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Leaders should love their soldiers

The first time I heard the expression, “Leaders should love their soldiers,” I dismissed it as corny, soft, and unrealistic. Over the course of my Army career, however, my understanding of what it means to love soldiers grew steadily. I now believe that military leadership entails a moral obligation to love soldiers in ways that are appropriate for senior-subordinate relationships. I initially made sense of the dictum to love my soldiers by interpreting it strictly in military terms. I embraced the famous adage by German General Erwin Rommel that “the best form of welfare for the troops is first-class training, for this saves unnecessary casualties.”  According to this approach, leaders love their soldiers by being professionally competent. It’s a task-oriented, “they may hate me now, but they’ll love me later” form of love that focuses on pursuing outcomes that are unquestionably good for soldiers—victory and survival. However, this approach can leave some soldiers feeling that they…
Recent posts

Causes of Moral Injury--Personal, Organizational, and Divine (Perceived) Betrayals

By Pete Kilner, Ph.D. revision of "A Third Form of Moral Injury" (11-11-2016)
Currently, the academic literature on moral injury recognizes two causes of moral injury. I think that it’s largely overlooking a third cause, one that involves religious belief and the mystery of evil.
Evidence indicates that combat-related moral injury is caused not only (1) by feeling betrayed by an authority figure and (2) by doing (or failing to prevent) actions that violate your own moral beliefs, but also (3) by encountering large-scale, senseless violence and suffering.






Comparing Three Causes of Moral Injury

One cause of moral injury is feeling deeply betrayed by a legitimate authority. This thesis was initially put forth in the 1990's by Dr. Jonathan Shay, a Veterans' Administration psychiatrist who had worked with Vietnam War veterans for decades. Shay argues that moral injury is caused by three elements: A betrayal of what’s right By someone who holds legitimate authority (e.g., in the…

Rules of War are Inadequate to Guide Cyber Operations in War

The current rules of war assume that a country can answer three fundamental questions:   Are we at war? What country are we at war against? Whom or what may we legitimately target?
The nature of cyberwarfare muddles the answers to each of those three questions.
A much-needed update to the laws of war should begin with a thorough moral analysis of the nature of 21st-century warfare. That analysis would set the conditions for an informed public dialogue about morality and war. The conversations should be public because war is a public act carried out on behalf of the people and in their name. Now that cyber operations have become integrated into wartime combat operations, their role should no longer be secret. The public dialogue’s resulting consensus and contours would enable international legal experts to write a system of laws that are morally grounded, internally consistent and internationally understood. See the entire ARMY Magazine (January 2018) article Ethics of Cyber Operations

Beware the Dark Side of Loyalty

Loyalty has long been considered a military virtue, which it can be, but it must be kept in check. Unlike other Army Values, loyalty is not a reliable guide for ethical conduct. Feelings of loyalty often compel soldiers to disregard their ethical responsibilities.

When it comes to loyalty, the challenge for Army leaders is to ensure it doesn’t grow out of control and begin to strangle more important organizational values.

In my December ARMY article, I challenge leaders to ensure that misplaced loyalties do not undermine their unit's ethical climate.

Is Loyalty Overvalued?

Think deeply. Act justly.

Pete

Refuting some bad assumptions about morality and war

As a military ethicist who strives to engage in constructive conversations about the morality of war, I’ve come to recognize five common misconceptions that sabotage efforts to think critically about morality and war. The mistaken assumptions undermine any realistic possibility of a war being morally justified. Therefore, the misconceptions must be addressed and debunked to set the conditions for meaningful discussions.

The five misconceptions are:

Peace is always an option.Both sides in war are always wrong.Warfighting is analogous morally to a sports competition.Motives must be pure for a war to be just.Any immoral acts in a war make the entire war immoral. I invite you to read the entire article and share your thoughts.
Moral Misconceptions: Five Flawed Assumptions Confuse Moral Judgments on War
Think deeply. Act justly.
Pete

Practicing What We Preach has Ethical Implications

Whenever an organization preaches one standard but practices a different one, all of its standards are compromised. Members don't know which standards really matter. 

In war, ambiguity about ethical standards can lead to terrible consequences. Therefore, military eaders should go out of their way to ensure alignment between their unit's words and deeds on ethical standards.

I addressed this topic in my September 2017 ARMY column, which concludes:

"Ethical ambiguity leads to ethical confusion, and ethical confusion sets conditions in which there is greater risk that unethical behavior will spin out of control. That is unfair to soldiers and dangerous for everyone involved.

Leaders can foster ethical climates by encouraging their soldiers to identify and bring to their attention any gaps between stated standards and enforced standards. Leaders and their soldiers should discuss any gaps as professionals to make a good determination about which standard—the stated one or the…

Ethical Challenges of Advising Foreign Militaries

The U.S. Army has 187,000+ soldiers deployed to 140+ countries. Few of them are engaged directly in combat operations.  Instead, most of them are advising and training foreign military forces.

Very often, those foreign military forces behave unethically, at least as we outsiders perceive the situations. 

Commanders owe their soldiers clear guidance on how they expect them to approach the intercultural ethical challenges they will encounter. Advisers are most effective when they have a shared understanding of when to intervene, when to influence and when to ignore a counterpart’s behavior.

My August 2017 column in ARMY magazine addressed this topic.
Divergent Ethics: Facing a Foreign Partner who has a Different Moral Code

I welcome and invite feedback and discussion.

Pete

Deployment-related Professional Development Resources

I know that units ramping up for a deployment are incredibly busy. You want to conduct professional-development sessions on deployment-related topics but may struggle to find the time to prepare them. In conjunction with your Association of the United States Army, for whom I’ve written for over a decade, we offer this compilation of off-the-shelf LPD packages. Each topic includes 2-3 articles from AUSA’s monthly ARMY magazine. We are pleased to support your professional-development program. 
Enforcing Standards within Bounds of Mission Command Bending the Rules: Ambiguous Standards, Falsified Records Cause Ethical Harm Standards on Remote Outposts
Ethical Standards on Deployment Leading our Soldiers to Fight with Honor  Divergent Ethics: Advising a Foreign Partner Who Has a Different Moral Code
Preparing for and Dealing with Death Zero KIA’s as an Organizational Goal? Leadership and the Death of a Soldier Leading our Soldiers After They Lose One of Their Own
Preparing for and Dealing with Kil…

Resisting Hatred as We Resist Aggression

It would be a major moral and social victory if the Army figured out how to accomplish its wartime mission while simultaneously protecting its soldiers from succumbing to hate. Soldiers should be taught that they inflict lethal violence on enemy combatants in war not because they hate the enemy—and not because the enemy soldiers are evil—but because they love those they are sworn to protect and defend.

See my July column in ARMY: Know Thy Enemy: Better Understanding Foes Can Prevent Debilitating Hatred

Correcting Unethical Conduct by Superiors is Especially Challenging

The most troubling and challenging ethical situations I have faced in the Army involved misconduct by leaders who were senior to me. The Army’s culture would improve if there were a shared understanding about all soldiers’ duty to hold their leaders accountable to the Army’s ethical standards.

See my June column in ARMY here: When "Moral Compasses" Need Calibration