Sunday, October 16, 2011

What are the military ideals that shape your ethics?

By Maj. John Alderman
Commander, 124th MPAD
October 16, 2011
The commitment to ethics, the promulgation of values, and a culture of accountability all are central to our status as professionals. Last year, the Deputy Secretary of Defense published a memorandum on ethics that read in part
“To sustain an ethical culture that inspires public confidence, we must strive to faithfully fulfill our financial, civic, and ethical duties. Fundamental values like integrity, impartiality, fairness, and respect must drive our actions, and these values must be reinforced by holding ourselves and each other accountable for mistakes or wrongdoing.”
Official definitions of the ethics meant to inform our actions can be found in the Joint Ethics Regulation and further explored in the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch. But these documents really represent the formal distillation and refinement of ideas and ideals that come from…where?
The discussion of military ethics from the Oxford Companion to U.S. Military History posted here explores some of the history and development of the American military ideals that shape the way we look at ourselves, our organization, and our service to the Nation. It points out our shared ethical history with the British, and where we diverge. It also ably condenses some pretty broad thoughts on the matter.
It states in part that our ethics, mottos, and principles reflect “the earnest idealism that continues to animate the professional conduct of the men and women who don the military uniform to defend America.” Note that it’s the earnestness of that idealism that informs our generally optimistic can-do attitude we have when at our best. I expect it’s also one of the threads that can be followed all the way back through western military history to the Greeks.
There’s nothing earth-shattering here, but it is worth a read, just the same, to spur personal consideration of our profession’s ethics – because those ethics define us, really.
Furthermore, when we discuss ethics with our Soldiers and Airmen, we can’t shy away from their source. I don’t think we should shy away from our idealism, either. We should embrace it; and point out to them that the struggle between ideals and the complex ethical situations we sometimes face is a timeless one --- but one we must address head-on, and in good faith, anyway.