Dishonesty in the Profession of Arms

by Chaplain (MAJ) Daryl Densford, Ethics Instructor at the U.S. Army M.P. School, Fort Leonard Wood, MO

Warrior Leaders Course Graduation Ceremony

When I teach ethics and moral reasoning to Army officers, I emphasize that the values that are expected to influence our behavior while on duty should also influence our behavior while off duty, including the little decisions that may go unnoticed by most. If officers can not even model ethical behavior in something as simple as training reports to higher headquarters for example, how can they be expected to be able to model ethical behavior on the battlefield when the lives of their Soldiers and possibly innocent non-combatants are in their hands? Living the Army Values as well as our own personal values is essential to developing moral strength which enables us to make the tough decisions to do the right thing, even if it’s the hard thing. When leaders fail morally, even in apparently small areas, not only do they lose the trust of the American people and their subordinates, they also cause others to doubt their ability to lead morally in the larger areas where moral strength and ethical decisions are essential to preserve stability and prevent unnecessary loss of life. However, “untruthfulness is surprisingly common in the U.S. military even though members of the profession are loath to admit it.”(1)

According to a recent study, officers admit to often lying. They describe lying for a variety of reasons. Some simply to avoid what would turn into more work for themselves or their staffs. Others, to avoid losing Soldiers from their formations. Still others just didn’t have the time to accomplish all of the requirements handed down to them from higher.  But regardless of the reasons or the apparent justifications, taking this lower ethical road decays the lying officers’ moral foundation and instills as acceptable these types of behaviors into subordinates which could (and have) result in more blatant and harmful moral/ethical failures. Even if the deception is engaged in for some “greater good” or “mutual benefit” lying or “fudging” reports or failing to fully obey orders is not the most ethical way to deal with those situations. Confronting the problem, while taking time, can improve similar situations in the future and avoid continuing the perception that dishonesty -a poor ethical choice- is acceptable.

One of the problems we face, however, is that “…much of the deception and dishonesty that occurs in the profession of arms is actually encouraged and sanctioned by the military institution. The end result is a profession whose members often hold and propagate a false sense of integrity that prevents the profession from addressing—or even acknowledging—the duplicity and deceit throughout the formation. It takes remarkable courage and candor for leaders to admit the gritty shortcomings and embarrassing frailties of the military as an organization in order to better the military as a profession. Such a discussion, however, is both essential and necessary for the health of the military profession.”(2)

Addressing these concerns, Dr. Leonard Wong and Dr. Stephen J. Gerras have researched and written, “Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession.” The executive summary can be opened, read and download by clicking on the following link:

Lying to Ourselves-Dishonesty in the Army Profession-EXSUM

The entire study is available from Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College by going here and downloading the free pdf file:






(2) Ibid.


Photo from: “Soldiers stand in formation at the 7th Army Noncommissioned Officer Academy during a graduation ceremony in Grafenwoehr, Germany. Led by academy cadre, students complete an 18-day Warrior Leaders Course which includes physical readiness training, drill, oral presentations and other disciplines to learn what it takes to be outstanding NCOs. Since 2008, the cadre has topped Europe-wide and U.S. Army Best Warrior competitions. (U.S. Army photo by Gertrud Zach)” This photo is not related to the report or any ethical violations.


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