"Military Ethics and Virtues: The Attitudes Required for a Cross-Cultural/Inter-Religious Dialogue"
Prof. Michel Dion
Faculty of Business Administration
Université de Sherbrooke
2500, boul. Université
Tel: 1-819-821-8000, ext. 62913
According to Aristotle, in all
nations which are able to gratify their ambition, military power is held in
esteem. He added that some nations have laws that stimulate "warlike
Military reflect the main values of their society, whether it is freedom,
equality, tolerance, respect for each other. It can hardly happen that military
will contradict the basic social values that define the essence of their
societal culture. But it could be the case. For instance, there could be a
society in which equality between men and women implies that there must be
neither discrimination, nor harassment against women, on one hand, and on the
other hand, male military who practice discrimination or harassment against
their female comrades. In other situations, questionable practices that are socially
tolerated or justified (such as torture, intimidation in the workplace) could
also be observed in the military services, as if military then acted as “people
in the street” (the “citizen-soldier”: the responsibility of the soldier as a
citizen; military are collectively guilty of the “crime of an unjust war”).
Military can also reflect the main values and attitudes that are shared in the
sub-continental area (for instance, the primacy of individual freedom in North
America, or the “saving face issue” in
I- Military Virtues
Military virtues are rooted in military traditions and customs that have been developed throughout the history of military services in a given country. They reflect the way virtues are acquired according to Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). Aristotle said that virtue acquisition implies three stages: (1) we undertake virtuous actions because of the expected pleasure (reward) or pain (punishment) (the priority of rules); (2) we adopt role models: virtuous people give the "example" (the priority of role models); (3) we develop a habit of virtuous actions: "we become just by doing just acts" (the priority of practicing virtue).
It is interesting to notice how Plato was defining the “cardinal virtues” as being rooted in our basic nature:
“Now goods are of two kinds, human and divine; and the human goods are dependent on the divine; and he who receives the greater acquires also the less, or else he is bereft of both. The lesser goods are those of which health ranks first, beauty second; the third is strength, in running and all other bodily exercises; and the fourth is wealth (…) And wisdom, in turn, has first place among the goods that are divine, and rational temperance of soul comes second; from these two, when united with courage, there issues justice as the third; and the fourth is courage. Now all these are by nature ranked before the human goods, and verily the law-giver also must so rank them”.
(a) Traditional Military Virtues
(1) LOYALTY implies discipline (and thus self-control) and obedience to orders: it does imply a notion of “partnership” (and thus a team spirit and teamwork, and thus social cohesion within the troops) between superiors and subordinates, particularly in mission fulfillment. Such partnership among military officers and soldiers reflects a value of cooperation. In that context, the scope and meaning of loyalty is not self-evident. Are soldiers loyal to their superiors (moral obligation towards the superiors)? To the troops (moral obligation towards the comrades as fellow soldiers)? To the Commander-in-Chief (moral obligation towards the Commander-in-Chief)? To the Army (moral obligation towards the Army itself)? To the country (moral obligation towards the country)? Other levels of moral obligation are much less self-evident: To the Minister of Defence? To the Prime Minister? To the Constitution of their country? These are the theoretical levels of accountability we have to discern in any ethical decision-making process related to military services.
