Morals under the Gun: The Cardinal Virtues, Military Ethics, and American Society

Article excerpt

Only the dead have seen the end of war.

-Plato, 347 B.C.

Morals under the Gun: The Cardinal Virtues, Military Ethics, and American Society by Dr. James H. Toner. University Press of Kentucky (http:// www.uky.edu/UniversityPress), 663 South Limestone Street, Lexington, Kentucky 40508-4008, 2000, 215 pages, $29.95.

Ethics isn't for sissies. It requires not only mental effort to cogitate the concepts but also the character of conviction to act upon them. As Dr. Jim Toner argues in Morals under the Gun, "Ethics is owing." That message is his paramount motive behind this new book-to spur readers on to moral, ethical works. Living up to his reputation as a leading military ethicist (and part-time baseball coach), once again Toner has hit a home run in the field of military ethics. This book demands more than one read, and it should become a seminal work in ethics studies.

Like the "weeping prophet" Jeremiah, Toner sounds an alarm by declaring that ethics is in real trouble, having come under the gun of socially driven relativism and its effects on social mores, religion, and military service. Regardless of the reader's profession, this uncompromising indictment of our time hits home, providing a pragmatic approach to a deep philosophical subject and going beyond mere academic contemplation to the realpolitik of everyday life. We all can, and should, do a little more thinking about why we act the way we do as we maintain our pace on the hamster wheel. Toner provides insight.

Because his initial approach is rather Machiavellian-although more in method than in message-some unsettled readers may toss the book early without realizing that the errant pitch is intended for effect. …