"...do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..."

"For the good of the Air Force, for the good of the armed services and for the good of our country, I urge you to reject convention and careerism..."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Maxwell AFB, April 21, 2008

"You will need to challenge conventional wisdom and call things like you see them to subordinates and superiors alike."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, United States Air Force Academy, March 4, 2011

Monday, November 11, 2013

Air Force Fighter Pilot and Wife Seek Discharge on Moral Grounds

According to the Ron Paul Channel, Air Force Captain Justin Pavoni, an F-15E pilot, and his wife (also an Air Force pilot), are seeking discharge from the Air Force on moral grounds.  Former congressman Ron Paul, who served in the Air Force himself after being drafted, interviewed Captain Pavoni.  Captain Pavoni has several combat deployments as a fighter pilot.

Before this story starts circulating the internet and incurring the wrath from the trenches, as any story of a military officer questioning authority invariably does, I'll offer my hasty initial thoughts on the interview and then provide my reasoning for disagreeing with Captain Pavoni's decision.

From what I gathered, Captain Pavoni's disillusionment appears to be based on government policy and use of the military since the attacks of September 11th.  I can certainly sympathize with his disillusionment over government policy over the last decade or so.  Captain Pavoni's concerns are shared by many in the service, and his interview reminds me of another Air Force officer who put on a mask and made this video.

In my view, Captain Pavoni does not appear to fit the conscientious objector status, at least from what little I know of it.  He mentions in the interview that he's not against defending against terrorist threats, but rather he thinks the policies enacted in the name of defending against terrorism have been an overreach.  He seems to indicate in the interview that a great deal of study and research over the years led to his conscientious objector position, but I would think that status would be a moral position that would have less to do with study and research.  When asked how he came to his current view, Captain Pavoni stated:
I would say it was more gradual, sir, you know it's sort of some things for me didn't add up in 2009, and I was a little bit more disillusioned maybe more on the policy level than on the necessarily the moral perspective, but as I went on and researched and compared my experience with, you know, my world view, it became incompatible for me on a moral level.
It seems to me that a conscientious objector is one who is morally against all forms of violence to include self defense, but of course I could be incorrect and ultimately some legal body will rule on his request.  At any rate, there is nothing wrong with him requesting discharge on these grounds or any other grounds.

It becomes problematic, however, when a request instead becomes breaking a contract.  When asked if he could be stationed overseas while his discharge request is considered, Captain Pavoni stated that he has made his decision, and that he will not be involved in combat operations.  He mentioned that what the government chooses to do in response was out of his hands.

I disagree with Captain Pavoni's refusal to serve as he has been trained to do, although I do appreciate his courage and personal conviction.  The reason I disagree is because the role of a military officer is not to follow their own personal morality, but rather to comport themselves in accordance with the collective American morality that is translated into our law.  Public service is not personal service.  Our Constitution and other law sets the limits of what we can and must do, and what we must refrain from doing, in accordance with the "moral" view of the American people distilled into law.  Captain Pavoni has received multiple millions of dollars in training from the American people to do a job - a job he voluntarily chose to do, raised his hand and swore to do, was trained to do at great public expense, and has now refused to do in violation of the terms of his contract.

Beyond that, I think Captain Pavoni's stance is not so much a moral stance, but rather is more a simple disagreement with policy.  Nowhere in the interview did he express a moral truth or moral code, but he did talk at length about disagreeing with policy.  It is not the role of a military member to only execute policy they happen to agree with.

Captain Pavoni appears to be of the view that all American war is "cut from the same cloth," and that a person cannot pick and choose which actions they will participate in.  This view is completely wrong.  College educated military officers are expected to do precisely that - to determine what actions are legal and in accordance with our Constitution, and to refuse those which are not.  In my career I have done precisely that--refusing an unlawful order to perform an illegal action, offering my resignation after being reprimanded, and nearly facing an administrative separation board or court martial.  Yet, in my case, the Air Force ultimately did the right thing by not wrongly kicking me out and I remained a faithful public servant and continue to serve my nation to this day.  Still, had the Air Force accepted my resignation or had it kicked me out, I still would have left with a legacy of faithfully serving my nation--I just would have paid a greater personal price for being a faithful public servant.  But it's not about us when we raise our right hands.  That's the essence of public service.

So, in my view, while Captain Pavoni can and should object to participating in unlawful operations (for example in Libya after day sixty without congressional approval), and while he could and should refuse illegal orders and actions within the broader umbrella of legal wars (such as assassinating an American citizen who presented no imminent threat and was denied due process of law), Captain Pavoni cannot morally join the martial profession and then refuse to provide combat capability with a blanket statement refusal.  He took an oath and he is now not making good on that oath.

I do think Capt Pavoni has a valuable perspective on military policy, and I agree with his view that our actions have unintended consequences and that we are likely creating more terrorists than we are vanquishing with our actions.  He has a valuable viewpoint and I agree with it, but it is not the proper role of a military officer to refuse to do as instructed by civilians who have a different viewpoint.

While I fully support any officer refusing to break the law (something they are required to do, but sadly not something we can expect government servants to do these days), I cannot support a public servant who wastes tax payer money and refuses to make good on the contract they voluntarily placed themselves in.  In the military we are the stick, and not the hand that wields it.  This means we may be placed in the position of doing things we find personally immoral, but so long as what we are tasked to do is legal, then we must make good on what we promised the American people--even when we personally disagree with the American people.  It's an uncomfortable position, especially given the wayward policies of government over the last decade plus, but it is a position that is simply one of the many burdens of being a professional military officer controlled by an elected civilian leadership.

To sum up my thoughts, Captain Pavoni's position appears to me based far too much on his personal policy views, something that is not within his lane as a professional military officer, rather than being based on the rule of law and the Constitution, which is precisely within his lane as a military officer.  I do appreciate his courage though.  But I disagree with his decision to refuse to carry out his voluntarily accepted contract.  I can also agree with him that it is in the best interest of the American people for him to be discharged, now that he has violated his oath of office.  Our oath of office isn't just something that requires us to occasionally and courageously say no.  More often than not, our oath requires us to salute smartly and execute even when we disagree.

No comments:

Post a Comment