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Obedience to God or Obedience to Orders?

Speaking about the Ft. Hood killings, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs stated, “The investigation is ongoing to figure out what would motivate an individual to carry out the type of act that this major carried out.” Of course, it goes without saying that in examining into motive, Gibbs is not justifying what the alleged killer, Major Nidal Hasan, did. (See my article “Motivation vs. Justification.”)

As the investigation into motive progresses, it will be interesting to see the extent to which the U.S. military’s policy on conscientious-objector status played in the Ft. Hood horror.

Under U.S. military policy, the only way that a soldier can claim conscientious-objector status is with a good-faith opposition to all war, not just a particular war.

What happens if the president orders soldiers to engage in an illegal invasion of another country, a country that has not attacked the United States or even threatened to do so? What if the U.S. government is the aggressor, not the defender, in a particular war? What if the president orders soldiers to kill people who have done nothing against the United States? What if the U.S. government itself starts a war against a much weaker nation?

All that might give pause to a soldier. A soldier might think, “I can’t kill someone under those circumstances because my religious faith prevents me from wrongfully killing another person.” Or he might think, “Wars of aggression were punished as war crimes at Nuremberg and, therefore, I must refuse to carry out these orders.”

Under U.S. policy, what happens when a soldier’s crisis of conscience collides with military orders?

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