The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those
of the author alone, cultivated in the freedom of expression,
and academic environment of the Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics (JSCOPE). They do not reflect the official
position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force, or the Air Force Reserve.
IMPLICATIONS OF Dereliction of Duty
By Major Carl D. Rehberg, USAF
1150 Air Force Pentagon
Washington DC 20330-1150
Comm (703) 697-7023 / DSN 227
“...I am now going to my grave with that lapse in moral courage."
Harold K. Johnson, Army Chief of Staff 1964-1968
1997 book, Dereliction of Duty, may become a critical treatise in the area
of military ethics. The research was
extensive (some 5 years), although it was primarily descriptive without incisive analysis or critique. Ironically, that may be the
most powerful aspect of the book. The facts and information are systematically laid out, and there is no doubt that the added
information will provide insights in both policy and military perspectives; the facts add weight to a number of previous theories.
Now, we may have a new theory--the Vietnam War would never have been fought if it had not been for the Joint Chiefs of
Staff (JCS): “The disaster in Vietnam was not the result of impersonal forces but a uniquely human failure, the responsibility for
which was shared by President Johnson, and his principal military and civilian advisors.” The book illuminates the critical
importance of strong and honorable character for military leaders, especially senior military leadership: “The military…engaged
in a mutually deceitful relationship, in that they did not question a strategy that they knew to be fundamentally flawed and instead
went along with the game.” It appears that some in the JCS went along “with the game” to protect the opportunity to further
the interests of their own service over the welfare of the nation, while other JCS members were misguided by conflicts of
Interest in Dereliction of Duty has spread throughout military circles, with an unprecedented degree of attention and
influence. Many Air Force members have purchased this book, especially after a Wall Street Journal article stated that it
had a significant influence on General Ronald Fogelman's decision to resign. According to Air Force Major General (Ret)
Perry Smith, who has known Gen Fogelman for 20 years, “He told me that Dereliction of Duty had a powerful influence on
his thinking.” This paper will examine some possible implications of this book to include character-related issues, and
options for military leaders when they are confronted with profound ethical issues or concerns. Additionally, the delicate issue
of military dissent, and a focus on a systemic personnel issue, the “up-or-out” promotion system.
This book calls into question former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara’s revisionist account constructed in his
book, Retrospect. Certainly, McNamara has been a villain in many Vietnam postmortems, and this book does not diminish
that charge. However, what it uncovers is that others were not only guilty of a “dereliction of duty,” but there was a
fundamental breakdown in moral character-- with a requisite lack of moral courage. Ironically, it appears that one of the first
casualties of the Vietnam War was the truth—it was shaded, evaded, spinned, and thinned!
President Johnson’s first meeting with the JCS set an important tone. He expected their unqualified support.
General Maxwell Taylor (former Army Chief of Staff under Eisenhower and Chairman, JCS under Kennedy and Johnson)
selected General Earle Wheeler for Army Chief of Staff because he believed Wheeler could be counted on for his personal
loyalty and support.  General Wheeler was predisposed to support the administration’s policy because he owed his position
to Taylor. The book incriminates Maxwell Taylor for not only lying to LBJ about the views of the chiefs, but also deceiving the
chiefs about the president’s policy aims. Equally contemptuous was the narrow-minded rivalry between services coupled with
loyalty to individual service over Constitution and country.
One example of service loyalty was a running feud among the JCS members regarding who was to be the next
CINCPAC. The Chiefs had ranked the candidates from the three services and General Jacob Smart of the USAF was the
winner. Admiral David McDonald, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), was dismayed because that command had always
been under Navy control. Admiral McDonald went directly to Secretary McNamara and pleaded his case. McNamara
intervened and selected a naval officer. McDonald felt indebted to McNamara. “McDonald, who had hitherto opposed
McNamara’s plans, no longer objected to them outside JCS meetings.”
Later, when policies went counter to the Chief's recommendations, McDonald and Wheeler indicated their reluctance
to challenge policy decisions already made “at the highest level.” Secretary McNamara appeared to want courtiers and
sycophants: “…advisors who would tell him what he wanted to hear…those who expressed views that ran counter to his
priorities would hold little sway…” “Kennedy and later Johnson didn’t really want military advice from the Chiefs. They
wanted people who would be acquiescent, who would be malleable.”
