War, Morality, and the Military Profession

By Malham M. Wakin | Go to book overview

11 Conflicting Loyalties and the American Military Ethic

Philip M. Flammer

Professor Flammer, a former Air Force officer, critically evaluates in this paper the status of the military ethic. He provides a standard perception of the strains produced by the assumption of power in the military hierarchy and some helpful distinctions, e.g., between "professionalism and "careerism," between legitimate ambition and selfish concern for personal image. He catalogues a number of specific instances where compromise of integrity and stubborn unwillingness to admit error led military leaders and others to moral disasters. He highlights the dangers in a "zero defects" mind-set and the critical problems that result from unwillingness to report errors. Flammer also provides a brief analysis of the concept of loyalty and its distortions within the military structure. In general, he emphasizes great concern and support for the highest values of the military ethic and is saddened by the fact that the ethic is not suffciently indicative of current practice among American military professionals.

—M.M.W.

After visiting the United States in 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville noted that while democracies need armies, they inherently find these "troublesome." The nation and the army, he wrote, have "opposite tendencies" which "expose democratic communities to great dangers." 1 The "opposite tendencies" between a political democracy and its armed forces are obvious. The former is oriented towards the individual with emphasis on personal freedoms. It is characterized by debate,

Reprinted from The American Behavioral Scientist 19, no. 5 ( May/June 1976), pp. 589-604, by permission of the publisher, Sage Publications, Inc.

-157-

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