The army is cool, except for the part where you have to fight

There's some to-do over a soldier who volunteered to serve in the army who has since changed his mind and is applying for conscientous objector status.

I noticed this trend over two years ago, when people who had enlisted in the armed forces underwent a change of heart after the World Trade Center attacks:

Many of the enlisted personnel who are now seeking honorable discharges argue they didn't sign up to defend America; they just wanted to learn a trade or earn money for college.

Sort of like the Monty Python sketch.

"Watkins why did you join the army?"
"For the water-skiing and for the travel, sir. And not for the killing, sir. I asked them to put it on my form, sir - no killing."

(I should point out that this particular situation appears to be different, however, since he did serve the first time he was called.)

[Raymond is currently on vacation; this message was pre-recorded.]

Comments (26)
  1. Terry Denham says:

    Funny I agree.

    Didn’t the rifle range, close combat training, bayonet training (even stabbing a dummy) clue you into the fact of what you’re expected to do.

    I mean really. You weren’t trained to walk through a field to pick daisies!!!

  2. SteveM says:

    A few years ago there was an interview in our local paper with the mother of a soldier who was KIA. She was (obviously) very upset and was campaigning for additional compensation. Her case seemed to be based on the fact that her son had never signed up to fight, but to "see the world".

    I know several members of the military (my younger brother just got back from a tour in Iraq) who get very very angry about this sort of thing

  3. MYG says:

    Thats odd… That would be my main motivator to join the armed forces. But hey, thats just me and my "Cutler-like" personality.


  4. I think it’s ridiculous to join the military, accept the pay and let the government spend all that money to train you, only to back out when it looks like you might have to actually DO something.

    At the same time, I also don’t want us to send anyone into combat who has the attitude that "I didn’t sign up to fight". Those are the people who will get their fellows killed.

    So to hell with them. Change of heart? Fine. But you don’t get an honorable discharge (honorable discharges are for people who actually DID their duty), you get an Order of Release instead, and you also don’t qualify for any veteran’s benefits.

    Seems fair to me.

  5. Smelly says:

    Well, in their defense, the ads urging youngsters to join up always put these fringe benefits at the forefront, and completely omit the business about the killing.

    That said, however, it should be reasonably obvious that killing (or being killed) does come with the job.

  6. DrPizza says:

    The article asks

    "How can you be a conscientious objector if you joined the Army voluntarily?"

    The idea that one’s views and beliefs are in some way static, unaltered by one’s experiences, is to me an awfully strange one.

    I can quite easily see how someone might have a moral objection to the way in which the military is being used by the government; anyone who signed up with a view to defending the US should rightfully feel aggrieved that they are being used for anything but.

    CO status is unfortunately rather inflexible and archaic, due to one’s inability to object to specific ways in which the military is being used. It offers no way out for those who signed up with a view to defending their country and upholding the constitution but are in practice being used for other purposes. One may have a deep-seated and pre-existing ethical belief against "pre-emptive" invasion of non-threatening nations, but becaue a CO cannot pick and choose what kind of war they object to, one would not be granted CO status. One would still object, and conscientiously, too, but that would be inadequate.

    IMO this is due in no small part to CO status not having been brought into line with the way the modern military is used.

  7. Dan Maas says:

    Thing is though, if you reason deeply about the ways that conscientious objector status doesn’t describe you, then it’s probably going to be tough to mold you into an obedient soldier anyway :).

  8. Aaron Lewis says:

    "At the same time, I also don’t want us to send anyone into combat who has the attitude that "I didn’t sign up to fight". Those are the people who will get their fellows killed."

    <i>Someone</i> has to be on point. ;)

  9. keithmo [exmsft] says:

    Maybe Catholic priests should try this same tactic.

    "Sure, I wanted to study the Bible, help people, etc, but I didn’t sign up for that celibacy crap."

  10. "Well, this is getting too silly…" ;)

  11. ATZ Man says:

    Interesting points.

    The original article does not extensively set out Mr Mejia’s situation. On the other hand we do seem to have a nice opportunity here to discuss many related issues.

    If you object to a specific assignment in the Armed Forces rather than the general idea of what the Armed Forces are for, there are ways to make that objection concrete. These ways have consequences, of course. I don’t know the military’s rules, but if I were ordered to drop the big one on Argentina against my own strong objections, putting myself at the mercy of a court martial would be preferable to carrying out that order. If I sought instead to be honorably discharged in those circumstances, I think those who accused me of being a coward would have a fair case.

