War, Morality, and the Military Profession

By Malham M. Wakin | Go to book overview
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12 Loyalty, Honor, and the Modern Military

Michael O. Wheeler

In this article, Michael Wheeler focuses on the concept of loyalty, particularly as it is relevant to the military profession. He analyzes the standard perception of military obedience, opting for "reflective" rather than "unquestioning" obedience in the military and pointing up the role that loyalty must play in military discipline. He suggests that loyalty, to be effective in the long term, must be inspired by trust rather than fear, and that trust is given to the person who possesses a clearly consistent moral integrity.


Like many other abstractions, loyalty is an often confusing, much abused concept. It has been employed by different people in different ages to mean a host of different things. For instance, author Hannah Arendt has written in her highly acclaimed work The Origins of Totalitarianism that "Himmler's ingenious watchword for his SS men [was] 'My honor is my loyalty.'" 1 Himmler's use of "loyalty" was intended to convey a certain idea to his listeners. Unfortunately, one finds much the same distorted idea in contemporary U.S. society— the notion of the dedicated military professional as one who gives his unthinking consent to all orders issued to him, whose very honor is a function of his unquestioning obedience.

Upon examination, it becomes apparent that this view of the military man is troubling to professional military officers as well as to civilian critics of the stereotyped "military mind." To quote Colonel Malham M. Wakin of the United States Air Force Academy faculty:

Reprinted from Air University Review, vol. 24, no. 4 ( May-June 1973) by permission.


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