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Cicciomessere Roberto - 12 settembre 1990
If other young people, like you...
Letter by Altiero Spinelli to Olivier Dupuis

ABSTRACT: Writing to Olivier Dupuis, detained in the prison of Brussels, Altiero Spinelli, president of the constitutional affairs Commission at the European Parliament, suggests an initiative of objection against military service on the part of European citizens, motivated with the refusal of an apparently national defence, but in fact conceived as the auxiliary force of a defence ensured by an external imperial power.

(Radical News n. 130 of 4 June 1986)

Dear Olivier Dupuis,

you are right: starvation in the South of the world, the absence of rights in the countries of the East, the selfishness of the privileged people of the West who have freedom and wealth, are the three major civilization problems of our epoch. I would also add the progressive destruction of the environment carried out by North, South, East and West (desertification, pollution of seas and atmosphere).

The decisional structures in all of these fields are helplessly anachronistic, a fact which implies the need for a radical type of political initiative, because the question is not that of building a certain form of society (liberal, socialist, catholic, Islamic), but that of seeking solutions that are appropriate to a series of evils of our epoch.

The most dangerous of these tottering yet strong structures is that of the unlimited sovereignty of the State, the possibility of a war and therefore the progressive armament to attack and defend oneself.

Until the world remains divided in sovereign states, will defence, and therefore soldiers and armies, remain an inevitable fact? If a country has a mercenary army, everyone has the right to refuse the military service; if there is a conscription army, the right to refuse the military service cannot be defined and limited by the law.

I am convinced that there is, for each law, and therefore also for this one, the duty, more than the right, to challenge the existing law and to ask for the modification or the abolition of it; democratic political mechanisms exist, among other things, also for this purpose. And among the possible instruments to cause a bad conscience in the supporters of the existing law is that of organizing a consent around the innovators, there is the instrument of civil disobedience. To use this method or not is always the fruit of a political evaluation.

Because civil disobedience always causes a healthy reaction of rejection, in a normal person, the person who disobeys must be aware that the bad conscience caused in the ordinary person by the punishment of the disobeyer will, on a reasonable lapse of time, prevail over the reaction of rejection. I believe that conscientious objection against military service for personal reasons can create a very limited bad conscience. I can say: I don't want to find myself in the conditions of being possibly killed, or rather: my convictions prevent me from killing. In the former case, I don't believe many people would be moved. In the latter case, the right not to kill in general could be acknowledged, in a society which has great respect for the deep beliefs of each individual, in a very limited number of cases, if the deepness and the sincerity of this conviction are clearly recognizable.

Bad conscience can, on the contrary, grow and become a political force if the conscientious objection is not directed against the duty in itself of taking part in the defence of one's country, but against the fact that this defence is absurd, unfair, and that it should be replaced by another form of defence, a more rational and fair one...

If, for example, an increasing number of young recruits started to let themselves be put into prison, because they refuse an apparently national defence, conceived in fact as the auxiliary force of a defence which is ensured from an exterior imperial power, and therefore an apparently meaningless defence, but in fact humiliating for a free people; if a common European defence were requested, administered by a European democratic power, included in the context of a truly common European foreign policy, with the ambition of becoming, in the short or in the long run, a partner of the U.S. ally, and not an auxiliary force - as the Numidian cavalry was for the Romans, or the Gourka for the English - ; a policy which in the long run could fight with authority and real political weight for the progressive creation of a global government, sole detainer of conventional and non-conventional weapons, and unique master of the use or non-use of weapons - in this case, a campaign of civil disobedience could have an increa

sing political weight. But it should prepared and launched in well chosen moments. I am submitting these consideration to you because you are in prison for having refused the military service, and I hope they will be of help to you in your meditations. After all, at a certain point one must decide: either follow the example of Socrates, who said: I obey the laws of the city unto death, even if they are unfair, or the example of Antigone, who said: I disobey, unto death, the laws of the city, because I must obey a superior law. According to the circumstance, both can be right.

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