    Granting that US mil. recruiting ads do usually mention educational/vocational benefits, I think they are far more militaristic than the one Japanese ad I’ve seen (ad via Joi Ito ). You’d have to be pretty dense not to understand the contract being offered.

    [Raymond fixed the URL.]

  12. James Day says:

    Perhaps there should be a truth in advertising aproach:

    "You understand that if a President falsely claims that a country has weapons of mass destruction and invades even contrary to the desires of the United Nations, you’re going to go there and have both legs and an arm blown off."

    "You understand that you’re going to end up shooting and killing women and children who don’t see your roadblock."

    "You understand that you’re going to have a weapon and be ordered not to use it even when people are attacking you, to the point where you may be beaten to death by the mob because you didn’t shoot at them."

    "You understand that the captain of your submarine may ignore the safety warning plackard you placed on the periscope controls and order it to be repeatedly lowered to try to get it to retract fully, crushing you to death in its well where you were working beyond your shift, even though the submarine wasn’t in action or threatened in any way."

    All of those situations really happened, so they could serve as useful warnings of the futility and frustration which the military sometimes is.

    The first two are in Iraq; the third was pistol armed UK soldiers in Ulster who were beaten to death by a crowd at a funeral parade they accidentally drove to; the fourth happened on a British submarine.

  13. randomArmyGuy says:

    From the perspective of someone in the Army, this ticks me off quite a bit. Sure the Army promises a lot of benefits (mostly cause the pay isn’t remotely equal) but the fact that you’re joining the Army isn’t exactly hidden. There are opportunities in Basic Training for those that have a change of heart once they get to things like Bayonet and Rifle Training to get out on "Incompatible with Military Service" which leaves no ill marks on your record. When I signed up I knew I was getting a free education at a great school (<a href="">West Point</a>) but they never once hid the fact that our mission is to fight and win our nations wars.

    Furthermore, we knew we didn’t have a say in what types of wars we’d be sent in. I know many people who are for and many people that are against the war, but they go and fight because it is their simple duty. This army fights the wars/conflicts it’s sent to fight. As always the officers are sworn to uphold the constitution and this war, though some may find it repugnant, is not unconstitutional.

  14. denny says:

    just silly!

    Gee I never though about killing someone in the military… I thought it was like a club where the us spends money to let you see the world.


    if you asked to join and went thru all the stuff to get in you got no scuses IMHO

    I mean ok sometimes if some one has had a *REALLY* major event happen ….

    but the "I chnaged my mind" bit is just weak….

    But then I see things a lot like RAH

    ( the guy who wrote the novels stranger in a strange land, time enough for love, starship troopers and many others )

    if you saw the movie for troopers and not read the book then read the book before you say anything in that regard. the movie misses a *WHOLE LOT* that is in a very short novella.

  15. A.C.Ward says:

    Well here the main motivation to join army is the default/tradition of everyone doing it before and cause majority has been to army, it may look odd if you haven’t when looking for job.

    I may not have the real world perspective (likely), but the army/military concept is obsolete. Answer to every problem is gene manipulation, this includes terrorists, dictators, hunger, diseases etc.

    Only world full with super-nerds with superb body, memory etc (even then there will be differences in looks unless everyone is cloned) have the chance of surviving the real threats that will come in long term.

    And if such won’t be possible (unlikely) or will be forbidden? Send Bill some ho** and there will be Army Of Super Nerds

  16. asdf says:

    I was under the impression that only congress could declare war. So we technically haven’t fought in any wars since WW2 (unless I’ve missed something).

  17. randomArmyGuy says:

    Unfortunatley the issue is much more complex. While congress does have the power to declare war, there has been ample past precedent supported by the US Supreme Court to make the case that the Commander-in-Chief has the power to engage in "war". In Massachusetts v. Laird (1970) the court refused to rule Vietnam and the Presidents assertation of power unconstitutional since they felt that it was a "political question". There are a host of other cases which the court has continually ruled that such conflicts remain "political questions" best delt with through normal democratic means. Short of a ‘total war’ in which all resources of the nation have been diverted to the war effort, the Supreme Court would disagree with your statement unless you consider "war" to only entail "total war."

  18. A.C.Ward says:

    If terrorists are the problem, any kind of "war" is definitely inefficient solution. If money doesn’t get the terrorists to change their mind, then buy some infiltrators. No matter where you are born you should get education instead of weapons. I think education is much more effective "weapon" in long term, and who knows how many people you could get educated decently with the money Bush dropped as bombs etc.

