#METC: The Professional Military Ethic

For the next three days we’ll be looking at the concept of the professional military ethic. A couple of concepts to clarify first (and remember, I’m not looking to make you all professional ethicists, so I’m giving you ‘back of the envelope’ definitions that are more likely to stick in your head. The philosophy PhDs may not like them; they should feel free to discuss on twitter).

Moral: That which strengthens the community and binds it together. While there are some true hermits in the world, humans are inherently social creatures. Morality is concerned with the health of our social world. Acts are moral when they strengthen our social world, immoral when they corrode it, and amoral when they are unrelated to the health of our social world (all those avocados I ate this weekend, or the fact that some knucklehead installed my cable to come out of the floor instead of the wall are examples of amoral actions).

Ethics: Technically, ethics is the study of morality. It also refers to that which maintains the standards of a profession – in our case, the profession of arms. The Army has a great White Paper on the Profession of Arms that lays out the contours of the military profession. Don Snider has also written extensively on the topic. We’ll discuss in far greater detail the next three days, but in a nutshell, professional ethics pertains to the acquisition, certification and maintenance of specialized expertise on behalf of a client (in the military profession, this is the constitution, as embodied by the American people). The inherent logic of a profession is effectiveness, not efficiency – a trait that sparks real angst in the midst of the current budget crisis.[1]

Boundaries of the Profession of Arms

I’ve pulled together the defining characteristics of the military profession and military professional from the Army’s White Paper on the Profession of Arms to give a quick outline of the boundaries of the profession (the definitions in the footnotes come from the document; I haven’t cited precisely). This will frame the responsibilities, expectations, and obligations we’ll explore over the next five weeks. We can discuss if you’re interested, but this also provides a useful frame of reference when discussing professionalization in FID or Security Cooperation programs. We hold our military to an incredibly high standard; the bar is far lower in some countries.

THE PROFESSION THE PROFESSIONAL
Expertise[2] Skill
Trust[3] Trust
Development[4] Leadership
Values[5] Character
Service[6] Duty

I’d also commend the talk by Dick Kohn at the Naval War College’s Annual Ethics Conference last February. Regardless of whether you agree with Dr. Kohn completely (and sorry it’s just a recording of a speech; not super exciting!), he lays out some some foundational issues in the profession.

I’ll tweet some questions after lunch, but feel free to start tweeting any questions you have from the readings or points you’d like to make sure we cover. Remember the hash tag so I’ll catch them when I get back to the computer.

Here we go!


[1] Snider argues that the U.S. military is also a bureaucracy (a reality confirmed by anyone who spends any real time with the military!)

[2] The Profession of Arms requires expert knowledge (i.e. expertise), and that expertise is

manifested as unique skills in the individual professional and by Army units.

[3] The profession exists only through a relationship of trust with the client; and that trust is the same trust that enables the individual Soldier to develop within the Army as a profession, for Soldiers and units to bond, for Soldiers‘ families to trust the Army through myriad deployments, and for Army leaders to engage effectively in civil-military relations. In fact, that is why trust is clearly the most important attribute we seek for the Army. It is equally applicable and important in its simplest form to both profession and professional. It is our lifeblood.

[4] To maintain that trust, the profession requires the continuous development of human practitioners, (i.e. experts) who hold high levels of knowledge, adaptability, resilience, and other attributes that make them effective members of the Profession of Arms. That development is manifested in leadership by professionals at all ranks.

[5] The profession requires unwavering, deeply held values on which to base its Ethic. Those values, when well internalized, are manifested in the character of individual professionals. Such strength of character would include internalization of the Army values and ethos amongst other aspects of the Ethic.

[6] Finally the profession provides a vital service to American society and does so in subordination. That service is manifested in the duty of the individual professional.

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5 thoughts on “#METC: The Professional Military Ethic

  1. On the first footnote, and Snider’s argument, I was reminded of a line from Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon: “The United States military…is first and foremost an unfathomable network of typists and file clerks, secondarily a stupendous mechanism for moving stuff from one part of the world to another, and last and least a fighting organization…”

  2. Thank you, Rebecca. I will be largely passive since I am a curmudgeon bludgeoned by computers and am a tweet-twit. This is a great opportunity. Thanks to Benjamin Kohlman for mentioning this course in his ecyclopedic article in Small Wars Journal.

  3. Pingback: #METC: Moral Development | Endeavor to Persevere

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