May 30, 2004

Medals and Mens Bene

by PG

(Apologies for the skewed Latin.)

The news that Pat Tillman was killed in a "friendly fire" incident has occasioned at least one person to wonder, "Does this mean he has to return the medals?" Michael Ascot's crude and speculative assessment of Tillman otherwise rates little more interest than similar remarks have, but his derisively-intended question about Tillman's post-humous promotion, Silver Star and Purple Heart may deserve serious exploration.

Contrary to Ascot's views, the military appears to honor people not on a wholly consequentialist basis but more for their intent. If one rushed back into enemy fire to rescue a wounded comrade, even if he ended up dying -- that is, even if the utilitarian consequences of the heroic action turn out to be useless -- the medal would be given on the basis of one's motive of self-sacrifice. Thus Tillman, who reasonably thought that he was facing enemy fire, still deserves his honors even if his assumption turned out to be erroneous.

A question for another time: What motivates the military to give posthumous honors to highly visible soldiers?

May 30, 2004 05:58 AM | TrackBack
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