Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Canon Cockers

 The urge to save humanity is almost always
a false front for the urge to rule 
--H.L. Mencken 

Shut up! Shut up you American. You always talk,
you Americans, you talk and you talk and say 
"Let me tell you something" and "I just wanna say this." 
Well you're dead now, so shut up 
--The Meaning of Life (the Grim Reaper), 
Monty Python (1983) 

An important yet unspoken implication of the call for General Staff ethics training ("Ethics for Dummies") is this: Where is the ethics training for our Soldiers-cum-Warriors?  We don't talk about it, because warriors do not have ethics.

How can you have a cadre of hopefully ethical officers leading a group of killing warriors?  Answer: You can't; to imagine such a contradiction as effective is a joke.  The FOX news - Black Five contingent says, "Ranger stop spouting your high-falutin' sophistries," but Ranger is correct -- a democracy does not stand in name or reality if it adopts the Warrior Way in battle.

Warriors will do anything to win, versus Soldiers who are constrained in their activities by civilized norms recognized by our canon of common law.  You cannot expect ethical behavior from warriors, but you can from Soldiers.  Conforming to a body of ethics is the thing that allows Soldiers to return and enjoy a hopefully successful reintegration into their society. A warrior is condemned to living forever on the fringes.  While we may love our Kurosawa films, the actual life of a Samurai is not something most of us would relish.

Everyone calls our Soldiers "Warriors" today, but are loathe to consider the consequences of an actual transformation into warriorhood. Consider the Kandahar Massacre, in which Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales soldier methodically killed sixteen Afghan civilians and injured five others in Afghanistan 11 March 2012 on his own, in two separate actions (SSG Bales is currently being held at the Ft. Leavenworth correctional facility.)  SSG, Bales's actions were those of a warrior -- brutal, fierce, unforgiving, relentless, cruel ... lacking in humanity and devoid of adherence to any martial code.

SSG Bales behaved like the warrior he was, and we did not like it.  We may impose much onto our fighting men, but there are certain divide which we cannot brook because we know at heart that we are them -- we are both SSG Bales, and the villagers whom he slaughtered. 

We are aroused by the biblical story of Joshua fighting the Battle of Jericho, but we do not see ourselves as people who wreak such outright destruction.  We are people who, inasmuch as is possible, respect the elderly and the young; we respect that people wish to live a life, and work hard to cobble together a living best they can.  Their leaders may initiate wars and the people suffer and we understand all of this, and so endeavor to mitigate "collateral damage".  However, warriors do not take such considerations to heart. 

Flying planes into the Twin Towers is warrior behavior.  It is indiscriminate, violent and abides by no social norms.  It is doubly frightening both in its outright destruction and its disobedience of rules of civilized behavior.  We do not wish to be such warriors.  Moreover, we cannot fight that impulse if we ourselves display and abide by the same imperative.

Leon Panetta, who does not understand what it is to be a Soldier, cannot codify a body of ethics for Soldiers or for their leaders. 

Maybe the call to ethics training is a wake up call to return to Soldierly Values. 

[Cross-posted @ RangerAgainstWar]


  1. Jim,

    IMHO, Bales is not and was not in any way a warrior. And why the slam on Leon? He can teach soldier ethics as well or better than many flag ranks. Certainly better than Brigadier Sinclair and a whole host of current general officer warrior wannabees.

  2. jim-

    Such is the paradox of a generally violent society attempting to deal with "ethics". A society with a significant portion of the population publicly glorifying a lethal response to a purse snatcher.

    Mix that with the glorification of self indulgence and you really have an interesting stew.

    People do not typically make "unethical" decisions for the benefit of others - they do it for self benefit, be that benefit material or psychological.

    As to this "Warrior" crap, most of the crew here has rejected it since Day One. A propaganda smokescreen to dignify bad political choices. A propaganda smokescreen that goes hand in hand with the misuse of the AVF. A sociological mistake in wanting our troops to want to kill, not realizing the broader ramifications of such a notion.

