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← UPDATED: Life as a humanist with the armed forces in Afghanistan

UPDATED: Life as a humanist with the armed forces in Afghanistan - Comments

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 1 by Ignorant Amos

That'll be the Corps of Royal Engineers Badge and colours in the picture. Go Sappers!!!!

UBIQUE

Fri, 26 Aug 2011 13:14:39 UTC | #864424

wisnoskij's Avatar Comment 2 by wisnoskij

I am not sure how humanist you can be if you willing sign up for the military.

My guess would be not at all, since it is the least humanistic thing you can do.

Fri, 26 Aug 2011 13:54:24 UTC | #864437

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 3 by Ignorant Amos

Comment 2 by wisnoskij

My guess would be not at all, since it is the least humanistic thing you can do.

So you don't think risking ones life for the improvement of ones fellow man is a humanist trait then?

All those people who gave the ultimate sacrifice in WWII so you and I didn't have to live in a world where German was the first language and perhaps maybe the only language....not very humanist?

Fri, 26 Aug 2011 14:03:27 UTC | #864440

ukantic's Avatar Comment 4 by ukantic

Comment 2 by wisnoskij :

I am not sure how humanist you can be if you willing sign up for the military.

My guess would be not at all, since it is the least humanistic thing you can do.

Well in that case, I guess we should just pull the armed forces out of Afghanistan and leave the Taliban to terrorise and brutalise the population - that would be a really humanistic and ethical thing to do!

Fri, 26 Aug 2011 14:45:04 UTC | #864447

Dhamma's Avatar Comment 5 by Dhamma

So you don't think risking ones life for the improvement of ones fellow man is a humanist trait then?

Excuse my cynical worldview, but when I did military service, everyone I met seemed to talk far more about how awesome it is to blast this or that gun and very little about helping countrymen. I personally believe the vast majority of soldiers are more into it for the excitement than to "serve" their country. Having said that, they occasionally do something useful.

Fri, 26 Aug 2011 14:49:43 UTC | #864450

wolfhoundGrowl's Avatar Comment 6 by wolfhoundGrowl

IMO Humanisms' (plural intenational) need a just war thoery just as much as Christianity

War is a very difficult issue and too dangerous to be dealt with an 'all for' or an 'all against' ideological approach

Fri, 26 Aug 2011 15:05:09 UTC | #864453

skiles1's Avatar Comment 7 by skiles1

@ wisnoskij:

A humanist certainly can volunteer for military service. If self-defense is justified or if defending others from attack is moral, then there is such a thing as a just war. Which is not to say that all wars are justified, nor that everything that happens in a just war is acceptable. However, sometimes war is unavoidable, such as it was for The Allies of WWII. Other times calling upon the military is essentially similar to sending police to bring a murderer or rapist to justice. I've known people who called themselves pacifists, but none of them were advocating that we all together do away with the police force or the military.

Fri, 26 Aug 2011 15:17:17 UTC | #864455

ZenDruid's Avatar Comment 8 by ZenDruid

It's a safe bet to say that people who start or cause wars are definitely not humanists.

Fri, 26 Aug 2011 15:20:38 UTC | #864456

skiles1's Avatar Comment 9 by skiles1

Comment 8 by ZenDruid :

It's a safe bet to say that people who start or cause wars are definitely not humanists.

That I agree with, and for my own part, I'll add that it's arguable that Afghanistan isn't a war of convenience and that Britain's part in it is overall representative of helpfulness and humanitarianism - not representative of a wanton bloodthirst.

It seems to me that humanism is the banner military nonbelievers are uniting under, whether in The United States or The UK, so evidently, a lot of humanists have the same view of war.

Fri, 26 Aug 2011 15:33:13 UTC | #864459

blitz442's Avatar Comment 10 by blitz442

Comment 5 by Dhamma

I support the military because I cannot imagine a modern nation without some type of national self- defense against aggressors. At a minimum, that requires the maintenance of a military culture with the technical knowledge of how to train and deploy warriors, and an industrial complex that has the know-how to supply the necessary military technology. In times of peace, this could be a very small part of the culture, but it would have to have mechanisms for rapid ramp-up capacity in times of conflict.