When the JCS went to the Hill to testify in July 1965, the Chiefs were expected to lie or, at least, to withhold the whole
truth. They did not disappoint! Specifically, General Johnson stated to Congress, after repeated questioning, that 250,000
troops would be needed (less than half what he actually believed), while General John McConnell, Air Force Chief of Staff,
refused to estimate the number of personnel the Air Force required. With the exception of General Greene, Marine Corps
Commandant, the JCS members misrepresented their own estimates of Vietnam to Congress. It appears that the Johnson
administration egregiously emasculated and politicized the senior military leadership. Largely through the maneuvers of
McNamara and Maxwell Taylor: “The president remained ignorant of the Chief’s opinions, and the Chiefs remained
ill-informed of the direction in which the administration’s Vietnam policy was headed.” Truth and honorable character
were sacrificed on the altar of misguided loyalty. There appeared to be a penchant for hyper-careerism and misguided loyalty
over Constitution and country; that was exacerbated by the careful selection of JCS members who would fit the “proper
Loyalty and Dissent
and the whole concept of “dissent” in the military is not only a confusing
topic, but also one that the military
rarely broaches. Ironically, misguided loyalty has led to many of the significant military-related “scandals” in the last three
decades. Although loyalty is imperative in the armed forces, it has the propensity to become misguided and is a common
underpinning to poor decisions and ethical shortcomings. Loyalty can lead to rationalizations, in the “bad sense”, e.g., “If
it’s legal or within regulations, it’s ethical,” etc. So what is loyalty? Loyalty is “…the faithful adherence to one’s promise, oath,
or word of honor.” In the context of military ethics, this means loyalty ought to be extended to those obligations one has
sworn to uphold and not confused with obsequium. For the military professional that must involve not only loyalty to
superiors, but loyalty to subordinates, the profession, and fundamentally to the Constitution found in the Oath of Office.
Some of the Chiefs compromised their views in exchange for positive concessions to their respective services.
Unfortunately, in the military, the concept of loyalty is many times understood as primarily being loyal to one’s superiors.
Service in the military profession requires a loyalty to ethical principles for the good of profession and the nation. Service
before self means putting the needs and goals of the Constitution, the nation, ahead of your own service, and any personal
needs and interests. It also appeared that the Chiefs believed the precedent set in the Truman-MacArthur controversy
obscured their loyalty to Congress, and their oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
There is no question that at least one of the important leaders has subsequently felt remorse for his actions. For
instance, Harold K. Johnson, Army Chief of Staff, reflected in Harry Summer's On Strategy II:
"I remember the day I was ready to go
over to the Oval Office and give my four stars to the president
and tell him, 'You have refused to tell the country they cannot fight a war without mobilization; ... and
you have forced us in the military to violate almost every one of the principles of war in Vietnam.
Therefore, I resign and will hold a press conference after I walk out your door.' "With a look of anguish,
General Johnson concluded: "I made the typical mistake of believing I could do more for my country
and the Army if I stayed in than if I got out. I am now going to my grave with that lapse in moral
Others were not as open and forthright,
but at least acknowledged there was a lack of moral courage and a weakness
of character. For example:
“Maybe we military men were all weak.
Maybe we should have stood up and pounded the table....I was
part of it and I’m sort of ashamed of myself, too. At times I wonder, “why did I go along with this kind
- Adm David L. McDonald, 1976
I think it is fair to say that Americans
want military leaders known by their strength of character and imagination.
Strength of character is essential when boldness is required to make decisions that may be crucial to a unit’s success or failure.
Officers/NCOs need to be more than cruise directors, trying to keep everyone happy and the ship afloat. To be successful in
leading there must be a joy in taking responsibility, not a desire to cover one's posterior. Why is this important? Because it is a
vital link to actual combat. That is why the courtiers and “yes men” do not make great military leaders. That does not
mean that every policy, directive, or order involves moral obligation. A good soldier, sailor, Marine or airman carries out
orders even, at times, if they do not agree with them, like them or understand them. Nevertheless, this should not negate one’s
ethical obligations or necessity for dissent when required. Dereliction of Duty exposes the problems of conflicting loyalties,
and the lack of honest dissent as critical issues. It also illuminates fundamental character weaknesses with a stark lack of moral
A Lack of Moral Courage?
of the significant choices that officers make is: Do I want to be
a person of form [looking good] or substance
[doing good]? Putting it another way: Do officers want just to make rank or do they want to do what is right “despite
internal or external pressures to the contrary?” The difference boils down to character! One primary virtue necessary for this
is courage—physical and moral! Courage (fortitude) is called the “great virtue” and it underlies the development of all the other
“Physical courage in the face of fire and hardship is, of course, required
of the [officer] if he is
to be a good leader. Most officers in a normal career, however, are unlikely to find themselves engaged
in combat for more than a relatively short period of that career. Their daily activities will require
another kind of courage--ethical and moral courage. Ethical courage requires a willingness to deal
with difficult situations without fear, to accept the risks and responsibilities, and if need be, to be willing
to bear the cost of a course of action that one believes is right. Without physical courage, a soldier
cannot be an effective combat leader; without moral courage, he cannot be an effective officer during
times of peace or war.”
