#METC: Ethical Fitness

Physical fitness is concerned with our overall general wellness as well as specific physical abilities (push-ups being my particular nemesis). To grow more fit, we typically focus on nutrition (fuel for the body), exercise (stressing the body in particular ways), and rest (to allow muscles to repair).

The concepts are the same when we’re talking about ethical fitness – individuals (hopefully) possess a general level of moral well-being (no one’s an angel, but hopefully not too much of a devil either), and individuals are called up to exercise moral judgment in specific areas related to their jobs and relationships – so your specific ethical fitness requirements will differ from mine as a professor, or a doctor, or a banker, though we may share some specific requirements related to our status as children with aging parents.

As with higher levels of physical fitness, an ethically fit individual will have a stronger immune system than those with lower levels of fitness. That said, you can be ethically fit and still be tempted to do wrong. Temptation is not an indicator of ethical weakness. Yielding to it is. Temptation is simply an indicator of your humanity.

Just like with physical fitness, your ethical fitness is developed through:

  1. Correct Nutrition: (why parents get so concerned about TV!) This can come from mentors, self and group study, reflection, etc.;
  2. Exercise: (placing yourself and your subordinates in situations of increasing ethical complexity). Ethical decision games, PMEs, hotwashes, case studies, incorporating ethical scenarios into tactical training packages, etc.; and,
  3. Rest: (sleep deprivation has a clear correlation with weakened moral judgment) This can be a real challenge, but finding opportunities to create emotional distance, fellowship, actual sleep, etc.

If you were to grade yourself today (100 point max for each event), how would you score?

I like to task our students with developing an Individual Ethical Fitness Plan, so I’m tasking you too!

Just like you’re not going to go run a marathon the first time you lace up your sneakers and you have to hit the gym regularly to maintain muscle mass, you have to exercise your moral muscle. And, just like your performance will suffer if all you eat are the chow hall hotdogs and ice cream, your moral decision making will improve to the extent that you read, think about, engage information that supports, develops, or reinforces sound moral judgment.  Finally, it’s just as important to get some down time to let your brain reset and do that back burner processing that’s so important to judgment of any sort. I think pilots are better about this than other folks, but it’s worth mentioning, because the effect on moral judgment is so pronounced and the wear-and-tear stress of combat is so great.

So what we’re going to do in our final #METC session is talk about the components of moral behavior and what an ethical training plan looks like. Then you’re going to develop one for yourself and another one for your subordinates.

What do you need to develop a fitness plan?

  1. Goals: General and specificRealistic:
    1. Start out more simplistic and grow more complex (want to challenge, but not undermine confidence);
    2. What areas do you need to develop (sensitivity, judgment, motivation, character)
    3. Are you building or maintaining?
    4. Start slowly
  2. Schedule
    1. Realistic and adaptable to changing environments and schedules
    2. Vary volume and intensity
  3. Activities
    1. For each specific goal
    2. Fun and interesting
    3. Matched to current skill level, tilted forward
    4. Time and convenience
    5. Make sure are varied
    6. Guidelines:
      1. Show both good and bad examples (want people to model good decisionmaking, so have to illustrate it).
      2. Hot washes to re-frame events in ways that promote moral sensitivity.
      3. Train like you fight…
      4. Hit people’s level of moral development
  4. Tools
    1. How can you measure growth?  Kidder gives us inner restraint, moderation of desires, and modesty in approach. Others?
    2. Progress log (journal?)
    3. What does conscious reflection look like?
    4. If morality is the mean between law (the enforceable) and free-will (discretion), what motivates you to self-regulate?  Why do you restrain yourself? How can you encourage subordinates to restrain themselves? What are the areas where restraint is appropriate?
    5. What inspires you to keep at it when you get bored? (How do you develop a habit/discipline?)
    6. Books, lectures, religious services, time out in nature, accountability groups, journal, PT time.
  5. Support
    1. Buddy / mentor: Who do you trust for mentorship? What kind of mentorship works for you?
    2. Do you need a trainer? A running buddy? Who keeps you accountable to the process and who do you look to for guidance?  When developing the plan for your subordinates, who else in the unit needs to be involved? What role do they play?
    3. What’s your plan for when you fall off the wagon?

