Army Professionalism, The Military Ethic, and Officership in the 21st Century




Professor Don Snider (

Major John Nagl (

Department of Social Sciences

United States Military Academy

West Point, New York 10996


Major Tony Pfaff (

Department of English and Philosophy

United States Military Academy

West Point, New York 10996





















This paper reflects the views of the authors and not necessarily those of the United States Military Academy or the Departments of Defense and the Army.










Force Protection is used as a point of departure to develop and analyze a larger issue of vital importance to the military profession.  A number of factors, both domestic and international, are corroding the professional military ethos (PME).  These include the rise of post-modernist and egoist ethics as well as changes in the structure of the international system and hence in the demands placed upon the United States Army.  The long-term effects of such corrosion may be seriously negative for future military effectiveness.  U.S. Army officers, contrary to history and tradition, are increasingly unwilling to take casualties in the accomplishment of their military missions, which has become second priority to force protection.  What does this portend for commanders socialized in this new ethos when the war tocsin sounds again for major conventional wars in which effectiveness has in the past been made possible, at least in considerable part, by the self-sacrificial character of military leaders and soldiers?


The paper will address these questions by placing force protection in the context of military professionalism and by suggesting remedies at various locations within the professionalism framework.  For West Point, the specific recommendation is to renew the self-conception of future graduates by a “principled” approach to officership.  Such a view places officers at the boundary between the institution and the society it serves rather than, as currently, having an officer corps focused solely on the internal aspects of the institution.  The paper also suggests other adaptations and changes necessary at both the institutional and individual levels in order to reconcile the tensions within the military ethic and to increase the professionalism of the Army officer corps.


 Army Professionalism, The Military Ethic, and Officership in the 21st Century





I.                   Introduction:  Army Professionalism and Conflict within the Professional Military Ethos




II.                A Framework for Analysis:  Military Professionalism 


A.     Military-Technical Component


B.     Ethical Component


C.     Political Component




III.       Resolving the Intellectual Muddle


A.     Preparing to Fight the Wrong War?


B.     One Solution:  Fight the Wars American Society Approves


C.     The Comfortable Myth of a Casualty-Averse Public




IV.              Resolving the Ethical Muddle


A.     The Inherence of Self-Sacrificial Risk


B.     Sacrifice is not Always Supererogatory




V.                 Reconceiving the Officer as Self-Sacrificing Servant of Society


A.     A Principled Approach to Officership


                        B.  Conclusion

I.                    Introduction: Army Professionalism and

Conflict within the Professional Military Ethos 


On 25 Jan 1999, a tall, ramrod-straight young combat-arms officer serving in Bosnia with the 1st Armored Division told the about-to-graduate cadets at West Point, “I tell my men every day there is nothing there worth one of them dying for.”  It was a startling admission to the cadets who were in the midst of a series of classes on the professional military ethic; the Lieutenant’s admission was utterly contradictory to what they had been studying.  Their studies had led them to believe that minimizing casualties was an inherent part of every combat mission but not a mission in and of itself, particularly one which might impede or even preclude success in the unit’s mission[1]--in this case peace operations within the American sector of Bosnia.  Queried by a cadet in the audience as to why he communicated this to his men, the Lieutenant responded, “Because minimizing, really prohibiting, casualties is the top-priority mission I have been given by my battalion commander.” 


Some time later in the presentation the battalion commander gave his perspective.  “It’s simple,” he said.  “When I received my written mission from Division, absolutely minimizing casualties was the mission prioritized as first, so I in turn passed it on in my written operations order to my company commanders.  This is the mission we have, this is the environment in which we work.”[2]


            Some months later an article in Army magazine by an Army major made the same point. Arriving for duty in Bosnia, his brigade commander gave the major the following guidance, “If mission and force protection are in conflict, then we don’t do the mission.”[3]


            To us, these two examples from the many communicated each week within the media and among the e-mail of the Army officer corps demonstrate that the Army’s norms of professional behavior are being corroded by political guidance on force protection.  Doubtless the ethics of other services are being corroded by the same guidance--witness Air Force pilots flying combat missions from fifteen thousand feet in Kosovo and Bosnia to avoid the risk of pilot loss from ground fire and missiles.  Yet one does not hear senior military leaders defending the military ethic, informing the profession and the American public it serves of its utter necessity for military effectiveness.  Neither does one read in military journals significant dialogues on the personal conflicts this is causing for individual officers.


Placed in the larger context and stated simply, changes in the international system since the end of the Cold-War, the new nature of conflict (which we will refer to simply as operations other than war, OOTW) and secular changes within American society are strongly influencing the American military ethic in directions unknown.  This is an issue of military professionalism, rightly understood; and as such in an era of already declining Army professionalism is of vital concern to both professionals and the society they serve.


Thus this essay will proceed in Part II to place this issue into the context of military professionalism, a topic little studied in the military now and even less understood outside the profession.  Subsequently in Parts III and IV we will use that framework to analyze two issues within the profession now impeding healthy adaptations -- the officer corps’ intellectual muddle over the purpose of the Army and their ethical muddle over the role of self-sacrifice in the profession’s ethos.  We believe these two unresolved contradictions have contributed in very significant ways to the Army’s inability thus far to deal effectively with vexing issues such as force protection.  Lastly, in Part V we will present a “principled approach” for a renewed self-concept and motivation of the Army officer corps, a self-concept that, if it existed now, would lend a very different perspective to such issues as force protection.


II.                A Framework for Analysis:  Military Professionalism 


            Our understanding of military professionalism is adapted from Sarkesian.[4]  As he noted in 1981, “the examination of professionalism, its boundaries, and substantive elements lack a generally accepted and coherent perspective.”[5]  Fortunately, Professor Sarkesian outlined such a framework in his book, but to our knowledge it has not been seen in the literature since.  It is a framework that in the more quantitative analytical environment today would be considered a 3x3 matrix of political, social and functional interactions inherent in the relationships between a democratic society and its Army – its military servants.  In matrix form it appears as:


American Military Professionalism


Level of Analysis
 Military Technical




Land mine ban, OOTW missions


Post-modern or egoist ethic

Casualty averse,    interventionists

Military Institution

RMA, Resources, Recruiting, and

Declining professionalism         

The Professional Military Ethic and force protection


Powell doctrine and force protection

Individual Soldier

Individual skills,


Individual values

Individual politics, Civil-Military “Gap”


Figure 1


              Further, each of these components can be analyzed from at least three different levels.  They can be viewed at the level of, or from the perspective of, the American society sanctioning the military institution, the military institution itself (the Army), or from the perspective of the individual soldier within the institution.  In contrast to the vertical lines above, the horizontal lines in the diagram represent real boundaries across which deep and abiding relationships have been created, both official (formal) and unofficial (informal).  These relationships and some of the contemporary issues creating tensions, both healthy and dysfunctional, will be delineated briefly in the sections that follow in order to show their contextual reality among the many interactions and relationships involved.  Taken together they provide a brief overview of the state of the military institution, its professionalism or effectiveness, and its relationship with the society it serves. 


