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Military Software Development

I have recently been out of work for about 3 months, finally last week I got a job with a company that develop software for a particular branch of the military. I was happy when I accepted the job which is to start at the beginning of April. I've never thought about it before and it surprises me that it even popped into my head, but I'm having difficulty accepting the fact that the software I will be working on may indirectly be responsible for killing people.
Granted, it doesn't fire the bullets, but it helps to put the bullets in the right place at the right time. This is bothering me so much that I may have to reject the role I already accepted. Does anybody else on this site do Defence(such an ironic word))/Military software development, does it ever bother you?

Could I be a Pacifist?
Monday, February 24, 2003

To pose the question "should it bother you", I think it really depends upon how far removed from a military specific role that you think would absolve a person from complicity.


For instance, if you worked for a company that makes embedded OSs or tools for embedded software development, you would be directly or indirectly supporting many DoD specific development organizations - military hardware uses a lot of embedded processors. So if you work in any company that makes widely used base technology (memory, microprocessors, computers, OSs, system software, peripheral design, etc), you are in complicity with military work.


Basically, if your definition of "clean hands" was so specific that  it demanded that your work have *no* supportive role whatsoever within warfare, then you'd have to work only in consumer applications or in some niche that you hand selected to have no component of utility in warfare.  But caution - the military even uses off the shelf video games for trainers.

So I doubt there's a good answer in the engineering related IT field unless you're willing to completely drop out of this industry or specialize in a niche.

I know it's out of favor to make such observations, but the best defense is a strong offense. Most military investment is deterrant.

Bored Bystander
Monday, February 24, 2003

I used to live in Tucson, where the largest technical employer was Raytheon Missle Systems.  Although I was never offered a position by the company, I had the same moral reservations about working there that you have right now, and perhaps one of the main reasons I didn't pursue any positions there.  I don't want to work on stuff that kills people.  I can't measure job satisfaction in terms of number of people killed or wounded.

But on the other hand you got to consider that weapons are simply tools, and they can be used for good or for evil like any other tool.  It may be that the systems you are working on might be used in fighting a just war against a person or organization who oppresses and kills innocents.  After all, lives may be saved with the use of force. 

I suppose it really depends on your politics.  Speaking for myself (at the risk of starting a political flame war), I am conflicted (excuse the pun) when it comes to my country's current military engagements, esp. in Iraq.  On one hand I believe we would be doing the Iraqi people and the world a favor by removing Saddam Hussein's Baath party from power in Iraq, but on the other hand I really question if it is the wisest action for the US to take in this time of increasing deficits and in a world that contains a lot more tyrants in the world than just Saddam.  And being far removed from the front lines, I really have no clue how difficult it would be to prosecute a war like this without harming more people than we intend to help.

So I donno what I would do in your situation, except that I'm glad I don't have to face moral dilemmas like this.  =-)  I guess if it bothers you, even though the markets sucks right now, you might want to start looking for another job.

Alyosha`
Monday, February 24, 2003

Oh yeah, one more thing ...

If you live in the US and pay taxes, you're already supporting the US military and military policy, so maybe you don't have any clean hands to soil in the first place ...

Food for thought.

Alyosha`
Monday, February 24, 2003


No easy answers here.  There are two sides to the story, and both should be considered carefully.

I urge you to consider the truism that "putting the bullets in the right place at the right time" *can* _save_ lives, as well as extinguish them.  Precision weaponry, in particular, can save a great many innocent lives.  Military strength in general, when properly applied, can be a great stabilizing and life saving force.

But, this has to be weighed against your feelings about the ability of the stewards of these weapons to use them in the wisest possible way.  Unfortunately, I have to say that my confidence in the US govt to do that is shaken at the moment.  Overwhelming military force in the wrong hands is a recipe for disaster, just as it is a blessing in the right hands.

So, consider it all, and do what you feel is right.  Good luck with your decision, and you have my respect for even putting these questions on the table for yourself.  Too many collect paychecks and choose not to think about it, IMO.