One of the few rebuttals to this basic idea might be that the actual source of national aggression are the militaries themselves (i.e. a nation might feel threatened by the armies of its neighbors and seek to eliminate the threat by striking first). But this seems to ignore the fact that the populace of nations (even democratic ones) can be manipulated into irrational aggression by nefarious leaders even when they are not threatened.

One could also make an analogy between personal self-defense and national self-defense. Everyone understands that many women, for instance, take self-defense courses to protect themselves against aggression that they are not the cause of - nobody would suggest that having the knowledge and capability to defend yourself is the cause of or encourages muggings or rape.

Fri, 26 Aug 2011 15:36:12 UTC | #864460

Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Comment 11 by Stephen of Wimbledon

In response to Comment 2 by wisnoskij

Hi Wisnoskij,

According to the British Humanist Association:

Humanists are atheists and agnostics who make sense of the World using reason, experience and shared human values. We take responsibility for our actions and base our ethics on the goals of human welfare, happiness and fulfilment. We seek to make the best of the one life we have by creating meaning and purpose for ourselves, individually and together.

I see no disconnect between that description and being a member of the armed forces of a democratic, and largely secular-in-practice, country.

Fri, 26 Aug 2011 16:06:50 UTC | #864469

blitz442's Avatar Comment 12 by blitz442

Comment 2 by wisnoskij

Do you think that the military is not necessary (that it is not even a "necessary evil")? Perhaps it is necessary for some nations (like Israel), but not others (like Iceland)?

I would like to know your reasons why.

Fri, 26 Aug 2011 16:19:24 UTC | #864475

wtfbits's Avatar Comment 13 by wtfbits

So you don't think risking ones life for the improvement of ones fellow man is a humanist trait then?

A drive for such a high level of altruism which confers the only benefit of being glorified in death would probably not evolve. The more sensible explanations are:

1) Survival - It's a job that comes with benefits.

2) Status - The military is generally respected and above criticism since it's in the best interests of both it and society. This adds to the mate value of someone in the military.

I would guess glory and honor are the prime subconscious motivators here even if at a conscious level some of them have convinced themselves and truly believe that they want to fight for millions of people they don't know.

Fri, 26 Aug 2011 16:25:10 UTC | #864478

Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Comment 14 by Stephen of Wimbledon

I can identify with Christopher Holden's position. (US citizens should read the following with a light heart -- this doesn't affect your people).

There are military occasions wrapped in military tradition, which are encased in the establishment, which is enveloped by the established Church.

While over civilians heads the Church's cover is so thin that the merest prick can puncture its bombastic pretensions - it takes an anti-social sort to ask your brothers to forgo the trappings of the rites of passage.

In order to protect its fundamentally vacuous position the Church has been converted by the politicians of Britain's left to multi-culturalism - and adopts increasingly dogma-neutral (note that this is subtly different to dogma-free) woo.

This means that unless you know the full extent of all the religious affiliations of all your Unit you could inadvertently find yourself building up resentment if you question the woo. So you live with it.

Until I read this piece I wasn't convinced that Secular Humanist chaplains were really needed - after all the religious ones tend to be invisible most of the time, and when you do talk to them they tend to be pretty secular and humanist anyway (especially the Church of England, Church of Scotland, United Reformed Church and the Rabbis). Chaplains are basically good people who want to help other people in extreme and difficult circumstances. (Caveat: in my experience, which is obviously not universal and is possibly out of date).

However, this piece highlights how the voices of secularists, humanists, atheists and probably most agnostics, are being ignored and how the military's effectiveness at supporting it's staff is probably undermining its overall effectiveness because a growing and (in my experience) majority of personnel are having to struggle to maintain their identity in the Group because their personal identity is not recognised.

It seems to me that a Secular Humanist chaplaincy would greatly assist in helping people of all faiths - and of none - to integrate at times of grief, tragedy and Group stress, and would make a positive contribution to HM Forces morale, cohesion and motivation.

The results of the current vacuum may not be particularly visible - and the resultant loss of effectiveness may appear small. But, if this piece is representative then the above is being masked because individual armed forces personnel - well known for their flexibility and their ability to operate at high levels in less than ideal circumstances - who may be simply managing on their own. This will mean the problem is hidden from the Command view.