Remembering that you’re not just responsible for yourself, but those you lead, how can you develop your subordinates’ ethical fitness plan?

  • What are your goals for your immediate subordinates?
    • How do you get them there? (Activities, tool, support)
    • What are your goals for your subordinates’ subordinates?
      • How do you get them there?

#METC: Responding to the Command Climate

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the importance of setting an ethical command climate. This week we’re looking at the other side of the equation: What is the military professional’s responsibility within a particular command setting?

The reading by Carl Ficarrotta on Manuel Davenport sets the stage for this discussion. Davenport identified two key loyalties required of the military professional – loyalty to the client state (to prevent fissure in the civil-military relationship) and loyalty to humanity at large (to prevent human rights violations in the conduct of war). We’ll explore both of these commitments over the next few nights.

To explore the first loyalty, we will draw from Don Snider’s work on dissent and strategic leadership. While many of us following #METC are not advising strategic leaders, the professional responsibility to provide your best military judgment to senior leaders is an important skill to master. Understanding the relationship between military judgment and dissent is equally essential. Snider lays out the following analytical tool to evaluate questions of dissent:

We’ll draw from that fateful Rolling Stone article about GEN McChrystal to highlight another key distinction – the difference between dissent and dissension. Dissent is the action taken to try to correct what is – in the professional’s best military judgment – poor judgment on the part of the decision maker. We’ll discuss the appropriate limits on dissent in this section of the course. Dissension is an effort to undermine the implementation of a decision once it has been made. Appropriate dissent – when necessary – is a professional obligation. Dissension is professional dereliction and is a cancer on units.

For the second loyalty, we will extend conversations we have already begun concerning different stages of moral development and subordinates’ responsibility to ‘lead up’ and shape the command climate set by their seniors. It’s our bosses’ responsibility to set us up for success; likewise, it is our responsibility to help our bosses succeed. Interpreting their guidance to subordinates faithfully and accurately capturing their intent goes a long way to extending ethical command climates during periods of prolonged stress. Working with our bosses to shape climates that reinforce both sets of loyalties can go a long way to strengthening units and the ethical behavior of its members.

Quick scheduling note: my availability will be spotty through the wee hours of Friday morning, so we might need to flex a little with our schedule this week. As I learn more about when I’ll have internet access, I’ll update. Thanks for your patience!

#METC: The Stoic Warrior

This session is titled “The Stoic Warrior,” though its view is somewhat broader. Here we will be discussing Stoicism as it used to anchor a particular approach to character development popularized by Admiral James B. Stockdale in his reflections on his time as a POW in Vietnam. If you haven’t read his Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot, I commend it to you. The individual chapters can be read independently, which makes them useful for those whose schedules necessitate reading shorter pieces. It also makes selections convenient to share with friends and colleagues in small doses. If you’re in uniform, read a couple of chapters. Chances are, you’ll think of a buddy or two who could use this sort of encouragement.

For this course, we’re reading The Stoic Warrior’s Triad, an address Admiral Stockdale gave to the Amphibious Warfare School at Marine Corps University in 1995. I imagine some of you may only be familiar with his 1992 Vice Presidential run. I’m glad #METC can provide an opportunity to learn more about a man who has inspired and influenced countless Sailors and Marines. It’s hard to put in writing the effect he has had on many of our students, but his thinking has been an important touchstone for a number of the officers we teach.