Robert
Monday, February 24, 2003

I took a course entitled "War and Peace" from John Moore:
http://www.virginia.edu/facultysenate/speakers/2020/moore.html

He has researched a theory that *all* warfare is the result of a failure of democracy on one side, and a failure of deterrence on the other. Specifically:
1) No true democracy will fight a war, since those voting are those who will fight. The nations that start wars are led by dictators who send others to die.
2) Those dictators only start wars if they think they can get away with it - i.e. nothing deters them. If the US had a standing policy in 1990 of "any leader that orders the invasion of another sovreign nation will be assassinated" and there was reason to believe we meant it, you can bet Saddam never would've tried to take Kuwait.

So given that theory (and it's really worth examining in detail - I think he's on the money), then realize that building weapons for the US helps to *prevent* war.

If we just sat back and left Iraq, Korea, etc alone, do you really think that would *reduce* violence in the world? Granted I have my issues with how Bush is leading this charge, but I can't really argue the basis for the charge itself...

Philo

Philip Janus
Monday, February 24, 2003

(disclaimer: this post has nothing to do with software)

Philip, that theory sounds a bit simplistic to me, a bit too much vague generalities and not much in specifics.  Granted, I never took the course from him or read anything by him, maybe he goes into a lot more detail than what you've briefly commented.  But I can't agree that "no true democracy will fight a war, because people do not like to fight wars, only leaders do".  In my mind that only explains empire-building wars, the wars that Rome and Germany and Japan fought; it doesn't deal with civil wars, which I'd believe is the most common sort of war in the current era.  There are a lot of places in the world where the true democratic sentiment of half the people is to rise up and slaughter the other half of the people.

And what determines "soverignty"?  It's kind of a subjective judgement.  The US considered the Confederate States to be in rebellion, China considers Taiwan a renegade province, Iraq considers Kuwait to be historically part of Iraq, Israel considers the Occupied Territories to be their own, UK considers all of Northern Ireland to be its own, etc ...

And finally, what is this "true democracy" of which you speak?  Does any such thing exist?  Do representative democracies, like which exist in the US, count?  There's no binary "it's a democracy or it isn't".  Most countries fancy themselves to be democracies.  Take China, for example ... the *People's* Republic of China ... the people being represented, in theory, by the National People's Congress -- which meets only for a few weeks of the year and pretty much only rubber-stamps the State Department's policies.  Compared to the US, it's hardly a democracy at all.  Who decides which countries are "democratic enough"?

Need I mention that Saddam Hussein won his election with almost 99% of the votes cast?  Awfully democratic of him, I'd say.

So like I said, that theory seems laden with platitudes and generalities, but what does it actually mean in the real world?

Alyosha`
Monday, February 24, 2003

philip, that was brilliantly put. Well said.  I support your opinions 100%.

Vincent Marquez
Monday, February 24, 2003

To the original poster:

Go watch "Good Will Hunting", Matt Damon (Will) has a few brilliant lines about the same thing.

Prakash S
Monday, February 24, 2003

"Go watch "Good Will Hunting", Matt Damon (Will) has a few brilliant lines about the same thing. "

Pfft.  It's "brilliant" as crowd pleasing movie dialogue, but that's about it.

Robert
Monday, February 24, 2003

Alyosha -

Suffice to say that I am not going to be able to sum up over fifty hours of lectures in a single paragraph with any justice. I'm a graduate of the US Naval Academy and served nine years active duty in as a naval officer, and Dr. Moore absolutely convinced me that he's on the right trail.

We *did* cover civil wars, and consider that in the US Civil War, it's arguable that neither side was operating as a democracy at the time. ;-)

Philo

Philip Janus
Monday, February 24, 2003

Alyosha wrote:

"I can't measure job satisfaction in terms of number of people killed or wounded."