We should request a review by the Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir David Richards, of a possible lack of care of non-religious, and not religiously affiliated, front line military personnel.

Fri, 26 Aug 2011 16:45:07 UTC | #864482

Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Comment 15 by Stephen of Wimbledon

In response to Comment 13 by wtfbits

You are perfectly entitled to your opinion - and I am not in a position to say whether you are right or wrong.

So you don't think risking ones life for the improvement of ones fellow man is a humanist trait then?

Altruism is a tricky definition of what motivates military humanists.

We military humanists base our ethics on the goals of human welfare, happiness and fulfilment. This is perfectly in line with the general everyday use of the word altruism, but does it fit the bill? Altruism, Co-operation and Mutualism can be confused: Evolution of Altruism.

Note that the above reference does not agree with your description of the benefits and evolution of altruism. But I won't pursue that, as we may end up arguing semantics. The most interesting part of the referenced article (to me at any rate) is this:

Whatever term is used, the important point is that behaviours that benefit both self and others can evolve much more easily than altruistic behaviours, and thus require no special mechanisms such as kinship. The reason is clear: organisms performing such behaviours thereby increase their personal fitness, so are at a selective advantage vis-a-vis those not performing the behaviour.

It takes all sorts.

I would guess glory and honor are the prime subconscious motivators here ...

Well, you used the word "guess" correctly.

If you think that, and you apply to join today's armed forces on the basis of it, your application would be rejected. Even if you were not labelled a sociopath, the armed forces wouldn't need you.

Modern armed forces work on Teamwork: mutual support, flexibility, dynamism. This is one of the fundamental lessons of the First World War: Units would typically stop fighting if they lost their brave - leading from the front, full of bravado officers. By the Second World War the importance of the non-commissioned officers (those who are experienced and have risen through the ranks against competition from their peers) were again recognised as being the true backbone of any fighting force. Professionalism is key, and people who are likely to charge off and get themselves killed are shunned.

... even if at a conscious level some of them have convinced themselves and truly believe that they want to fight for millions of people they don't know.

You have met military people I know nothing about. Do tell.

Fri, 26 Aug 2011 17:18:04 UTC | #864498

KenChimp's Avatar Comment 16 by KenChimp

Comment 5 by Dhamma :

So you don't think risking ones life for the improvement of ones fellow man is a humanist trait then?

Excuse my cynical worldview, but when I did military service, everyone I met seemed to talk far more about how awesome it is to blast this or that gun and very little about helping countrymen. I personally believe the vast majority of soldiers are more into it for the excitement than to "serve" their country. Having said that, they occasionally do something useful.

I certainly encountered some that your belief here seems inclusive of in my service in the U.S. Army. However, the vast majority of us volunteered for military service to take advantage of the educational assistance for college, or to travel, or to learn a particular skill set that is required of jobs in the military or some combination of all of this.

Most people I knew in the Army didn't join to "blow some shit up".

But I did meet some few who seemed to be of that mind-set. One was a functional alcoholic, a racist/sexist and very ignorant of the universe in general. One was a murderous piece of dung (he and two others raped and murdered a fellow (female) soldier we were in school with). One was somewhat of an adventurer who joined the military for a change of pace from his civilian life, and hoping for some excitement.

One of my NCOs at my duty station was of the mind that one had to hate and demonize the enemy in order to be able to go into combat against them. He and I argued on this, since I told him that I don't hate our potential or actual enemies and would be perfectly capable of killing them anyway if the situation demanded it.