And what does it mean to be loyal in each of these cases? Does it imply a blind (unreflective) obedience to orders? As said Kaurin (1999), loyalty implies to use our rational reflection and to consider our own feelings and moral values to analyze the orders of our superiors. Loyalty is basically required to have an efficient functioning of the military services. Groll-Ya’ari (1994) said that there is an “unprecedented burden of responsibility” implying that military personnel have been court-martialed and punished for obeying the wrong order (checking every aspect of superiors’ orders: the responsibility for obeying unlawful or illicit (immoral) orders). It means that soldiers can judge their superiors’ orders and even override such orders in given critical situations". On the other hand, disobeying licit (moral) orders can open the door to punishment for insubordination. Soldiers must then examine the licit (moral) nature of orders they have to execute, and the risk to be punished for insubordination (the level of doubt about the moral nature of orders). This is what we could call the "enlightening process of obedience": moral questioning is putting light on the effects of executing our superiors' orders. And such a moral questioning must never be a process that reduces the trust relationships between superiors and subordinates. Otherwise, the social cohesion within the troops should be deeply harmed; basically, the military environment requires obedience to superiors' orders. Indeed, the moral questioning of soldiers should be seen as a way to reinforce hierarchical relationships based on mutual trust. We must admit that it will require a high level of maturity from superiors as well as subordinates. Obeying to orders does not mean that soldiers cannot know the morality of committing atrocities, said Toner (2006). A minimum moral knowledge is expected from every military. This moral knowledge can vary from culture to culture, but it should never exclude the universal norms of ethical behaviour that are transmitted through the various sources of natural law. There is an “a priori” principle that military orders are legal and should then be executed. However, realities could be different, so that we should not obey the order if we believe that the “impartial spectator” (the reasonable person using his/her common sense and referring to given ethical values) would consider the order as being immoral;
(2) moral and physical COURAGE: courage implies risk, and then the awareness of potential dangers. If there is no risk, we cannot claim that our action was courageous. But does courage imply to overcome given fears? Are we courageous if we do not feel any kind of fear in face of objective risks? Indeed, risk is connected either to potential dangers (the perception of known dangers or the apprehension of unknown dangers), or to the lack of knowledge about the risky situation (a given action could be risky because we have few information about it, so that we are not sure that our action is the optimal decision, considering the situation). Insofar as risk is related to dangers and/or a lack of knowledge about a given situation, fear could arise in our state of mind: either a fear closely linked to the arising of the danger, or a fear not to take the right decision. It is quite clear for physical courage (physical integrity, suffering and death). As said Rollo May (1950), fear has a specific object. "In fear, we are aware of ourselves as well as of the object, and we can orient ourselves spatially with reference to the thing feared (…) In fear, your attention is narrowed from the object because it occupies a particular point spatially". Courage requires fear, because risks imply fears. It is not a risk if we do not fear to see it actualized. In that sense, courage is the state of mind that makes us possible to overcome our fears, not to get rid of them (fear-overcoming). According to Aristotle, courage is particular displayed in face of "objects of fear". Those who are not troubled in face of terrors will behave rightly as courageous beings "in a fuller sense" than those who rightly behave in situations that inspire confidence. It does not mean that courage implies fearlessness, but rather that the most courageous beings are not troubled when they are facing terrors. In that case, the most courageous beings will suffer pain "unwillingly" but endure them because it is noble to do so, said Aristotle. The highest level of courage is then linked to a sense of nobility, or honour. According to Aristotle, human beings who suffer pain with angry and take pleasure in revenge are not courageous people, since the motive of their confidence is not honour. They are ruled over by their emotions. Their emotion "cooperates with them". Cooperation between emotion and the whole personality of brave people could consist in the fact that fear makes prudence possible. It is quite important when one faces unforeseen dangers since in that case the individual cannot prepare himself/herself throughout calculation and reference to principles of action.
Now, what kind of risk is involved in moral courage? The risk that is assumed is connected to the possibility to choose the morally wrong alternative of action, particularly when the situation is morally ambiguous. Moral courage is based on a strong belief that our action is morally grounded and on the willingness to face the adverse effects that such action will have on our self-interest (social status, friendship, etc.). Now, can courage involve fearlessness? Such strange assertion could be made. However, it is very difficult to find out philosophical and psychological grounds for such a "revolutionary notion of courage". Is courage as fearlessness possible? Courage as fearlessness could be identified in a Buddhist framework, since the belief in reincarnation does insist on the necessity to get rid of any fear, particularly the fear to die. However, Buddha proclaimed the absolute primacy of non-violence. He said that conquering our self is better than the conquest of other people (Dhammapada, 104-105). According to Buddha, he who kills other beings (those beings were searching for their own happiness), will never find happiness after his death (Dhammapada, 131). In that context, courage as fearlessness is not courage as such, because there is no independent self that could be qualified as being "courageous".