A.     The Functional or Military-Technical Component


            This component includes those aspects of the profession that give it unique purpose and legitimacy, what Huntington called the “expertise” of the profession.[6] He defined this function in the post-WWII era as the “management of violence.” Others have at different times given it different titles, but the essence remains clear regardless of specific purpose statement: Armies have been created by societies through the ages for the purpose of protecting themselves, their territory and their way of life, and for advancing their national interests in the regions around them.  During the almost five centuries since the Treaty of Westphalia and the appearance of the nation-state, the formative relationships between societies and their armies have varied dramatically depending on the society, its ideology and its form of government, i.e., the state.[7]  Now in the post-Cold War era, it may be the case that once again the formative relationships have changed, at least among the advanced democratic nations, reserving armies for primarily defensive purposes.[8] Such formative relationships include the purpose for which society seeks to prepare and use its army and the resources provided for such uses, particularly human resources – by conscription of a mass, citizen army, by soliciting/enticing volunteers from among the citizenry as the United States does today, or by some combination of these methods.


            At the societal level one currently contentious issue (as noted in figure 1) is the desire of some American political leaders and a considerable portion of the public to outlaw by international treaty the use of land mines as a form of warfare.  Such intrusions into the traditional sphere of military professionals  -- how best to fight wars – is one indicator of society’s dissatisfaction with current professionalism. Thus the darker horizontal line separating the societal level of analysis from the institutional level connotes an American civil-military relationship currently with significant tensions on many issues across all three components of professionalism, land mines being only one.[9]


              At the institutional level the military-technical component focuses on the overall effectiveness of the Army.  Is it capable of doing what society expects of it and in the manner it is expected?  Such military effectiveness is the result of many things, some under the control of the leaders of the military institution and others that must be provided by a supporting society.[10]  Internally, the US Army today considers these essential inputs to combat effectiveness to be the “six imperatives:” force mix, doctrine, training, modern equipment, leader development and quality people.[11] 


At this level of analysis there are myriad issues currently demanding the urgent attention of the officer corps, those who are responsible for creating the intellectual consensus and direction that sets the professional standards which produce military effectiveness, and subsequently for policing and adapting these standards as necessary. Such issues include the institution’s inability to obtain a level of resources sufficient to the institution’s needs, the demonstrable decline in military effectiveness of front-line operational units,[12] and the urgent, but unmet, need to modernize fighting forces for the information-dominant forms of warfare potentially available in the “revolution in military affairs (RMA).”[13]  These issues, all of major significance for the decline in Army professionalism, have existed roughly in current form since shortly after the end of the Gulf War in 1992.


            At the third level of analysis, that of the individual soldier, professionalism in the functional component becomes the issue of individual competence in soldier skills and the motivation by which those skills are to be used and integrated with those of other soldiers, whether they be officer, non-commissioned officer or enlisted soldier.  Given the virtual revolution that occurred in Army training programs in the 1980s, resulting in the remarkable proficiency of our forces in the Gulf War, it might be supposed that at this level few problems exist.  But that is clearly not the case.  Since the Gulf War, the serious mismatch between a military structure too large and resources too small, when combined with an unusually high operational tempo for OOTW, has severely eroded the trust and commitment of individual officers and soldiers toward both the Army and the society it serves. This has been particularly so when the soldier’s quality of life is contrasted to a roaring American economy with an excess of good job opportunities. Thus at the individual level declining professionalism is reflected in the systemic institutional failure to attract and retain sufficient recruits from the citizenry to man the current Army force structure, along with the continuing exodus of company grade officers, particularly from the combat arms.[14]


B.     The Ethical Component


The ethical component seeks at each level of analysis to answer questions like “what should officers and soldiers do?” and “what kind of leaders should the Army have?”  The answers to these questions establish norms of individual and collective behavior, what courses of action, and what outcomes the officer is obligated to seek; in sum, they constitute a professional military ethic.  We accept the definition of “ethic” as “the body of moral principles or values governing a particular culture or group.”[15]  Just as with the military-technical component, this component can be analyzed from the perspectives of American society, the military institution, or the individual soldier.


 At the societal level it is difficult to categorize succinctly the ethics to which Americans adhere. Americans are an eclectic people who embrace a variety of ethical beliefs; however, recently some have accumulated more weight as those in influence have embraced them.  These trends, often labeled inaccurately as “post-modernism,” reflect a rejection by many Americans of traditional moral standards.  While some skepticism regarding tradition and authority is healthy, completely rejecting traditional standards undermines the possibility of a common national or societal ethic on which professional organizations can rely to inform their own ethics.  What many call “post modernism” is best thought of as a complex collection of beliefs and theories that, in essence, reject the idea that there is any such thing as objective truth, ethical or otherwise.  Without an objective standard, “truth” is then left to the individual or group to decide and thus becomes relative to their desires and beliefs.  This has undermined the earlier consensus among Americans that any particular belief can actually be wrong. 


Of course, not all Americans embrace such relativism, but often what arises in its place is an unreflective egoism, which is best characterized as the belief that what is morally good is “what is best for me.”  Rather than the relative standard that post modernism offers, egoism is an objective standard against which to measure conduct. Its basic premise is everyone should do those things, and only those things, that they perceive are good for them.  Such an ethic does not necessitate untrustworthiness, cowardice, or selfishness, and in fact many Americans have found that it is in their interests to be trustworthy, brave and giving, and often so behave. Nonetheless, such an ethic does not preclude behavior such as untrustworthiness, cowardice, or selfishness by describing it as morally reprehensible--and when it does not, this ethic comes into direct conflict with the professional military ethic.


 Many Americans have combined this egoist ethic with the post-modern insight that all truth is relative, and rely on the contradictory ethical system that results from this viewpoint to make ethical decisions. We cannot recount the number of students we have had who profess a belief in Christianity, Judaism or Islam but reject the possibility of objective moral truth.  This experience on campuses has been noted and written about by other philosophers.[16]  The fact that the acceptability of such contradictory beliefs has seeped so profusely through modern religious institutions is alarming evidence that reason is slowly being disregarded as important in the larger society.  And to a military institution that values, and indeed prizes, rational thought and decision-making processes, the potential conflict is immense.  Just as our students see no problem embracing the contradictory beliefs of an objective religion along with relative “post-modernism,” so too many officers today see nothing wrong with embracing a personal ethic of unreflective self-interest or relativism, along with the objective ethical demands of the profession.


