The Need for Moral Leadership

After the recent articles on moral courage, Chaplain (LT) Paul Hyder writes on the “need for moral leadership.”  Highlighting Abu Ghraib and the recent allegations of a US Army ‘hit squad,’ Hyder makes what seems to be an obvious recommendation:

When we, as a nation entrust men and women with the authority to use deadly force, they MUST be morally grounded and ethically above reproach. (emphasis original)

It is vital that our military leaders at every level (NCOs, SNCOs and officers alike) be rooted and grounded in moral leadership principles. When this is not the case and the moral compass is not calibrated, the slippery slope of immoral behavior can easily erode from ‘‘cutting a few corners” to cold blooded murder.

The question, of course, is how does the military “teach” morality?  How does it teach its troops right from wrong when American society — and by extension, the military that comes from it — no longer recognizes an unchangeable, absolute truth?

For its part, the US Marine Corps is institutionalizing its ‘values-based leadership‘ program, which is

a wide-reaching effort to reinvigorate the service’s ethos of honor, courage and commitment…[initiated by] Gen. James Conway’s [when] several Marines were under investigation in connection with alleged war crimes.

In the past, the US military has tried to teach situation ethics — if this, then that — for a wide variety of example scenarios.  For those that haven’t figure it out, though, such a paradigm might work in a peacetime office environment, but it is woefully inadequate for the moral choices troops face in battle everyday.

If a military is going to give an 18-22 year old man a gun and the authority to use it, it must make sure he has the morals to use it responsibly, and the moral courage to stand up when tempted — or even ordered — to do otherwise.  If he doesn’t have both, he shouldn’t be given the weapon.  In fact, he probably shouldn’t be in the military all.

Moral courage has been demonstrated in the past in the military; if public stories are correct, even this Army ‘hit squad’ was revealed by a Soldier who recognized what they were doing was wrong — and reported them even after allegedly being assaulted in a threat not to.  There is certainly hope, but the military needs to create an environment that encourages morality, and not rely on the happenstance of a moral Soldier to police internal crimes.