Malingering and moral judgements: Ethics in the army

A tableau:

An NSF officer, let’s call him 2LT Siao On, is in a hospital waiting room. Two rows behind him sit two NSFs in their green uniforms, showing off their conspicuous absence of rank badges. Our good officer can’t help but overhear the two of them (let’s call them PVT Chao and PVT Keng) discussing ways to convince the doctor to grant them additional medical leave. 2LT Siao On is disgusted. He shakes his head, and proceeds to complain on a public domain (say, Facebook) about the state of the SAF, and implicitly suggests that every conscript soldier should be as dedicated to the cause as he is.

What’s wrong with this scene? Is 2LT Siao On justified in his condemnation of PVTs Chao and Keng?

I’ve made some assumptions in analysis; bear with me. For the sake of argument let us assume:

  1. There is no immutable, objective rightness. I.e., 2LT Siao On may believe serving NS is a worthy cause, but he, and any others who share the same belief, may not be any more correct than others who disagree.
  2. PVTs Chao and Keng have valid reasons to believe the SAF is an unworthy cause for their time and effort. (They might believe nationalism and patriotism are outmoded, unnecessary, or downright detrimental to humanity. They might loathe rampant mismanagement they have witnessed first-hand in the service. It could be something else I haven’t thought of. Surely there is no shortage of valid reasons for a conscript soldier to believe his service is for an untenable cause)

In our scene, we have two parties that hold different, possibly opposite views regarding the subject of NS. 2LT Siao On sees it as a glorious sacrifice one should be proud to make, worthy of utmost effort and dedication because it is of utmost importance. PVTs Chao and Keng see NS as service to a cause they cannot and do not believe in or support. 2LT Siao On is a zealot for the cause, while PVTs Chao and Keng are slaves to it; the difference is their subjective evaluation of the worthiness of the cause, and their subsequent willingness to serve.

Turning to the question of moral obligation and justification, I present two possible scenarios:

1. NS is in opposition to the beliefs of PVTs Chao and Keng. Are they morally obliged to sabotage, what is to them, an “evil organization” by malingering and performing poorly, as well as actively working to promote alternatives?  If they are not morally obliged, are they morally justified in doing so?

2. PVTs Chao and Keng are disillusioned with NS. They see no value in their service beyond supporting an ideology they reject. Are they morally justified in abandoning service in pursuit of freedom or personal pleasure? (Noting that there exists a bias against hedonism in favour of traditionally noble values such as patriotism, honour, discipline, and sacrifice?)

If you ask me, it seems clear enough that a moral obligation exists to actively work against a cause that (one believes) is evil, supports evil ideology, or perpetuates misery or suffering. And as a slave for an evil cause, one has a moral obligation to seek freedom; although freedom itself is of no value, there is an obligation to utilise freedom to pursue a causes one considers good and right.

Less clear is the reaction to a cause one rejects, but does not condemn. If a cause is not evil or in opposition to personal beliefs, but only incongruent, there is justification to refuse service to it. But it is not clear if there is justification to pursue freedom for its own sake (although, in our scenario, it is more likely for pleasure’s sake), especially if the rejected cause enjoys widespread support from most other people. And there’s the rub, because the most likely scenario is that PVTs Chao and Keng are looking to slack off  for personal freedom, only to subsequently squander that freedom on personal pleasure instead of any cause they believe in and support, while 2LT Siao On shares a widely held belief that NS is an honourable and good cause.

So, 2LT Siao On condemning the PVTs. Can he or can’t he? What do you think dear reader?

EDIT: Well, that might not have gotten at what I really wanted to ask. Instead of whether or not 2LT Siao On should or shouldn’t be condeming our PVTs, I should be asking when our PVTs have moral justifications for their actions (i.e., keng-ing)


7 Responses to “Malingering and moral judgements: Ethics in the army”

  1. yw Says:

    he should sign on

  2. yh Says:

    i don’t like your first assumption 😛

    i really have nothing intelligent to say

  3. jx1992nXian Says:

    Meh, it’s not easy, but I think we need to face the fact that there will always be people who do hold it, and insist on the equality of (their) beliefs with other beliefs. But, perhaps I put it too strongly; rightness isn’t the correct term, when I want to talk about an issue which doesn’t seem to be very much (directly) about ethics

  4. yh Says:

    forgive any poorly-used terminology in advance. i feel like the only system under which said PVTs have moral justification for keng-ing (or whatever actions that might be construed as dereliction of duty to the country etc) is one in which the freedom of the individual is at a premium i.e. a completely relativistic one. in such systems (US culture seems to be approaching this) any constraint imposed on the individual, especially by the government, is considered one of the greatest “evils”. the only golden rule is… the golden rule i guess, don’t infringe on other people’s rights to do whatever the heck they want and they won’t violate yours

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  7. Longrangereconpatrol Says:

    No objective immutable rightness ? So if you are a pedestrian and crossing a traffic junction with the lights clearly in your favour and this driver who was using his mobile while driving beats the red light and mows you done leaving you paralysed from the neck down , it is not an immutable case of you being the innocent victim and the driver being a reckless criminal ??

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