(3) INTEGRITY, RESPECT, and HONOUR: honour seems to be closely linked to acts of courage as well as a sense of honesty or integrity. But the sense of integrity is itself a condition for trust to be developed. Trust is inspired by integrity and respect. We cannot trust dishonest people: the lack of trust is due to the discontinuity between our own notion of honesty and others' behaviour. Integrity is required to be both a person of honour and a reliable individual. A lack of integrity from people we know makes us reducing our trust in them. In the same way, trust is inspired by the respect we receive from others. If we are not respected by our superiors, they seem to consider ourselves not as persons or subjects. Then how could we trust them?
(4) SERVICE TO THE COUNTRY: this is a moral duty towards collective welfare and more particularly to the country (defending public/national interest and supporting national policies, protecting the State). However, military are apolitical. Service to the country implies an attitude of self-sacrifice. According to Snider, Nagl and Pfaff (2000), the duty of military officers is to serve society, that is, "to provide that which they cannot provide for themselves - security". Snider et al (200) believed that there is a moral obligation between military officers and the society they serve. Military officers are then conceived as "agents of society.
(b) Military Leadership
Leaders can make possible for their followers (subordinates) to exploit their potentialities (transformational leadership). Ethical leaders are those leaders who can mould the ethics of their organization. Toner (2006) said that “moral failures by the troops are at heart leadership failures”. According to Groll-Ya’ari (1994), military leaders must always be ready to lead, and thus:
(a) leading by example (through deeds and words), that is, performing our duties with excellence: as said Toner (1998), "the commander must be a "model of excellence". Excellence would mean that military leaders are able to harmonize their spiritual values, physical needs (and integrity) and (mental) self-control, said Snider et al (2000). Ethical organizations have ethical leaders. Ethical leadership is a condition to develop an ethical culture within a given organization. There are other conditions that are required to ensure that a given organization will have an "ethical substance";
(b) providing competence in order to ensure reliability of military forces: ensuring that combat operations are led with the optimal level of skill, expertise and knowledge,
(c) carrying out military missions successfully (mission fulfilment): military officers are those who succeed in military missions and whose actions are considered as the right ones (such actions indeed contributed to the success of military missions). In given situations, particular conducts (such as intimidation, harassment) can reduce, if not destroy, the combat effectiveness and even cause the death of many comrades, said Toner (2006). Toner (2006) rightly suggested that we could adopt: (i) a “microscopic/pragmatic perspective” (deriving ethics from the requirements of military operations: developing the sense of ethics out of military purposes, that is, the ends justify the means (Machiavelli: for instance, deliberately killing innocents, destructing properties). In that case, military necessity is easily to define and declare. Moral action is seen as actually increasing military effectiveness, or (ii) a “macroscopic perspective” (applying an overarching sense of ethics to military situations): mission fulfillment should never be the ultimate consideration in military ethics, said Toner (2006), because some victorious military operations could be linked to unjust wars and conflicts. Military success in given missions, military purposes and military necessity should never be considered as ultimate ethical criteria. The macroscopic perspective refers to virtues as “practices of thinking wisely and acting justly”, said Toner (2006), that is, to the virtue of wisdom and that of justice;
(d) using human and material resources with the highest effectiveness and a minimum rate of losses (minimizing collateral damages): here, we could identify two different notions of evil: (i) the evil coming from military intervention; (ii) the evil following from the non-intervention. Then, we should compare both notions of evil and see to what extent damages are more important in the case of the intervention or in the case of the non-intervention. To resolve the problem, we must have a "hierarchy of damages" (and then a utilitarian moral calculus could become possible). However, we must understand that such hierarchy is basically qualitative, so that it will not be self-evident if some damages (for instance, to the environment) should be equivalent to other damages (for instance, civilians' death), or not. The hierarchy of damages (or pains) implicitly refers to a hierarchy of pleasures. A utilitarian approach of ethical issues favours the highest happiness (more pleasures than pains) for the greatest number of people who are affected by the decision or action.
