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Conscience or Obedience to Authority?

The other day I read in an Australian newspaper that when the bombing starts in Iraq, the Australian military will be allowed to disobey commands to fire upon civilians. They have been told to use their judgment and that they will not be punished for disobeying commands from American military leaders. This was an encouraging thing for me to read. I have often advocated the use of personal conscience over obedience to authority. Our conscience, I believe, comes from our inner most feelings. The closer we are allowed to stay to those feelings throughout our lives, from childhood on, the stronger the voice of our conscience.

To hear that compassion, conscience and individual judgment would be placed above obedience, even in the military where obedience is one of the highest values, gave me some hope - a hope that perhaps one day people will not be punished for refusing to fire upon any humans, not just those that are labeled as "civilians." After all, non-civilians have feelings too, not to mention their family and loved ones who will all feel the pain should they be killed.

Maybe one day, in a more ideal world, the people of every country will rise up in defiance of any leader who orders others to be killed. Maybe they will remove that leader from power before hundreds of thousands or even millions of people have been killed. Which reminds me, I just met someone from Shanghai. He told me the population of the region around the city was approximately 30 million. Could the entire 30 million be killed in a nuclear battle? I am afraid that it could be. If this were to happen, how would the leader of China feel? How would the rest of the world feel? Where will it all stop?

Maybe feelings will be valued in political and military decisions one day. Or let me rephrase that. Maybe feelings besides fear will be valued. Maybe one day political leaders will understand the emotional consequences of their actions. Maybe one day they will understand where hatred comes from.

Till then, those of us who do value feelings can do our small part by continuing to speak out against the values, beliefs and socialization processes which seem to be leading the world to large scale death and destruction.

S. Hein,
Feb 21, 2003