At the level of the military institution this contradiction is most evident as officers attempt to reconcile their personal ethic with that of the institution.  While the beliefs of egoism and post-modern relativism can be held consistently by many in America, they cannot be held by Army officers who simultaneously hold an objective professional ethic.[17]  One reason is that while the professional military ethic requires that at least some truths be held as objective, the social ethic does not.  Another is that while the professional military ethic requires that the officer put self-interest secondary to at least some other considerations, the prevailing social ethic does not.  This is not a new dilemma for the Army: Since the founding of the Republic with its unique social contract making the individual sovereign to the state, the Army has understood and accepted that it, ironically, can never reflect internally the essence of this contract.[18]


Furthermore, the ethical obligations of the officer are objective and are not contingent on any desire held by any individual.  The PME is not a relative ethic.  The obligation to uphold it or any of its tenets does not arise because those in the profession said so, but rather because it is necessary if the profession is to be effective in its purpose of warfighting.  In a relativist ethic what is good or bad is justified based on the desires of the individual or group; what is good is what makes one (or the group) feel good, while what is bad is what does not.  For a professional ethic, good and bad are determined, in part functionally, by how the profession contributes to society.  As noted earlier, the military performs a socially useful, indeed vital function – the protection of society and its territory and way of life.  This creates a moral obligation for the soldier, and particularly for the commissioned officer, to respond effectively when called on to defend a defenseless society, even to the point of death.[19]  


 Thus, where it would be improper for a manager at IBM to invade the privacy of her employees, the officer is morally obligated to do so.  In order for the military to function well, leaders must know and have influence over many aspects of soldiers’ private lives, including their health and physical condition, how they spend their money, and where and with whom they spend their free time.[20]  This does not mean, however, that rightness or wrongness of exercising such influence is relative to the situation, or even relative to the desires of the officer corps or business professionals.  It means that given how the officer and the businessman contribute to the well being of society, in every case it would be wrong for the IBM manager to exercise such influence and right for the military officer to do so.


The objectivity of the PME is also not contingent on any personal desire a member of the profession might have. These obligations are not merely instrumental -- they do not take the form “If I want to be a soldier, then I must be willing to sacrifice.” Rather they take the form “Since I am a soldier, I must be willing to sacrifice.”  The source of these truths arise out of the moral obligation an officer incurs when he or she accepts a public trust, i.e., when an officer accepts freely, without reservation, his or her Commission from society.  The obligations may be profession specific -- that is they only hold for those who accept the Commission -- but they are nonetheless objective in nature.  They hold regardless of the desires or beliefs of those who accept such charges.


Given this understanding of the nature of the professional military ethic, at the individual level the problem is not just that the contradictions discussed earlier may cause soldiers to mistakenly choose one ethic over the other.  Nor is the problem that soldiers may sometimes give weight to the social ethic when they should have given weight to the professional ethic though on occasion this too can be a problem, witness the Aberdeen scandal or the egregious behavior of BG Hale.[21] 


The fundamental problem is the existence of the contradiction itself.  Logically, anything can follow from a contradiction.  And if literally anything follows from a contradiction, then any system of beliefs that is contradictory can produce any other belief.  Ethical belief systems are supposed to guide our behavior.  But if anything follows from a contradiction then anything could be an ethical truth and thus any belief can pass as ethical guidance.  And if any belief can pass as ethical guidance, then ethics would not be able to guide decisions either individually or organizationally -- any decision would be just as good as another!  This renders such an ethical system nonsensical and self-defeating.


Some officers claim that their unwillingness to adopt fully the norm of self-sacrifice is motivated more by unwillingness to sacrifice in vain, rather than relativism or egoism. They are not, so the argument goes, interested in maximizing self-interest, but rather the national interest. They see many OOTW missions as never-ending, quixotic quests that are only marginally in the national interest. In this view, putting soldiers’ lives at risk when it benefits America so little is not just imprudent, but immoral. Such officers then see radical force protection[22] as inherently moral since it limits the chances that soldiers might have to pay the “ultimate” sacrifice in vain.


Certainly, it is wrong for the civilian leadership to put soldiers’ lives in jeopardy for immoral reasons. It is just as certain that the military’s senior leadership is required to point that out to civilian leaders when they feel the civilian leadership is doing so. What is not clear, though, is that missions that do not serve individual perceptions of national interests are in fact immoral. It would be hard to argue that intervening to prevent humanitarian catastrophes such as the genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda is immoral just because the national interest, however defined, is not well served.  But more to the point, serving officers must remember that under American norms of civil-military relations, determining the national interest is the responsibility of the elected leaders and the public they serve, and not the responsibility, nor the prerogative, of the military.


This is not to say that acting in the national interest is not an important consideration. However, it cannot be the only, or even always the best, criteria by which to justify military intervention and by extension, the risking soldiers’ lives. If by immoral one means, “anything not in the national interest,” one is articulating a simple version of nationalism, which privileges one group over another in the same way that egoism privileges one individual over another.  Thus, it is subject to similar criticisms as egoism.  Therefore, while the national interest is certainly an important consideration, it cannot be the whole story to the professional military ethic.  If it were, then acting dishonorably could be morally obligatory as long as it served the national interest.


Therefore, the argument that it is immoral to intervene with soldiers to stop or prevent humanitarian disasters because such activities are only marginally in the national interest loses its force. If it is not immoral to send soldiers on such missions, military leaders cannot have a moral objection to them and thus remain morally obligated, as long as the military remains subordinate to civilian authority, to accept such missions.


Thus, we conclude that the post-modern ethos (relativism) or an unreflective egoism (or nationalism) is incompatible with being a professional military officer.  The major ethical tension is the failure of individual officers to give up such ethics, adopting instead the necessary virtues of a professional military ethic -- e.g., self-sacrifice and self-abnegating service. That leaders at multiple levels do not understand and act on this understanding signals a major breakdown in the acceptance and application of the professional military ethic within the United States Army.  Failure to recognize this can have terrible consequences, such as fostering uncritical acceptance of radical force protection as the “right” thing to do, even at the expense of mission accomplishment!


C.     The Political Component


      This component of military professionalism is the least understood today, probably because of the Huntingtonian tradition within the American profession of arms that the military should avoid politics and politicization in order to retain its professionalism -- Huntington’s objective control.[23]  Such tradition is rich with examples.  Eisenhower did not register with a political party until drafted for the presidency by the Republicans in 1951; General Marshall did not vote until after his decades of public service lest he be unduly influenced.[24]  But regardless of the traditions, the military institutions in America are, as Sarkesian points out, inherently political institutions in their interactions with the larger political and social systems of American governance.[25]  For example, their financial resources are allocated annually by a political process in which they must participate involving both the executive and legislative branches of government.  Further, when executing their unique function of warfighting, their use is determined by an equally political process involving the same branches of government, as well as by the opinion makers and mass public of American society itself.  In fact, military institutions retain their legitimacy and standing as a profession only by their successful interaction in these political processes and with the society they serve.  Thus, their professionalism inherently has a political component.