Two points are important about Stockdale’s writings:

  1. His view of Stoicism, while hardly superficial, is not one shared by all philosophers. Admiral Stockdale is taking philosophy and making it meaningful for the warrior. This is an essential task (claims the military ethicist!), but one that necessarily results in imprecision that may rankle trained philosophers. Neither he – nor I – care. His desire is to better prepare service members for the moral challenges of war. Admiral Stockdale uses Stoicism to inspire, prepare, and heal. He should be evaluated on those grounds. @queenofthinair has prepared a readings list on Stoicism that I’ll post and link here on Friday for folks who would like a more academic treatment.
  2. Admiral Stockdale is influenced heavily by his strong appreciation of Epictetus, one of the Greek Stoics. That limits Admiral Stockdale’s scope, but does so in a way that is helpful for you. It’s always good to reference the source text. For Epictetus, that is predominantly his work, The Enchiridion. You can read it on-line, or download it free to your Kindle. FWIW, I first ‘read’ the Enchiridion as an audiobook. It’s pretty easy to digest on your daily commute (a fact that was suggested to me by an infantry officer who has made a habit of doing just that every time he returned from deployments. I share that to suggest that Epictetus isn’t too ‘smart’ for you, so quit whining about how boring you find Greek philosophy).

In addition to Admiral Stockdale, we’ll discuss a speech delivered by (then) BG H.R. McMaster at the US Naval War College in 2010. You may know MG McMaster for his PhD thesis published as Dereliction of Duty. While not a representation of Stoicism, MG McMaster’s speech centers on the importance of adhering to core values in times of great stress; it is a complementary means of preparing service members for the personally morally and emotionally challenging stress they will face in combat.

The final element in this section of the course is the leader’s ability – and professional responsibility – to cultivate their service members’ character and resilience. We will be reading from Dr. Paul Bartone’s work on hardiness to see the positive (or negative) effect leaders can have on the individuals in their units. While I’m moving into new research areas now, this has been the focus of my own research for the last few years, and I’m happy to talk more with anyone who’s interested.

For instance, leaders talking their units through Restrepo can be a very effective way of preparing junior infantry to confront the moral and emotional challenges of combat. It can also help supporting elements to understand the sorts of stress their comrades face. (I remember a very sobering discussion I had with a group of CH-53 pilots who transport troops just like the ones in Restrepo to and from their missions).

For the civilians participating in #METC: We ask men and women to shoulder incredibly difficult and painful responsibilities in defense of our country. Their service comes at a very real emotional and sometimes moral cost to them and their families. It’s easy to focus on MRAPs, better acute trauma care, and body armor, but the issues we’ll engage in this section of the course are what enable our service members to look their fathers in the eye when they shake their hands coming home from a deployment and feel pride when they think about how their babies could grow up to be just like them. We ask our service members to give their lives in defense of our country; we ought not ask them to give their souls. This is what Admiral Stockdale, MG McMaster, and Dr. Bartone are writing about.

#METC: The Ethics of Unmanned Systems

In this section we’re exploring the ethics of unmanned systems. I try to be rigorous about calling them unmanned systems instead of ‘drones’ for a couple of reasons:

  • It’s more accurate: When people think of drones they immediately think of remotely piloted planes, which are only a fraction of how unmanned systems are employed by the military and others. The moral implications are not constrained to Predators; and,
  • It facilitates moral reflection: The term ‘drones’ is used rather pejoratively in some circles in a way that undermines ethical engagement by closing, rather than opening the discussion. #METC is about discussing these issues rigorously and professionally, and the terms we use can either hinder or help us in that pursuit.

That said, twitter is all about keystroke economy, so I’m sure many of you will continue to use ‘drones’ when what you mean is unmanned systems. I simply hope that from now on whenever you see or type ‘drone’ your brain flashes ‘unmanned system’. (And if any of you would like to have a chat about the gendered use of ‘unmanned’, please let me know. I’m happy to do so as soon as you pay off my mortgage. Until then, keep it to yourself.)

