I am a retired Army officer who believes in the moral standing of the profession of arms, yet recognizes its shortcomings. I served in the Army from 1984-2017, mostly in the infantry and on the faculty at West Point. As a researcher of combat leadership and ethics, I interviewed hundreds of Army leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2003-2011. Welcome to this online space for thinking about war, morality, and the profession of arms. Follow me @combat_ethics
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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
This is my latest version of laying out the argument. Feedback is welcomed!
A moral justification for killing in war By Pete Kilner, 2009
Introduction: The Army performs many of the same functions as civilian organizations, yet there is one absolutely unique and defining characteristic of our profession—we are organized, equipped and trained to kill people. As company-level leaders, we recruit patriotic young Americans to kill; equip them to kill; train them to kill; develop and issue orders for them to kill; issue fire commands for them to kill; and commend them for killing enemies of our country. We perform our duties well, and the American people sleep safely at night. However, we as a profession generally do not provide our soldiers with an explanation for why it is morally right for them to kill in combat. Consequently, many of the soldiers entrusted to our care suffer needless guilt after killing in war. The purpose of this article is to offer you a tool—an explanation for the morali…
Many combat veterans have a love/hate relationship with
their wartime experiences. They love the profound sense of purpose that their
lives had; they hate the senseless evil that necessitated the war. They love
the unity they experienced with their fellow soldiers; they hate the
destruction they witnessed and sometimes unleashed. Wars are visible, political conflicts that spawn invisible,
moral conflicts within those who fight them.What combat veteran doesn’t feel pride and exhilaration, disgust and anger?That’s a volatile brew of emotions—a cauldron
that veterans must recognize and reconcile in order to integrate their wartime
experiences into their personal life narratives. I am a career Army officer who embedded with combat units
and interviewed hundreds of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan over multiple
deployments. I am also a Christian. In the course of my own struggle to
integrate my identity as a soldier with my larger identity as a Christian, I
gained an insight—one informed by …
Introduction The profession of arms talks about ‘morality and war’ using legal terms and concepts. For example, we justify our decision to deploy and fight when the President orders us because we signed a contract to obey the officers appointed over us. Similarly, we consider ourselves blameless when we kill enemy combatants as long as we do not violate the laws of war or the rules of engagement in doing so. These legal rules are so important to our professional identity that all soldiers receive instruction on the laws of war in basic combat training and then annually thereafter, and soldiers at war review the rules of engagement much more often, sometimes daily.
Not everyone in our society, however, accepts these legal answers to moral questions. War pacifists are people who believe that war is morally unjustifiable. They claim that soldiers are morally wrong to participate in war and to kill other human beings, regardless of what’s legally permissible at the time.