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Are ROE sufficient?

A senior leader recently said to me that the LLW and ROE are all that Soldiers need; and, in fact, that introducing morality into the battlefield equation will only confuse Soldiers and undermine discipline.

I respectfully disagree. First of all, would you ever try to justify an action as moral by saying, "The lawyer said it was ok"? I think that we all know that what's legally permissible and what's morally permissible can be very different. In almost all cases, they do correspond with each other, but they may not always, and they come from different sources. Law and policy is contingent--written by a lawyer or commander; morality is necessary--it has a less flawed, more enduring Author. Thus, for a soldier who has killed someone in Fallujah, the knowledge that the JAG in Baghdad or Arlington would say that the killing wasn't illegal isn't going to be a great comfort to his conscience. He already knows that, since he acted IAW ROE, he won't be court-martialed; but he may still wonder if what he did was morally wrong.

I dispute the claim that Soldiers who are familiar with the justification of killing in war would undermine discipline by being more likely to hesitate and put themselves and others in jeopardy. For one, a well trained Soldier will react reflexively to an imminent threat, without having to think, regardless of his knowledge about morality. Second, in those ambiguous situations where a Soldier must think and use his judgment, a well formed ability to reason morally will aid him in making the right decision, faster. Third, if a proposed action that is permissible under ROE turns out, in a particular sitution, to be immoral, we WANT to have Soldiers who are sufficiently morally aware to make the morally correct decision.

In the end, though, I just can't see a Soldier reflecting--days or years after killing in war--on his actions and saying, "I did what was morally right; I acted within the ROE." I HAVE heard statements like that, but they ring of rationalization and guilt, not justification and peace.

The ROE are the "cheat sheet" that provide the basics for conduct in combat, but I'm convinced that a deeper appreciation of the moral principles that are prior to--and foundational for--the ROE will better support Soldiers' long-term development as Soldiers and as people.


Rick O'Brien said…
ROE provides pramaters within which combat way be engaged. They fall short once the bullets start to fly.

My father was a carrer Marine officer. He was stationed at Camp LeJeune NC in the late 70's. My best fiend at the time was Mike. His father was a senior NCO and had been a drill instructor at Paris Island SC for many years.

We never understood way he was so distant. He would come home in the afternoon, grab a beer, and sit on the front porch drinking until late in the evening and never seemed to take an interest in his five sons lives.

On day, Mike and his father had an arguement where Mike accused his father of having no interst in his life. That's when his father exposed the demon he was struggling with.

During combat in Vietnam, he had deployed some Marines in a flanking action that never happened. He went to investigate the delay to find that the Marines he sent had been killed by the enemy and were in the process of having their weapons stripped from them. He had the rop on them and killed them all. ROE would surly justify this killing. However, the enemy turned out to be teen aged boys about 15 years old.

After the assult on his position was completed, he went back to the site where he killed those boys. He realized thet were about the same age as his boys at home.

His internal struggle was how could he be a loving father to his sons knowing he had killed boys their age.

ROE do provide the prameters whthin which combat action may begin. However, in the fog of war they are meaningless. Mike's dad was justified in killing those boys. He just couldn't accept it.
aint supposed to die a natural death said…
Thanks Pete and Rick. This is my first foray into Pete's blog and I am pleased to have landed on your thoughtful and sensitive posts.

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