Archive for the Warrior Ethics Category

Beyond the Ticking Time Bomb: A Case for NCO Ethical Education

Posted in Ethics for Leaders, Warrior Ethics with tags , on 12 April 2017 by Daryl Densford

Chief Master Sergeant:
Lifts buildings and walks under them.
Kicks locomotives off their tracks.
Catches bullets in his teeth and eats them.
Freezes water with a single stare.
Talks to no one…HE IS GOD
“The sergeant is the Army.”
—Dwight D. Eisenhower


My Lai. TailhookMarines United. Fat Leonard. The depressingly regular cycle of senior level officer and NCO scandals and abuses highlight the ongoing struggle with how the military is approaching ethical matters and educating for ethics. While these issues are not new, it is time for a serious, even radical, rethink. The military needs to approach questions of right and wrong in terms of ethics, not just institutional or persona morals, and in terms of education, not training. In addition, it is time to give more attention to the ethics education of those beyond the officer corps, to include noncommisioned officers (NCOs) and other enlisted members as well.

Some definitions to start the discussion are in order. First, education rather than training is important. Training is designed for compliance to rules/systems or to build upon a particular skill set. While this is a common way to think about ethics in the military, it has serious problems, and it has contributed to a variety of unethical behaviors and institutionalized cultures. Education is a more useful term, because it is designed to prepare one for a range of foreseen and unforeseen circumstances, and therefore must be broader, flexible, and adaptive. In addition ethical rather than moral, should be used, although many people do use them interchangeably. Here moral will refer to the claims or ideas of the individual, group, or institution—what they claim to be right or wrong. The terms ethical and ethics refer to the questioning, analysis, justification, or reflection upon such claims. Putting ethics and education together yields a very different approach and model for military ethics.

In The Warrior, Military Ethics and Contemporary Warfare: Achilles Goes Asymmetric, I surveyed ethical education for NCOs in the U.S. military and noted the following common threads:

  1. Issues were often lumped in with and conflated with ‘leadership’ issues.
  2. Training was much less theoretical and in depth than that received by officers.
  3. Training was typically very top-down, reinforcing command control and military hierarchy.[1]

In response to these observations, there are four recommendations for revising ethics education for NCOs specifically, as well as for enlisted personnel in general.

  1. First, such education should become less hierarchical; I was thinking in terms of the Strategic Corporal model, but the discussions around Mission Command point to the same concerns.[2]
  2. Second, the military needs to move beyond the concept of a Warrior ethos to embrace something like the Guardian ethos, which accommodates and encourages the use of multiple frameworks, adaptive thinking, and flexibility.
  3. Third, the military will need to think about how to measure and assess progress which will require failure, learning and growth in ethical matters.
  4. Finally, the change, development, and experimentation necessary (with the associated risks and failures) will require rethinking ideas of identity and military professionalism, as ideas like Mission Command and an emphasis on innovation and strategic thinking (not just from officers) gain traction.

All of these recommendations require a broader approach to ethics (not training) and ethical rather than merely moral values.

Continue reading this article at The Strategy Bridge . . .




Truman’s Decision to Use the Atom Bomb

Posted in Ethics for Leaders, Just War, Warrior Ethics with tags , , , , , , , on 9 August 2015 by Daryl Densford

August 6th and 9th marked the 70th anniversary of the dropping of atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which ultimately brought an end to the war in the Pacific. An ongoing debate regarding President Truman’s decision to use the atom bomb against Japan continues today. Much of the fodder for the debate uses inaccurate history and distorted views of the options President Truman had available to him.

Truman’s decision is wrapped up in Just War Doctrine and Military Ethics so an understanding of what went into his decision is beneficial to military officers studying those disciplines and wanting to lead ethically while making moral decisions.

Below is a link to a video produced by Prager University which features Father Wilson Miscamble, professor of history at Notre Dame University. In this 5 minute video, Father Miscamble offers an historical and ethical view of the use of the atom bomb to end the war with Japan, giving insight into President Truman’s decision.


Atom Bomb




McHugh, Others, Address Officers’ Dishonesty

Posted in Ethics for Leaders, Warrior Ethics with tags , , , , , , , on 1 March 2015 by Daryl Densford

Soldiers in formation

The recent monologue published by the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College which reports on the willingness of military officers’ to lie, discussed in a recent post here at Army Ethics, has gotten the attention of Army leaders and ethicists, as it should. If the report is just pushed aside, it will have brought no benefit to the military other than to publicly air our dirty laundry. Used as a launching point for further discussion and development as a profession, however, this monologue’s value will be clear.

Army Times reports on some of the reaction the research has garnerned and offers some suggestions for a way forward. This Times article can also be used by lower-level leaders to begin discussion in their formations about how officers and Soldiers can consistently do the right thing, even if the results of doing what is right is not always pleasant. Not until military personnel at every level are willing to live by the values of their service, will their subordinates and the American public at large be able to fully trust them with their lives and the lives of their sons and daughters.

Read the Army Times article by clicking on the following link. Using your browser’s “back” button will bring you back to the Army Ethics website.

Army Secretary McHugh, Ethics Experts Tackle Report on Officers Lying



Dishonesty in the Profession of Arms

Posted in Ethics for Leaders, Warrior Ethics with tags , , , , , , on 19 February 2015 by Daryl Densford
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.