Military Ethics Lapses: Is There a Crisis of Character?

By Erwin, Sandra I. | National Defense, April 2014 | Go to article overview

Military Ethics Lapses: Is There a Crisis of Character?


Erwin, Sandra I., National Defense


Following a string of scandals in the military ranks, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is looking to appoint a senior officer to ensure that "moral character" is given higher priority across all activities.

A steady stream of revelations about military misbehavior over the past several months shocked many observers. Opinion polls have shown that the armed forces are among the most respected and admired institutions in the United States.

But the alleged misconduct - ranging from cheating on tests to engaging in fraudulent contracting, sexual abuse and illegal drug use - is not surprising considering the sliding moral standards in society as a whole, says J. Phillip "Jack" London, executive chairman and chairman of the board of CACI International Inc. in Arlington, Va.

CACI is a $3.8 billion information technology and professional services company, with much of its business coming from government contracts. London, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, served as CACI chief executive officer from 1984 to 2007.

It was after he stopped running the company day to day that he began to spend more time "looking at trend lines," London says in an interview. Among the trends he saw was a degradation of moral character in American society and its implications on individuals and institutions. His thoughts and observations were captured in a recently published book, titled, "Character: The Ultimate Success Factor."

Hagel's concerns about ethical lapses becoming a "growing problem" are not off track, says London. "I started thinking about this about three or four years ago," he says. "I spend a lot time and energy looking at trend lines. Ethics is another trend line I see that is not going in the right direction."

London believes every organization should put more emphasis on shaping its culture as one based on moral character. "I have incorporated the importance of character into CACI's culture, and over the years I have written it into CACI management manuals," he writes in the book's foreword.

In the interview, he characterized recent instances of military misconduct as "sad and tragic." He believes it will take more than appointing an ethics czar to bring about lasting change.

'Tve been watching this for over four decades, so I'm kind of an authority" on the subject, he says. "This is not a problem that is fixed with a one-time memo solution," London says. "You can't hire an ethics officer" and expect immediate results.

What is happening now is the result of a protracted lack of attention to ethics, he says. "There hasn't been enough focus on this in my opinion. …

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