We’ll be covering a few different topics over the next two nights:

  1. Unmanned systems are simply a particular type of platform. While there are particular elements of unmanned systems that require specific moral and legal guidance much of our current moral and legal restraints govern their employment adequately. Remember, we’re talking about the systems themselves in this block; we discussed the targeting question in our previous two sessions. The issue is what is morally unique about having a pilot outside the cockpit / person away from the IED / etc.; most of the questions concerning lethality and the other sorts of things unmanned systems can do have already been figured out because we’ve already been doing them in combat.
  2. Even ‘unmanned systems’ is an inaccurate term; ‘remotely piloted’ is most precise for aviation assets. Who cares? We do, because while many moral questions have already been addressed with existing manned platforms, there are moral implications to having combatants physically removed from the battlespace. These questions explode in Technicolor when we shift the conversation from ‘unmanned’ to autonomousOur reading from Ronald Arkin explores this issue.
  3. While it is important to focus on the limitations and moral challenges of unmanned systems, we will also explore the ways in which unmanned systems are morally preferable to their manned counterparts (All the pilots scream a hearty “HELL NO!” but there are strong moral arguments in their favor, as BJ Strawser lays out in his reading for this section).
  4. We talked about accountability when discussing targeted killings, but unmanned systems raise a similar issue – our moral commitments are socially created. The employment of unmanned, potentially autonomous systems raise important questions for how the United States (or any democracy) undergoes the process of public will formation with respect to moral questions. To phrase it as a question, how do we as a society think responsibly about the limits we place on ourselves in war?

We’ll run a poll tonight on how we want to run class tomorrow with the State of the Union. I think they’re pretty important to watch, especially as they contribute to topic area #4, but we’ll figure it out.

#METC: Targeted Killings

Tonight we’ll start our segment on targeted killings. Given that the recently leaked DOJ White Paper concerning the legal rational for killing Anwar Al-Awlaki and some of the leaked information about the broader classified drone program likely informs people’s thinking on the subject, this is probably a good time to remind those folks participating in #METC who have a clearance that leaked classified material retains its original classification, and discussing it on twitter is not the smartest thing you could do with your evening. So long as we keep our conversation at the level of the moral implications of targeted killings as a practice, everyone should be fine. We will not be discussing classified US programs or policy regardless of whether we can read about them in the Washington Post. I know you want you; I’d love to too. But it’s a jackass rookie mistake that we’re all to smart to make.

Likewise, the purpose of #METC is to discuss the moral implications of targeted killings, not engage in political commentary, so keep your opinions about specific individuals, political parties, or administrations to yourself. When in doubt, depersonalize. We’re here to discuss the substance of the act, not throw stones. To be clear, I’m not shushing any of our regular #METC participants; I have been very impressed — though hardly surprised — by your professionalism. I just anticipate this topic and our next will attract some emotion; this is me telling you that it should not come at the expense of intelligence or reason.

Some issues that will come up in our discussion:

  • The difference between targeted killing and assassination: assassinations being the treacherous killing of high-profile individuals in a time of peace and targeted killings being the military killing of specifically designated combatants in a time of war;
  • Rule vs act consequentialism: Act consequentialism is an approach to moral reasoning that weighs the consequences of a particular act (the morally right thing to do is the act that yields the desired consequences). Rule consequentialism is a similar approach to moral reasoning that evaluates the consequences of the act becoming precedent (the morally right thing to do is the act that yields the desired consequences if everyone did the act as a rule);
  • Definitions of combatancy: Here we will be discussing two forms of combatancy spelled out in the ICRC’s helpful Interpretive Guidance on the Notion of Direct Participation in Hostilities and its distinction between “Direct Participation in Hostilities” (DPH) and “Continuous Combat Function” (CCF) “continuous combat function requires lasting integration into an organized armed group acting as the armed forces of a non-state party to an armed conflict. Thus, individuals whose continuous function involves the preparation, execution, or command of acts or operations amounting to direct participation in hostilities are assuming a continuous combat function. an individual recruited, trained and equipped by such a group to continuously and directly participate in hostilities on its behalf can be considered to assume a continuous combat function even before he or she first carries out a hostile act” (Interpretive Guidance, 34); and,
  • What it means to be at war with a non-state actor.

