INVOLVEMENT IN WEAPONS WORK:
Historically, a quick death in battle by sword
was considered acceptable, whereas the use of remote weapons (from bow and
arrow to firearms) was frequently decried as cowardly, devoid of valour, and
tantamount to plain murder. As modern weapons of war progressed through
catapults, cannons, machine guns, and bombs released from airplanes and
missiles to reach further and further, the soldiers firing them were less
likely to see the individual human beings— soldiers as well as civilians—they
had as their general target. The continuing automation of the battle scene
tends to conceal the horrors of war and thus makes military activity seem less
threatening and high-tech wars more appealing. How might the men and women who
design weapons, manufacture them, and use them feel about their work? For some
engineers, involvement in weapons development conflicts with personal
conscience; for others, it is an expression of conscientious participation in
national defence. The following cases illustrate the kinds of moral issues
involved in deciding whether to engage in military work.
1. Bob‘s employer manufactures antipersonnel
bombs. By clustering 665 guava-size bomblets and letting them explode above
ground, an area covering the equivalent of 10 football fields is subjected to a
shower of sharp fragments. Alternatively, the bombs can be timed to explode
hours apart after delivery.
Originally the fragments were made of steel,
and thus they were often removable with magnets; now plastic materials are
sometimes used, making the treatment of wounds, including the location and
removal of the fragments, more time-consuming for the surgeon. Recently another
innovation was introduced: By coating the bomb lets with phosphorus, the
fragments could inflict internal burns as well. Thus, the antipersonnel bomb
does its job quite well without necessarily killing in that it ties up much of
the enemy‘s resources just in treating the wounded who have survived. Bob
himself does not handle the bombs in any way, but as an industrial engineer he
enables the factory to run efficiently. He does not like to be involved in
making weapons, but then he tells himself that someone has to produce them. If
he does not do his job, someone else will, so nothing would change.
Furthermore, with the cost of living being what it is, he owes his family a
2. Mary is a chemical engineer. A promotion has
gotten her into napalm manufacturing. She knows it is nasty stuff, having heard
that the Nobel laureate, Professor Wald of Harvard University, was said to have
berated the chemical industry for producing this ―most brutal and destructive
weapon that has ever been
created.‖ She saw a scary old photograph from
the Vietnam War period, depicting a badly burned peasant girl running from a
village in flames. But the locals were said to take forever in leaving a
fighting zone and then there were complaints about them being hurt or killed.
She abhors war like most human beings, but she feels that the government knows
more than she does about international dangers and that the present use of
napalm by U.S. forces in Iraq may be unavoidable. Regarding her own future,
Mary knows that if she continues to do well on her job she will be promoted,
and one of these days she may well be in the position to steer the company into
the production of peaceful products. Will Mary use a higher position in the way
she hopes to do, or will she instead wait until she becomes the CEO?
Ron is a specialist in missile control and
guidance. He is proud to be able to help his country through his efforts in the
defence industry, especially as part of the ―war on terrorism.‖ The missiles he
works on will carry single or multiple warheads with the kind of dreadful
firepower which, in his estimation, has kept any potential enemy in check since
1945. At least there has not been another world war—the result of mutual
deterrence, he believes.
4. Marco‘s foremost love is physical electronics.
He works in one of the finest laser laboratories.
Some of his colleagues do exciting research in
particle beams. That the laboratory is interested in developing something akin
to the ―death ray‖ described by science fiction writers of his youth is of
secondary importance. More bothersome is the secrecy that prevents him from
freely exchanging ideas with experts across the world. But why change jobs if
he will never find facilities like those he has now?
5. Joanne is an electronics engineer whose work
assignment includes avionics for fighter planes that are mostly sold abroad.
She has no qualms about such planes going to what she considers friendly
countries, but she draws the line at their sale to potentially hostile nations.
Joanne realizes that she has no leverage within the company, so she
occasionally alerts journalist friends with news she feels all citizens should
have. ―Let the voters direct the country at election time‖—that is her motto.
6. Ted‘s background and advanced degrees in engineering physics gave him a ready entry into nuclear bomb development. As a well-informed citizen he is seriously concerned with the dangers of the ever-growing nuclear arsenal. He is also aware of the possibilities of an accidental nuclear exchange. In the meantime he is working hard to reduce the risk of accidents such as the 32―broken arrows‖ (incidents when missile launchings may have occurred erroneously) that had been reported by the Pentagon during the height of the Cold War, or the many others that he knows have occurred worldwide. Ted continues in his work because he believes that only specialists, with firsthand experience of what modern weapons can do, can eventually turn around the suicidal trend represented by their development. Who else can engage in meaningful arms control negotiations?