subject. But how will a
Christian man war, nay, how will he serve even in peace, without a
sword, which the Lord has taken away? For albeit soldiers had come
unto John, and had received the formula of their rule; albeit,
likewise, a centurion had believed; still the Lord afterward, in
disarming Peter, unbed every soldier. (On Idolatry)

I'm familiar with it. I'm just at a loss to understand how it works. The idea, as far as I can tell, is supposed to be that non-Christians have a moral obligation to seek justice (which is the only explanation of the Romans 13 statements about the government's obligation to use the sword for justice). But then Christians are under no obligation to be part of that process. If it's not a moral obligation but a moral wrong, then we have the absolute position that the OT won't allow. If it's a moral obligation, then how can a Christian shirk it?

The Ephesians point seems irrelevant to me. All that's talking about is the war Christians are involved in as Christians. It's not Christians against unbelievers. It's not Christians against their government that's oppressing them. It's not Christians against the world in general. It's Christians against the true spiritual enemies. But taking part in a war against an unjust oppressor is not endorsing a war between Christianity and that oppressor. It's simply carrying out justice within the fallen world we're in. It's not Christianity that declares war against evil powers. It's human governments who do so, and it's residents of those governments who take part in the actual combat. Your argument assumes that my participation in war if I were ever to do so would require my thinking that there's something particularly Christian about doing so. I don't think that any more than I think my serving on a jury amounts to representing Christianity in the court system.

I agree with you on self-defense. I don't think I have a right to self-defense as an individual Christian. I do think I might find myself in situations where I have an obligation to protect others. If someone breaks into my house and decides to abuse my children sexually, I have an obligation to stop the person. Similarly, if someone threatens the people of any nation, that nation has an obligation to protect its people.

As for the eschatological vision, that's exactly right. In a non-fallen world, there would be no war. In a restored world, there will be no war. Some take that to imply that pacifism is the ideal we should pursue, because if everyone follows it then it can happen.

But that doesn't follow from the eschatological ideal, because there's another principle that if everyone followed it would also bring peace. That principle is not using violence except to stop already-existing or about-to-exist violence. If those are the only times people use violence, then no one would be initiating it, and violence would never occur. That principle doesn't seem to me to be any worse with respect to the eschatological ideal, because everyone in the eschatological ideal would be following it. So why should it be wrong to follow it rather than the pure pacifist ideal? Given that the principle I'm giving at least allows the kind of protection God was willing to give his people in their fallen situation in the biblical accounts, it seems too far to claim that Christians shouldn't follow similar principles in a fallen context.

I'm glad you see at least some of what I am getting at :)

I don't want to drag this on forever, but I wanted to mention a couple of points. One is that while I'm not completely convinced myself of the position I'm taking here (only partly to mostly convinced), I do think that as a christian one should either be a pacifist or subscribe to some sort of just war theory. I think either case would preclude one from thinking that one should voluntarily participate in the current US armed forces.

The other thing I will mention is to fill out my point about echatological vision. My contention is that the vision of Isaiah is what Paul and other early christians felt about the coming of Jesus and the birth of the church. The older I get, the less confident I feel about any particular scenarios of what we usually term eschatology (pre-, post- or amillenial), but I do feel strongly that the NT teaches, e.g. throughout Ephesians, that through Christ we now actually have peace with one another.

Also, lastly, given the extremely non-individualistic context of the NT (Bruce Malina, among others, has written extensively on this subject), I think it is not hard to stretch the point on self-defense to defending others.

Sometime, when you get the chance, check out Shusaku Endo's novel _Silence_. He writes of a moral dilemma where a missionary priest is offered the choice (by the local Japanese ruler) of either renouncing Christ or seeing a whole village worth of new christian believers being tortured to death. Rather disturbing stuff, but certainly thought provoking.

I'm not sure you're familiar with the variery within just war theory if you think it's inconsistent with just war theory to be part of the U.S. armed forces. The two main components of just war theory are what justifies being in a war and how to carry out a war.

The U.S., as far as I can tell, is one of the most honorable nations in the second category. On particular decisions I might disagree with what they've done, but by and large they've been very good at maintaining just war standards in combat, and they're actually getting better at it. The Iraq invasion has been among the best carried out attacks on any country ever in terms of minimizing the deaths of those who were innocent with respect to the conflict.

As for the first category, I think an argument could be made for all the most recent wars the U.S. has engaged in within just war theory. I've made that case myself with Iraq. Some people have a very streamlined version of just war theory and thus have worried about a number of the recent justifications used for initiating armed conflict, but I think that just shows their unfamiliarity with the variety within just war theory. This is something I've spent a lot of time on before, so I'm not going to go into the details.

I'm sure all manner of just war theories are possible. I also agree that some of the basic principles for how to carry out war are valued by the US military. I think, from what I understand of the justification of war principles (I just reviewed what the wikipedia article said on this for reference), the US has failed quite soundly.

I want to also say I have every sympathy for the enormously difficult position of President of the US who has to make decisions on these matters. But saying that, I don't see just war principles being spoken about in presidential or even congressional speech about the war. One of the reasons I had no sympathy at all for John Kerry's campaign is that even though he thoroughly criticized Bush's decision to go to war, he didn't actually offer an alternative to it.

Anyhow, I posted that collection of early christian writers on violence on my site if you would be interested in looking at it. Some interesting stuff there, I thought, though some of it wasn't directly relevant to these issues.

I was sure that at some point I'd posted my reflections on Iraq and just war theory, but I can't seem to find them. I did find something I'd posted to my old website that I've apparently never put up on my blog, so I've now posted it here. If your concern is with things besides Iraq, then I'll need to get a sense of what you have in mind.

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