    As the Cuban Missile Crisis was bubbling, a PFC in our Marine Rifle Company began ranting on about how he "wanted to kill some Commies". Our company Gunnery Sergeant, a veteran of combat from Guadalcanal through the Chosin, told him (and all of us) that Marines are instruments of national policy. Our job was to be willing to fight without hesitation when lawfully ordered to do so. "Wanting to kill" was for politicians, thugs, misfits and mercenaries, and Marines are none of these. As time went by, Gunny Meade's words became more and more meaningful to me, but I fear that the general population has no such understanding.

    My Dad spoke to me of three categories of people - The "Ethical", the "Unethical" and the "A-ethical". The first two know there is a difference between "Right and Wrong" in the greater sense. Ethical people try their best to chose what is "Right". Unethical people simply chose what suits their best interest, whether it is "Right or Wrong", but are at least able to admit what is "Wrong", so there is at least a basis for dialog. A-ethical people have no concept of "Right and Wrong" in the greater sense, no less a situational sense, and thus any discussion of "ethics" is a non-sequitor.

    There is definitely cause for concern over "Ethical Standards" in the military. Consider the numerous occasions of religious intolerance at the AF Academy. Or the rate of sexual assault at all three academies.

    To me, the lessons I learned from Gunny Meade were that Marines ascribed to a higher moral and ethical standard than the society at large, even though we were of, from and part of that society. As the military becomes more and more "outside" society, and with the glorification of this "Warrior" crap, perhaps some "outside" of the military, and "inside" of society assistance could be of assistance.

    Sadly, even thought the AVF is "outside" the general society, it has been used to promote the baser instincts of that society. Wallow in a cess pool long enough, and you not only smell like shit, but you begin to believe that smelling like shit is normal, start to think you are shit, and then you act like shit.

  3. Mike,
    Thanks for your cmt.
    My point is where will the ethics training originate?
    Can ethics be applicable in a nation that has the nuc wmd's to destroy the world IF SOMEBODY VIOLATES OUR ETHICS?
    I write for people beyond the ARMY template- repeat enuf so that every one is forced to hear your lesson plan-even if they don't want to.
    As for the AF academy it's my take that all the service academies use religeous affiliation/club membership etc.. as meaningful criteria for application approval.
    The sexual assault and rape issue is critical for the military and is reflective of our society. IMO.
    Thanks for sharing the Gy Meade story.
    BTW- a few weeks ago i made a cmt to you about your stats being useless etc. This WAS NOT a personal cmt about, or to you. I was making a general statement about every man and the use of stats.
    I wanted to clear that up while it's still in mind.

  4. jim,

    No personal offense ever taken here.

    The situation at the USAFA was one of religious intolerance. Blatant intolerance to the point where Catholic and Episcopalian Cadets felt they were seen as not "Christian enough" and thus unwelcome, so you could imagine how others might have felt. And this was not mere Cadet peer pressure, but from flag officers there. Trust me, in the early 60's, a troop's religious beliefs were of no business to anyone but the individual troopie. If religious intolerance is "ethical" in the military, then I'm glad I'm retired.

    As to "statistics", much of what is tossed around is not "statistics" but mathematical computations of questionable descriptive, no less predictive value. I have reasonable academic and practitioner credentials in the field, and I will state, with reasonable confidence, that analyses of social issues are rarely, if ever done with reasonable "controls" for the numerous variables involved. The money driving most research does not want to find "surprises" or complex interactions. Thus we see simple correlations being masqueraded as causation.

    Where will the ethics training come from? well, I am as pessimistic as you, and perhaps even more so. Gunny Meade was not an aberration in my 6 years in the Corps (1960-66). He would have somewhat been in the Army I transferred to in 1966. He definitely would be in today's Army. The torch that is being passed is becoming more and more polluted, and some of that pollution comes directly from Extremist "Christianity". When chaplains glorify killing, you have got to wonder.

  5. There is some confusion about how people use ethics to control their behaviour. People are extremely social animals and watch very carefully what the people around them do. Accordingly, they speak about ethics in the way the people around them speak about ethics. They also *behave* according to the same ethics of the people around them.

    It is pushing on a rope tp get people to change their actions by using mere words. It is completely hopeless if the speaker's behaviour contradicts the words.

    People are so good at speaking the way the group does and behaving the way the group does they don't actually realize when there is a contradiction between word and deed. They are completely oblivious to the hypocrisy.

