Friday, August 3, 2012

Saintly warfare

The past few (very few) posts of mine have been about my thoughts on the military. I just can't seem to think about anything else really. The military is what my life's about now.

Just before I conscripted, I had quite a problem accepting my place in the military. My Buddhist beliefs told me to respect all life, but yet I was going to train to be a soldier... a killer. My nonviolent beliefs told me there was no meaning to violence, but yet I was going to train to shoot... to kill. I saw the military as a violent, immoral organization. To me, there was no moral value in being a soldier.

Over the past months, I've been trying to find some moral meaning in being part of the military. Much to my surprise, I actually came up with something rather convincing... something that even a staunch supporter of nonviolence would believe.

Say one day a stranger barges into my house and decides to hurt my mother and my sister. What would I do? Does being a Buddhist and a believer in nonviolence entail that I do nothing and watch my family get hurt? No! There's something wrong with the nonviolent approach in this scenario. Obviously you can't just sit there! I think a natural and moral approach to this scenario would be to stop the guy with all the strength you have. If I had a rudimentary weapon like a stick or a broom, I'd use that to stop him. To me, this analogy justifies the use of aggression, but only for the sake of defending the people you love. 

Now instead of one stranger invading my home, what if 200 of them were to invade the 50 homes in the estate where I live? That would mean an average of 4 attackers per household. Would each man in each household be able to defend his family with a broom or a stick? Would fighting on an individual level be effective? Not really. But if all the men from all the households were to come together, pooling their knowledge, resources and manpower, then it would be much more likely that they’d win against the attackers. Also, if one man dies in the fight, at least he would die knowing that the others left would protect his family. This is because the men will be fighting for the entire estate and not just for their respective families. To me, this idea justifies the formation of a large organisation that specializes in defense, because undoubtedly there is strength in numbers. This, to me, provides a moral justification for the formation of the military.

But all said and done, there are some considerations that I believe every (defensive) military must undertake to ensure its doctrines have good moral groundings. One important consideration is implicit in this question- how much aggression should be used by a military that warrants a good moral grounding of its actions? The answer to this is minimum aggression. A military that is well grounded in moral principles uses minimum aggression- just enough to meet its defensive objectives. Aggression should not be used for cruel acts, like in the torture of POWs, the killing of enemy civilians and the killing of enemies who chose to surrender. Peace, for both the defender and the aggressor, should be the ultimate concern of a moral army. After all, moral people care not only for themselves but for their enemies too. This consideration is reflected in the Geneva Conventions, which are a set of international laws that establish the humane conduct of war. It's a link worth checking out.

With all of this, I see the military in a different light. I see it as a moral organization that defends its land when the necessity arises. Instead of loathing the military, I now feel pride to be a part of it. Of course, all of this is because the military that I'm part of is a defensive one.


  1. Most young men go through the mandatory army life in Singapore as a chore to be done. Makes me proud that you think deeply about these issues. These aren't years lost, but experience and depth gained.