Fabian Bollinger, a Swiss supporter of Philosophy in Action, recently e-mailed me the following inquiry about pursuing a military career when a draft is in force:
As I’ve probably mentioned a million times before, Switzerland has compulsory military service, and I’m about to do mine (July through April). I am confident that you agree that compulsory service is a bad thing. (It’s particularly vile, in that if you can’t do military service, you have to pay compensation; this while they continually have to find new tasks for our military to do because they’ve already maxed out on the actual training they’re willing to do. In other words, there’s not even a semblance of an excuse of national security necessity, but they insist they’re entitled to your slave labor regardless.)
Now if I can withstand the first couple of weeks (and that’s a serious if), there’s the possibility of “continuing”, that is pursuing a higher rank. This seems quite attractive for a number of reasons: higher pay, more prestige, more brains required and exercised, more responsibility, etc. What attracts me particularly is that this way, instead of mindlessly accepting orders from above and be talked to, I actually get to set the tone and respectfulness of conversation myself, and I get to say so when I have a better idea, etc.
Are those valid reasons to choose this path in your opinion? (Once again, assuming I still want anything to with the military after the first couple of weeks.) Or am I sanctioning a system of slave labor by voluntarily putting myself in a position where I’m giving out orders to coerced recruits? Or am I overthinking this a little..?
I had to think on the question for a little while, as the answer didn’t seem obvious to me. Here’s what I wrote in reply a few days later:
You’re right that I think that compulsory military service is abhorrent, particularly when it’s not even required for national security. Now for the meaty question:
I don’t think that it’s morally wrong to pursue a career — or part of a career or advancement — in a military system that involves the draft. Military work is a valid type of work: it’s not like being a mob boss. The fact that people are drafted is not your moral responsibility in the slightest, so long as you oppose it. It’s something that’s forced on you and everyone else.
So I’d only say that it would be immoral (1) if you’re obliged to speak or write in favor of the draft against your will — or if you do that willingly or (2) if you relish the prospect of making the lives of draftees particularly miserable, knowing that they can’t do anything about it.
The second clearly wouldn’t be any kind of problem for you — that would be very psychologically twisted. And it doesn’t sound like the first would be issue either. So… go for it!
I hope that’s helpful!
I’d be interested in any thoughts on this matter, particularly from people with experience in the military, particularly in countries with a draft.
(FYI: Normally, I don’t answer e-mail questions of this kind… except from people who are regular contributors to Philosophy in Action. Even for regular contributors, I can’t make any guarantees, but I will do my best!)