Good for you, but I seriously doubt anyone here, DoD employees included get any satisfaction out knowing that their systems kill people. I don't work in the defense industry, but your statement seems a bit of a slap in the face of those that do. Your almost suggesting that to work for Raytheon means that you do measure job satisfaction in terms of people killed or wounded.

And I'm guessing that your comment about Saddam winning 99% of the election was satire. First off, it wasn't 99%. It was 100% and that is only because no one else is allowed to run for office. It's hardly a democracy.

And finally...merely paying taxes doesn't mean that a citizen is supporting military policy. You grouped supporting the military and supporting military policy in one bundle and that just isn't the case. I can protest military actions and be a law abiding citizen by paying my taxes without without any ethical conflict. If I disagree with the government's use of the military, that doesn't give me the right to stop paying my taxes.

Go Linux Go!
Monday, February 24, 2003

Could I be a Pacifist?:

Would you serve in the military to defend our country?  I sure as hell would and I have.  I am a veteran.  The military is no place for wishy-washy pacifists.

Would I develop software that contributes to the defense of our nation? Absolutely.

Have you led a sheltered life?

Freedom isn't free.  It makes me angry that people even question the morality of such things. 

Does someone with the intent to do harm think twice? Absolutely not. 

We must defend against these people, groups and nations, if we are to remain free ourselves.  Would you rather we submit to these fiends and lead oppressed lives?  I think not.

Angry
Monday, February 24, 2003

IMO military capability is only a tool that is used by those who control it.  I pay taxes, and already therefore am involved in supporting those in control as well as their weapons.  So for me to work on military systems (which I don't) is to do something I am already doing.

That is about support.  As far as responsiblity goes, I can vote for those I think will best lead the country every couple of years.


All this notwithstanding, I believe it is important for people to do what they believe is in the best interest of themselves and others.  If you examine the facts and still are conflicted, I would counsel you to not take the job.  This would be a win/win for both you and your possible employer.

And win/win's are good, right? :-)

Scot
Monday, February 24, 2003

"If I disagree with the government's use of the military, that doesn't give me the right to stop paying my taxes."

Thoreau, a very important American, claimed the complete opposite.
http://www.ustrek.org/odyssey/semester1/110800/110800beckymex.html

I've helped people get jobs that required security clearance; I sort of justify it by thinking that military spending on software led to things like the internet, which in the end may be a long-term good thing.

BTW, some people are considering the theory that da Vinci embedded basic errors in his designs because he was a pacifist, who often had to make a living designing things for the military.  I have no idea if this is true, but it's an interesting anecdote.

Tj
Monday, February 24, 2003

(disclaimer: more non-software related comments)

Philip: Fair enough.  I understand that my impression of his theory's simplicity is due in some part to the format of this forum.  Perhaps he has addressed these issues and made some convincing points which I am not familiar.  All I can say is that the little you have shared with us fails to resonate within me as being true.

I agree that it's arguable that neither side of the US Civil War was a "true democracy", what with slavery and women's sufferage and whatnot.  But that doesn't tell me much; after all, is there any government on this planet that cannot be accused of being undemocratic in some fashion or another?  I really do not understand the term "true democracy", except in some sense of a utopian ideal where every individual has an equal voice.  Even if such a beast were possible I'd doubt it would be desirable, honestly -- there's little room for leadership in a completely egalitarian community, and majority rule will not prevent minority oppression.  Democracy, to be successful, needs to be adulerated some.

Prakash: the NSA speech in Good Will Hunting [ http://us.imdb.com/Quotes?0119217 ] was certainly hilarious, but intellectually rigorous, it was not.  In fact, that scene really emphasized how easily Will could intellectually justify his cowardice, how he could run rings around people with his mind.  He didn't believe any of it, he probably thought it was bullshit himself. 