      At the societal level, as noted in figure 1, it is increasingly clear that the use of US armed forces for intervention abroad in humanitarian and peace-enforcing purposes is well supported by the American people, even more so than perceived by elected representatives of both political parties.[26]  It is also the case that the Clinton administrations have been well appointed by liberal interventionists, who, with much merit to their causes, have been willing and able to pursue a more militarized US foreign policy. The sentiment seems to be “What’s the point of having this superb military that you are always talking about if we can’t use it?”[27]


      At the societal level there is also evident tension over the uniqueness of military culture, a uniqueness which has been under steady attack since the end of the Cold War from those of a progressive agenda. While it is not unusual for such political activism to be focused on the armed forces during periods of peace and prosperity, it is quite unusual for elected political leaders not to offer informed assistance to a profession in need of selective adaptation, defending the functional necessities of the profession’s culture.[28] Unfortunately, it is the case that after three decades without conscription, too few Americans today, and particularly those in positions of public influence, have experiential knowledge of the instrumental value of military culture.[29]  This has left the public articulation of the need for such culture to senior military officers, a task they have been either unable or unwilling to complete effectively.[30]


      At the next level of analysis, both of these issues–decision-making about the use of force and defense of the military culture – retain high salience within the intellectual dialogue of the Army.  So do the others issues mentioned under the military-technical component--resourcing and readiness--and they are not unrelated.  The Weinberger-Powell doctrine is still held by many senior military leaders across the armed forces,[31] causing the well-publicized tensions of 1992-1994 between then-Chairman of the JCS, General Colin Powell, and the Clinton administration.[32]  But at a deeper level all of these major issues, from gaining the resources necessary for modernization to the use of force and to radical force protection, reflect a renewed institutional ambivalence over how far senior military leaders should go in opposing political guidance.  When does their candid, professional disagreement and dissent become disloyalty to the administration under which they serve?  On the other hand, when does its absence become disloyalty to the institution of which they are the chief stewards?[33]  When, if ever, may such military leaders go beyond the three traditional functions of representing the profession and its needs, rendering candid professional advice, and executing legal orders from above?  As shown below in Figure 2, the roles of senior military leaders today often overlap with those of civilian leaders, who because they are elected and appointed leaders of the people have the last say, even if wrong.  In such situations, the plight of senior military leaders is not to be envied; nonetheless, their duty should be clear.



Figure 2



At the institutional level there is also currently a third political issue.  This is the “conventional wisdom” that American society is casualty averse--unwilling to accept casualties in military operations supporting less-than-vital national interests.  Such wisdom is, in fact, myth (our refutation of this position is in the following section), but a useful myth for political decision-makers.  And, if “casualty adversity” is becoming accepted by senior military leaders, it helps explain at the institutional level why the prevention of military casualties has such current salience.


      Finally, at the individual level of analysis current concern, particularly within academia, is focused on the potential of a civil-military “gap,” a disjuncture between the culture and values of American society and those of the individuals composing the military, particularly the officer corps.[34]  While many are concerned with the recent Republicanization of the officer corps, the larger issue is “how different and how separate” the military should be from the society it serves.  Whether this tension is sui generis owing to the policies of the Clinton administration remains to be seen.[35]  


            In sum, in this section we have presented a framework with nine perspectives across the components of professionalism, and a brief overview of the US Army and its tensions with political leaders and the society it serves.  We have also noted its declining professionalism and effectiveness.  There is, as we will discuss in Parts III and IV, much behind each of these perspectives and many inter-relationships that need to be examined if one is to understand well the reasons behind such declines.  Suffice to say that such a decline has been the case historically in America after every major war.  Thus the Army is now deeply involved in a necessary and vital transition from a Cold War Army focused on the “big war” in Europe to an Army of a different character to be used for a different set of missions under different priorities. 


            In Parts III and IV we turn to a more in-depth analysis of two issues which we believe are significantly retarding the Army’s ability to get on with this vital transition of adaptation to 21st century missions and environments while preserving the vital aspects of an effective land force.  They are: the officer corps’ intellectual muddle over the fundamental purpose of the Army, and their ethical muddle over the role of self-sacrifice within the profession’s ethic.


III.             Resolving the Intellectual Muddle


After roughly five decades of almost continuous focus on land warfare in Europe, and now almost one decade of  “peace,” the Army’s officer corps is, candidly speaking, in the midst of an intellectual muddle.  That is, institutionally it is thinking and acting in a confused manner, one which belies its fundamental purpose and foundational relationships with the American society it serves.[36] Given the enormous revolutions through which American society has passed in the last decade, it should not surprise us to find that the Army is showing signs of strain; armies are such intimate reflections of their parent societies that “a revolution in the one [is] bound to cause a revolution in the other.”[37] Not all of the causes of this muddle are of the Army’s own making or within its control.  There are, however, several important causes of the confusion that are within the institution’s control, and, as we shall explain, it is there that the Army must start to redefine its purpose and organizational essence. 


Preparing to Fight the Wrong War?


While there is much debate over whether true military innovation springs from inside organizations, from external sources, or from a combination of the two,[38] there is a growing recognition that cultural factors to a great extent determine whether changes accord with the organizational essence of an Army.[39]  Clearly, during periods of significant external change, it is axiomatic that public organizations simply cannot proceed with the learning and adaptation that is necessary for effectiveness in their task without a very clear vision of organizational essence and purpose.  This is the function of senior leadership, to determine and articulate persuasively a coherent vision for the organization’s future. This axiom is even more applicable to military organizations where the histories of successful innovation disclose the absolute necessity of an engaged, well-informed officer corps conceptualizing, leading, and otherwise facilitating the innovations and adaptations necessary for change.  Such innovation in periods of transition is, after all, cultural in its essence rather than technological.  Such clarity of vision, particularly at the strategic level, is cited by prominent theorists and historians as the essential first step of successful military innovation and adaptation – what is the new strategic task of the military institution, what is the new theory of victory for future war?[40]  Admiral William A. Moffett had a clear vision when naval aviation was born in the 1930s, and there was no doubt in the minds of Generals Gavin and Howze after the Korean War about the new need for airmobility of Army forces.  But such clarity of vision -- realistic in its premises, coherent in its components of forces, mission and resources, and thus believable to the officer corps -- we believe, has not been provided since the end of the Gulf War and the initiation of the post-cold war builddown of military capabilities.


