War can be an Experience of both Heaven and Hell

Many combat veterans have a love/hate relationship with their wartime experiences. They love the profound sense of purpose that their liv...

Observations from Iraq

Earlier this year, from 21 April --9 June, I had the privilege of traveling around Iraq and interviewing Army junior officers. I pretty much was able to visit a different company each day. In all, I interviewed 142 captains and lieutenants, all of whom were current or past company commanders or platoon leaders in the war. I was so impressed by their competence and commitment; I'm humbled the wear the same uniform as these heroes.

The purpose of the interviews was to gain a deeper understanding of the most demanding leadership challenges that our junior officers are experiencing in the war.

Inevitably, issues of morality came up in our conversations. Here are some of my impressions:

1. Our Soldiers are exhibiting remarkable restraint in the use of violence. Time and again when listening to their stories, I found myself thinking, "Shoot the bastards" or "Just bomb the building!" when in reality the Soldiers on the ground chose not to employ heavy-handed force--despite wanting to emotionally. The attitude in most units is: we're the good guys, so we chose the harder right over the easier wrong.

2. My biggest "aha" discovery was the awareness by many leaders that unjustified killing has harmful effects on the perpetrators. Many Soldiers are on their 2nd or 3rd tour, and they have seen what happens to Soldiers who kill when they shouldn't--they suffer psychologically. As more than one leader told me, "I make sure we do what's right, because someday--win, lose, or draw--this war will be over, and I want all my Soldiers to feel proud about how they conducted themselves." This long-term awareness--leading today in a manner that will take care of my Soldier not only today, but also 10 years from now--is a recent phenomena, as far as I can tell. I think it stems from the increased awareness of the harmful psychological effects of acting unjustly in war.

3. It's a complicated moral universe when the Iraqi Security Forces that we are funding, training, and arming are actively engaged in attacking us. Again, the patience and restraint being demonstrated by our Soldiers is nothing short of remarkable.

More to follow...

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