In a recent article in the Life section of the National Post, Cristina Alarcon, a pharmacist, ostensibly attempts to wear the shoes of Captain Semrau on that dusty battlefield in Afghanistan.
I take the opportunity to suggest that the author is slipshod and should try again:
Greetings Ms. Alarcon,
I read your thoughtful attempt to put yourself in the shoes of Captain Semrau and was moved to provide some feedback.
In short, I’m not sure your attempt was successful. One paragraph in particular seems to betray your medical-professional approach to the situation, rather than that of a soldier’s: “Confronted by such wartime misery, would I still hold firm to my principles that the ends (relief of suffering) can never justify the means (killing)?”
Certainly you can see how a soldier might believe the ends justify the means.
In the course of their wartime duty, a soldier is professionally required to kill. Indeed, they are not just required to kill, but to kill perfectly healthy human beings who might otherwise have potentially decades of long life ahead of them.
Soldiers must necessarily believe that the value of life lay beyond a pulse, beyond the flickering of an eyelid. Otherwise, they would not be engaged in their particular line of work.
And so putting yourself into the shoes of the young Captain, you must assume the logic of his professional duties. And doing so, knowing that you may already have killed many people on the battlefield, is it really so far a moral stretch to kill in order relieve an obvious and immediate (though admittedly not-long-to-last) suffering?
Sure it is illegal, and yes it might be a slippery slope, but if you have honestly put yourself into those combat boots, how could you not feel at least the lure to apply that modicum of mercy?
Although I disagree with her apparent philosophy, I’ll plug her medical-ethics blog: http://conscience-and-healthcare.blogspot.com/
Cristina’s response follows:
I greatly appreciate your taking the time you give me some valuable feedback. I am fully aware that there is no way I can realistically put myself into the shoes of a soldier. My very profession being one of healer already puts me at a disadvantage. Still, this was not my real point.
While I do try to live via the general principles that the ends do not justify the means, the piece was rather a self-reflection on whether or not I myself would be able to hold onto these given such “misery” and chaos. And honestly, I am not really sure.
This is why I did some research and came upon the blog of soldier-ethicist Pete Kilner
My intent was to try to understand whether or not soldiers have any guide-lines in battle (rules of engagement), and what these might be.
As I understand it, the ends of a soldier are to fight a war, the means are killing other men who are a threat to them and to others. However, once the enemy ceases to be a threat, due to injury or being unarmed, the duty of a soldier can no longer be to kill.
And your last line may very well be true, that “if you have honestly put yourself into those combat boots, how could you not feel at least the lure to apply that modicum of mercy?”. The lure might certainly be there. This was what I was reflecting upon….not sure what I would do.