GLG: yes, my comment about Saddam being "democratically" elected was satire, meant to underscore my earlier point that all regimes fancy themselves to be democratic.  Also, I was not seriously advocating tax revolt; only pointing out that in order to have "totally clean hands", one would almost have to nearly disassociate themselves with this world, as all our actions may have intended and unintended consequences.  Finally, I mean no insult to those who do work in the military industry, but as for myself, I measure job satisfaction in terms of "did my product do the job it was intended?"

Angry: I have high respect for our armed forces and would thank every veteran who has died or been wounded while in the act of defending my liberty and freedom.  But, with all the wars that have been fought in my lifetime, I don't think any veterans have ever fit the bill.  The US has gone and tried to save the Vietnamese, Bosnians, Somalians, Iraqis, Kuwaitis, Afghanis, but when did it ever defend us AMERICANS at home?  I do not believe that Iraq or North Korea pose a serious threat to the US, nor do I believe either would attack unless they were provoked.  Ask yourself why the US, of all industrialized nations, is public enemy number one, and not Canada, Australia, the UK, France, Germany, or Japan?  Why are we the ones that have to defend ourselves at such an expensive cost when our peers are much safer with smaller militaries?

Maybe the world needs a policeman, and we're it.  I wonder this, sometimes.  But I suspect our maybe our military is overextended and has become too costly for us to maintain.

Alyosha`
Monday, February 24, 2003

>> "Angry: I have high respect for our armed forces and would thank every veteran who has died or been wounded while in the act of defending my liberty and freedom.  But, with all the wars that have been fought in my lifetime, I don't think any veterans have ever fit the bill.  The US has gone and tried to save the Vietnamese, Bosnians, Somalians, Iraqis, Kuwaitis, Afghanis, but when did it ever defend us AMERICANS at home?  I do not believe that Iraq or North Korea pose a serious threat to the US, nor do I believe either would attack unless they were provoked.  Ask yourself why the US, of all industrialized nations, is public enemy number one, and not Canada, Australia, the UK, France, Germany, or Japan?  Why are we the ones that have to defend ourselves at such an expensive cost when our peers are much safer with smaller militaries?"

American troops defend American interests and the interests of the free world.  They do so on foreign soil so that those who would like to see freedom banished/disrupted are kept out of your back yard.

Maybe you like not having affordable oil or maybe you are a communist or a terrorist supporter.

You can't tell me that you believe that the Iraqi regime does not have links to Al'Qaida.

American soldiers are stationed worldwide.  They represent the freedom we stand for.  They are there for a purpose. 

There have been political "mistakes" in sending troops into battle, but that's no reason not to think they did'nt serve a purpose or for that matter prevent something from happening to American soil further on down the line. 

Don't take the armed forces for granted or some day you will regret it.


Monday, February 24, 2003

"We must defend against these people, groups and nations, if we are to remain free ourselves.  Would you rather we submit to these fiends and lead oppressed lives?  I think not. "

most of us would definitely not.
OTOH I cannot recall a war that america has fought against a foreign nation that seriously threatened our freedom.
possibly aside from the battle against the british, <g> rather ironic that.

My rather shaky grasp of american history aside, certainly Im not convinced that any of its more recent battles were fought in defense of its freedom.
The invasion of afghanistan was apparently fought to save us from terrorism....that was definitely a failure, the new idea appears to be that taking iraq out will somehow help in the battle against terrorism...<g> Im not entirely sure of the logic here but I am *totally* sure that terrorism against america will continue even after iraq has been reduced to dust and saddam removed from office.

Im certainly not arguing that saddam is a nice guy, but the arguments emerging from washington about the reason for the war on iraq have been rather contradictory.
If saddam himself is the problem then I wouldn't have any problem with america having him assassinated, maybe its my programmers tendency to want to map complex problem spaces to simple solutions, but invading iraq to remove saddam from power feels roughly equivalent to using a 10billion $ sledgehammer to crush a single nut.

PC
Monday, February 24, 2003

"Maybe you like not having affordable oil or maybe you are a communist or a terrorist supporter."

are those the only choices he gets?