people understand that physical courage requires you to do what is right--despite
the danger of physical injury or
death. Moral courage, on the other hand requires you to face dangers, but the dangers are generally more subtle. They may
be dangers to your career, popularity, your acceptance by your peers, or your next promotion. Moral courage is central to
whether we can maintain high ethical standards in the military. According to retired Army Colonel Dandridge Malone, the
military reached a low point during the Vietnam era when the primary values were “Me-My Ass-My Career.” Moral
courage is the primary means by which we realistically prepare for combat, instead of just “looking good.” Why? Moral
courage tends to be confidential or a form of one's conscience. An omission of moral courage by allowing a problem to
continue will rarely be noticed. It is most easily ignored during peacetime or far removed from actual combat, when there is no
apparent or imminent threat. Nevertheless, moral courage is imperative for leaders to insure deficiencies are uncovered and
fixed. Let us examine several contemporary examples of moral courage, leaders who did what was right instead of what was
convenient or “business as usual.”
Examples of Moral Courage
Although not widely known, John Boyd
(Colonel, USAF) was one of the greatest military theorists of the 20th
the author of the OODA Loop (Boyd Cycle) and the intellectual father of the Marine Corps’ Maneuver Warfare Doctrine.
Former Marine Corps Commandant, General Charles Krulak, calls Boyd an architect of the victory in the Persian Gulf. He
stated he was in awe of Boyd’s intellect, character, integrity, and his selfless devotion to our nation's welfare. As a 2nd
Lieutenant, Boyd saw his men freezing in an Asian winter because they lacked warm coats. He ordered a wooden hangar to
be destroyed for firewood that got the troops through the winter. Senior leaders put him before a court martial; he walked
away with a full acquittal. More than any other man, Boyd is responsible for our nation's unsurpassed air superiority, which
began in the mid-1970s and continues to this day. John Boyd was largely responsible for the combat effectiveness of the
F-15—redesigning it when it was too overweight to fly. He created the program that delivered the F-16 and F-18A. He was
also one of the nation's most successful military reformers, exposing wasteful spending and corruption in the Pentagon. His
wisdom for officers regarding superior-subordinate relationships was: “Ask me to be honest and you'll get my loyalty. But, ask
me for my loyalty [only] and all you'll get is my honesty."
Another example of moral courage is Colonel Jim Burton (USAF, retired). In his recent book, The Pentagon Wars,
Burton chronicles a story of moral courage (his and others) that reinforces the importance of developing officers of strong and
honorable character. Colonel Burton describes his adventures in the Pentagon, where he was involved in one of the biggest
controversies of the 1980s regarding weapon system procurement--the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Shortly after assuming the
position, Director of Operational Testing and Evaluation, Colonel Burton pursued live-fire testing of the Bradley Fighting
Vehicle. The Bradley Fighting Vehicle was already in production at this time. Billions of dollars and the reputation of the Army
were at stake. At the risk of reassignment and other “dirty tricks,” Colonel Burton pressed forward with tests, published the
results, and helped spur changes that protected soldiers riding inside the vehicle. His efforts undoubtedly saved scores of lives
in Desert Storm.
Legitimate Avenues of Dissent in the Military
There is no doubt that one of the most
neglected areas in officer professionalism is the whole aspect of dissent.
little time is spent in any of the officer commission sources regarding this indispensable topic, or even the vexing problem of
distinguishing between lawful and unlawful orders. This task can be extremely burdensome for even a senior officer with many
years of service and education. The same task for a junior lieutenant or airman may be practically impossible. Let us
examine the arena of unlawful or illegal orders because that may be one the most critical areas of dissent.
Lawful and Unlawful Orders
It is the officer’s duty to obey lawful
orders, but he/she may disobey--and indeed must, disobey unlawful orders.
has been the law of the United States since the birth of the nation.
There probably will be some instances in a person’s career where some orders will come into question and some may be
unlawful or immoral. We should not presume that orders we receive are illegal. Rather, we should presume that they are
legal. In fact, disobeying a lawful order is at the risk of the subordinate and subject to UCMJ actions. Keep in mind -- we
are under NO obligation to obey an unlawful order. Even if a subordinate is given an unlawful or unethical order by a
superior, the concept of respondiat superior (“let the superior be responsible”) does not hold up as a legal argument or an
Lawful orders have four basic criteria: (1) presumption of legality; (2) related to military duty, morale, or discipline; (3)
the executing member must have knowledge of, and it must be understandable and specific; (4) it must be within the authority
of the issuing officer.
