By Sidney Axinn
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Additional resources for A Moral Military
Is it morally justifiable to sacrifice a few individuals so that others, perhaps many others, may live? Suppose that Minyan Island had been attacked by the barbarians from the next island. Would it be moral to vote for a suicide squad to sail over and destroy the fleet of the enemy island? If their military and naval intelligence establishes that the only way to avoid defeat is to muster a suicide squad, is it moral to sacrifice some for the others? Should this matter be put to a vote and the decision to use a suicide squad be so determined?
Let us consider some possible objections to this notion of what is natural. One issue is revealed in the example of the ten people on the island. Suppose ten people go off to a place called Minyan Island and plan to live according to the principle of social utility. All differences are to be decided by a secret ballot, and the majority wins. Everything goes smoothly the first six days, but Sunday looks to be boring. So, nine of the group think that they would like to hang one little fellow, the weakest one on the island.
For one, we ought to be treated equally: Equality or fairness means that we must all play by the same rules. Whatever the activity (or game), we must all follow the same set of rules because no one of us deserves more than another. Applied to individuals, this assumption means that each of us must act only by principles that we could understand applying to everyone. Does this part of the position rule out war? No, but it does rule out unfair actions. What are unfair actions? If we act on a principle that could not apply to both sides, our action is unfair.