Ever have one of those arguments in which you insist on arguing your side of it only because you know the other person is right and don’t want to admit it? Ever find that you’re more likely to do this if the stakes of the argument don’t really effect you?
The other night, my wife Ann and I had a lengthy argument about the philosophy and legal status of conscientious objection in the face of a hypothetical draft. A little background–when I was about 16 years old, I realized I’m a pacifist. When I registered for Selective Service at 18 like the good little Boy Scout I thought I was, I also began collecting materials for a prospective CO claim. Because I didn’t know the law, I wound up sending that file to the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department; I can only imagine the laughs it drew, if anybody actually ever opened it.
At any rate, I’ve long been a supporter of CO. Ann isn’t. Her position is that in the event of a draft, everybody has to respond to it. She’s willing to consider the idea that people who are morally/ethically opposed to killing can do other forms of service, but she contends that they have to be inducted into the military, face the same risks and unpleasantness as soldiers, etc.
As the argument proceeded, I had a hard time disputing her position. Well, not exactly–I had a hard time answering her position, although I continued to dispute it. We danced around the circle for a while, repeating our positions without really answering each other’s, until finally she made the point that if CO’s really are opposed to any kind of connection to the military, then in the event of a draft they should have to make their resistance civil disobedience. That is, if we’re willing to make a commitment to non-violence, we should do so whatever the cost to our persons.
As I’ve thought more about this in the last couple of days, I don’t really like the idea, but I can’t really figure out why she’s not right. Yes, current law allows for CO, but in principle, I think she’s right that the current law essentially allows COs to avoid the dangers of soldiering without paying off in any way. At the same time, I side with those COs who say that any form of participation in a war effort is unethical/immoral, so the compromise position of “do some other kind of service for the military” doesn’t work.
This is a hugely complicated problem, although both Ann and I believe that a draft should never happen. As she put it, “If you can’t raise an army to fight your war, you shouldn’t be having the war.” But should it happen, I’ll be prepared to work with COs to think their way through civil disobedience as they figure out how to fulfill their commitments.