A lawful order must relate to military duty, which includes all activities reasonably necessary to accomplish a military mission,
safeguard or promote the morale, discipline, and usefulness of members of a command and directly connected with the
maintenance of good order in the service. An officer cannot issue orders to settle personal and private matters or disputes.
Commanders must not issue an order as a matter of personal convenience. Additionally, an order may not conflict with the
statutory or the Constitutional rights of the person receiving the order.
You must have actual knowledge of the order and of the fact that the person issuing the order was authorized. The
order must be understandable in any form, e.g. written, verbal etc., but it is your responsibility, too, that you understand the
order. The order must be a specific mandate to do or not do something. An exhortation to “obey the law” or to “perform
one’s military duty” does not legally constitute an order. So what happens when military leadership is broached with the
dilemma of an unlawful order or significant policy disagreements that are detrimental to the country?
Some of the legitimate options (historical Western military traditions) for dissent include: “Request for Clarification,”
“Appeal Orders to Higher Command,” “Request for Relief in Protest,” and “Resignation.” A “Request for Clarification”
is a legitimate attempt, time permitting, to insist upon reiteration or further explanation of an order that may be illegal or
unlawful. An “Appeal Orders to Higher Command” is a legitimate attempt to bring potentially unlawful orders or unethical
policies to the attention of higher authorities. A “Request for Relief in Protest” or a request of transfer is another legitimate
way to carry out the moral obligation of command. Resignation may be the most profound option of dissent for the senior
military officer. It represents not only a legal right, but in some instances may be a moral obligation. Finally, the most extreme
dissent is the “refusal” to obey. The implications of Dereliction of Duty lead us to a detailed exploration of resignation.
and/or retirement may be the most acute method to deal with an unlawful
order or moral outrage toward a
bad policy. It should be rarely threatened and rarely used as remedy for significant issues. It is almost invariably most
appropriate for those of higher rank—general officers.
"Resignation is almost always a powerful
tool when used by a general officer. Indeed, it is the most effective
means of protest that a general officer can employ."
or retirement should not be broached lightly. It is not appropriate
for every problem or disagreement
regarding policy. Nor should every disagreement be cast or framed in ethical terms. Resignation is not a call for senior leaders
to become moral zealots. However, it is an important instrument to highlight a moral or ethical exigency. Resignation is a
legal right, and sometimes, even a moral obligation or responsibility. This course of action is consistent with the Constitution,
democratic values, and in no manner challenges civilian control of the military.
Even Professor Toner, Professor of Ethics at the Air War College, no proponent of resignation, believes resignations in
some circumstances are not only the best thing to do--they are ethically required: “…unless soldiers are prepared to stake out
ethical positions based upon high principle, the ‘national security’ which the military preserves could be at the cost of the honor
which is at the heart of the profession of arms.”
Military leaders should not sacrifice their integrity on the altar of political expediency or careerism. Rather, the ethos
should be: “Ask me for my integrity and you will have my loyalty, force me to be loyal, and the nation should expect loyalty to
the Constitution and integrity that is sine qua non.” As former Chief Staff of the Air Force, General Fogelman stated,
“Nothing destroys effectiveness any faster than a lack of integrity.”
“But the general should fear the dishonor
of denying the commander-in-chief his best professional judgment.
Morally, such a failure would be indistinguishable from abandoning one’s post under fire. The soldier [sailor,
Marine or airman] should be prepared not only to die for his country, but to be fired for it.”
Some may argue that the resignations
do not make a difference. Unfortunately, this point of view avoids
the issue of
moral obligations at the price of efficacy alone. Observing moral responsibilities is fundamental to the basis of all officership,
truly our first duty—to be honorable! Yet, even if the policy or policies do not change; resignation reinforces the obligations,
the meaning of officership and professionalism; a resignation can also provide a moral exemplar, and a role model. Ironically,
it appears that the JCS considered resigning en-masse, but thought it was actually a form of mutiny to resign and did not
seriously pursue it. Unfortunately, that misconception had no basis in fact, and almost any competent JAG could have told
If we are truly concerned about the America’s armed forces of the 21st Century, we can and must do much more. Let
me elaborate on three major areas that address the implications of Dereliction of Duty: comprehensive character development
in military education and training, developing an avenue for ethical dissent in the military, and systemic changes that include
reform of the "up-or-out" system.
Comprehensive Character Development
First, we should make character development
a primary focus for military education and training--not merely a strategic
goal or just another program. All services should adopt comprehensive character development architecture that includes
teaching ethical and martial virtues (especially the cardinal virtues), core values, ethics, the development of conscience,
ethical reasoning, and decision-making. The services need to go beyond mere core values training, there must be a strong
commitment to change the military culture, too. Character education should be fostered and gauged through education and
training that consistently requires leaders to make decisions, many decisions, quickly, with and without pressure, in both
classroom and field. Character education must begin at accessioning, precomissioning, basic training, and continue seamlessly
until retirement or separation. This focus must be on all commission sources--not just the service academies!
