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Hey U.S. Government, Can I Have a Moral Waiver?

Updated on June 5, 2009

Watching an episode of Lie to Me, I heard of something I'd never known about before: moral waivers.

Apparently, in 2004 when the United States military was having trouble recruiting enough potential enlistees, the Pentagon published what they called a "Moral Waiver Study." Their aim, they said, was to examine the relationship between how a soldier behaved prior to enlisting and how he behaved once he joined the service (according to various sources).

This ends up looking a lot like euphemism when they implement the idea of "moral waivers," which allows people with criminal records to potentially enlist and serve in the US military.

Traditionally, this was meant to be for misdemeanors only and to be kept as an exception and not the rule, but with recruitment numbers down and the "War on Terror" raging on, it's easy to see why the military might have to lower its standards (the same thing has been happening with their health standards, though that is another issue altogether).

Psychological States

And while every ex-felon is not necessarily dangerous, I am not sure I feel comfortable putting a gun in their hands and requesting that they kill human beings (though I suppose I wouldn't feel comfortable doing that with anyone, but even less so for felons).

Some of these soldiers with "shady" pasts are poorly adjusted, and statistically it looks like many of them have social disorders. The Sun-Times even alleges that gang-bangers are enlisting and sending weapons back to gang members. Even worse, they're getting access to military intelligence and training.

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What Does War Change?

I think the moral affronts here are obvious, so it is the questions they raise that are so interesting:

  • What is moral war in modern times, not in the reasons it is waged but in the ways it is fought?
  • Does wartime allow the bending of ethics (clearly the United States government thinks so), and if it does, then how much?
  • How important is stable mental health in a recruit?
  • What are the consequences of lowering our "standards" for soldiers?

It's not just questions about ethics and war that are embedded in this problem; it also exposes issues around imprisonment and the justice system. If someone is convicted for a crime and serves his sentence, which hypothetically should suitably "punish" him for his misdeed, then should he not be truly free when he is released? Would this not include freedom to join the military?

Or should we not be focused on the fact that he was convicted and rather focus on the implications the crime might have for his future behavior? Should the justice system not make an effort to correct his behavior, then, instead of simply punishing him?

This brings us to the sticky and tangled issue of the broken American prison system, which would be biting off more than I can chew (in this hub, at least). Anyway, I was shocked to learn about these "moral waivers," though I suppose I shouldn't be; war changes everything.


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