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2005 Worthington Essay Prize

Worthington Essay Contest Prize Winners, 2005:


You are the chief military officer of a nation that is an emerging democracy. You were instrumental in transferring power to democratic civilian rule, and you have sworn to uphold your country's new constitution.

Your country has a powerful neighbor, ruled by an aggressive despot given to bellicose rhetoric. The air forces of the two powers are roughly equal, but the nearby despot enjoys a substantial advantage in ground forces and the equipment necessary to keep them in the field for long stretches of time. Both countries are landlocked, and so neither has a deep-water navy, but both have brown-water forces patrolling the river that forms part of the common border.

Your president (who has military experience) has consulted a small group of brilliant, highly educated advisers with no military experience. They have advised her to launch an air attack on your largest neighbor's capital, for preemptive reasons. Although intelligence reports do not show that the neighboring country is actively planning an attack, her advisers feel that the neighbor will eventually deliver a devastating attack on you unless you prevent them from doing so with a surprise preemptive attack of your own. They argue, therefore, that your nation's best chance of security lies in carrying out this attack, which they believe is consistent with those elements of international law to which your nation is a signatory. The presidential order to launch the attack has now come to you. The matter is top secret and has not been discussed in parliament, although it is likely that parliament would support the president in this case, as her political party commands the ruling coalition.

You have consulted your staff. All agree that the attack will not disable your neighbor, but instead provoke a land war that you are not equipped to win. They also insist that the attack would be a violation of international law, as this is understood by the community of nations. The staff assure you that if you refuse to obey the president, the armed forces will follow you.

You have stated your objections clearly to the president, and she has been equally clear with you: "Either launch the attack at H-hour, or resign your post immediately."

H-hour is now one hour away. Your choices are these three, no others: resign, launch the attack, or defy the president.


In your answer, you will need to cite facts in your support, but you are allowed to make some up; if you need to know more about the case, you should expand the hypothesis in any way you wish, so long as the total result is internally consistent. You may even wish to construct maps of the military situation.

Make a decision and defend it. In doing so, you will need to define the terms on which your decision depends, such as "civilian rule" and "international law." You may base your argument on general principles, but if you do so you must ground the principles. Alternatively, you may base your arguments on factors peculiar to this case, or on a combination of the above.

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