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Would You Pull the Trigger?

  1. Oct 15, 2004 #1
    Suppose you are in a warzone. You are in a concealed position and there is only one enemy soldier nearby. Both you and the enemy soldier are conscripted soldiers, neither desired to join the army in the first place. Also suppose that this will be the enemy soldier's last day in active combat duty, he will not pose a threat to you or your comrades in future engagements. Currently he isnt a threat because he does not know of your presence, and you are not in danger of being fired upon. There are no enemy reinforcements, it is just you and the soldier. You have your gun sights on the soldier, do you pull the trigger?

    Is it justifyable to kill another human being in this circumstance in the name of patriotism or nationalism? If you were to kill the enemy soldier, wouldn't this just be murder?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 15, 2004 #2
    Good question! I don't know how I would know he's a conscript and that it's his last day, but since I do know, he could technically still pose a threat to my allies later that day, and I will shoot him so as to do my duty. Yes I know that's unethical, but I could live with it. If I found out later he killed a friendly soldier, and I could have prevented it, I could never live with myself. Obligated or not, I have a job to do.
  4. Oct 15, 2004 #3
    Some interesting things happened in WWI. Personally, I would not shoot unless he made his political affiliation known to me.
  5. Oct 15, 2004 #4
    I forgot to answer the rest of the questions. It wouldn't be murder, because I'm not killing him illegally, I'm supposed to kill him (we're at war). It wouldn't be for nationalism or patriotism, because I'm a conscript, fighting because I have to, not for pride.
  6. Oct 15, 2004 #5
    First of all, murder is murder, wether it's for a just cause or not. Even if others will applause you for it, it's still the taking of human life, which is murder by definition.

    I remember during the gulf war in many Iraqi soldiers just giving up as soon as american troops showed up. This says to me that a lot of them were not fighting for a cause, but instead because they HAD to, or were being forced to. They didn't really believe in what they were fighting for. I vaguely remember a saying that goes something like this: a soldier with a gun is dangerous. A soldier with a cause is deadly.

    If in this unlikely scenario, I knew this guy hadn't killed anyone, and that it was his last day and he didn't want to be there to begin with, I'd probably stand up and fire near him to let him know to surrender-or if I knew he wouldn't, I'd shoot him in the leg, and then take his weapon and take him as a POW. That way I wouldn't have to kill an "innocent" and I still took one more soldier out of action. "innocent of course being a loose term.

    It's said that no one wins a war. Wars to me are stupid, but I still understand that they still must be taken up when they are brough upon us. Wars are started for emotional, not logical reasons.
  7. Oct 15, 2004 #6
    What definition of murder are you using Zantra? The definition I'm using is killing illegally, brutally or inhumanly. Not all killing of humans is "murder".
  8. Oct 15, 2004 #7
    Personally I would not fire.

    How would I react if I were in the enemy soldier's shoes? If I were him I wouldn't want to die because im a conscript and I may have family home that loves me. Equally disturbing to me is that if I were the enemy soldier, I would not like my life taken so abruptly and quickly and without reason. At least in most combat situations one has a chance to survive; in this case the enemy soldier doesn't have an option (his survival depends totally on you).

    I would also think of how this will effect this particular soldier's parents and family. To them, if I killed their son, they would probably say that I murdered their son. Their child, whom they have raised and loved for so long, would be gone by my hand. I dont think I could live knowing that I destroyed that soldier's family; all who knew him and cared for him, especially his parents, will be scarred for life.

    More questions present themselves: What was this soldier's life goals? Did he want to go into science/math/engineering? Does he have children? A Wife? What if we share common interests? What life experiences did he have?

    I dont think I could live knowing that I terminated all that was good in his life, leaving a gaping hole in his family.
  9. Oct 15, 2004 #8
    motai, good point!
    I would have to consider the campaign I was fighting for. If it were like liberating Europe from Germany in WWII I would pull the trigger, move on and waste the next Nazi. If they had a huge blatant patch on their uniform that said "Conscript, retiring tommorrow!" I don't know what I would do, unfortunatly the adreniline surge would likely hit me and I'd pull the trigger. It is war, but you're right about the damage I'm leaving behind. This question really has me pondering.
  10. Oct 15, 2004 #9
    I'm trying to understand how this situation poses a dilemma? If the soldier in your sights is there because he was coerced via conscription, and if he poses no real threat to you or your comrades, then what reason would there be to kill him. Even if the war you are fighting is a just war (supply the necessary idealizations), it seems this soldier will have no influence on the success of your campaign. Shooting him is obviously morally wrong, on any remotely plausible ethical theory.
  11. Oct 15, 2004 #10
    Yeah, I should just shoot him in the leg then.
  12. Oct 15, 2004 #11
    Can I just say "You, drop your weapon. Let's go get a beer."

    Does he speak the same language?
  13. Oct 15, 2004 #12
    I think you're right. There would be no good reason to kill him, unfortunatly I did it. If the situation really came up, adreneline would probably dictate my actions. I would pay for it when I meet my maker, I know he would forgive me. Really good point you have.
  14. Oct 15, 2004 #13


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    This is such an unrealistic thought experiment, pretty much any answer will work.
  15. Oct 15, 2004 #14
    Well duh, this is a subjective question. Not all questions have right and wrong answers, it's just to learn about people and what thier principles are. Do you not have a viewpoint of your own, did you just want to diss the thread?
  16. Oct 16, 2004 #15
    Russ, to make this a little more realistic, lets suppose that you recieved a direct order to kill any soldiers in the operational area. Now considering that this enemy soldier does not pose a threat to you or your allies, would it still be acceptable to shoot him? Does this justify killing another for your nation?
  17. Oct 16, 2004 #16


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    Sorry, I think you may have misunderstood - what I meant was the question is so unrealistic as to be utterly meaningless. No, I don't have an answer, and none of the other answers would mean anything if they hadn't all changed the scenario into something more realistic. And an answer based on an impossible scenario doesn't really say anything about the morality of the person answering.