"A [person] of character in peace is
a [person] of courage in war. Character is a habit. The daily
choice of right and wrong. It is a moral quality which grows to maturity in peace and is not suddenly
developed in war."
General Sir James Glover
The services should work together with
chaplains, acknowledge the importance of the spiritual dimension, and use
Chaplain Corps in a positive manner. Mere knowledge or cognitive ability is not enough for effective character education.
The $64 dollar question in most ethical situations is motivation: Why should I do the right thing? There needs to be a larger
motivation to do what is right, something that is bigger than ourselves. Religious beliefs, for many, provide strong motivation
for ethical action. Even those who are not “religious” in the traditional sense often have “spiritual commitments” in a wider
sense. Spiritual roots can provide a solid foundation, motivation and a sense of meaning and purpose to do what is right.
The status of the Chaplain Corps should be enhanced and raised to a higher level by making them character
development/ethical advisors to commanding officers or unit commanders. Additionally, they should be central players in any
comprehensive character development architecture. Yet, we should not make the mistake that this work is the sole task and
property of the chaplain.
Next, DoD or the individual services should develop a Code of Ethics for their officer and NCO corps. Almost every
major study on military ethics or professionalism over the last thirty years has found a need for a code of professional ethics.
The US military has never had a formalized code of military ethics. Instead, it has had a hodgepodge of documents that have
been inadequate in helping inculcate and reinforce the special ethical responsibilities of military members. A code would
help unify the profession with a shared respect for common ideals and it would be much more definitive than mere core values
that change periodically and mirror many corporations. Ethical codes for the military have a rich and long history.
Aristotle, the teacher of the boy who would become Alexander the Great, developed a theory of philosophy in terms of
excellent character traits or virtues. Aristotle believed that one could become an excellent person only by performing excellent
actions until doing so becomes habitual. Even before Rome and Greece, there was a rich oral tradition and written history
describing deeds of service with noble intent of heroes long past. This continued through codes of chivalry in medieval times.
“Codes are encapsulations of wisdom and virtue…they exhort us to act as we should, and at their best, stimulate us to
investigate and discover more about the concepts they seek to promote.” Make no mistake, codes are not panaceas and
they have significant limitations. Codes should never be substitutes for education in wisdom and virtue, but they can be used as
a primer or catalyst to stimulate character development and cultural change.
Additionally, each of the services should initiate comprehensive research to assess their strengths and weaknesses in the
ethical arena. Comprehensive research would also help us determine how well programs are working while pointing out areas
that need exertion.
Moreover, the military should explore the post-bureaucratic paradigm, which is having a major impact due to the "Information
Revolution." While the U.S. military has been employing the bureaucratic organizational method for almost a hundred years
(longer in the case of the Navy), many believe that it will need to change dramatically in order to field relevant fighting forces in
the 21st century. Designed and successfully employed during the early part of the industrial age, bureaucracies deal poorly with
uncertainty, friction and change, especially the rapid change possible in an era of instant communications and intercontinental
flight. The post-bureaucratic paradigm calls for clarity of purpose, role and direction. It creates incentives and develops
accountability by focusing on results. It empowers people at the lowest level by rewarding initiative. The potential changes in
organizational ethos and the effects on ethical conduct need to be thoroughly researched and evaluated.
Finally, we need to encourage and support the return to character education in public schools. The services ought to
support this as an important policy for the nation, and the future moral health of the military without diminishing its fundamental
emphasis on character education in its own military education and training. In June of 1994, a major national survey stated that
76% of those polled believe the United States is in a moral and spiritual decline. Polls in late 1998 continue to demonstrate that
this is a major concern. Times are changing--values and character seem to be on a comeback! "Today the overwhelming
consensus is that public schools should teach values…A recent Gallup poll of parents with school-age children found that 84
percent want public schools to provide 'instruction that would deal with morals and moral behavior.'"
Ironically, character education is what this nation has done for most of its history. Jefferson in his landmark statement
on education wrote of the importance of calculation and writing, and of reading, history, and geography. He also emphasized
the need to "instruct the mass of our citizens in these, their rights, interests and duties, as men and citizens." Jefferson believed
education should aim at the improvement of both one's "morals" and "faculties." Jefferson's views have been the dominant view
of the aims of American education for over two centuries. As we work on the superstructure [gun control, more prisons] of
our society, we must not ignore the gaping moral hole in the foundations of our society--our moral development institutions.