"You can't tell me that you believe that the Iraqi regime does not have links to Al'Qaida."

depends on your definition really.  the iraqi regime is secular...strongly non-religious.  Al'Qaida is not, rather the opposite in fact, they are an organization who strongly believe that heathens (such as the secular iraqi regime) should be put to death.
<g> but Im not a great believer in organizations and governments being black and white..mostly they find compromises.

bonny prince charlie
Monday, February 24, 2003

"We must defend against these people, groups and nations"

By invading them.


Tuesday, February 25, 2003

I'm cheered in general by how the whole debate has seeped into everything. 

Simon Lucy
Tuesday, February 25, 2003

I wrote military software. I have no qualms about doing so.

Mostly because I have stopped caring about most of the people in the world. They're stupid and they'll try and kill each other whatever I do. If it's a choice between nice house for me or not nice house for me and both choices mean "stupid people somewhere else will get to kill each other", I pick the best for me.

I can't wander around running my life by the consequences. Yes, the training systems I wrote might have started a war. They might also have shortened a war which was going to happen anyway. I'm no more responsible for that than I am for the medical research software I worked on or the hospital data systems: heck, I know that there are people alive today who would not be had I not done that work. On the other hand if I hadn't done it someone else would...

Screw it. If I get to be a evil villain for the military stuff, I also get to be a heroic force for good for the cancer treatments. I'm not claiming the cancer cures are my fault, why should I have to claim the war victims?

Katie Lucas
Tuesday, February 25, 2003

"I wrote military software. I have no qualms about doing so."

for what its worth, neither would i.
I basically consider myself mostly a pacifist, Im against war in general and would prefer to die (or be arrested) rather than take part in one that was not clearly and unequivocally in defense of my country and the lives of my loved ones.

but, when it comes down to it, software doesn't kill people (usually).
mad bastard presidents, generals and rulers kill people.

In general I would be perfectly happy to take on work from the military, possibly I would balk at designing targeting software for nuclear warships, but even then I cant be sure until the situation arises.

pacifist
Tuesday, February 25, 2003

...If the US had a standing policy in 1990 of "any leader that orders the invasion of another sovreign nation will be assassinated" <<<<<

In my time that would mean they would have had to assainate Eisenhower, Johnson,  Nixon, Reagen, Bush senior, Clinton and Bush junior (I'm sure Kennedy, Carter and Ford were also responsible for a few bombings and invasions but can't exactly remember).

Still, if you want the policy in place I'm quite prepared to help :)

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, February 25, 2003

I develop software for the military. Distributed systems to integrate various data sources to be processed into targets in battlefield situations. This information is then used by tactical commanders to generate strike lists. A concrete example is fusing various data sources to identify a SCUD convoy from hundreds of vehicles on the battlefield.  Do I sleep well at night? Yes. I feel its important to keep America strong militarily. There are too many irrational foregin governments where diplomacy is a tool for deceit and the only thing they understand is military force (Iraq, N Koera etc.). As to foregin policy, I think I have a bigger impact by voting than by abstaining from developing software for the military. The burden of moral correctness is on those who use the software and weapons, not on those who create them.

Pedro
Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Hehe..Just because Thoreau didn't pay his taxes in protest ing the US-Mexican war doesn't somehow instantly grant the entire concept legitimacy.

He was jailed, and rightly so. And what was the end result? Someone paid his tax for him, thereby making a contribution in his name to the military action he protested.

If you don't like the war that is perfectly fine. Protest. Write letters. Organize a march, etc. Those are all legal expressions of opinions. We don't get to decide which laws we wish to obey.

(I'm waiting for the inevitable Rosa Parks reference...)

Go Linux Go!
Tuesday, February 25, 2003

"Would you serve in the military to defend our country?  I sure as hell would and I have.  I am a veteran.  The military is no place for wishy-washy pacifists.

Would I develop software that contributes to the defense of our nation? Absolutely.

Have you led a sheltered life?