The two most prominent causes of the officer corps’ muddle are not hard to identify.  Political guidance to the Army still requires conventional capabilities to execute nearly simultaneously two major regional conflicts, hence the retention by many within the officer corps of the “big Army, big war” vision and essence, and also the retention of the bulk of the Army’s Cold War force structure and infrastructure.  In stark contrast, the Clinton administration has since 1993 repeatedly received the approval of the American people for the conduct of OOTW.  Given the reality of a desirable “can do” attitude among the middle and lower ranks of the officer corps, it is not surprising a significant majority of those officers now accept OOTW missions as the purpose and essence of the Army, indeed, as the vision for the future.[41]  They have experienced nothing else and have been presented with no other vision of the future that is credible to them.[42] 


The major positions contributing to the muddle are shown in Figure 3 below:



Fighting and Winning the Nation’s Wars—

or Operations Other Than War?


 Big Army, Big War


Political leaders



Military leaders


No…Perhaps Yes[43] (1997)

Mid-, Lower-officer corps

No, not credible




Figure 3



As the diagram shows, America’s political leaders are telling the Army its essence is to do both big wars and OOTW; and senior Army leaders are in turn telling the institution the same thing.  But at the lower level, where the bulk of the officer corps accepts OOTW as the way of the present and the future, it is a quite different story due to at least four other causal factors:


1.      The resources, both financial and human, requisite to placing both missions within the core purpose of the Army have not been forthcoming.  Whether that is a failure of responsibility of political leadership or of senior military leaders is now largely irrelevant.  To the majority of the serving officer corps it is simply inconceivable, given a modernization “holiday” of almost a decade and steadily declining funds for collective training over the same period that senior leaders, whether uniformed or not, can expect  “more with less.”  In fact this issue is one of the most frequently mentioned as cause of the unprecedented, and growing, gap in trust and confidence between the lower echelons of the Army officer corps and its senior leadership.[44]

2.      The Army’s operational tempo, caused by a 37% reduction in force structure since the Gulf War coupled with repeated OOTW, is up roughly 300% over Cold War levels.  Army-wide, soldiers are deployed an average of over 140 days per year away from families and home post; the average is well over 200 days per year for those soldiers and families assigned within Europe.  Understandably, this unsustainable rate has increasingly demoralized soldiers and their families contributing heavily to the exodus of junior officers and likely, to the current recruiting crisis for the volunteer force;

3.      The Army officer corps, until the onslaught of OOTW in the mid-1990s, generally held the self-concept, and thus the motivation, of leader-trainers.  This was the successful result of the TRADOC-led training revolution in the 1970s and 1980s.[45]  To be an officer was to be a leader and trainer of soldiers, practically regardless of the officers’ branch.  This self-concept correctly placed great emphasis on achieving positive results from rigorous training in individual, and particularly, collective skills.  Unfortunately, given the multiplicity of missions and paucity of training resources currently confronting the Army, those same officers, several now in or selected for battalion and brigade command, are leaving the service in almost unprecedented numbers.[46]  They echo the refrain, “It isn’t fun any more.”[47]  More regrettably yet, their junior officers are also leaving, stating that “I’ve seen what my commander has had to deal with the past two years, and I don’t want to do that.”[48]  It is a sure sign of a military profession in trouble that junior officers do not aspire to serve in their commanders’ position.

4.      All soldiers, regardless of rank, have watched for the past seven years the amazing success of the American economy, but have not participated in its benefits at a commensurable rate.  More importantly, sociologically this is not the Army of the 1970s or even the 1980s; roughly 60% of the soldiers are now married with 85% of spouses working outside of the home.  Thus, the impact of the excessive operation tempo on the current “married with working spouse” force has no precedent in Army history.  Although some redress is on the way in FY 2000 in the form of across-the-board and focused pay increases, the failure of the Army to provide adequately for quality of life issues is cited by enlisted soldiers as the main reason -- far above any other -- for the lowest state of soldier morale in the 1990s.[49]


These facts about the current organizational climate within the Army, particularly within the operational force structure, document the consequences of an amazingly large mismatch between resources and missions.  To be sure, there have been quantitative analyses aplenty describing the degree to which the Army lacks funding for modernization alone, and offering comparable explanations of why the Air Force is now flying the oldest fleet of aircraft in their service’s young history.[50]  Yet until 1999, with the appearance of a systemic failure of recruiting for the volunteer force and the unremitting exodus from the Army officer corps, the magnitude of the overall danger to military professionalism was not so clear.  It is now evident, however, that the option of continuing to “muddle through” this transition is no longer an option.


One Solution: Fight the Wars American Society Approves


Since this essay is focused on problem identification and analysis rather than solutions, which are the purview of current uniformed leaders, we offer here only brief insights as to how this intellectual muddle over organizational purpose and essence might be resolved--one way among many, we are sure.


In a democracy, an Army does not get to choose the missions it accepts—at least, no professional army does.  The hesitancy of the US Army to accept wholeheartedly the missions it is currently being given strikes the authors of this paper as cause for concern in the context of military professionalism. We believe that means defining the Army’s organizational purpose, its essence, simply as serving the American society, and fighting the conflicts they approve, when they approve them.  Any other essence or purpose statement places the institution in the illegitimate and unprofessional position of declaring its intellectual independence from the society it was formed to serve.  And as we have deduced from the evidence presented, if the Army continues to resist organizing, training, and equipping itself to fight and win the “wars” it is currently being asked to fight, it may no longer have a sufficiently professional officer corps when the next big war occurs.


            The Army can create a vision and an organizational climate that accepts the importance of OOTW while maintaining much of its desired focus on training/adapting for future regional wars.  But for that to occur, Army leaders must resolve the resources-missions gap in ways that are credible.  This must be done very quickly.  There are many options, from gaining relief/change in the “two-MRC’ guidance, to obtaining increased resources, to reducing unneeded structure and infrastructure, to specializing roles within the total Army.  None are easy nor without costs. But it is equally clear that radical action to close the gap is well past due; the cost in declining professionalism is already too great.


            In light of these facts, it is encouraging that Army Chief of Staff, General Erik K. Shinseki, recently addressed many of the problems with which we have expressed concern in this essay, and explicitly articulated a vision to “adjust the condition of the Army to better meet the requirements of the next century.”[51] That vision is clear about the need to dramatically change the Army; a vision of  “Soldiers on point for the Nation transforming this, the most respected Army in the world, into a strategically responsive force that is dominant across the full spectrum of operations.”[52] 


            To accomplish this transformation, General Shinseki has promised that by the end of FY 2000, the Army’s divisions and armored cavalry regiments will be manned at one hundred percent of authorization, removing some of the strain on units as soldiers no longer have to do the job of two or three.  Even more importantly, General Shinseki established a vision of a lighter, more strategically deployable Army which will “allow us to put a combat capable brigade anywhere in the world in 96 hours once we have received ‘execute liftoff’, a division on the ground in 120 hours, and five divisions in 30 days.” 