We can work on the superstructure all we want, but many communities will decline, if we do not address a primary cause (not
symptoms) of many of our current social problems--character. One of the most important reforms critical to supporting those
of strong and honorable character in the military is providing an avenue or process for ethical dissent.
We must develop institutions and policies
that will reward those of strong and honorable character by developing
avenues of ethical dissent, not unlike other Western democracies or whistleblower provisions developed recently in this country
for other government employees.
According to Gabriel: "…the United States, has not been unsuccessful
in promulgating a doctrine concerning the subject, while
other nations have developed an ethos of protest within their respective military structures." We must insure that the
military culture changes so that truth and responsibility become the impulse, instead of damage control and protecting service or
For ethical dissent to have any possible voice, we must continue the cultural change against zero defects and rampant
careerism. We must encourage personnel to be honest about shortcomings, instead of emphasizing short-term goals and
expedience that puts many in the dilemma of expediency or failure. A culture or ethos that reinforced the following
statement would be a gigantic step in that direction: “No soldier, sailor, Marine or airman will punish, allow the punishment of,
or in any way harm or discriminate against a subordinate or peer for telling the truth.” The services should start with a more
comprehensive educational plan dealing with the concepts of unlawful orders and ethical dissent. Ethical dissent and
development of the “will to dissent” should be a part all character education and training. However, education and the
development of individuals of strong and honorable character will not be sufficient, there must be systemic changes that
reinforce our ethical ideals.
“You always have to look at what happens to the truth-tellers of an organization. If they’re kicked out
for being rabble rousers, that’s sending exactly the wrong message.”
Lily Kelly-Radford, Center for Creative Leadership
In 1997, the Air Force developed a publication
titled, United States Air Force Core Values (also known as the Little
Blue Book). In that publication, it states boldly: “…we must thoroughly evaluate and, where necessary, fix our policies,
processes and procedures.” Several major processes highlighted by a number of studies as needing major reform include
Acquisition, Planning Programming Budgeting System (PPBS), and personnel systems. Dereliction of Duty focused
primarily on senior leaders and personnel. This should lead us to a focus on the personnel systems that deal primarily with
promotion and related issues. The American armed forces should start with its number one criterion for selection and
promotion: strong and honorable character.
In 1970, General William Westmoreland asked the US Army War College to do research titled, Study on Military
Professionalism. The results of the study so frightened senior leaders that the study was classified for a number of years. The
study not only found significant problems with the ethical well being of the officer corps in Vietnam, it found that there were
deep systemic problems, too. One of the systemic problems identified was the “up-or-out” promotion system. The study
found that the behavior, attitudes and culture of the military derived significantly from a promotion system that “…focuses on the
accomplishment of short term, measurable, and often trivial tasks, and neglects the development of those ethical standards
which are essential to a healthy profession.” The study found that misconduct was caused by “…seniors who sacrificed
integrity on the altar of personal success, and [junior officers] were impatient with what they perceived as a preoccupation with
A few years later a study conducted at the Army War College by Lieutenant Colonel Melvile A. Drisko replicated the
earlier study and found many of the problems existed in other services, with a very spotty approach to subject of ethics in the
military profession. Additionally, a number of books have also addressed the need for the reform of the "up-or-out"
system. Some of the most noted books that have addressed this topic include: America Can Win by former Senator Gary
Hart and William Lind; The Pentagon and the Art of War, by Edward Luttwak; The Spitshine Syndrome by Christopher
Bass; Crisis In Command by Richard Gabriel and Paul Savage; To Serve With Honor by Richard Gabriel. Crisis In
Command provides a systematic discussion on how the "up-or-out" system produced and officer corps with rampant
careerism accelerated by the rapid movement towards occupationalism. In To Serve With Honor, there is a comprehensive
attempt to address the problems of the "up-or-out" system from an ethical perspective utilizing the Army's comprehensive
Study On Military Professionalism. Since the Vietnam War, there have been a number of other studies finding additional
problems with the "up-or-out" system.
In 1974-1976, Congress established its own personnel committee finding that: "…doing away with the failure-oriented
'up-or-out' should improve the morale and performance of the career force." Over the next six years Congress argued
with the military over the value of maintaining the “up-or-out system. Some compromises were made, and in 1980, Congress
passed the Defense Officer Personnel Act of 1980 (DOPMA). Army and Air Force studies in the 1980s still confirmed
troubling aspects of the “command-climate” among the officer corps, continuing to highlight problems with the “up-or-out.”
Army command climate surveys in 1995 and 1997 found similar problems.
