General Angus Campbell AO, DSC, Chief of the Defence Force, introduced ADF’s ethics doctrine in September 2021 with these words that underlined the importance and challenge of ethical preparation:

“Ethical conduct is essential to the moral authority of the force. In the profession of arms, acting lawfully is obligatory; acting ethically requires your judgment. Doing the right thing ethically will, on occasion, expose you to greater personal danger and risk to your life than simply acting lawfully; this is the job we all committed to on enlistment. The risk of moral injury increases if you are not well prepared and practised in ethical decision-making. Be prepared, now.”

That mandate to help our members ‘Be prepared, now’ includes giving our intellectual best to thinking through the best practices for teaching and learning of military ethics. This is why I was eager to learn from the writers of Didactics of Military Ethics. Its 18 chapters offer lessons from other contexts on the changing nature of conflict; a range of ethical dilemmas; and the imperative and practicalities of developing ADF members as ethical soldiers, sailors, and aviators. This draws on the fourth annual International Society for Military Ethics (ISME) conference at Germany’s ‘Centre for Leadership Development and Civic Education’ in 2014.

The underlying question is how do we prepare soldiers to make difficult decisions in ethical ways? Half of the chapters in particular helped me understand the dynamics of contemporary conflict and the range of ethical dilemmas today’s soldiers, sailors, and aviators need to prepare for, with a range of stories and scenarios that make for useful teaching material.

Jürgen Weigt introduced the conference and book with wisdom on ‘Responsibility Towards Myself and My Conscience’, contending that military ethics concerns the depths of humanity and needs to not just follow preset recipes. Martin L. Cook’s ‘Ethics and the Changing Character of War’ delves into the history of ideas around Just War and analysis of the changing use of force after 9/11. Much subsequent military engagement has not been a ‘war’ paradigm but ‘anticipatory self-defence’ involving covert forces and drones against non-state actors without clear boundaries.

Miriam C. de Graaff offers an extensive literature review in ‘Moral Judgement in War and Peacekeeping Operations: An Empirical Review’. Apart from documenting available research, she offers a thought-provoking case study of Dutch soldiers learning that Afghan police they were training locked up a female prisoner in the munitions locker to keep her separate from men. She also discusses Abu Ghraib’s causes by identifying not just bad apples but a bad barrel – a metaphor I have found helpful to explain to recruits the place of not just individual agency but group culture in ethical (or unethical) behaviour.

Jovan Babic, in ‘Ethics of War as a Part of Military Ethics’, discusses the actual experience of war, argues a military’s actual aim should be not to be used, and discusses the jus pos bellum (justice after war) issues of seeking to win ‘hearts and minds’ and aim for capitulation but not humiliation. Timothy T. Lupfer from Deloitte Consulting, in ‘Leadership for Mere Mortals’, analyses leadership development approaches; advocates for the importance rather than denigration of management as part of good leadership; and offers a model of leadership as involving purpose, capabilities, and character. He argues character and its values and virtues are the third essential element that motivates followers – but which require time and trust.

Patrice Mompeyssin evaluates 'Less Lethal Weapons in Military Operations’ including radio frequency vehicle stoppers, long range high technology systems, biochemical or incapacitating agents, and short range weapons such as TASER and flashbangs. Some are ethically dubious – such as drugs that target people’s brains – and others may be problematic if soldiers then increase their use of force when they perceive it as ‘not deadly’. Yet they may offer options of using less violence to commanders and reduce casualties while still achieving the mission. Jeff Montrose in ‘A Dichotomy of Conflicting Duties’ discusses how the combat soldier’s kill-destroy mission has expanded to include help-build. Yet in the context of battle rage or checkpoint tensions, soldiers can default and ‘switch’ to kill-destroy shootings, with unfortunate repercussions for citizens and for what the public see through real-time media coverage. Montrose exegetes a tragic narrative of checkpoint shooting that is a good contemporary story for ethical educators to utilise alongside My Lai.

Theologian Hartwig von Schubert writes on the ‘Legitimacy of Military Deployments Especially in Asymmetric Conflicts’. He unpacks the history of philosophical and religious ideas, including the duties to protect and respect and the ethical principles for Laws of Armed Combat. Most interestingly, he contends that the development of virtue(s) and training in ethics – including drilling of escalation and de-escalation of force in simulated combat conditions – helps European Armed Forces avoid PTSD and moral injury. Zoran Jeftic, Vanja Rokvić, and Svetlana Stanarevic offer a survey-based analysis of ‘Attitudes of Military Academy Cadets on Code of Honour of the Serbian Army’. It is one thing to seek to inculcate Defence values, but this research goes in important directions in evaluating how and to what extent cadets adopt values and develop their own associated virtues.

The other half of the chapters were especially helpful as reflections on teaching practice. It is one thing to emphasise military ethics, another thing to develop and evaluate how best we teach it. Didactics are relevant for the new forms of warfare, operations other than war, giving attention to training individuals but also fixing systems, and inculcating the kind of emotional and cultural intelligence we need in our global setting. A number of writers here also call for education for all ranks – not thinking that only officers need ethics education but also ‘the strategic corporal in the 3 block war’ echoing General Krulak’s seminal article about the 3 mission types soldiers face: combat, peacekeeping, and humanitarianism.