II- Cross-cultural and Inter-Religious Dialogue on Ethical Issues in the Military Services
A multicultural society implies a
plurality of cultures. Most of the time, such cultures do not share the same
definition and scope of ethics. It is particularly true when we consider
religions as such. Is it possible to get a common meaning and scope for ethics
and ethical behaviour? There is no need to discuss cultural and religious
conditionings of basic human rights when such rights are violated. For
instance, we must not spend time to discuss about the so-called cultural and
religious conditionings of an "ethical cleansing or genocide" (like
in Serbia/Croatia/Bosnia/Kosovo conflict; the East Timor conflict; the
World religions could exert pressure on political leaders in order to facilitate a cross-cultural/inter-religious dialogue on the global scene and to reduce the potential conflicts that could give birth to wars.
"On this level the world religions, drawing directly upon the sources for peace in their traditions, can begin to challenge world leaders to make the practical adjustments and, indeed, political concessions necessary to diminish the horrifying potential for nuclear war that hangs over all of us like the sword of Damacles by a precariously frayed thread".
Ethical Attitudes Required for a Cross-Cultural/Inter-Religious Dialogue
(1) I know that I don’t know: Miller (2004) rightly said that the Socratic inquiry implies the following stages: (i) to examine our intuitions, (ii) to probe the reasons that we give to justify those responses; (iii) to test such justifications against other intuitions until we get more general principles that we can accept. In that sense, the Socratic attitude implies to ask questions rather than looking at answers, so that through the act of talking about justice and courage, we are becoming someone who is more just and courageous, said Wortel and Schoenmakers (2006). As said Toner (1998), "the fact that we do not know everything does not mean that we do not know some things". Toner (1998) said that people usually understand what fairness is all about. It implies a pre-philosophical understanding of the meaning of fairness, that is, the scope of fair attitudes and behaviours. We are always searching for truth. Human being is a being who is continuously searching for truth, throughout the main components of human existence (inner life/self; interpersonal life/others; natural life/Nature; spiritual life/God, social life/Society). Throughout this "quest for truth", values could be considered as social constructs. They are moulded by the culture and society we live in. They are partially inherited from our family, adapted to some loci of socialization (school, friends, workplace) including some opportunities of benevolent involvement (community involvement, membership in a political party, adherence to a given religion or spirituality). When we "feel" what fairness is all about, it means that: (a) we have experienced the past fair and unfair behaviours and attitudes from others (and ourselves); (b) we have constructed a notion of fairness out of various meanings we received from various external conditioning factors and we have internalized this notion of fairness.;
(2) My perception of those behaviours that are universally considered as "good/bad, right/wrong": Toner (1998) said that human beings have a natural, innate knowledge of goodness and evil. How can we explain horrors and atrocities if human beings have such an innate knowledge? How could we justify the existence of such knowledge within human nature? The fact that all cultures, countries and eras recognized some core right/wrong behaviours (killing, stealing, for instance) could be interpreted as the effect of the historical development of civilizations rather than the reflection of the human “essence”. If we accept that there is no such innate knowledge of right/wrong, then we are asserting that such knowledge is purely cultural, so that there is a possibility that future civilizations get rid of it. So, either the knowledge of right/wrong is natural, and then we cannot explain the arising of evil in human existence, or it is cultural (and then it could take multiple forms and could potentially disappear as it is a social construct). We could resolve the paradox in saying that human beings have the intuition of what is universally considered as right/wrong. Such innate intuition is not knowledge of goodness and evil, but a pre-philosophical understanding of them. Cultures and civilizations can mould the way individuals will interpret their own pre-philosophical understanding of goodness and evil. In military operations, the perception of right/wrong could give birth to an ethical dilemma for soldiers: (1) they have learned (in their family life and from legal constraints) that killing a human being is morally wrong; (2) military operations could impose to kill some people in order to ensure public security. It is already self-evident that pacifists (such as Quakers and Mennonites) will refuse to be soldiers. But for those who believe in international peace but also on the necessity of military operations in given situations, the (personal) ethical dilemma is not resolved. That's why they need some "rules of engagement", that is, a set of guidelines that could give meaning and (moral and/or legal) justification for their behaviour in given situations (especially, the act of killing);
