Leadership & Ethics
Ethics Need a FoundationBy Chaplain Dan July 2, 2020
‘The ethical standards of uniformed personnel must hold firm every second of every day. Soldiers are always soldiers, in or out of uniform. They must, therefore, hold themselves to the highest ethical standards, making choices about conduct based on firm ethical foundations.’
It’s hard to find members of the Army that do not assent to the Army values of courage, initiative, teamwork, and respect. Nor the principles of Just War Theory. Yet so many fail in practically living these out.
A failure to help personnel identify the potentially incompatible nature of their moral framework generates significant reputation risk for us and could undermine Army’s status as a trusted national institution.
The argument being made here is that any Just War Theory and military ethics training requires “firm ethical foundations.” There needs to be a means by which the individual is able to determine what “Just” is.
These foundations, whilst aligning with the corporate values, must be or are best positioned within a member’s individual moral framework. Not all moral frameworks are equal and some are completely incompatible with military service.
But this isn’t about assigning a specific moral framework to an individual nor saying that there is one which is superior to another. That’s impossible. However, in educating and teaching our people about ethics, the organisation is beholden to press and challenge their moral framework.
In my experince, when I have quizzed our people on what they personally believe, the results are disturbing. They predominately state that value judgements are ultimately relative or subjective. And that nothing is intrinsically good or bad.
Value judgments are an essential and undeniable feature of human life. If our members are to be entirely consistent in their assessment of what is just, or what’s “good” and what’s “bad,” then what they cognitively assent to must also match their moral framework. None more so than in their application of lethal force. To do otherwise would require them to be functionally bipolar.
Therefore, ethics training must extend beyond simply defining what is and is not ethically acceptable to the organisation.
Our people must be challenged about the reality of their illogical framework and to ponder the undeniable, especially prior to operations. To get them to ask the difficult questions. Do they really believe what they say they believe? Do they match organisational values? Will it pass the rule of law that actually does define what is “right” and “wrong”.
By challenging our peoples moral framework, they will; first, be able to know and articulate what their personal framework is, and second, bring into clear focus the logical inconsistencies of their moral framework - exposing those that are incompatible with military service.
For some it will expose all the shallow assumptions, all the naïve generalisations. Conversely, it can also strengthen an individual’s moral courage and conviction. Enabling them to live out their moral framework in a way that is entirely consistent and matching with reality making them more resilient and robust.
 Chris Field, The Practicalities of Ethical Accountability, ESSAY in ETHICS UNDER FIRE (ed) Tom Frame, Albert Palazzo, 2017, UNSW Press, p282