"The economy of war requires of every soldier an implicit submission to his superior; and this submission is required of every gradation of rank to that above it. This system may be necessary to hostile operations, but I think it is unquestionably adverse to intellectual and moral excellence.
The very nature of unconditional obedience implies the relinquishment of the use of the reasoning powers. Little more is required of the soldier than that he be obedient and brave. His obedience is that of an animal, which is moved by a goad or a bit, without judgment or volition of his own; and his bravery is that of a mastiff [dog], which fights whatever mastiff others put before him. - It is obvious that in such agency, the intellect and the understanding have little part. Now I think that this is important. He who, with whatever motive, resigns the direction of his conduct implicitly to another, surely cannot retain that erectness and independence of mind, that manly consciousness of mental freedom, which is one of the highest privileges of our nature. The rational being becomes reduced in the intellectual scale: an encroachment is made upon the integrity of its independence. God has given us, individually, capacities for the regulation of our individual conduct. To resign its direction, therefore, to the despotism of another, appears to be an unmanly and unjustifiable relinquishment of the privileges which He has granted to us. Referring simply to the conclusions of reason, I think those conclusions would be, that military obedience must be pernicious to the mind. And if we proceed from reasoning to facts, I believe that our conclusions will be confirmed. Is the military character distinguished by intellectual eminence? Is it not distinguished by intellectual inferiority? I speak of course of the exercise of intellect, and I believe that if we look around us, we shall find that no class of men, in a parallel rank in society, exercise it less, or less honorably to human nature, than the military profession. I do not, however, attribute the want of intellectual excellence solely to the implicit submissions of a military life. Nor do I say that this want is so much the fault of the soldier, and of the circumstances to which he is subjected. We attribute this evil, also, to its rightful parent. The resignation of our actions to the direction of a foreign will, is made so familiar to us by war, and is mingled with so many associations which reconcile it, that I am afraid lest the reader should not contemplate it with sufficient abstraction. - Let him remember that in nothing but in war do we submit to it.
It becomes a subject yet more serious, if military obedience requires the relinquishment of our moral agency, - if it requires us to do, not only what may be opposed to our will, but what is opposed to our consciences. And it does require this; a soldier must obey, how criminal soever the command, and how criminal soever he knows it to be. It is certain that of those who compose armies many commit actions which they believe to be wicked, and which they would not commit but for the obligations of a military life. Although a soldier determinately believes that the war is unjust, although he is convinced that his particular part of the service is atrociously criminal, still he must proceed - he must prosecute the purposes of injustice or robbery; he must participate in the guilt, and be himself a robber. When we have sacrificed thus much of principle, what do we retain? If we abandon all use of our perceptions of good and evil, to what purpose has the capacity of perception been given? It were as well to possess no sense of right and wrong, as to prevent ourselves from the pursuit or rejection of them. To abandon some of the most exalted privileges which Heaven has granted to mankind, to refuse the acceptance of them, and to throw them back, as it were, upon the Donor, is surely little other than profane. He who hid a talent was of old punished for his wickedness; what then is the offence of him who refuses to receive it? Such a resignation of our moral agency is not contended for or tolerated in any one other circumstance of life. War stands upon this pinnacle of human depravity alone. She, only, in the supremacy of crime, has told us that she has abolished even the obligation to be virtuous.
To what a situation is a rational and responsible being reduced, who commits actions, good or bad, mischievous or beneficial, at the word of another? I can conceive no greater degradation. It is the lowest, the final abjectness of the moral nature. It is this if we abate the glitter of war, and if we add this glitter it is nothing more. Surely the dignity of reason, and the light of revelation, and our responsibility to God, should make us pause before we become the voluntary subjects of this monstrous system.
I do not know, indeed, under what circumstances of responsibility a man supposes himself to be placed, who thus abandons and violates his own sense of rectitude and of his duties. Either he is responsible for his actions or he is not; and the question is a serious one to determine. Christianity has certainly never stated any cases in which personal responsibility ceases. If she admits such cases, she has at least not told us so; but she has told us, explicitly and repeatedly, that she does require individual obedience and impose individual responsibility. She has made no exceptions to the imperativeness of her obligations, whether we are required to neglect them or not; and I can discover in her sanctions, no reasons to suppose that in her final adjudications she admits the plea that another required us to do that which she required us to forbear. - But it may be feared, it may be believed, that how little soever religion will abate of the responsibility of those who obey, she will impose not a little upon those who command. They, at least, are answerable for the enormities of war; unless, indeed, any one shall tell me that responsibility attaches nowhere; that that which would be wickedness in another man, is innocence in a soldier; and that Heaven has granted to the directors of war a privileged immunity, by virtue of which crime incurs no guilt and receives no punishment."
-- Jonathan Dymond
(1798-1828), An Inquiry into the Accordancy of War with the Principles of Christianity,
and an Examination of the Philosophical Reasoning by which it is Defended, with Observations on some of the Causes of War and on some of its Effects