Reforming the "up-or-out" system will go a long way to reducing careerism and occupationalism that has accelerated in
the last thirty years. Ironically, new support for the reform of this system may not come from an ethical basis but from an
overall military effectiveness and efficiency perspective as The National Security Strategy Group (1999) has recommended this
as an important reform for the next century. Moreover, the military services are seeing many critical personnel shortages, so
there is renewed interest in exploring potential alternatives to “up-or-out.” A forthcoming book (circa 2000) on the subject
of the “up-or-out” system titled, The Path to Victory: Achieving Military Excellence for America, by Major Don
Vandergriff (USA), explores this topic in great detail, making the case for much-needed reform of the “up-or-out” system. Not
only does Vandergriff analyze the problems with the current system; he offers a viable alternative. Colonel Harry Summers (US
Army, Retired) said it best: "We have institutionalized a system where the only reward, the only measure of success, is
promotion, and that's dumb, because we can't promote everybody. We need to stress other rewards."
My prediction is that Dereliction of
Duty will be a consummate study of senior leadership gone awry. At
this book should be required reading of all senior officers, so they understand the perils of military leadership when there is a
lack of character and the paucity of moral courage. It requires military leaders of all professions to closely examine the way we
develop our leaders in the character domain--not just at the accession point, but throughout the depth and breadth of a
person’s career. Leaders must not blindly follow orders or accept superior wrongdoing—whether it is civilian or military.
Loyalty without honor is a dangerous combination. One person can make a difference--by having the moral courage to choose
the harder right instead of the easier wrong. Just maybe, the next time a senior military leader has serious ethical concerns with
a policy or believes the “slippery slope of compromise” is too steep, they can look back to Dereliction of Duty for inspiration
to choose the harder right.
The services must find legitimate avenues for ethical dissent. The first step in the process should be additional
education. Beyond education, there must be some cultural changes that reinforce our Constitution, and the ethical ideals of our
country. Systemic reforms should be implemented to reinforce our highest ethical ideals. Make no mistake, there must be a
simultaneous emphasis on character development--we need both!
Finally, even with the advent of the 21st Century, the wisdom of the ages still prevails--character and competence are
the cornerstones of military effectiveness. As Colonel Anthony
E. Hartle of West Point writes: “People of high ability are important to any organization; people of high integrity are
indispensable.” As former Air Force Chief of Staff, General John D. Ryan stated: “Integrity can be ordered but it can only
be achieved by encouragement and example.”
My prayer is that Dereliction of Duty will be a tool used to raise the standard of character that demands the requisite
moral courage of our military leaders in all services. May we be equally challenged to develop institutions, systems, and
policies that will encourage and reward those of strong and honorable character, too. As General Dwight D. Eisenhower
stated so well: “…may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.” If we become apathetic and fail to put
character first, and fall short without important reforms, we may have a follow-up book in the next few years titled: Dereliction
of Duty II.
"Lord God of Hosts, my life is a stewardship in thy sight...I ask unfailing devotion to personal
integrity that I may ever remain honorable without compromise."
From the Cadet Prayer, USAF Academy, 1960
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those
of the author alone, cultivated in the freedom of
expression, and academic environment of the Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics (JSCOPE). They
do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force, or
the Air Force Reserve.
 McMaster, H.R., Dereliction of Duty, (New York: HarperCollins,
 McMaster, 1997, p. 334.
 H. R. McMaster, Air Force Magazine, January 1998, p. 72. (Transcript of an oral presentation
on Dereliction of Duty).
 McMaster, 1998, p. 70.
 Ricks, Thomas E., “Air Force’s Chief Resigns in Protest Over Sanctioning,” Wall Street Journal, July 29, 1997, A-16.
 McMaster, 1997, p. 49.
 Ibid., p. 45.
 Ibid., p. 83.
 Ibid., p. 81.
 Chipman, Donald, “The Military Courtier and the Illusion of Competence,” Air University
Review (March-April, 1981), pp. 53-62.
 Ibid., p. 61.
 McMaster, 1998, p. 70.
 Ibid., pp. 329-331.
 Ibid., p. 310.
 Ibid., pp.311-312.
 Ibid., p. 89.
 United States Air Force Academy, Character Development Manual, (Colorado Springs,
Colorado: USAF Academy, December 1994) p. 46.
 Gabriel, Richard A., To Serve With Honor, (New York: Prager, 1982) p. 158.
 Hart, Gary, America Can Win, (Bethesda, Maryland: Adler and Adler Publishers, Inc., 1986), p. 183.
 Gabriel, 1982, p. 163, Admiral Lord Nelson was noted for his encouragement of dissent from his officers. He was ask
his junior officers for their opinions first—then the senior officers.
