I warn you. This post is not the run of the mill average intelligibility concerning our troops. I reach farther than that. Just now, a USO commercial advertised a positive message for “getting involved” and that they were “all about the little things” sending messages of praise to our US troops abroad. I think this is suspect, and find myself lapsing into thinking the institutional values espoused by our military policymakers are unacceptable morally (a point assumed for the purposes of this post). Ultimately, what the institution values, its character, become the default values of anyone following orders, regardless of whether or not such values are endorsed personally. Thus, this conclusion rests on drawing a distinction between agent-endorsed values and agent-functional endorsement.
People will object that a poor West Virginian high school senior just joined the US Marines to gain the benefits of a college education otherwise out of reach for his/her potential. In fact, the said agent might not even endorse the justness of the war. Moreover, it is possible to push this objection to the ultimate extreme that the agent might have chosen to be a conscientious objector, instead possibly becoming a combat medic than training to be a soldier. By driving a wedge between the institution, its norms and actions, the agent – still part of the institution – redeems themselves in light of the unethical endorsements of the institution as a whole. The values endorsed in the examples above are agent-endorsed values, and in this example they differ than the institution as a whole.
However, agent-endorsed values of the agent do not function when the agent acts as part of the whole. The wedge is foolishly thought to avoid the criticism that what the US military values are not internalized by its members. Some candidate values of the unethical variety I have in mind are: expansion of US economic interests at the expense of the rights of others, the suffering of innocents in war (especially children) and absolute lack of justification for the Iraq War as a candidate of being a “Just War.” Yet, there is no internalization requirement needed. The Combat Medic heals soldiers that re-enter the theatre of war. She is part of the chain and functions in a way that comes at odds with the agent-endorsed values. One cannot value healing if one heals someone that will cause bodily suffering. If the agent functions contrary to their own personal endorsements, then there is no integrity between the beliefs and actions of the agent. Thus, it is possible to say that even those that made an innocent choice to be part of the military are morally wrong. Following this intuition, I do not have to thank them, or even be supportive of their existence. To do so means that I am morally contemptible for indirectly supporting the suffering caused by war itself.
So, the USO commercial is wrong. We should be against the troops even in the cases where troop disagrees with the aims and goals of its employer. With that said, it is also wrong to further support Obama and his politics if they endorse any measure of war that fails to succeed morally as justified. It remains undecided in my own beliefs whether or not any principle can provide justification for sustained wars in which children and women suffer.