All in all, about four or five of the dozens I came to know personally fit the opinion you seem to have of most of those in the service. Anecdotal evidence to be sure, but not evidence I can dismiss out of hand. It is, of course, easier for others to dismiss a stranger's experience as deviant from the norm. Perhaps rightly so. shrug

Fri, 26 Aug 2011 19:02:47 UTC | #864523

Mr DArcy's Avatar Comment 17 by Mr DArcy

Of course we all know that all wars are "defensive", even if it involves your particular army being involved in a conflict many thousands of miles away. We all know that the USA and Britain and others only invaded Iraq, to stop Saddam Hussein using his "weapons of mass destruction". (Remember those mysterious weapons whose existence was never established). The word "oil" never appeared on any military manifesto, and Donald Rumsfeld specifcally denied it, even though Iraq is expected to be a bigger exporter of oil than Saudi Arabia in 10 years time. How strange! Also so strange is the NATO support for the toppling of Ghadaffi in Libya, except when you realise that Libya has its own considerable oil and gas reserves. Yes I'm absolutely certain that the only reason NATO is involved in Libya, is to protect me from another Lockerbie bombing!

Fri, 26 Aug 2011 20:04:04 UTC | #864539

skiles1's Avatar Comment 18 by skiles1

Comment 17 by Mr DArcy :

Of course we all know that all wars are "defensive", even if it involves your particular army being involved in a conflict many thousands of miles away. We all know that the USA and Britain and others only invaded Iraq, to stop Saddam Hussein using his "weapons of mass destruction". (Remember those mysterious weapons whose existence was never established). The word "oil" never appeared on any military manifesto, even though Iraq is expected to be a bigger exporter of oil than Saudi Arabia in 10 years time. How strange! Also so strange is the NATO support for the toppling of Ghadaffi in Libya, except when you realise that Libya has its own considerable oil and gas reserves. Yes I'm absolutely certain that the only reason NATO is involved in Libya, is to protect me from another Lockerbie bombing!

One thing we don't all know is that the topic here is Afghanistan, not Iraq, not Libya. Be that as it may, it gives the opportunity for it to be noted here that there are, undoubtedly, some in the military who agree with your views on both, Iraq and Libya. You don't really know what sort of conflict you're going to experience when you join sometimes, but you join so that others don't have to go and fight, you join to hopefully defend the innocent.

If I can return to Afghanistan, now, I would like to ask whether you would've preferred more negotiation with the Taliban and with al-Qaeda? If, for example we treat the bombs on The Tube or what happened on September 11th as purely criminal acts, do you then prefer just negotiating with those responsible for such atrocities, to stop, or do you instead think it's reasonable to bring those responsible to justice? If you support criminals being brought to justice (assuming we agree on the concept of crime), then why isn't the military, in some role or other, not a good option for defense against paramilitary organizations, like al-Qaeda? Do you think a standard police force could've done as good a job?

Or what about WWII? Would you rather we had to converse in German, instead of English, here, now? I, for one, am glad we fought that war, even if I don't approve of the atomic bombs or the firebombing of Dresden, and some other things The Allies did.

My take on Afghanistan, as a veteran and humanist, is that it's a just war for us to be in, even if it's been compromised by some unacceptable behavior at various levels of the chain of command. I did not support Iraq, still don't, and I've not decided how I feel about Libya, I think there were some mistakes in Libya, as well. But, I don't see that as an inroads to question the sincerity or the uprightness of the troops as a whole.

Fri, 26 Aug 2011 20:33:45 UTC | #864557

Mr DArcy's Avatar Comment 19 by Mr DArcy

In no way am I questioning the individual bravery of those who are in battle. Personally I think they are forced into that situation where it is literally "them or us". The "them" will feel exactly the same way about "us". What I am questioning is the apparent acceptance of troops throughout the world to believe what their leaders tell them about why they are fighting. The SS troops in charge of gassing the Jews felt they were doing the right thing, and with popular support behind them. The crew of the Enola Gay no doubt felt they were doing the right thing by dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and with popular support. The RAF crews who fire bombed Hamburg no doubt felt they were doing the right thing, and with popular support.

As for Afghanistan, well please tell me it is to establish democracy and to prevent the undoubted evils of the Taliban. Please don't mention the oil and gas pipelines and the profitable search for mineral riches that could ensue! No the troops are only there to make sure I can walk down Oxford Street safely.

Fri, 26 Aug 2011 21:52:13 UTC | #864611

WKD's Avatar Comment 20 by WKD

My hat goes off to Petty Officer Christopher Holden for being so open.