 Colonel John Boyd, See Franklin C. Spinney, “Genghis John,” Proceedings, July 1997,
 Isaacs, David, Character Building (Guernsey, Channel Islands: Four Courts Press, 1993), pp. 35-44.
 Gabriel, p. 170.
 That fact has been fully supported by numerous studies to include: The Study on Military Professionalism.
 Spinney, Franklin C. "Genghis John," Proceedings, April 3, 1997.
 James Morrison & Mike Burns, "A Salute To a Great Soldier," on www.//Hackworth.com.
 Toner, James. H. “Ordinary Sense and Understanding,” (Air War College, JSCOPE XX, 29-30; January 1998, Fort
McNair, Washington, D.C. His main premise: Although the military services do not exist to run schools of philosophy, their
failure to teach “character” is to court disaster. Another area that is even more problematic is the issue of unethical orders.
Additionally, the former Chief of Staff, General John D. Ryan relates “Any order to compromise integrity is not a lawful order”
(Policy Letter to Commanders on November 1, 1972). See also Anthony E. Hartle, Moral Issues in Military Decision
Making, (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1989), Sidney Axinn, A Moral Military, (Philadelphia: Temple
University Press, 1989).
 10 USC 892 16b(2)
 Gabriel, pp. 185-199; One other alternative is “Refusal” -- fully realizing you bear the consequences and responsibilities
for your actions. The willingness to ‘accept the consequences of one’s act of refusal is a statement of readiness to justify one’s
action at the appropriate time—not an assumption of a priori guilt or summary justice. See Gabriel pp.194-199. “Officer
Separation Actions”, AF Form 780, is the official form that puts a resignation into action.
 Gabriel, Richard A., and Paul L. Savage, Crisis in Command (New York: Hill & Wang,
 James H. Toner, True Faith and Allegiance: The Burden of Military Ethics (Lexington, Ky.: University Press of
Kentucky, 1995), p. 113.
 Adapted from Col John Boyd statements: see Burton, James G., The Pentagon Wars
(Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1993).
 From David H. Hackworth, “USAF: Bandits at Twelve O’clock High,” January 10, 1995.
 Toner, p. 72.
 Osiel, Mark J., Obeying Orders (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1999), pp. 341-342.
 We need to set high expectations among our members--”Aim High.” Those expectations should not be perceived as the
lowest common denominator. We should have minimum standards for everyone in the Air Force, but higher standards (and
ideals) for NCOs, officers and those in command.
 The cardinal virtues are so called because they derive from the Latin word “cardo”, meaning “hinge.” Virtue is a habitual
and firm disposition to do good. The cardinal virtues are Prudence (or wisdom), Justice (or truthfulness), Temperance
(moderation), and Fortitude (or courage). The bedrock of the cardinal virtues provide a much firmer foundation than the core
values (Adapted from Dr. Toner).
 A suggestion would be to develop a modified character development model similar to Dr. Lickona’s and the USAF
Academy (see page 21 of the USAFA Character Development Manual, December 1994).
 See Colonel W. Darryl Goldman, US Army, "The Wrong Road to Character Development?"
 Lt Col Terrence Moore (Retired), from the USAFA Character Development Manual.
 Gabriel, 1982
 James H. Toner, 1995, p.
 Gabriel, 1982, p. 200.
 Kitfield, James “Crisis of Conscience,” Government Executive, Vol. 27, No. 10, October 1995, pp. 14-24.
 Adapted from Gabriel, 1982, p. 140.
 United States Air Force Core Values (Washington, DC: Department of the Air Force, 1997).
 The Acquisition system and process has long been touted as a corrupt system--needing reform. One example: "Crisis of
Conscience" by James Kitfield: "Nowhere does the military's professed code of integrity, honesty and truthfulness clash more
obviously with real-world demands than in the area of acquisition." The PPBS is another system that deserves serious
consideration of reform. The Summer 1996 Defense Science Board report listed some key comments that reflect some of the
ethical concerns with the PPBS: “If I save anything they (DoD) will take it away.” “No matter what they say this year, they
won’t give me my savings next year.” “They play sleight-of-hand games with the money.” “Lie, cheat and steal is what you
have to do to protect yourself.”
 Study on Military Professionalism (Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania: US Army War College, June 1970), p. 31.
 Ibid., p. 12.
 Gabriel, 1982, p. 75-77.
 Vandergriff, Donald E. “The Path to Victory: Achieving Military Excellence for America,” unpublished draft dated May 1,
 See National Defense Research Institute, Future Career Management Systems for US Military Officers (Santa
Monica, California: Rand, 1994).
 From "Where Have All the Warriors Gone?" Washingtonian, July 1984.
 Toner, 1996, p. 72.
 Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen John D. Ryan, Policy Letter for Commanders on November 1,