Thomas R. Elßner of ‘Didactics of Military Ethics: From Theory to Practice’ explains the changing dynamic of military engagement. He delves into the challenge of preparing soldiers for ethical dilemmas; for example, not wanting to use force against children while being faced with child soldiers. He explains how Germany’s ‘Centre for Leadership Development and Civic Education’ facilitates ethical education through group sessions where officers explain their virtues and values and work together on joint tasks, and also invites soldiers after deployments to reflect on how their ethics helped them deal with challenges.

George Lober reflects on his teaching utilising complex case studies and probing questions in ‘What I Have Learned’. For an often cynical and conflicted audience of military cadets, he seeks honest conversations and not just presenting as a teacher marketing ‘good’ military behaviour. Desiree Verweij follows Aristotle in appealing for understanding and training the emotions in ‘Why Address the ‘E’-Word in Military Ethics Education?: The Role of Emotions in Moral Judgement and Decision-Making’. Emotional intelligence is important for leaders, but understanding fear, anger, surprise, contempt, shame, and empathy – and how they affect moral decision-making – is important for any soldier. Verweij unpacks how Moral Case Deliberation (MCD) can be used by group facilitators to help soldiers identify and understand their emotions and how that influences their decisions.

Veronika Bock and Kristina Tonn in ‘Values – Attitude – Education: Military Ethics Education Formats at zebis’ explain what the zebis – Centre of Ethical Education in the Armed Forces does to develop ethical competence and conscience. They host events but also offer resources online for character guidance training, lesson plans, and extensive media. They also publish an online e-journal. I appreciate the way they have reframed military ethics as ‘peace ethics’ and I also plan to adopt that phrasing.

Stefan Gugerel wrote on ‘Humane soldiers’ and ethics training for non-commissioned officers in the Austrian Armed Forces. Although I could not understand the German this article was written in, I appreciate the example of ethics teachers developing and evaluating ethical instruction for all ranks – not just officers or initial recruits. Moritz Brake wrote 'Explaining Military Ethics to Young People: Role and Teaching Methods of Youth Information Officers’. Germany’s Armed Forces after WWII sought to emphasise the ‘citizen in uniform’ empowered to question the mission and its morality and the nature of Innere Führung ‘Leadership Development and Civic Education’. They also initiated Youth Information Officers to help the public understand the nature and challenges of Germany’s military. Seeking not to be propaganda vehicles, and with the mandate of academic integrity, they spark debate about the nature of the Armed Forces and ethical dilemmas such as bombing terrorists and responding to hostage-taking. Their roles would be interesting to learn from, especially for Army Cadet officers and chaplains.

Edwin R. Micewski, an Austrian Brigadier General (retired) wrote ‘Conveying Ideas and Values in Education! Challenges in Teaching Military Ethics’. He helps soldiers how to think and judge properly rather than merely offering closed doctrine as if ethics is just about recipes for behaviour. Soldiers today need the capability and courage to come to their own moral conclusions and ethical decisions in order to be prepared for the unique and unprecedented situations they will likely face.

Florian Demont in ‘Sound Moral Psychology behind Ethics Education’ argues that ethics educators need training in philosophy to bring relevant conceptual rigour, but also need insight from psychology given that ethics depends on moral judgment processes. Demont explains the Interactional Dual-Process Model of Moral Decision Making (IDP) used for ethics teaching for the Swiss Armed Forces and how they expand it to account for moral perception and associated intuitive processes.

One of the most valuable contributions was by Benoit Royal, Brigadier General Research in France and President of EuroISME, whose comments suggested two implications for ADF. Royal interrogated an incident in 2004 on the Ivory Coast when French soldiers captured a murderer and rapist, and handed him over to local police, only to learn he corrupted his guards and was released. On being recaptured he ‘died of his injuries during transport’. The French section chief involved reported receiving an order from his superiors to execute him. Royal explained how he used the narrative of this incident to train his teams. At one time a young lieutenant said, “I would have done the same … what he deserved.” Royal let the team correct itself, and an NCO turned to the lieutenant and said “It is not for us to resolve the case of bastards. … I would not have carried out the order” (pp.xiv-xv).

That interaction reminded me that the ADF needs our values and ethical codes of conduct to be embodied, but also ethical champions who model moral courage. Chaplains may be subject matter experts in character development and ethics education. But the best ethical champions are other soldiers who model and advocate ethical leadership and always uphold ethical combat behaviours. If the moral component of fighting power is important alongside the physical and intellectual, and if ethical leadership is critical for ADF’s capability, then we need everyone to be growing and excelling in these areas. But it is good to also train and recognise those who have a particular interest in military ethics practice and training. Royal also appealed for ethical education to be removed from the classroom and inserted into every field exercise as case studies and scenarios. This reminds me how Chaplain Cameron West, currently posted to RMC-Duntroon, asserts you cannot teach character in the classroom. A classroom may be an appropriate context for reflection on action, but character and ethics training are at their best when intentionally incorporated into broader training and exercises.

Other writers in volume 2 argued passionately for the importance of philosophical rigour and military ethics education, not just pragmatics. This reminded me that the ADF needs both military ethics education (in terms of stretching our thinking and intellect about ethics) and field-based ethical combat behaviour training (that bridges to practice). To think and act ethically we need a background in ethical theories and frameworks – but integrated with the best pedagogy of case studies, field exercises, and relevant application. Excellent lessons are being learned and applied across ADF in these areas. Reading Didactics of Military Ethics has refreshed my desire to learn more about how ethical education and character training is being delivered in field and deployed contexts as well as in barracks and classrooms across ADF’s schools and units.