Who is a soldier? Is he a fighter in a noble cause? Or is he a villain used by the forces that are to channel his blood lust in the direction of who is perceived to be the enemy? Then should he be noble in his actions or should he be as dastardly in his deeds as his conscience provides provision for and his superiors give him leeway?
Talking about Ajantha Mendis, in a post that directed a fair bit of strong points of view in my direction. I became embroiled in this argument/discussion/casual chat with Mr. David Blacker. Though we started off talking about Ajantha Mendis, as all arguments go, this one ended up at a stalemate where there was a hold off on the meaning of one word and its implications.
The word was ‘virtue’ as it was used by Nicholas Machiavelli in his Art of War.
My argument was that soldiers, in order for war to be truly effective and not beget terror in any other form, have to be essentially ‘good’ people, and should not mistake going to war with having an opportunity to unleash suppressed animal instincts on innocents met along the way. To make things clearer I’ll highlight a couple of exchanges me and David had. The extracts are from our last two comments.
Me: Virtue after all simply put, refers to good qualities doesn’t it?
DB: Over-simply put, I’m afraid. Good, after all, is a subjective term. But I think it’s clear that Machiavelli didn’t mean “goodness, honesty” etc. He was talking about strength, ambition, manliness.
Alright, let’s assume that Machiavelli did mean these things when he spoke about ‘virtue’; but then strength, ambition and manliness does not necessarily detract from being ‘good’ does it? one does not have to be evil to be strong, ambitious or manly. As a matter of fact, it can be argued that true manliness arises from achieving your ambitions in a way where you extract as little unnecessary discomfort on your fellow human beings. One can argue that it is a weakness and not a strength to trample upon the already downtrodden.
So therefore shouldn’t soldiers essentially be good people? Shouldn’t they refrain from raping, pillaging, shooting unarmed civilians and leaving the women and children unharmed?
Perhaps it is the rationale behind the war in the first place that makes soldier behave in certain ways. If motives behind the war in question are contrived to seem good and just whereas there were ulterior motives present (take the Iraqi war for instance) then the soldiers will not be fully convinced as to the justifiability of their actions. The hidden truth will permeate down through the ranks and there will be a certain sense of frustration and greed and ambition that will be directed at achieving that ulterior motive in the level of the soldiers themselves. Translating into deeds that are commonly known as ‘crimes of war’ but pass unnoticed in most cases due to the confusion. Because essentially the actual motive behind the whole war is essentially in currently defined terms a ‘crime’.
Iraq was a crime. There were no WMD’s found there. Ever. The whole thing was a fisco. Some say the reason behind it was oil. But it was not a battle between good and evil or whatever you may call it. That much was painfully obvious. Here is where we specifically discussed a soldier’s behavior;
Me: I beg to differ David. It is goodness that keeps a soldier from stealing from the dead. It is honesty that keeps him from lying to his superior to save his own neck. It is goodness and virtue in its ‘modern meaning’ that keeps a soldier from not shooting down an unarmed enemy; it is goodness and ‘virtue’ that would prevent all the war crimes that go unheeded in Iraq and perhaps, in our own land.
DB: That is true, and the fact that such atrocities occur (and have always occured) is in fact because virtue (in its modern sense) does not exist in the military. Virtue would prevent atrocities, yes, but it would also prevent the ruthlessness needed by military leaders which must sacrifice lives for objectives, ignore civilian suffering, and abandon everything but victory. Virtue, in its modern sense, would prevent an individual from even being a soldier who must kill and maim his fellow human beings in order to achieve a political objective. True virtue would prevent war.
But would virtue or being good and honorable actually reduce the effectiveness of a soldier? Or is soldiering just like anything else we humans do? and do we have a choice to choose whether to be honorable or bloodthirsty while doing it? like in Business, Career, Sport etc. can we always be virtuous and still win wars?