Freedom isn't free.  It makes me angry that people even question the morality of such things. "

I'm sure a few Nazis gave the same speech.  The point being not that I think the US is Nazi Germany, but that the US remains the US because people have the right and responsibility to question.  When we stop questioning, Nazi Germany won't be far behind.

But that's ok because we won't - even if it makes people angry sometimes.  A small price to pay, IMO.

Robert
Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Surprizingly it  took al of 27 posts to get to "Nazi".
Ok, move along folks ... nothing to see here.

Just me (Sir to you)
Tuesday, February 25, 2003

you pay taxes. You PAY FOR DEATH.

taxDead
Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Getting back to the initial question...

I think it's a matter of personal opinion and ethics.  I know some people who just won't work for the military, and some who will.  Both are valid positions to take.  If you don't want to work for the military, that's a valid reason to reject the job.

I work on the training simulator for the B1 bomber.  Occasionally, I become slightly uncomfortable about the fact that I'm indirectly helping people drop bombs on other people, but I'm confident in my decision to work here.

But you have to make your own ethical decision.

Brent P. Newhall
Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Actually, Martin Luther King Jr. and Ghandi showed that clogging up the jails while practicing Thoreau's Civil Disobedience, could be a useful strategy.

Now, the only reason I'm feeding GLG is that Thoreau's writings on civil disobedience can be good food for thought on the original poster's problem.  Even if he/she ends up disagreeing, it may help the decisionmaking process be more sophisticated.  (Not all of us are able to live in the woods.)

Also, I find http://www.jerrypournelle.com/ a good counterpoint, someone who is pro-military but talks about its history.  A military is needed, but it's a volatile resource and must be handled with knowledge.  Being a pacifist also requires knowledge, otherwise it's meaningless.

Tj
Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Considering the history of software development for the military you can be pretty sure that the main effect of your employment is likely to be to help spend wads of taxpayers money to little effect.

Think of it like this. If they weren't paying money on your salary they'd have more money to spend on bombs or guns or jails or policemen.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, February 25, 2003

" He has researched a theory that *all* warfare is the result of a failure of democracy on one side, and a failure of deterrence on the other. Specifically:
1) No true democracy will fight a war, since those voting are those who will fight. The nations that start wars are led by dictators who send others to die."

That is an interesting claim.  Obviously the class was a lot more in-depth than your brief summary, but I've got a few questions about this.  By "fight a war", do you actually mean mount an offensive war?  What about defensive wars, where another country is the instigator?  I find it hard to believe that even a "true democracy" would not fight a war in defense of its very existance.  How does he explain cases like World War II, where obviously the US was not a "true democracy", but still the war had widespread support (after Pearl Harbor) and I think certainly would have passed a majority vote?  I think saying a "true democracy" would never fight a war is a vast overgeneralization.  The fact that the people who would be dying are the ones making the decision doesn't mean that it wouldn't happen.  People are willing to give their lives for all sorts of different causes.

Anyway returning to the original topic, it is a hard question, and a question of your personal beliefs.  Is it possible that your work will contribute indirectly to other people dying?  Yes.  Is it also possible that your work will help save the lives of American soldiers, and even foreign civilians?  The answer again, is yes.

Without knowing exactly what it is you'd be working on, I'll just make an example of precision targetting units on bombs.  Without the precision targetting, the military would still use force to achieve its objectives.  The difference being more civilians would die (think carpet bombing and firebombing ala WWII), and more American servicemen would be put at risk. 

It really just comes down to your personal beliefs.  If you can't get over the thought that your work may help in taking the lives of other people, don't take the job.

Mike McNertney
Tuesday, February 25, 2003

[I'm sure a few Nazis gave the same speech.  The point being not that I think the US is Nazi Germany, but that the US remains the US because people have the right and responsibility to question.  When we stop questioning, Nazi Germany won't be far behind.
]

No flame war is complete without a comparison to Nazi Germany

Ian Stallings
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

give information about this software

rakesh sharma
Thursday, July 08, 2004

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