    I know that I am such a hypocrite, at least until my kids point it out. Then I get mad at them.

  6. jim,

    I admit, I haven't been around the real Army much in the past 6 years, but I know what people tell me about and what I read. So here is my stab at it:

    1. Soldiers are soldiers first. That hasn't changed. If you visit the recruiting website for the Army, the word Warrior won't be found. Everything is, soldier, soldier, soldier, soldier. With an emphasis on becoming a soldier. I don't thin your point is lost on recruiting command.

    2. The term, Warrior, is meant to reflect an ethos, it is not a system of values or ethics. I admit, it is confusing, but there is still a Soldier's Creed and a set of Army values that is used concurrently with the warrior ethos. Funny enough, the warrior ethos is nothing more than a water downed version of the Ranger Creed.


    3. Best Warrior of the year is called the "Warrior for Soldier of the Year" (official title). What I imagine they are attempting, based on the combat focused skills in the competition, is to instill that "warrior ethos" in all MOSs.

    4. With this said, I don't think the average soldier views the term warrior in the same way that you do. I think the definition is watered down in today's society, in the same way that a football player is a warrior. A soldier is a warrior like a football player who doesn't give up and fights to the end.

    5. To be fair, it isn't Leon Penetta's responsibility to codify ethics for the Army. That is the job of senior army uniformed personnel.

    I think you make some great points about why we need to be soldiers, and not something else, but I think your points are well understood by the Army. I feel that the disconnect is in your own perception of what a warrior is (and isn't) and how today's generation views the world. Not saying you are wrong, just that your perspective is different than that of current recruits. Just like I don't like the Army of One recruiting campaign, who gives a crap, it isn't targeting me...

  7. At times I do wonder, such as when seeing the findings of an Air Force "Spot Check":

    They also turned up 3,987 items deemed unprofessional. Examples: a pubic hair in an office logbook, a beer bong and World War II-era airplane nose art depicting a fully clothed but "promiscuous" woman, according to an Air Force document listing all the items.

    Among 27,598 items categorized by commanders as "offensive": a postcard depicting women in bikinis, lewd cartoons, a copy of the Air Times newspaper's "Hot Shots 2013" calendar with women in "provocative" poses, a picture of professional football player Tom Brady shirtless, a Confederate flag and a poster of Osama bin Laden.

    Tom Bradly "shirtless"??


    I trust your representations of the contemporary Army. Thanks.

  8. bg,
    Why do we have 2 special creeds, ie Soldier and ranger? If all are soldiers and we are all on the same sheet of paper this seems to be redundant.
    I was in the Ranger Dept when Rock Hudson wrote the ranger creed and i think it was a subtle way to refute VOLAR.
    If The secdef is not responsible for ethics then who is?
    Isn't it strange that Mc Chrystal was not canned for lying , cover ups ,or anything else but he got it for mouthing off while drunk? Ethics be damned- he just was injudicous and that was enuf. He broke the lockstep.
    Bradley Manning is rotting in prison and the pilots who gunned down Iraqi civilians were never prosecuted.(to my knowledge). This points to a lack of ethics and is not an isolated concept.
    We see ZERO investigations or prosecution of torture, and the point isn't even allowed into the court records when the detainees are finally lucky enuf to reach a court room. That's even assuming that the courts fulfill civilized standards of behavior and are not kangaroo courts.
    Are there any ethical problems in the soldier manuals, or did you have any in your military schooling? How many JAG's ever protested the torture that they saw ?
    Did ANYONE oppose the illegal invasions?
    How can it be when we invade and run elective aggressive wars that violate our own self avowed
    former ethical standards that everyone just line up and fix bayonets..
    The only reason that the recruiting cmd doesn't use the word warrior is for the same reason that the NG doesn't mention over seas combat deployments.
    It's all honey til the hook is set.
    What does tradoc sell once they are in basic?
    BTW-does the ranger challenge have any ethical portion to the competition?
    Also look at the MOH's from these pwot campaigns.
    Where are the medics and lifesavers etc...It sure seems super weighted to sof values and propaganda.
    Why don't USAR/NG's get represented in these awards.There are some that cut the muster but didn't get the big award. Was it b/c they weren't warrior enuf for the selection boards.?
    These little points should be addressed when thinking that warrior hood is not a real template.
    Thanks for your input.

