The Moral Truth of Military Values

Col. Jim Dryjanski of the National War College wrote a commentary in July entitled “Strengthening our core.”  It began with a reference to the charges of sexual misconduct at Lackland AFB, TX, but broadened the discussion to moral strength and failure across the force:

We can expect some necessary actions to be taken, but will disciplinary action or the implementation of recommendations from various independent top-down strategic reviews be sufficient? Probably not, if we as Airmen don’t recognize the moral battle being waged or fail to act from the grassroots-level to strengthen our core.

It is fascinating — and heartening — to see a military commentary recognize that examples of ethical misconduct are a symptom of the moral climate in the US military.

Col Dryjanski asks if “Integrity, Service, Excellence” — the Air Force core values — are “only words:” 

Yes, they are…if we let them be. If we lose sight of the moral truth that our core values are grounded in, these mere words of Integrity, Service, and Excellence lose their true meaning and true power.

Again, an astounding observation:  “Integrity” is not, in itself, a foundational principle.  Integrity is grounded in a moral truth.  Ignoring the fact that the core values are themselves grounded in such truth is to turn those values into nothing but letters on a page.  The Colonel concluded:

It is up to Airmen–wingmen, leaders, warriors to calibrate our moral compasses to true north and give life to our Core Values where the rubber meets the road during our toughest times…

This is reminiscent of Admiral Mullen’s prior reference to members of the military needing a “true compass morally.”  For Mullen, however, it obviously begged the question of what “true” was.  While Col Dryjanski does not elaborate on the “moral truth” to which he refers, his entire commentary is premised on the fact there is a moral truth — there is a moral “true North” to which we must “calibrate our moral compasses.”

Over the past few years, there are indications the military has been demanding that its troops “do the right thing” — without equipping them with the ability to know what that is.  The results have spanned the spectrum, from moral failures featured on the international news (insufficient instruction that certain conduct was “morally wrong”) to moral injuries plaguing veterans (insufficient support that actions taken were “morally right”).

Even the repeal of DADT has been insufficiently framed in moral terms — as demonstrated by the fact the Colonel’s article generated nearly a dozen comments on the theme, in their words, of demanding moral conduct in a military that simultaneously defends immoral conduct.

In that regard, Col Dryjanski’s commentary is courageous.  While he, too, declines to detail a foundational moral truth that governs what is right and what is wrong, he at least acknowledges that there is one.

Perhaps the writers of the Declaration can lend some guidance in that regard.