If only I could be as fearless in nudging a few of the World's long established tenets! Through my work (with the UK's Post Office), I've experienced six armed robberies and have confronted/fought with/chased all of them. All very exciting, but simply the way my biology responds, (n.b. I'd never 'Join up'... I'm too cowardly!!). However, can I honestly say I have stood up and made my voice heard to counter the diatribe from the ill-informed 'religious' amongst us?

Nope... Sadly I can't!!

In working closely people in a very diverse workforce I've met the full gamut of the UK's religions and sadly, (at least as a younger man!), pandered to each and every one of them for fear of causing offence. Therefore I'd say that so openly seeking an intelligent debate, (particularly, I would imagine, in an emotive environment such as P.O. Holden is in), draws on a deeper wealth of moral courage than the rest of us keyboard commentators here could ever hope to exhibit.

Alas... Many comments on are deviating markedly from the real point that's being made! The discussion here is not about Afghanistan/Irag/WW2... nor oil, nor gas...What we should all be awapping thoughts on in how 'religions', (whichever ones!), appear to still be getting away with their assumption that they control the "moral high-ground".

Can we 'blog' about that please?

Sat, 27 Aug 2011 00:08:21 UTC | #864638

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 21 by Ignorant Amos

I have to repeat this....troop deployments are made on the instructions of the democratically elected governments of the day.....where do these governments get their mandates from? You lot, the voter, the individual 'x' you put on a ballot paper. A shoddy workman always blames his tools.

From someone who travelled 8000 miles to help rescue and maintain the freedom of 1800 civilians who wished that freedom preserved from a dictatorial military junta, did I think it the action of a humanist? I'd say so.

Sat, 27 Aug 2011 00:34:25 UTC | #864642

robotaholic's Avatar Comment 22 by robotaholic

Isn't part of being in the military accepting the chain of command? As dirty as the U.S. Government has been proven to be, I would consider myself an immoral person if I joined. I just couldn't deliberately put myself in a situation where I might be forced to kill someone.

That is just my opinion. Nothing against anyone else. To each their own-

Sat, 27 Aug 2011 04:02:16 UTC | #864666

mmurray's Avatar Comment 23 by mmurray

Comment 22 by robotaholic :

Isn't part of being in the military accepting the chain of command? As dirty as the U.S. Government has been proven to be, I would consider myself an immoral person if I joined. I just couldn't deliberately put myself in a situation where I might be forced to kill someone.

That is just my opinion. Nothing against anyone else. To each their own-

I thought the military swore to defend the US Constitution not the US Government ?

At least in the movies.

Michael

Sat, 27 Aug 2011 05:12:40 UTC | #864669

skiles1's Avatar Comment 24 by skiles1

Comment 21 by Ignorant Amos :

I have to repeat this....troop deployments are made on the instructions of the democratically elected governments of the day.....where do these governments get their mandates from? You lot, the voter, the individual 'x' you put on a ballot paper. A shoddy workman always blames his tools.

From someone who travelled 8000 miles to help rescue and maintain the freedom of 1800 civilians who wished that freedom preserved from a dictatorial military junta, did I think it the action of a humanist? I'd say so.

I second this. I was just about to write that being that there is a need for a military, people are bound to join, and once you join you don't get to pick where you're sent - by and large the voting public decides that when they vote for whomever they vote for, and choose not impeach whomever they choose not to impeach. It's true that people in the armed forces also get to vote, but each service person's vote is just one vote. So it's not fair to say someone isn't a humanist, just because they served in the military.

It's something I struggled with for a while, because some people I've known have held it against me that I was a marine.

Sat, 27 Aug 2011 06:22:30 UTC | #864675

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 25 by Ignorant Amos

It would appear by the overwhelming amount of ex service personnel on RD.net that there is indeed a lot of Atheists in foxholes. We should, as the majority here appear to be, encouraging these young men and women to 'come out' and not hide in the shadows. They should be afforded all the support and facilities that the religious enjoy and not be subject to marginalisation by a bunch of gormless religious arseholes.

Sat, 27 Aug 2011 09:40:58 UTC | #864684

Saganic Rites's Avatar Comment 26 by Saganic Rites

Comment 25 by Ignorant Amos

It would appear by the overwhelming amount of ex service personnel on RD.net that there is indeed a lot of Atheists in foxholes.

