Conscience at War

The Israeli Soldier as a Moral Critic

By Ruth Linn

Subjects: Sociology Of Work
Series: SUNY series in Israeli Studies
Paperback : 9780791427781, 245 pages, March 1996
Hardcover : 9780791427774, 245 pages, March 1996

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Table of contents

List of Tables

The Silenced Civilian in Uniform
An Introduction

1. Refusal as a Moral Position
From Separation to Connection

2. Refusal as a Moral Decision
From Justice to Compassion

3. Refusal in the Battlefield
From Passive to Active

4. Refusal in Context
From Vietnam to Algiers

5. Refusal in Action
From Precedence to Option

6. Forms of Criticism
From "Voice" to "Exit"

7. Criticism and Culture
From Collective Memories to Voice

8. Refusal and Motivation
From Moral and Political to Personal

9. Refusal on Trial
From Morality to Credibility

10. Criticism in the Making
From Emotion to Cognition

11. Refusal in Perspective
From the War of Attrition to Moral Attrition

Appendix: Kohlberg's Form B Test

An exploration of the moral and intellectual conflict of Israeli citizens who have resisted military service, and of how they justify their choices of action.


Israel's security is maintained largely by civilians in uniform. The chronic state of war in Israel requires that every Israeli civilian serve in the Israel Defense Forces as a reservist until the age of 55. The focus of this book is the intellectual and moral challenges selective conscientious objection poses for resisters in Israel. It is the first psychological study of the Intifada refusniks.

The 1982–1985 Lebanon War was a dramatic turning point in the intensity, depth, forms, and magnitude of criticism against the army, and this war serves as the starting point for Ruth Linn's inquiry into moral criticism of Israeli soldiers in morally no-win situations during the Intifada. In each of these conflicts, about 170 reserve soldiers became selective conscientious objectors. In each conflict, however, numerous objecting soldiers also "refused to refuse," proclaiming that their right to voice their moral concern springs from their dedication to, and fulfillment of, the hardship of military obligation.

Linn uses the theories of Rawls, Walzer, Kohlberg, and Gilligan as a framework for understanding and interpreting interviews with objecting soldiers. By this means, she seeks to answer such questions as: How would various groups of objecting soldiers justify their specific choice of action? What are the psychological, moral, and non-moral characteristics of those individuals who decided to be, or refused to be, patriotic? And how did the Intifada, as a limited yet morally problematic military conflict, affect the moral thinking, emotions, and moral language of long term soldiers?

Ruth Linn is Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at Haifa University. She is the author of Not Shooting and Not Crying: Psychological Inquiry into Moral Disobedience, which was awarded the Erik Erikson award by the International Society of Political Psychology.


"Ruth Linn provides a fascinating account of conscientious objection in the Israeli army during the Lebanese war and the Intifada. Working from interviews with the 'refusers,' and quoting extensively, she probes for their motives and justifications and so provides a moral psychology of military dissent (and perhaps of dissent in general). " — Michael Walzer, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University

"…an original, daring and necessary study of a major sore on the Israeli body politic: conscientious objection. " — Studies in Contemporary Jewry

"This book connects extremely well real-life political events with theoretical concepts and research methodology. The integration of interview and test material, newspaper clips and socio-psychological theory, is outstanding. " — Amia Lieblich, author of Transition to Adulthood During Military Service: The Israeli Case

"This book is original and will generate much interest among people in a variety of disciplines, including philosophy and political science. The perspective on the Israeli army is unique. " — Ilan Peleg, Lafayette College