The other day I blogged about Air Force Captain Justin Pavoni, an F-15E pilot who entered the realm of public discourse with a twenty minute video interview on the Ron Paul Channel. In that interview, Captain Pavoni stated that while he is waiting for the Air Force to rule on his request to be discharged on moral grounds, he has in the interim decided that he will refuse to deploy in any combat operations. I discussed his interview and gave my view, based on the interview, that his refusal to make good on his contract with the American taxpayer was more rooted in ideological or political disagreement than it was the result of a change in morality.
Since that blog post, I contacted Captain Pavoni. We had several days of spirited private discussion. The discussion did not shed any new light on his public video interview, and it did not change my views or conclusions. Captain Pavoni and his wife (also an Air Force pilot requesting discharge on moral grounds) were invited to comment on this blog.
Captain Pavoni's story is very interesting to me, as it provides a valuable discussion of professionalism, ethics, the constitution, and the substance of not only being a commissioned military officer, but a public servant more broadly. It's the topic of morality as it relates to military officers, that I would like to further explore in this blog post.
First, I would like to pose a hypothetical question. Would a school teacher raised in a Christian Scientist family be acting morally, if they, after voluntarily entering a contract with a group of parents to educate and care for their children for a ten year term, to include administering medicine as required (swearing without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion), took $1,500,000, but then later refused to administer medicine? More simply, would it be moral for a person to violate a voluntary agreement, after monetary funds have been spent, because they personally disagreed with rendering mutually agreed upon services that are legal (but in their personal view, immoral)?
What if the contract explicitly stated that the school teacher could not simply quit? Could the school teacher claim to be taking a moral position in violating a voluntary agreement, simply because they one day decided that it was immoral to give medicine to children to cure sickness, rather than to simply pray for healing?
When, if ever, does an individual's personal morality justify morally violating a promise made to another individual, or group of individuals, after they pay for agreed upon services?
Captain Justin Pavoni went to the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) at taxpayer expense. It is very likely that while studying at this publicly funded institution, he spent more time than the average American studying the concept and nature of war, the role of aviation in warfare, and the effects of bombs and killing people on the ground using that technology. After these years of study, it stands to reason that an average American, let alone one able to successfully get accepted to the Air Force Academy, would be able to come to terms with concepts like war, airplane, bombs, and death. They likely would also understand that upon commissioning, they would be asked to swear an oath and provide a sincere commitment - one that did not have an "I changed my mind and quit" clause. Is it possible that after all of this time and study, that Captain Pavoni did not sufficiently contemplate the nature of aerial warfare? Is it possible that he could only understand these concepts after two deployments when he was actually flying an airplane, in war, dropping a bomb, and causing death?
I've never walked on hot coals. Still, I think I can conceptualize what it would be like, and if somebody were to contract with me and give me a sum of money to walk across them - would I be justified in violating that contract after the first couple of steps, because it was only then that I experienced the displeasure of my feet burning?
Captain Pavoni completed his education and then spent years training to be a fighter pilot. Some sources say this training costs the taxpayer as much as 6 million dollars, while other sources put the number closer to 3 million. Captain Pavoni apparently completed flight training in 2008 and voluntarily incurred a ten year contract to fly for the Air Force at that point. With his decision to refuse to render services, he has now shorted the American taxpayer by roughly 1.5 million dollars for failing to render services for the last five or so years of his contract.
He maintains that since his four years of military education at a prestigious school, and after his military flight training, that he has recently come to the conclusion that flying military combat aircraft in combat is immoral.
What is morality? It depends on who you ask, of course. Some derive their moral code from religious texts and others, like Ayn Rand, claim reason and rational thought is the source of the moral life. Shakespeare would say there is no right or wrong, only thinking makes it so. So who has the correct moral code? Again, it depends on who you ask. While some moral codes have more compelling epistemological arguments than others, at the end of the day it comes down to this. Good is what I like, and bad is what I do not like. Morality is personal and subjective.
As the libertarian leaning video above demonstrates, the cornerstone of social morality might be considered to be based on voluntary exchanges and mutual consent. Or as a third grade teacher might instruct a student, "If you say you are going to do something, you should keep your word, otherwise do not promise somebody you will do something." The video above mentions that, "at times some people use force or fraud to take from others without voluntary consent."
Groups of individuals may also contract with an individual, as the video above demonstrates. Groups of individuals who have various moral codes, can agree upon basic moral tenets or positions and translate that into law, or HOA guidelines, or club rules. Religious bodies will work together for common social ends based on shared moral tenets. When a group contracts with an individual to perform a service, it is generally understood that the individual should faithfully keep his end of the mutual agreement, and should not violate that agreement because he later decides he does not want to do business with individuals who wear tacky clothes, or who wear hats, or who give their children medicine. In short, the individual has contracted to work for the group and if the group does not change its end of the bargain, the individual cannot morally change his or her end.
As military officers, we have made a contract with all tax paying Americans, to perform services in accordance with the house rules (our laws and our Constitution). We are paid by the public to execute their decisions based upon a legal public morality, and not simply based on what we personally like, or do not like. Failing to do so after receiving millions of tax payer money and training, is quite simply immoral.
The irony is that Captain Pavoni claims the moral mantle, but he does so from an immoral position which damages the group he has voluntarily contracted with. By not making good on his oath to well and faithfully discharge the duties of his voluntarily contracted office, Captain Pavoni has demonstrated that he is unfit to ever again be in any public office, and those who would voluntarily contract with him in any mutual exchange would do well to understand the term caveat emptor. Captain Pavoni has demonstrated that his word is not to be trusted.
His example should serve as a reminder to all military officers - words are important, but that does not take the place of well thought out and reasoned understanding of our professional requirements and duties. And, of course, actions matter far more than words.