We’ll look at the moral implications of unmanned systems starting next Monday, so let’s hold our discussion of drones until then. I know most people see the two issues of targeted killings and drones as the same, but they’re not. Tonight we’re talking about targeting and combatancy — who may the state justifiably target with lethal force, and why? You can target them with a drone, an F-18, or a gun. The platform used to do the killing is secondary to the justification for the killing. When we discuss drones we’ll look at combatancy from a different perspective: what does it mean to have combatants far removed from the danger of the battlefield, and what does it mean to have non-humans serving as combatants (in the case of autonomy)? The platform itself is the moral question, and the targets are of secondary concern.

#METC: Conversation Summaries

With nothing but respect and admiration for his wife and their marriage, I want to publicly confess my love for @El_Grillo1. He has selflessly taken the time to summarize our conversations in #METC so folks can go back and review our discussion or catch up on those conversations they may have missed.

I can’t promise these summaries are 100% accurate; I’ve curated a few extraneous sub-conversations out, and tweets that don’t include the hashtag are more likely to be lost, but this is a pretty good review of our conversations. If they seem a little informal, that’s because we’ve been informal in our exchanges. I’ll keep updating this page as we have new summaries available.

Also, if you’d like to follow the #METC conversation in real time, just follow the hashtag, or follow the exchange on tweetwally.

#METC: Moral Development

In this session we will explore leaders’ responsibility to develop their subordinates morally and ethically.  This can be a topic that makes people uncomfortable; there are some leaders who see developing their subordinates morally as the most intrusive form of leadership.  In the military, the moral development of subordinates is part of what it means to professionalize the force, by developing the junior service members’ skills, capacity for leadership, character, and sense of duty. Robinson’s reading for this section gives a broader justification of moral development as a leader’s responsibility.

Lawrence Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development have received strong criticisms from some for being an overly gendered (male-focused), western, and progressive view of moral growth. For our purposes, all of those criticisms may be true; yet, his approach still retains value for keeping us mindful of the fact that what motivates you to act morally will likely be different from what motivates an 18 year old new recruit. Likewise, two 18 year olds may not be motivated by the same factors, so your efforts to cultivate them will necessarily differ.

A key feature of our conversation the next two nights will center around how to do this at the organizational level. It is one thing to tailor your motivational and mentoring strategies in situations of direct leadership; it is quite another to do so at the battalion / squadron level and above.

Conceptually, the leadership challenge is to communicate effectively to people who are motivated differently in order to maintain obedience, initiative, and moral action. Joseph Thomas translates Kohlberg’s stages into a military context that helps further clarify the relationship between professionalization and ethical development.

All of these readings help put some meat on the bones of last week’s topic of motivating moral behavior. James Rest sets out four components of moral behavior including moral sensitivity, judgment, motivation, and character. While Kohlberg is framed as moral motivation and judgment (what convinces us to act morally), Rest gives us a fuller picture of how moral development influences behavior, and the leadership challenges and opportunities associated with cultivating development in subordinates.

We’ll also look at the challenge of moral failure – as a leader, you have the ability to help subordinates turn failures into opportunities for further growth. This does not remove the necessity of accountability, but reframes accountability as restorative, rather than retributive. I know it sounds cheesy like that, but the fact remains the same. Failure provides opportunities for growth (for the individual and the unit). Thinking through how you can foster growth from failure is an important part of developing your subordinates.

Quick admin note: I’ll be unavailable for #METC this Wednesday evening, so we’ll start our section on targeted killings on Thursday. Sorry for the shift in the schedule, but I can’t move this particular commitment.