The missions to which these lighter-weight units will respond—and which their presence and capability should help to deter—are the very peacekeeping and stability operations which have confounded the Army’s force structure and manning system since the end of the Cold War. General Shinseki intends to begin procuring weapons systems to man two new “middle-weight” brigades immediately.  Changing the institutional culture, which still looks askance at peacekeeping missions, however, will take longer—but the need for change has been recognized, and the process has begun.  It will take time to see whether this vision will prove credible and motivating to the bulk of the officer corps. As we have noted earlier in this essay, such a credible vision has been missing, contributing to low morale and diminishing trust between officers serving in the field and their leaders in Washington.  In our view, solving the gap between missions and resources remains the unsecured, critical link to turning this new vision into more than simply another declaratory policy.


The comfortable myth of a “Casualty Averse” American public


Despite the promise of substantial change in the structure and organization of the Army to meet the needs of the new world order in which we find ourselves, there is a second, equally disturbing trend of incipient decline within another component of military professionalism, the ethical component. That is the trend for senior military leaders to accept, as political leaders have accepted since the early 1990s, the myth that the American society is “casualty averse.”


             As we noted earlier, the issue of force protection draws some of its salience from the accepted conventional wisdom that the modern American public is very averse to accepting US casualties in operations abroad.  This “wisdom” is most often cited in reference to the participation of US armed forces in humanitarian and peace operations.  On other occasions it is presented as a broadly accepted wisdom applicable to all military operations abroad, regardless of purpose.  It is a wisdom held by, and almost always voiced by, influential elites in the nation’s foreign policy community, opinion makers such as elected politicians, members of the press, columnists, and the ubiquitous chattering classes of Washington talk shows.  As we shall see, not all scholars agree with this myth, particularly serious academics and serious polltakers.


            The origins of such wisdom are varied, but one most often cited is the incident in Mogadishu in October of 1993.   Eighteen US Army Rangers were killed in that action. Live television coverage in the United States subsequently showed the body of an American soldier being dragged through the streets surrounded by jubilant Somalis.[53]  Four days later President Clinton announced the end of US involvement in the operation, ostensibly because of the public’s adverse reaction to the casualties.  He also announced a rapid timetable for withdrawal of all US forces.  The incident ultimately led to the sacking of Clinton’s Secretary of Defense, Les Aspin, further heightening the understanding within the policy community that because of the public’s sensitivities, casualties could not be tolerated.[54]  At about the same time a sociological explanation for the American public’s aversion to military casualties was offered by an American scholar on the pages of one of the most prestigious journals, Foreign Affairs.[55]  Thus the myth grew – the public’s intolerance of casualties results in quick reversals of public support for military operations abroad.  Political leaders therefore need to factor into their foreign policy decisions the risk of such reversal, and the political costs potentially to be incurred.  Subsequent political guidance to US military leaders has not ceased to emphasize the urgency and importance of absolutely minimizing US casualties, and by extension any collateral damage to civilian populations. 


            The most recent example -- Kosovo, a war without a ground campaign and with US pilots flying at fifteen thousand feet -- is a clear manifestation of such political guidance. The point here is that the conventional wisdom is a myth.  In fact, the American public is quite willing to accept casualties, and doubtless, political leaders are aware of this.  Recent scholarly research demonstrates, once again convincingly, that there are two conditions that must be apparent in order for the US public to accept casualties:[56] they must be convinced there is a consensus among political leaders that the operation is in the nation’s interests; and that this same consensus among political leaders is sufficient to see the venture through to a successful conclusion (Lincoln’s, “that these dead here shall not have died in vain…”).[57]  The elite consensus was obviously missing, and thus in the public’s mind so also the willingness to see it through successfully, both in the case of Somalia in 1993 and in Kosovo in 1999.[58]  It has been the unwillingness, or inability, of the Clinton administration to create an elite consensus that leaves their policy “hostage” to the public’s recoiling from the loss of American soldiers’ lives.  But this is not the doing of the public.  Research has repeatedly demonstrated that there is room for political leaders to shape public opinion and create a forum for deliberation and debate of intervention decisions.  To be sure, in that debate the public will consider in a rational calculus the risks to American lives as well as other costs and benefits of the intervention, but it is not a debate that is foreclosed because they are “casualty averse.”


            Therefore, if it is understood that such behavior by political leaders who as a class, and forthrightly so, are more concerned with reelection than with accomplishment of any military mission,[59] it becomes even more imperative to ask why senior military officers are signing operational orders with the identical guidance.  As we discussed in the introduction, such is the case today with Army division commanders in Bosnia, and by implication of more senior commanders also.  Is it possible that senior Army officers have adopted the policy attitudes of political leaders or, more of concern, their behavioral norms?  Clearly that is the impression the junior officers have, and as well one held by those of the public interested in the issue. Even more perplexing than occasionally bowing to political pressure is senior officers’ intellectual acceptance of such a myth.  It is true that political leaders are going to behave as though the myth was real, it is often in their individual self-interest to do so.  Thus for practical purposes senior military leaders must accept the myth as a real influence.  It is influential irrespective of its validity. But precisely because it is a myth, senior military leaders must be articulate and persuasive in advice to civilian leaders that the public is, in fact, not so casualty averse. Only then can they fulfill their profession’s responsibility for candid and forthright advice to political leaders as well as their responsibility for preservation of the profession’s ethic.


            The gap between top military leaders and junior officers—and the public at large—is instructive here.  Most mid-career officers and the American public believe that, while casualties should obviously be minimized, they remain an inevitable part of any deployment.  They also believe that the accomplishment of OOTW missions are, under certain circumstances as noted above, worth the risk of loss of American lives.  This perspective is demonstrated in Figure 4.



An Analysis of Casualty Aversion


Is the U.S. Public Casualty Averse?


Political Leaders


Intervention is High Risk

Military Leaders


High Risk; Less Preferred Form of War

Junior Military Officers


Willing to Sacrifice

American Public


Will Accept, Under Two Conditions


Figure 4



            Again, the solution appears straightforward.  Senior Army leaders should replace all service guidance and doctrine that treats the prevention of US casualties as anything other than an inherent component of any operational mission.[60] The trust in operational commanders’ ability to accomplish missions prudently and competently, irrespective of the number of American casualties, must be restored, and immediately so.[61]  Without that, few officers aware of the profession’s need to maintain its own unique ethic will seek command.  Ultimately there will be no profession, only an obedient military bureaucracy with no autonomy, one which responds in an unthinking and uncritical manner to the requests and directives of civilian leaders.  We doubt the military effectiveness of such a bureaucracy.


IV.              Resolving the Ethical Muddle


Both history and present research confirm that it is during times of uncertainty and change in mission requirements that a firm foundation of shared understanding of professionalism is most needed to sustain the military organization. [62]   We therefore offer several ideas on how to refocus individual officers, and thus the officer corps itself, on the ethical foundations of professionalism.


