4.11.2005

An Airmen's Perspective on "Just War"

Recently I was asked by the student newspaper here at Fuller to right an article about my involvement in the War in Iraq. The following was published last week.

I recently completed four years in the U.S. Air Force. Unfortunately, I did not consider the philosophical implications of what I was preparing for and eventually did before I joined. Now I have the unenviable task of trying to discern the moral underpinnings of one of the most honorable and horrible vocations known to man. Following is one example of what I did, and why I did it.

Time was ticking. We had just received word that Headquarters (HQ) wanted geographical coordinates for the image we were looking at, which would allow them to destroy the target, and this information was needed as soon as possible. I analyzed the image, confirming in my own mind that we really were looking at the right target, and having maid this confirmation, I began the intricate task of providing the computer, and there by HQ, the information it needed to destroy this target as soon as possible.

I set about the task the same way I had practiced a hundred times before. Yet in the back of my mind I knew that this was real. Today a real bomb would go off at a real location, and any real person guarding this target would die. Should I enter the wrong information and cause the guided bomb to miss its target by a few feet? Might this save a life? These thoughts registered their presence for a split moment but were quickly dismissed. I had a job to do. If I didn’t do it right then someone else would have to go back and do it again, which might itself cost an American life. Larger philosophical questions concerning God’s command to turn the other check, or his command to kill every man women and child at a particular point in history did not register. All I knew was that I had a job to do and that unfortunately it would probably take someone’s life. I completed the task of passing the geographical coordinates on to HQ and then waited for the next target to analyze. A few days latter, I got visual confirmation that our target had been successfully destroyed. This time, no pesky moral thoughts bothered me, instead I was proud of myself, and the team I was a part of.

Where I am from, serving in the military is a noble thing. Before I joined the U.S. Air Force no one asked me to consider the ramifications of what I was embarking on, and if they had, I probably would have only giving it a passing thought. I did consider the implications for myself, and the fact that war may come, but I did not factor in larger moral considerations, especially as they related to an enemy.

Now I’m here in seminary, on campus with not a few people that find war to be highly distasteful. Ironically, those that argue against war hold more in common with state sanctioned killers like me than they would like to imagine; both find war to be extremely distasteful, they for vague philosophical reasons, me for reasons I have seen with my own eyes.

For me the debate on just war is young. I have not made a decision concerning various positions for and against war, though I certainly have some biases. What I do know is that as we in the Fuller community hypothesis grand philosophical ideas, there are men and women who make it possible for us to critique them, and who have to use what we decide in these hollowed halls of higher education, something we could never do if we found ourselves located at some other geographical coordinates, not protected by these same men and women.

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