    This is exactly like those anti-relativity questions: assuming an infinitely rigid rod, if you push on it, does the other end start moving instantly? So SR is wrong, right? Uh, no.
    My objection is that we can't possibly know what we are supposed to know. You didn't make the scenario any more realistic.

    So, I guess my answer is that instead of shooting the soldier, I'd sprout wings, fly to Bagdhad, and kill Saddam myself.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2004
  18. Oct 16, 2004 #17


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    A more realistic scenario:

    You're in a war zone. You see an enemy soldier, he doesn't see you, and he poses no immediate threat to you. You assume he's a conscript because most are. You know nothing else about him. Your orders are to shoot all enemy soldiers on sight. Do you shoot?
  19. Oct 16, 2004 #18

    Of course thought experiments abstract away from irrelevant details (e.g., what time of year is it, how color are the leaves in which you're hiding, etc.). But you seem to think that this thought experiment is so impoverished that it fails to pose an interesting question. Do you have an argument for this objection, or are you content with merely asserting it. If the latter, why should anybody in this thread take your objection seriously?
  20. Oct 16, 2004 #19
    This is irrelevant to the question that was asked earlier. The earlier question asked whether killing was permissible, given that you know that your enemy is conscripted and poses no threat. If you'd like to discuss your example instead, perhaps you could start a different thread.
  21. Oct 16, 2004 #20


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    I do have argument and I presented it already (and several others picked up on it too): we can't possibly know what you are saying we know.

    edit: cogito, the reason I object so strongly to this is I was in the military, and it annoys me greatly when people judge the actions of soldiers based on impossible criterea: the fact that we can't know what you are saying we know is why the dilema exists. You utterly miss the point of your own thought experiment.

    Also, you miss the point of thought experiments in general: as my SR example shows, a thought experiment that has no basis in reality can't help you learn anything about reality.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2004
  22. Oct 16, 2004 #21
    Of course it is possible to know that an enemy soldier is conscripted and will be discharged tomorrow. If, for instance, one of his comrades had been captured, and had on his person documentation to that effect, or if the enemy soldier had been overheard making remarks to that effect to one of his fellows, etc., etc.. Of course, these aren't likely, but they sure are possible.

    Now, as far as I can tell, nobody here is judging soldiers generally, although they may be commenting on the justifiability of certain practices common to militaries (conscription, the killing of enemy soldiers that post no risk, etc.). So, although I understand your being quick to jump to the defense of people who are often maligned in public discourse, I think you are being a bit too quick in this circumstance.

    Further, it is simply false that a thought experiment that has no basis in reality can't provide insights into reality. Posing far-fetched ethical dilemmas, so-called "trolley-car examples", often helps in theoretical ethics to get clear on the presuppositions of our moral judgments. If you think it is better in a forced choice scenario for a very elderly man to die than a young man, then you probably have certain beliefs according to which a life's future prospects are evaluatively relevant. If you think it is better in a forced choice scenario to save the Nobel-Prize winning cancer researcher than the homeless drifter, then you probably have some sort of committment to utilitarianism. Thought experiments are essential at allowing us to get clear on the presuppositions of our moral judgements, and they also can provide insight into how we ought to reason (especially if they expose in us contradictory presuppositions).
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2004
  23. Oct 16, 2004 #22
    Let's say that the enemy soldier has a bright flourescent orange patch that reads "CONSCRIPT. RETIRING TOMMORROW" and you see it. Of course in the real world this wouldn't be the case, but in this thought experiment let's say it is.

    Now I respect your military service, Russ, I don't judge any soldiers who may or may not kill because I don't know their situation, nor can I identify. Also like cogito suggested, it is possible other ways too, documents, overheard speech etc.

    This is similar to "the red button" thread. Of course the button doesn't exist, it's not even feasible to believe it will exist (except in God's hands) but I learned so much about other PF users and their values and I believe some people may have learned about my values as a result of the truly intriguing discussion we had there.

    Sometimes I pose a hypothetical question, and I get mad when people don't address it because it's not the case. I might ask "if you were in my shoes would you tell her or let it go?" and they interrupt and retort "but I'm not in your shoes! That's physically impossible! We're separate people, etc." It makes me mad because it defeats the purpose of the hypothetical question. Whether it's possible or realistic is not the point, I just wanted advice.
  24. Oct 16, 2004 #23
    a. I am a soldier. My priority is to follow orders. If my orders are to kill women and childern in a school then I am by definition to follow said orders and execute efficantly the deaths of any identified target. If I in civic disagreeance with this I cannot function as a soilder in any circumstance. In such a case I would be in jail, not on the battlefield laying a grave holding a gun with beads of sweat as a soldier facing this philosophical delima.

    b.I am a solidier. I have not being given direct orders to actively and independatly engage enemy targerts. If no obvious threat is being posed by single target, then passing of the information of contact and maintaing concealment are my prorites. Weather or not there are reenforments is not information I would as a individual solider be prevy to the possiblity of verifing. Therefore unless in the abscense of spefiic threat, or general guidelines for engagement, stealh is job number #1. Therefore direct engagement "shooting him" should be avoided if at all possible.
  25. Oct 19, 2004 #24
    Thanks for sharing. What does this have to do with the thought experiment?
  26. Oct 19, 2004 #25
    a. and b. are my only options.

    Therefore, weather or not I pull the trigger depends on weather I am a or b.
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