    But as everyone knows, there’s no war against terrorism, as in fact the war was already planned before 9/11. I could even imagine a scenario where the terrorists were paid to attack, just so that Bush adm. can get justification to fix the unfinished business and get some laws through that they would never have got otherwise. No doubt the Facts are revealed in hundred years.

  19. Moi says:

    I don’t think anyone stupid enough to volunteer is intelligent enough to know what it might involve.

  20. DrPizza says:

    "As always the officers are sworn to uphold the constitution and this war, though some may find it repugnant, is not unconstitutional. "

    But equally, fighting in it is not "upholding the constitution". It is not defending American liberties against any threat.

  21. randomArmyGuy says:

    Moi: Wow, I didn’t realize I was stupid when I signed up to join the Army, it is all crystal clear, thank you.

    To DrPizza, the actual oath is to uphold and defend the Constitution. The CiC or Congress can constitutionally authorize our usage and so long as there is still a functioning supreme court, our actions are upholding the intent of the Armed Forces as the framers had intended. You have a clear reason to question the neccessity of the war, but that is a political question, not a constitutional one.

  22. DrPizza says:

    "To DrPizza, the actual oath is to uphold and defend the Constitution."

    Indeed. And the current action in Iraq does neither.

    "The CiC or Congress can constitutionally authorize our usage and so long as there is still a functioning supreme court, our actions are upholding the intent of the Armed Forces as the framers had intended. You have a clear reason to question the neccessity of the war, but that is a political question, not a constitutional one. "

    You misunderstand, I think. My position is not that the action in Iraq is unconstitutional; that one can go to war without Congress officially saying "we’re going to war" has been the case for some decades. My position is that the action in Iraq is not "upholding" or "defending" the constitution, and as such members of the military can rightfully feel aggrieved that they’re being used in this way.

  23. randomArmyGuy says:

    You are correct in that I did misunderstand you. My argument is that they have a right to feel aggrieved that they are being used unjustly, but they knew that they didn’t have a say in the types of conflicts they got sent to when they signed up. It is a very diffucult situation but they have a duty that they agreed to uphold.

  24. Drew says:

    Apologies, everybody! I think this needs a dissenting view even though what you’re about to read from me doesn’t quite fit my personal outlook, I think it ought to be said/written.

    While I agree with most of the posters here (I enlist and the military wants me to be willing to *hurt* someone – duh), I think there’s something hinted at but missing from this debate (if I may call it that). I can even agree that the members of the US military are volunteers as opposed to draftees, thus "conscientious objector"/"changed my mind" is pretty silly. But I think there is another factor that’s being overlooked. There is no non-military short-term civil service available to US citizens that offers those same benefits.

    How many folks who join the Marines (or any other branch) would enlist for 3 years at the USPS if they were offered decent health care, a job they could believe in, money for college, etc.? Personally, I would have if the option had been available. And before someone trys to argue it, Americorp doesn’t compare – not much there (to compare with military benefits) except resume padding. Since the Roosevelt administration there haven’t really been non-military short-term civil service jobs for American youth.

    No – I’m not a socialist. Or a communist. Heck, I’m not even a Democrat. But I think there’s a place for government service for our youth. Well . . . ok . . . not _my_ youth (too late for that), but someone else’s.

    Why aren’t people responding to the REAL need instead of the trumped-up media-hyped "don’t want to kill" garbage? (Yeah – cheap attempt to play your shame to get you to agree with my POV – sorry about the low rhetorical device.)

  25. Matt says:


    You seem to be arguing that the army should play the role of providing freee education, health benefits, etc. to enlistees in return for nothing, simply because no other ogranization will.

    That’s ridiculous.

    In a free market society, benefits such as education benefits and health benefits are paid in return for service that an employer finds valuable. The army, as an employer, finds it valuable that soldiers kill bad guys. If you’re not willing to do that, then the Army owes you nothing.

    Individuals in this country are not *entitled* to a free education or free healthcare. If an employer chooses to provide those benefits to employess, that’s fine. But nowhere in our society is anyone guaranteed those perks, and anyone who feels differently is living in a land other than reality.

  26. Peter Lund says:

    …or in Europe ;)

    (but we pay the taxes to go with it and have a more static society in many ways :( )

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