Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Ethics and the Senior Officer: Institutional Tensions
Parameters ^ | Autumn 1985 | Major General Clay T. Buckingham (USA, Ret.)

Posted on 01/16/2004 8:48:35 AM PST by Voice in your head

Army officers are devoting a lot of thoughtful consideration to the subject of ethics. The purpose of this article is to present a firsthand appreciation of various ethical tensions that confront senior Army officers. To accomplish this I will briefly explore the foundations of our ethical system, offer some thoughts about how this ethical system should apply specifically to the military profession, and finally take an empirical look at the tensions in the military society that provide fertile grounds for ethical abuses.

The term ethics is used to mean the study of human actions in respect to their being right or wrong. Whether we like it or not, ethical reflection has seldom been carried out in isolation from theology. Ethical values' generally reflect our view of human life as it is embodied in the teachings of the prevailing religion, because all human conduct, essentially, takes place in relationship to other human beings. Therefore, if I believe that human life, that is, all of human life, without exception, has equal and infinite value, then my concept of right and wrong conduct will reflect this conviction. If I believe that human life has limited value, let's say limited by what it can contribute to the common good, then my concept of right or wrong conduct will reflect this conviction. If I believe that some forms of human life have more worth than others-that, say, males are more valuable than females, or whites are more valuable than blacks, or Americans are more valuable than Cambodians, or the rich are more valuable than the poor, or Jews are more valuable than Arabs-then my concept of right and wrong conduct will reflect whichever of these convictions I hold.

Our Western value system of right and wrong is based primarily on what Jesus taught concerning the origin and value of human life, augmented by the Old Testament lawgivers and prophets. This is what we commonly call the Judeo-Christian tradition. Although these teachings have been eroded and in some cases prostituted radically through the centuries, they still strongly influence the attitudes of Americans and other Westerners and form the core of our ethical concepts. In the Judeo-Christian view, man was created by God in His image; that is, with awareness, with purpose, with personality, and with inherent worth. All forms of human life are equally endowed by God with worth and dignity. There is no distinction between male and female, between black or white, rich or poor, aristocrat or peasant, Americans or Cambodians, Jews or Arabs, old or young, born or unborn, smart or dumb, with regard to inherent worth and dignity. All are created with equal worth, with equal dignity, with equal status, and with equal rights within the human race.

From this basic belief has come the thesis that whatever protects or enhances human life is good, and whatever destroys or degrades human life is evil. Thus, our whole moral and ethical concept of right and wrong stems from this thesis-antithesis of good and evil, and I believe that we cannot consider right and wrong within the military profession outside of this framework; that whatever protects and enhances life is good, and whatever destroys and degrades life is evil. The great concepts of justice, mercy, compassion, service, and freedom are immediate derivatives of this central distinction between good and evil as received from our Judeo-Christian heritage.

(Excerpt) Read more at ...

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Government; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: army; ethics
This is a very old article, but it is as applicable today as if it were written today. It is a fairly lengthy article, but it raises issues that apply not only to making ethical decisions within the wartime and peacetime Army, but also in any other profession.
1 posted on 01/16/2004 8:48:36 AM PST by Voice in your head
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: Voice in your head
Back when I was an Air Force Officer (a bit before this article was written), I was told that the number one concern expressed by Captains attending Squadron Officers' School was the lack of integrity in senior officers... so much so that they were forbidden to bring it up it in discussion groups.

You have to take high-sounding essays like this in context; the people who wrote them were almost always seen by their juniors as careerist bureaucrats indulging in a little self-flattery.

Wesley Clark was not and is not all that much of an exception.

2 posted on 01/16/2004 9:59:40 AM PST by Grut
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Grut
Point well taken. However, whether the author of a given work lived what he preached is not to be overshadowed by the wisdom of his words, in my opinion. I joined the Army largely because I read David Hackworth's book "About Face". People can question his motives, question how much of the book was embellished or they can think that he is the greatest leader who ever lived. Regardless, I think that what Hackworth wrote is very near the ideal of an infantry officer. Likewise, I think this article is good to consider when faced with ethical dilemmas on a daily basis. I will forgive any of the author's sins and focus on his words and use those words as a guide.
3 posted on 01/16/2004 2:10:25 PM PST by Voice in your head ("The secret of Happiness is Freedom, and the secret of Freedom, Courage." - Thucydides)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson