It seems as if every time I read the Defense press over the last few weeks there has been something about ethics, leadership, scandal or illegal activity. So I’m not surprised that the CJCS should say that the issue of ethics in the military has his “full attention.” General Dempsey’s staff says that the focus on ethics is not due to any of the recent issues (right…..), but rather the result of a natural rhythm of post-war transition. I guess that means that since we are pulling out of Afghanistan and still licking our wounds from Iraq (even as it inevitably sinks back into lawlessness) we can now focus on the ethical behavior of our military leaders, regardless of rank. That’s good news. Who can find fault with efforts to make the military “more ethical?” I hope that there is not some radical swing of the pendulum, (as DoD tends to do) so that the goal of such training is to produce some sort of Super Citizen that upholds the values and ethics ( of their choosing) for an American society incapable of doing so on its own. Don’t get me wrong. Everyone who choses to serve in uniform is a Super Citizen in my book, but not to the exclusion of countless others who serve our nation in many ways. Beware an elitist military corps who sees themselves as the only keeper of the ethical flame!
I was amused at one example of new “ethical” training in the article that says teams are being dispersed to discuss with 3 and 4 star officers the meaning of the ethics regulations and what they can and can not do. Last time I checked the rules were clear enough to me and the JAG officers who always advised me. 3 and 4 star officer who can not understand them or ignore them shouldn’t be re-trained, but re-leased!
One’s ethics is a product of one’s upbringing. For the first 18 years of life it’s not the responsibility of DoD, but of parents, teachers, neighbors and even friends. I agree with Hillary Clinton that it does indeed “Take a Village” to produce responsible and ethical citizens. I hope the training that DoD is providing recognizes that fact and that we can’t make someone ethical overnight. In the end I’m not sure I would want to work for a leader who was completely “ethical’, but rather one who is a decent person, striving to do the right thing for the right reasons and not a robotic ethics machine that understands the difference between axiological ethics and deontological ethics.
One Reply to “Military to Focus on Ethics”
Very well said Lou.
I could transfer the ideas you presented in your first two paragraphs to other organizational contexts (law enforcement, corporate, education, NGOs, health care, etc) In my view, your last paragraph strikes to the core of the ethics phenomenon, with your last sentence being particularly powerful and endowed with wisdom. It demonstrates courage to present such.
Ethics can be abundantly “ruled,” and yes some of that is relevant. Yet without exercising leadership the looks towards fairness, respect and human dignity, as indispensable outcomes, ethics rules can morph into “got-ya” and excuse mechanisms by manipulative, pandering, organizational operatives, who focus on episodic events merely to exercise power or abdicate responsibility. Whereas ethically responsible leadership and citizenry involves the weaving of rules with sound contextual assessment, decisions and action, focusing on an evolving constructive ethical culture.
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