Academic journal article Military Review

The Noncommissioned Officer as Moral Exemplar

Academic journal article Military Review

The Noncommissioned Officer as Moral Exemplar

Article excerpt

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IN WAR, TRUTH IS THE FIRST CASUALTY," according to Greek tragic dramatist, Aeschylus (525-456 BCE). To be sure, war places Soldiers under physical, emotional, spiritual, and moral forces that influence them to violate their personal and professional moral identities. Such violations often have significant, far-reaching effects to the Army's long-term detriment. The Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) corps can and ought to have a positive moral influence on the Soldiers it leads. Today's highly deployable Army needs NCOs who view themselves as moral agents and moral exemplars. In the following discussion, I attempt to outline reasons for this need and an ideal for what an NCO as a "moral exemplar" should entail.

Why Does the Army Need NCOs to Be Moral Exemplars?

The introduction to Field Manual (FM) 6-22, Army Leadership, lists two characteristics of the ideal Army leader as "[of] high moral character" and "serves as a role model." (1) Questions raised in the current operational environments over the last several years indicate why emphasis should be placed now on developing NCOs as moral exemplars. Military service is filled with ethical problems that today have strategic ramifications beyond their normal moral implications. Opportunities for moral collapse abound in complex environments, and there are critical utilitarian reasons for avoiding such failures. Moral collapse has a far-reaching influence not only on unit climate and relationships, but also on mission success, public support of military operations, and relationships between U.S. forces and those of other nations. (2) The nature of the "three block war" requires that NCOs, and the Soldiers they lead, be deeply grounded in ethical principles that enable morally adaptive functioning. (3) Soldiers must transition from combat to establishing and maintaining law and order, providing humanitarian assistance, and engaging in nation building, while applying not only the technical skills needed, but also the moral principles required for such a transition.

Protracted conflict has always had an adverse effect on combatants' moral judgment and behavior. (4) Nontraditional enemies are elusive, and conflicts can often escalate quickly. Soldiers under such conditions are often tempted to view the local population as the enemy. Because of long exposure to the stresses of trying to discern the enemy, discipline in adhering to protections for noncombatants may slip. The prohibitions laid out in FM 27-10, The Law of Land Warfare, and in rules of engagement have less purchase in such conditions. The extreme "otherness" of an indigenous noncombatant population cannot help but influence a young person thrust into combat. (5) Highly lethal and disproportionate methods may become more acceptable in mitigating risk at the expense of unintended casualties. In such conditions, a combatant can readily fall into bad-faith and become careless about the innocent population. Reducing the impulse to carelessness is morally and strategically paramount; there should be an active effort to inculcate a moral perspective in the force through front-line leadership example.

The Army continues to experience a significant number of moral failures. During the first four years of the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, over 100 crimes occurred, including rape, murder, assault, and theft. (6) There continue to be a significant numbers of sexual assaults, sexual misconduct, and other crimes. The Army places great importance on programs designed to prevent such moral lapses. Emphasizing the NCO as a moral exemplar can help reinforce the modern strategic necessity that Soldiers rigorously conduct themselves according to moral expectations.

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Soldier moral development. A study of initial entry training indicates a limited effect on Soldiers' moral development with no significant change in the pattern of moral decision making. …

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