In America, many people join the military as a means to socio-economic advancement (e.g. in order to pay for college). Is this ethically defensible? Is there any difference between someone who enlists for career advancement and a mercenary?

Consider two people who join the military.

Person A's motive is socio-economic advancement. Joining the military seems the best path to a good career. But s/he also accepts the country's values, thinks the country needs a military, and thinks that being in the military is an honorable profession. S/he would not join the military of any other country that might possibly be unfriendly to her/his own country.

Person A's motive is likewise socio-economic advancement. S/he doesn't care about the country's values, is not interested in the question of whether the country should or shouldn't have a military, and doesn't care about whether being in the military is honorable. S/he would join the military of any country whatever provided it was advantageous enough to do so.

I believe that there are many people who join the military whose reasons are like Person A's. But I think there's a pretty clear moral difference between the motives of A and B.

Now of course there are also people who join the military mainly out of patriotism and a sense of duty. Some may think such people are more admirable than Person A, and that may be true. But even if it is, it doesn't follow that people like A are acting immorally or dishonorably and I don't see any reason to think they are.

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