US ARMY COMMAND AND GENERAL STAFF COLLEGE
Intermediate Level Education (ILE) Common Core
L100: Leadership – Forging Success in Uncertain Times
L103: Ethical Decision Making
A Pragmatic Ethical Decision Making Model For The Army: The Ethical Triangle Dr. Jack D. Kem
In May 1968 soldiers of Charlie Company, 11th Infantry Brigade of the Americal Division entered the village of My Lai in Vietnam and within three hours over 500 civilians had been massacred. This horrible memory of the United States Army at war was again remembered in 2004 as the case of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq exposed atrocities that continue to be an embarrassment for the military. The war in Iraq has also had a number of high profile cases that relate to ethical behavior, such as the court-martial for six reservists who had “scrounged” vehicles to deliver supplies to troops in the field and the scene of a Marine reacting to a perceived threat and subsequently killing an unarmed Iraqi prisoner in a mosque in Fallujah.
In all of these cases, the public has had widely different opinions of how to treat the military involved in the incidents. For Lieutenant Calley and those involved in My Lai, many in the public viewed the actions of Charlie Company as understandable because of the nature of the war in 1969 – everyone seemed to be the enemy, and the “search and destroy” missions of that time were based upon intelligence that indicated the enemy was using hamlets such as My Lai for refuge. As a result, the punishment for all of those involved in My Lai was very light or not at all; Lieutenant Calley was the only one convicted but he only served three days in prison and was pardoned by President Nixon after serving three and a half years on “house arrest.” For the recent cases in Iraq, the reaction has been mixed in the public, from widespread support for the Marine in Fallujah and the reservists who “scrounged” the vehicle, to disgust at the Abu Ghraib cases and calls for the courts-martial to go higher up the chain of command. Of course, these cases are still on-going, so the final results are still to be determined.
These highly publicized cases admittedly involve only a small portion of the military involved in combat, but they are also widely discussed not only in the press but also in the military. The actions and reactions to these cases indicate a need for a closer look at the ethical decision making processes of the military.
The Army’s Current Ethical Decision Making Model
The Army prides itself on being a “value–based” institution with the admonition in its doctrine to “do what’s right.” In the Army’s leadership manual, it states that “your character helps you know what is right; more than that, it links that knowledge to action. Character gives you the courage to do what is right regardless of the circumstances or the consequences.” The leadership manual continues with the list of “values” that define character for soldiers using the acronym LDRSHIP: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. Although I agree that all soldiers should possess these traits, I prefer to think of these as virtues rather than values. None of these virtues is more important than the others; all soldiers are expected to embody all of these traits as part of their character. Values, however, indicate a relative worth or importance and I would find it hard to characterize one of the Army “values” as worth more than the others. All are virtues that are part of character.
The Army’s leadership manual describes the process of how to “link knowledge to action” in a description of an Ethical Decision Making Model, or EDMM. This rather simplistic model includes the following four steps:
Define the problem
Know the relevant rules
Develop and evaluate courses of action
Choose the course of action that best represents Army values
The first step, defining the problem,...
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