The Soldier's Dilemma

Yesterday I was in the library and I found a book of philosophy which contained the following thought experiment. I can't remember the name of the book, but if anyone knows it, please tell me so I can give the name on this post.

Anyway I thought I would post it up, so I could see what the views of the Blogger community would be. It's a dilemma of morality.

A soldier is ordered to rape and murder a female prisoner. His first instinct is to refuse to obey, since rape and murder are wrongful acts. His superiors have no right to order him to commit these crimes. He knows, however, that if he does disobey the order, he will be shot, and the task will be given to another soldier. The prisoner, then, is doomed to die, and the only foreseeable consequence of the soldier's disobedience would be that he will die too.

It occurs to him that if he obeys, and commits the rape and murder, he will have the power to make the prisoner's death an easier one, and to minimize her suffering. Whereas it is likely that if he refuses, the prisoner's death may be more unpleasant and violent.

So if he obeys, he will commit crimes, but he himself will survive, and he will be able to decrease the suffering of another.

If he disobeys, he will not commit any crime, but he himself will die, and he will very likely condemn another person to greater suffering.

These two options seem to be the only ones he can choose from. I can't think of any others.

What should the soldier do?


transitenator said...

Well this might be the time for the soldier to stop being a soldier.
There's always also a time for legitim rebellion. I say this because of events in and around Germany in the 30ies and 40ies.
Interesting post!

Sofia said...

Yes, he should certainly think about taking steps to get out of the army at some point. But right now is not the time, since he is about to be shot for insubordination.

Really, I suppose we could say this post is not about military matters as such, although they are interesting topics for discussion in themselves. Rather it is about the question of to what extent is it right to commit a wrongful act in order to alleviate the suffering of another.

Thank you for your comment.