(3) The Way I perceive the Other: According to Levinas, the absolutely Other is the Otherness. The Otherness is infinitely transcendent. The Other is infinitely different from me. I cannot circumscribe the contents of Otherness through my own categories. The Otherness cannot be limited by my own thinking. The Otherness is the absolute newness. Being is being for the otherness. Practically speaking, how could we use our perception of the Otherness in a cross-cultural dialogue? According to Harris and Moran (1991), the following attitudes should be developed in order to "deflate the stress and tension of cultural shock": (1) being culturally prepared; (2) learning local communication complexities; (3) mixing with the host nationals (socialization); (4) being creative and experimental (daring to risk, try and learn); (5) being culturally sensitive (awareness of customs and traditions); (6) recognizing complexities in host cultures; (7) perceiving self as bearer of cultural traits; (8) being patient, full of understanding for hosts/others (tolerance, flexibility); (9) being most realistic in our expectations; (10) accepting the challenge of cross-cultural experiences. In doing so, we are letting others expressing their reality, out of their cultural and/or religious roots;
(4) The Way I am Working for Mutual Understanding: we cannot understand the other if our pre-conceptions are purely arbitrary, said the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002). Understanding the other implies: (a) to agree on the object: we must deal with the same object. Otherwise, we will never be able to reach mutual understanding; (b) to identify the other's view or opinion on the object; (c) to identify the historical horizon in which a given tradition is rooted: every object comes from a given tradition. Such tradition has an historical horizon as an answer that was given to an historical question: any opinion is an answer to an historical question. It could provoke a philosophical questioning when we are now looking at the object itself and the tradition in which it is grounded. According to Gadamer (1960), any process of building a horizon of present is basically linked to the horizon of the past. In other words, we cannot elaborate a contemporary horizon in our "here-and-now situation" without referring to the past conditionings of our thought and action. The Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Küng (1928- ) tried to develop a new “world ethic” that makes basic links between the paradigm of the past (the past which is still present in our life), the requirements of the present (the transitory present) and the possibilities of future (the future which is already present). In the context of an inter-religious dialogue, Küng said that we should manifest two basic attitudes: (1) being loyal to our own religious faith; (2) being open-minded in front of others;
(5) My Attitude of Tolerance and Respect For Others: respecting someone is recognizing that he (she) is a human being (and not a sub-human). It thus implies to admit that he (she) has a transcendental dignity, that dignity we cannot override without denying humanity as such. Human dignity reveals a basic equality of human beings. Moreover, respecting someone is also showing that we have a minimum "consideration" for him/her. Consideration for others is going over the recognition of their dignity. It presupposes an attitude of openness that characterizes our state of mind : to be open to anything we could find out in the others' experience or self. Respect for others is itself a condition for the actualization of some values and virtues. For instance, we cannot practice justice without respecting all people and individuals. We cannot feel compassion for suffering people without fully respecting them as persons. The German theologian and philosopher Nicholas of Cues (1401-1464) said that only cultural and religious diversities led to wars, cruelties and persecution. Such diversities are rooted in the history of peoples and cultures. De Cues was then promoting mutual respect and tolerance. Tolerance and respect for each other requires a cross-cultural awareness from all parties. According to Connerley and Pedersen (2005), such leader's awareness includes the following elements:
« (1) an ability to recognize direct and indirect communication styles; (2) a sensitivity to nonverbal cues; (3) an awareness of cultural and linguistic differences; (4) an interest in the culture; (5) a sensitivity to the myths and stereotypes of the culture; (6) a concern for the welfare of persons from another culture; (7) an ability to articulate elements of his/her own culture; (8) an appreciation of the importance of multicultural teaching; (9) an awareness of the relationships between cultural groups; (10) an accurate criteria for objectively judging "goodness" and "badness" in the other culture ».