            We turn first to the concept of self-sacrifice, specifically addressing the issue of risk as an inherent part of an officer’s concept of duty.  In other words, if an officer is morally obligated to lead her unit to successful mission accomplishment (the moral claim of the mission) is the obligation of, and thus the risk of, self-sacrifice inherent within that duty? And if so, what happens to the officer’s moral obligation, and thus to the profession’s ethic, if political leaders proscribe such risk as part of a policy of “radical force protection?” In the paragraphs that follow we address the first question by a review of the origins of the American military ethic, and subsequently answer the second by using examples of the recent NATO operation in Kosovo and Serbia.


              The Inherence of Self-sacrificial Risk: Sacrifice is not always above and beyond the call of duty.

While sacrificing may sometimes be above and beyond the call of duty, it is not always the case.  We often apply words like “saint” and “hero” in a variety of situations, all of which involve sacrifice, but not all of which involve circumstances that are above and beyond the call of duty.  We do call heroes people who do their duty even when considerations of self-interest or self-preservation would cause most others to fail.  For example, consider the terrified doctor who remains with his patient in a plague stricken city.  Clearly he is heroic, but it is still his duty to tend to his patient.  The presence or absence of the plague does not alter the fact that a doctor’s duty is to remain with his patient.[63]  It only affects how we judge the character of the doctor who does so.


 Nevertheless, it is not sufficient to simply assert that there are conditions when sacrifice can be obligatory; we must spell out what those conditions are.  Just as with actions in war, we must not think our concept of sacrifice must either permit everything, or allow nothing.  It is hard to argue, for example, that the soldier who falls on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers was merely doing his duty.  Such an action seems to be beyond the call of duty.  If it is not, then it is not clear that any action ever could be. Nevertheless, it seems equally clear that soldiers, and especially the officers who lead them, are obligated to risk their lives to accomplish legitimate missions.  What remains is to give a principled account of this distinction.


In giving such an account, it is important to resist the temptation to justify such obligations by virtue of the fact that one agreed to take the job. A trucker, for example, may contract to deliver specified goods to a certain destination by a certain time.[64] However, he cannot be morally obligated to drive at high speeds over a dangerous shortcut, even if that means he may not be able to fulfill the provisions of the contract. The trucker, while he may have certain contractual obligations, cannot be morally obligated to put his and others’ lives at risk to fulfill them. He will simply have to live with the penalty and the customer will simply have to live without the goods. The officer, however, cannot simply live without the victory that he or she may have otherwise achieved. For this reason, especially given the kinds of sacrifices that the officer is required to make, it is important that the obligation run much deeper than a mere “contract.”


In fact, the obligation does run more deeply.  It is rooted ultimately in the fact that the service the officer corps provides is essential if human beings are to thrive and flourish. When officers play their roles well by effectively defending a defenseless society, they are contributing to the well being of fellow citizens.  If it were otherwise, we would not be able to justify their obligation to make the sizable sacrifices officers are often called upon to make.


 But these sacrifices are justified.  Human beings are, among other things, social creatures.  If they are to thrive they must form the kind of societies and structures of governance that permit, if not promote, the good life for all of its members.  In any socio-political setting, a tension arises between the needs of the community and the needs of the individual.  That tension is resolved in the American constitutional system by recognizing that individuals have certain rights, namely the right to life and the right to liberty.  A socio-political setting that recognizes such rights, even if it sometimes resolves specific issues imperfectly, would be one worth defending as is the American Republic.


 But rights entail obligations.  If someone has a right to something, someone else has an obligation to provide for it.  If a person has a right to life, the obligation falls onto someone to safeguard that life.  If someone has a right to liberty, then it falls onto someone to safeguard that liberty.  This is why states have an obligation to raise and maintain armies.[65]  Armies then perform a morally necessary function: safeguarding the rights to which the members of that society are entitled viz a viz external threats to their security, individually and collectively.


Since it is a tragic, but no less true, fact that some human societies feel a need to destroy other human societies, it must then be a necessary feature (at least as long as this fact is true) of a good society that it be able to defend itself. This also means that it will be a good thing, though perhaps under some conditions not morally obligated, to use force to stop or prevent violent conflict, since the cessation of violent conflict is a necessary condition for a good society.


 Since the authority to decide when the use of force is appropriately in the hands of the civilian authorities, professional soldiers have a prima facie obligation to accomplish the missions civilian authorities assign them. Since it can be morally permissible, if not obligatory, to use force outside national boundaries to stop or prevent violent conflict, professional soldiers are then obligated to perform such missions, as long as they are not blatantly immoral. As we have argued in section II, humanitarian interventions are not blatantly immoral.


 Furthermore, this issue goes to the deeper issue of the ongoing redefinition in America of what it means to be a good citizen. While some may reject the idea that citizens owe any service to their country, our argument suggests otherwise. If America is a good society in the relevant sense, then some citizens all of the time, or all citizens some of the time must either support the defense through the payment of taxes or offer themselves for service in the case of a national emergency.


And those who answer the call for service incur special moral obligations. As we have shown, what justifies these obligations is that they are necessary if the state is to be properly defended.  Since a successful defense depends on successful accomplishment of certain missions, the accomplishment of those missions has moral force.  This means those who undertake such missions, unlike the tardy truck driver cited earlier, are morally obligated to see them through to success—even if that means putting themselves and their soldiers at risk to do so.  The only thing that could negate this is some weightier moral claim.


This obligation to sacrifice is not limited to times of conflict.  Many if not most, missions undertaken in the defense of a state engender some risk.  Even in peacetime, training missions often have the potential to result in injury or death of those who participate. Thus by extension, self sacrifice on the part of the officer corps to make possible realistic training which ultimately contributes to mission accomplishment is also morally obligated.


All of this is not to say that officers can ever be indifferent to friendly casualties. Rather, it is an officer's duty to consider the risk of casualties, as well as several other factors when planning how best to accomplish assigned missions.  The point is that the considerations of casualties, as well as other relevant factors, are inherent to the moral duty to defend a defenseless society. 

Hence, a coherent view of the officer’s duty is presented in Figure 5.


A Coherent View of the Officer’s Duty





Self-Sacrifice                          Mission Accomplishment




  Mimimizing Casualties        Minimizing Collateral Damage






Figure 5


As stated before, the moral claim of the mission can only be superseded by a

weightier moral claim.  Self-interest, and even sometimes self-preservation, cannot serve as weightier moral claims.  If they could, the possibility of defending society would be undermined.  And, as indicated earlier, that is not morally permissible.  But, that there can be such claims must be understood before we have a complete conception of sacrifice for the military professional.  The Just War Tradition (JWT), upon which the Laws of Land Warfare are founded, embody one such set of obligations.  JWT recognizes that everyone has the right to life and liberty, regardless of the nation to which they belong.  This right can be mitigated, even negated, but only under a certain set of conditions.


