US Marines Conduct Ethics Stand Down

The Marine Corps has been emphasizing ethics as part of General James Amos’ intent to reach “every single Marine” on the topic of ethical conduct.  In one case, at least, the sessions seem to be versions of college philosophy classes, with a drill down on each of the standard ethical “examples” used in most ethics courses:

Bardorf and Rowan guided the Marines through the murder of Kitty Genovese. They discussed the Good Samaritan Experiment held by the Princeton Theological Seminary, and the Stanford Prison Experiment…[and] the Milgram experiment.

One of the videos discussed the My Lai Massacre…

Toss in the stories about having to choose between pulling your spouse or your child — but not both — into the lifeboat with you, or discussions on the ethics of stealing bread if your family is starving, and you’d have the makings of a first year college philosophy class.

The theme of the seminar was well summarized in the title of the article: “Ethics stand down reaches Marines through real world examples.”  It was “example-based” ethics training.

One could argue that something is better than nothing.  But there are many weaknesses to situation-based ethics training, not the least of which is the challenge of convincing the trainees they may be placed in similar situations and tempted to act as the “bad” actors did at Stanford, My Lai, or Abu Ghraib.

The good news is that the training appeared to emphasize making the “right” decision all the time — even in “small” matters.

The down side of such training is it fails to say what needs to be said:  There is right.  There is wrong.  There are moral absolutes.  There will come a time in most of these Marines’ combat careers in which they will face a challenge not adequately addressed by their ethical-example training or explicitly governed by Marine Corps regulations.

Their conduct at that point will be governed by their morality.  The only question is if that morality was formed by engaged parents and earnest Sunday School teachers or reality TV and first person video games.