(6) The Way I Initiate a Moral Dialogue with my Foreign Partners: any dialogue presupposes an attitude of mutual respect and honesty. We must be open-minded, so that we should not have any kind of moral certainty. Otherwise, any discussion about ethical issues will never be possible. It does not mean that we don't have moral convictions and values. Rather, it means that we are not ready to impose them to our partners. Does it imply that there is no absolute or universal evil we could define? No, ethical relativism presupposes either that there is no ultimate, universal notions of good and bad, right and wrong, or that there is no means to find out such universal notions. Ethical relativism is thus saying that even basic human rights can vary from culture to culture, and that they could be negated in given civilizations because of "cultural conditionings". Moral dialogue must recognize: (1) the truth of ethical relativism: some ethical issues could be connected to different rules and norms, depending on the societal culture and history; (2) the truth of ethical universalism: basic human rights as universal norms. There should be some evils that cannot be interpreted as a good; Miller (2004) gave the example of Nazism. According to Tsutsumibayashi (2005), it is very important to distance the inter-civilizational dialogue from some political ends: we could reach that end in creating shared moral values (share ethics) among peoples of various nations and cultures; it should a "world ethics" that will have political effects but that should never be subjected to a prior political manipulation;
(7) My Ability to Question Myself about Values and Practices in our Globalized World: Gadamer (1960) said that the act of questioning ourselves implies the knowledge of the "not-knowing", that is, the awareness that we do not know a lot about the object of our questioning. Questioning ourselves is searching for truth and accepting to be part of an authentic dialogue with others. Within the process of questioning, there is both a challenge and a danger: the challenge to overcome the pitfalls of ethnocentrism, and the danger to loose our own existential security. Such personal questioning has to circumscribe the areas of tolerance and those behaviours that cannot be tolerated because they are negating humanity as such. In other words, to be tolerant is not to tolerate everything. Basic human rights have to be safeguarded (ethical universalism), while other apparently questionable behaviours should be placed in their cultural/religious context (ethical relativism). Ethical discernment is the way to distinguish both kinds of ethical issues. The ability to question ourselves about values and practices is a condition to have an authentic search for the ultimate truth. The authenticity of the existential quest for truth presupposes that the individual is not considering that he/she is infinite, but rather that he (she) is accepting his/her own existential finitude. Authentic being is the being recognizing its own finitude and "having-to-die" condition.
How could we institutionalize ethical leadership and favour a cross-cultural/inter-religious dialogue in the military context? The answer to that crucial question has a twofold dimension: (1) the impact of training sessions on the individual abilities to participate in a cross-cultural/inter-religious dialogue; (2) the necessity to initiate cultural changes within the military organizational culture.
(1) Setting up Conferences and Training Sessions about Ethics and Cross-Cultural/Inter-Religious Dialogue in the Military Context: Three steps could be considered here:
(a) Setting up Military Conferences on Ethics, and the Cross-Cultural/Inter-religious Dialogue;
(b) Giving specific training sessions for all military officers: how to make a cross-cultural/inter-religious dialogue successful?
(c) Encouraging University professors, research assistants and graduate students to be involved in specific training sessions or Conferences.
(2) Creating Cultural Changes within the Organizational Culture of a Given Army: Two steps could be considered:
(a) Analyzing various changes within the military culture: updating the contents of such military culture in a given army; being pro-active in face of contemporaneous problematic situations;
(b) Dealing with cultural and religious diversity issues among the troops: it would thus require training sessions for improving the way the challenge of a cross-cultural and inter-religious dialogue is addressed.
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