  9. jim,

    You posed a lot of interesting questions, most of which I can't possible begin to answer (I can't speak on behalf of the Army). But I do want to address some of them or at least discuss them, but first, I need to understand your definition of ethics. I view ethics as right and wrong, but the problem with that definition is who defines what is right and what is wrong, the person committing the action?

    Is it ethical to do something that is legal (i.e., pull the trigger IAW the rules of engagement)? What if you disagree that what is legal is right? Do you act unethically? Is killing another human being ever ethical or moral?

    What are your thoughts? And how are you making a connection between being a "warrior" and being unethical?


  10. jim, btw, I did read the cross post with the dictionary.com definitions of ethics.

    I disagree with those definitions, and some of them disagree with each other. As I have been taught, ethics is the difference between right and wrong (cultural context or laws), and morality is the difference between good and evil (religion).

    Just wanted to help you out with my understanding before we move on.


  11. bg,
    i reckon we should stick with ethics since clearly God is on our side and we must be right.
    Gott mit uns RULES.
    we have a plethora of laws and all we have to do is follow them. It's actually as simple as interpreting the Bible, or even a Army Regulation.
    Are we morally and ethically a nation and are we the same as people?.
    The first point that we should discuss isn't the definitions, but rather do we even care if we are moral or ethical.
    I was thinking of McChrystal the other nite after i replied to you.
    He was promoted after we knew that he covered up the Tillman episode, but was fired for telling the truth.
    That's a good summary of the problem statement.

  12. jim,

    I am actually taking the online learning portion of my ILE (used to be CGSC), the intermediate level education for Majors. I just did the 10 minute "click next as fast as you can" training for ethics, so I am have more official training on the topic than most.

    I think it is fair to say, the Army wants us to be ethical, and expects it. We are a "value based" organization. The Warrior Ethos, as we discussed earlier, is embedded in the Soldier Creed, so warrior is subordinate to soldier. And I know we've had this talk before on this blog, we are "spiritual" but that doesn't mean religion.

    Interesting enough that you mention McCrystal. In the Common Core training for all Majors, his relief is a case study for all. There was a video that we had to watch of the POTUS giving a speech explaining why he relieved GEN McCrystal, followed by more online discussion about where he went wrong, and what is considered ethical dissent. It also provides a case study on Truman vs McArthur, and President Eisenhower's battle with the Generals (how different Army Chief of Staff's dealt with the President and dissent over the Pre-Vietnam downsizing of the Army).

    (I would share the link, however, it is on a closed website that requires a PKI)

    Note: There was no mention of the Tillman affair. I think the Army is sticking to the party line that McCrystal didn't read the award citation carefully, and made an understandable mistake for someone who signs so many awards. Frankly, I believe the story only because I don't see what there is to gain by covering it up, we all know that the truth always comes out in the government. I guess I just give the guy the benefit of the doubt out of personal respect.

    This would clearly be better training if it were in a classroom environment, led by professional instructors or, even better, by leaders in a unit. But, I don't get that special resident treatment (long story, but I had my resident CGSC taken away due to my seniority in rank so HRC could clean up a mess that two wars over ten years has made).

    I could couple this with some ethics discussions I've had in my Masters program, but I won't, because few get this program.

    So, what disappoints me is that here I am, 15 years in, and this is the most extensive ethics training I've had. Prior to this, I've gotten what most people get, and that is a mandatory hour long PowerPoint presentation (often give by the JAG as compared to a leader) on what is ethical, and what rules govern our ethics (i.e., UCMJ, etc).

    Don't think I answered any of your questions yet, but helping to build context.


  13. Here is an article that supports your argument:


  14. bg,
    Thanks for the context.
    It's helpful.
    As for Tillman and the SS there is message traffic indicating that McC knew and so advised the POTUS advisors of the glitch(lie).
    Also A&D does the grunt work and few CDR's get involved in the nuts and bolts of awards. Also there were NOT a plethora of SS's at that point.
    In the old 5th SF we had award boards at group to vet awards. All BS's and above were boarded.

  15. Another interesting link:


  16. I know there is a difference between practice and what you preach, but here is the authoritative document for you: