Desktop version

Home arrow Management

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font


<<   CONTENTS   >>

SACRIFICE AND SUPEREROGATION

Bombadier Robert Key was a miner and British soldier in WWII who is recorded as having been killed 'showing off' with a hand grenade. However, recent reports have discovered that in fact, Key was killed snatching the hand grenade from a child who had unknowingly primed the grenade, smothering the bomb in his jacket and running away with it to absorb the explosion (Hough, 2009). Key - almost literally - jumped on a grenade to save the lives of others. An act of courage and charity, Key's sacrifice is best captured by returning to the Thomistic notion of 'martyr- dom' briefly addressed earlier. In this context, martyrdom can be seen not only as dying for one's faith, but as dying in defence of the good; as Aquinas notes, 'martyrdom consists essentially in standing firmly to truth and justice against the assaults of persecution' (Aquinas, 2008 [1920], Q. 124, Art. 1).

Martyrdom, unlike the readiness-to-be-victim form of sacrifice discussed previously, is explicitly supererogatory because 'it is not necessary for salvation to suffer martyrdom' (Aquinas, 2008 [1920], Q. 124, Art. 2). Were it necessary to suffer martyrdom, it would become a duty, but martyrdom, rather, is proof of perfection of the virtue of charity. Bombadier Key, charitably recognising that sacrificing himself would save the children's lives, still required courage to carry the act out. Thus, Aquinas notes that 'it belongs to the virtue of fortitude to remove any obstacle that withdraws the will from following the reason' (Aquinas, 2008 [1920], Q. 124, Art. 3). Given that Aquinas sees all just wars as practices of charity (Reichberg, 2011), and also holds that soldiers are granted special opportunities to practice courage (Aquinas, 2008 [1920], Q. 123, Art. 5), and one begins to see why soldiers - courageous figures whose entire purpose is one of charity - would be specially disposed to supererogatory actions.

Some may ask why such acts of martyrdom are important for ordinary soldiers to discuss if they are supererogatory and therefore not obligatory sacrifices? In part because although the soldier's moral and legal responsi- bility does not obligate him1 to risk his life in such situations, supereroga- tory sacrifice demonstrates clearly to soldiers the perfection of the virtue of charity which is necessary for him to be a good soldier. He is not obligated to perfect the virtues, but he is obligated to habituate and instantiate them at least insofar as is required to ensure his intentions are good. A second reason is because soldiering, like many other traditions and professions, enshrines as role models certain archetypal figures who serve as role models for ordinary professionals. Others may not reach the heights of these arche- types, but the presence of role models in the ethos of the practice motivates others to strive to reach these heights. Speaking about, praising and enshrining examples of supererogatory behaviour inspires soldiers towards the excellence that lies in the supererogatory perfection of virtue.

The above description of 'willingness to die' as martyrdom may seem too idealistic for some. However, aretaic notions offer a second way of understanding willingness to die, and indeed, this second account can either complement or exist independently of martyrdom. This approach focuses on the nonmoral virtues of soldiering: those which are best described in the MacIntyrean sense as excellences internal to the practice of soldiering (MacIntyre, 2008 [1981]). Christopher Toner (2006, p. 189) explains some of the MacIntyrean excellences that might be present in military life.

It will instead be 'well-conducted operations' […] operations conducted in accordance with, or excelling what is required by, established standards of excellence for that sort of operation. Among these standards (for combat operations at least) will be principles of war such as mass, maneuver, and unity of command; among them we should also hope to find norms of service to the military's parent society and of obedience to the laws of war.

We could add to this list of excellences certain skills of soldiering, such as marksmanship, physical endurance, coolness under fire and so forth. These too are excellences internal to the practice of war. However, insofar as excellences of command, tactical excellences and individual skills are excellences of war, the excellent warrior is only excellent if he practices those virtues within war. A person cannot claim to be a great warrior sim- ply because he is accurate at shooting paper targets; he is an excellent marksman, but until he proves that his marksmanship can translate into the arena of war, his virtue as a warrior will not be proven. The excellences of war can only be practiced in situations where the soldier's life is at risk. Thus, 'willingness to die', which really amounts to 'willingness to risk death', is a necessary psychological state if a person wishes to achieve excel- lence as a warrior.

This virtue theoretical account of self-sacrifice can be shown to enrich the existing rights-based account. It serves to demonstrate both the virtues that might motivate soldiers towards non-obligatory self-sacrifice insofar as soldiers are motivated by charity and disposed to courage. In exploring and celebrating martyrdom, warrior codes encourage soldiers to aspire to perfect charity. It is also important to recognise the importance of non- moral excellences and their contribution to soldiers' motivations to put their lives at risk. If soldiers' self-identities are tied up in their status as warriors, then their pursuit of excellence will include the practice of martial skills that can only truly be practiced in times of war. Part of the motiva- tion of soldiers to risk their lives is tied up to their desire to become excellent soldiers.

 
<<   CONTENTS   >>

Related topics