Colonel and pacifist debate military action

February 19th, 2015


The ethical question of whether or not to use military action was the topic of debate on Thursday, Feb. 12 in the LSC Conference Room. Opinions from U.S. Colonel Eric Patterson and anti-war activist Megan Wilson-Reitz, sparked a heated conversation. Director of Campus Ministry John Scarano facilitated the debate.


At the beginning of the debate, both Patterson and Wilson-Reitz said their goal was to bring this conversation of ethics of military action to the public eye. The two explained that the controversy over the use of force versus nonviolent tactics has been a topic of discussion for centuries.


Patterson and Wilson-Reitz have both discussed this issue in the past. When Wilson-Reitz became the program assistant for the honors program at JCU, she was hesitant to work at a university with an active ROTC program because of her pacifist beliefs. As a result, she was encouraged to sit in on Patterson’s military ethics class. She would share her opinions with Patterson until after the students left class.


Both Wilson-Reitz and Patterson said they learned a lot from the after-class discussions. In fact, those discussions were the catalyst for holding the public debate. Neither have been able to change the other’s mind. However, they both consider themselves as “peacekeepers.”


Wilson-Reitz kicked off the debate, stating that military action is immoral.


“We are not violent people, and we do not want to hurt each other,” said Wilson-Reitz. “We are made to love each other.”


Patterson countered this statement, saying he believes competitive nature makes us who we are, allowing us to grow. He stated this is part of survival – meaning, humans were created with a “fight or flight instinct” to weed out the weak.


Patterson asked, “What do you do when there are people that do not reason and are just there to be violent?”


Wilson-Reitz argued that war consists of three things that conflict with basic morals: Lying, stealing and murder. She explained these immoral acts are only justified under certain circumstances. However, there is never a circumstance that would make war moral. Wilson-Reitz said humans are lied to. They’re told that going to war, stealing from others during war and murdering others for our country is justified.


“When everything looks like a nail, we want to use a hammer to hit it,” Wilson-Reitz explained. She added that if people do not try to find alternative ways to solve problems besides violence, then people will always use more violence to resolve quarrels. She expressed that humans need to be open-minded to other ways or resolutions like sit-ins, protests and negotiation.


On the other end of the spectrum, Patterson argued that humans are not naturally passive unless circumstances dictate that’s appropriate. Society has grown up with natural law; humans have to protect themselves and their resources. They have to develop social contracts for sovereign power.


Patterson said that from his experience, there are people who would hurt others, rather than discuss their problems. There is a certain amount of violence needed to ward off people who are threatening in order to keep our country and people safe.


According to Scarano, “This is the beginning of a new way of communication.”


Students who attended the debate were left thinking about their own stances on the topic. Sophomore Joy Parker said, “This was an awesome way to see two people engage this way. It is important and helpful perspective.”


Ultimately, both Patterson and Wilson-Reitz defended their sides and helped educate the JCU community about this controversial topic.