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Ethics

How do moral failures by senior Army leaders affect trust between the Army and American Society?

Moral failures by senior Army leaders affect trust between the Army and American society, to the extent that the latter begins to doubt the integrity of the military leadership and thus of the military in general. According to the violence of war, ethics arguably becomes the crucial intellectual component of the military, since what is required is a justification for military action. Once again, it is the decisive notions of a jus ad bellum and a moral realism that provide not only the cohesion of the military, but also provide the ethical context in which military operations are carried out, an ethical context that makes the civilian population understand exactly why the decisions of the military are executed  as they are.

Without an ethically sound military leadership, doubt surrounds the military both on an endemic level and from the perspective of the civilian. Introducing such a question undermines the unity of purpose of the military. At the same time, this does not mean that ethical positions of the military should merely be ad hoc formulated. They cannot rest on emotive preferences, since these are easily critiqued by definition: one ethical position is merely a preference over another. Ethical positions in the military leadership must instead rely upon a moral realism that is easily grasped by all members of the military and by members of the civilian population.

Moral failure by military leadership extinguishes trust by emphasizing the subjective aspect of decision-making, whereby every decision made is merely a reflection of a self-interest. This self-interest creates fragmentation within the military and between the military and the population. A transcendent concept of ethics, which is consistent and coherent, alleviates this fragmentation. As Snider  notes, “the Army Profession exists not for itself, but for the noble and honorable purpose of preserving peace, supporting and defending the Constitution, and protecting the American people and way of life.”[1] A lack of moral integrity, therefore, is the failure to adhere to these principles, and thereby creates an image of the military that precisely exists “for itself.” When morality is “thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart”,[2] then self-interest undermines any attempt to communicate a moral realism.

[1] D.M. Snider, »Once Again, the Challenge to the U.S. Army During a Defense Reduction: To Remain a Military Profession.« p. 43.

[2] Brooks, D. »If it Feels Right.«