I've made this point before on this site, but it seems relevant here. My maternal grandfather was one of the 'lucky' ones who survived the Somme relatively unscathed (ok, so he had a wicked scar from his left hip to right shoulder, had nightmares for the rest of his life, and broke into a cold sweat every time he heard a loud bang ((so Nov. 5th was not his favourite night of the year)), but hey, he was alive), and he once told me that, during the living hell that was WWI, God's name was rarely invoked by the men in foxholes; most of them in fact were more likely to cry for their mother's help, and the padres (or 'crows', as they were commonly known) were actually seen by soldiers as 'bad luck'.

Sat, 27 Aug 2011 15:55:14 UTC | #864715

SRWB's Avatar Comment 27 by SRWB

I would bet that there are alot of atheists in foxholes (in the military in general), if my circle of friends is an accurate indication. And we are all serving members in the Canadian Army, not ex sevice personnel. Including me, I am aware that at least four of my closest friends proclaim themselves as non-believers, and quite vocally as well.

But then in this regard Canada is very different from our generally more pious southern neighbor!

Sat, 27 Aug 2011 17:48:01 UTC | #864722

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 28 by Red Dog

The idea that the US is in Afghanistan to protect women's rights is laughable for the following reasons:

1) There are plenty of places (e.g. Darfur) where women and the general population have it at least as bad and probably worse but the US has no interest in invading them and in some instances (e.g. Saudi Arabia) they actively prop up the government.

2) The US actually created the Islamic fundamentalists who they are now fighting. Once upon a time Afghanistan was a socialist country. The government then was far from ideal but considering what went before and came after not all that bad. But their fatal flaw was that they were allied with the Soviet Union. Hence, the US funded and armed Al Queda and other Islamic fundamentalist organizations to fight against the socialist government. These are the very same anti-women forces that became the Taliban and that the US is now fighting against.

3) The Northern Alliance (Kharzai) are not significantly different from the Taliban. They have a terrible human rights record and are dominated by people with the same anti-women views as the Taliban.

Malalai Joya is a leader of RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. They have been fighting for women's rights since before the US invasion. She recently visited the US and said:

"Warlords and drug lords dominate Parliament and the Karzai government, ... while U.S. troops kill civilians and rain destruction from the air. Afghan women and democratic people are caught between three enemies: the misogynist Taliban, the fundamentalist and misogynist warlords and Karzai regime, and the U.S. occupation forces. If the U.S. occcupation forces leave her country, Joya said that it will be easier, because Afghans will only have two enemies to fight, instead of three."

Sat, 27 Aug 2011 21:07:39 UTC | #864764

sandman67's Avatar Comment 29 by sandman67

Interesting articles - follow the link at the bottom and you can read the others from the same series. The one contrasting our military with the Americans is very revealing - the UK Army Chaplin who has to go to the services at the US base so he has an audience to preach to is hilarious.

The fact that the UK military continue to allow religion to intrude into the "vigil" ceremony is ridiculous and insulting to the men they are there to remember....most if not all of whom didnt believe or practice any religion anyway. Id refuse to take part in it.... you can remember dead mates your own way every day in much better ways and pay respect by continuing to draw breath and do your job to the best of your abilities.

Makes me proud our forces live in the real world, leaving the happy clappy childishness and grovelling in the dirt to our deluded ex-colonial cousins from across The Great Divide.

Sun, 28 Aug 2011 07:22:46 UTC | #864836

wisnoskij's Avatar Comment 30 by wisnoskij

Well it looks like my comment generated a lot of responses, I wish that this site has a notification system.

But I completely stand by my statement. If you are willing to be in the military then you are willing to kill humans when ordered to. And if you do that you cannot value human life. And if you do not value human life then you are not a humanist.

I am not saying that: all wars are unjustified or all are justified; armies should not exist, or that they should exist; I am not even saying that killing is never justified. All I am saying is that if you are in the military, and you were not forced into it against your will, then (in my opinion) you cannot be a real humanist.

Mon, 03 Oct 2011 14:48:45 UTC | #877447