One of the fundamental principles that underlies the Just War Tradition is that soldiers are obligated to take risks to preserve the lives of non-combatants.  By gaining the right to kill (which is necessary if they are to properly serve and defend the state), soldiers have given up the right not to be killed.  Noncombatants have not gained the right to kill, and as such, still retain their right not to be killed.  While this can be mitigated somewhat by the application of the doctrine of double effect,[66] that doctrine requires, among other things, that soldiers take extra risks to preserve civilian lives.[67]


This may seem counterintuitive to many military leaders.  We often hear officers claim that their soldiers’ lives are more valuable, and thus more worthy of protection, than the lives of noncombatants.[68]  But those who make such claims clearly misunderstand the extent of a soldier’s moral obligations.  A soldier exists to defend on behalf of the state the individual rights of its citizens.  It makes no sense to say that soldiers, who have given up their right not to be harmed, may enjoy additional protection at the expense of the lives of civilians, who do have a right not to be harmed.  Still, it is not the case that to preserve civilians’ lives soldiers are obligated to take any and all risks. Their risk is limited by the following conditions: by taking this risk, 1) one cannot accomplish the mission, or 2) one will not be able to carry on future missions. 


To illustrate this point, consider the following example.  In WWII, French pilots flying for the Allies (over France) had the problem that if they bombed high, they could destroy their target with little risk to themselves, but at a high cost in civilian casualties.  If they bombed low, they could destroy their target and their bombing would be accurate enough to minimize civilian casualties, but their casualty rate would be very high.  The casualty rate would be so high, in fact, that they might be able to carry out one or two “suicide” missions, but would not long be able to sustain the effort and the Germans would have emerged victorious.  To resolve this tension, the French pilots bombed low enough to reduce civilian casualties but high enough that their casualty rates would allow for not only mission accomplishment, but also for sustained operations against the Nazis.  Since all non-combatants—regardless of their nationality—retain their right to life, soldiers (or airmen in this case) are obligated to accept these extra risks as inherent within their duty.[69] 


This illustrates well the problem a policy of radical force protection poses for the professional military ethic.  Consider the recent bombing of Kosovo and Serbia, where Allied air forces bombed high enough to be out of range of Serbian anti-aircraft weapons and Allied ground forces would not even mount a ground campaign for fear of casualties.

To our understanding these tactics, driven by Alliance and domestic political considerations, were more designed to preserve soldiers’ and aviators’ lives than to rapidly and effectively accomplish the mission, thus allowing more civilian casualties than would have otherwise been the case.[70] 


            By not using Apache helicopters, A-10’s or NATO ground troops to destroy Serbian military capacity, NATO forces failed to take risks they should have taken.  Certainly these forces were more vulnerable than high altitude bombers, but by keeping them out of harm’s way, soldiers and aviators placed risks they could have taken onto civilians.  But soldiers and aviators, as we have discussed before, are obligated to take risks, at least up to the point of certain failure, that civilians are not.  If it was the case that NATO could have accepted the additional risk without dooming the mission, then NATO was obligated to do so.


            By not taking the risks necessary to destroy Serb tanks and other military and paramilitary forces, NATO forces did not diminish the Serb capability to carry out their brutal policies.  By aiming at Serbian infrastructure and military bases (resorting to the WWII strategy of attrition), NATO forces failed to stop the continued slaughter of innocent civilians, and, as some have argued, might have accelerated it.  If this is the case, that by adopting tactics with more risk for allied soldiers they could have degraded more rapidly Serb military capacity and thereby saved innocent lives, then NATO air forces were obligated to take those extra risks.  This last point is important.  Under the rules of land warfare, NATO forces had at least a prima facie obligation to take risks to preserve innocents’ lives, and they did not do so.


These tactics may have been justified if the political consequences of increased NATO military casualties would have precluded intervening on behalf of the Albanians at all.  If political pressure in Germany or Italy, for example, would render NATO incapable of conducting operations against Serbian efforts to ethnically cleanse Kosovo AND if failing to intervene would still result in a Kosovo cleansed of ethnic Albanians (though the cleansing would undoubtedly have proceeded at a much slower pace) then NATO’s course of action, at least with respect to preserving soldiers’ and airmen’s’ lives at the expense of rapid accomplishment of the mission, would be morally permissible. We suggest, however, that was not the case.  It is quite clear that the operation could have continued as a “coalition of the willing” from within NATO, much as did the initial phases of the Bosnian campaign.


The problem for the PME should now be obvious.  Servicemen and women are not only morally required to take those risks necessary to accomplish the mission, they are morally required to take some additional risks to preserve the lives of noncombatants.  Even if one wants to argue that the priority mission was, in fact, force protection, the claims to the rights of life and liberty on the part of the non-combatants supersede in this case the moral claims of force protection as a mission.  Thus, under the imposition of a policy of radical force protection we have a situation where while serving the interests of the state, which officers are obligated to do, the state places the officer corps in a position from which it cannot fulfill its other moral obligations.  This creates a contradiction that renders the professional ethic incoherent and ineffective at its most basic purpose: to provide moral guidance for behavior to both the institution and individual members.


 This incoherent view of duty as currently implemented is shown in Figure 6; note the cracks in the duty concept caused by the extraction of casualty minimization and the placing of it as a supererogatory mission.


An Incoherent View of the Officer’s Duty

(As currently implemented in OOTW)



#1 Mission: Minimizing Casualties







Self-Sacrifice                            Mission Accomplishment




                                                Minimizing Collateral Damage






Figure 6




V.  Reconceiving the Officer as Self-sacrificing Servant of Society


It should now be clear that what is needed is a principled approach to officership.  We recommend principles as a foundation from which consensus can be built, education can proceed and officers can apply moral reasoning to the issues and problems they face in the course of their daily duties.  We do not presume that the set of principles below is the very best one.  We have given it considerable thought, but doubtless this set can be improved.  Our point, however, is that there is insufficient intellectual consensus within the Army today as to what it means to be an officer.  Creating that consensus is the responsibility of the officer corps.  We therefore encourage readers to develop a better set of principles and to enter a dialogue in the professional literature with a view toward creating consensus within the officer corps.


Adopting a principled approach to officership will, we believe, assist in the necessary recasting of the institutional role and the self-concept of the officer, and thus of the officer corps itself.  We believe this is needed at every level, from the pre-commissioning cadet to the Chief of Staff and his colleagues as they guide the institution through this transition.  Our basic reasons for believing that this is a necessary corrective, regardless of where the Army eventually exits the transition, are drawn from our study and understanding of the Army as a fighting organization with a very unique culture. 


As such, we understand that the process of resolving the issues outlined in this essay is essentially political and organizational.  It is political in that the institution is reacting at its borders with external environments of intense and rapid change imposed through political processes.  It is organizational, and thus cultural and ethical, because the organization retains in its internal environment extensive autonomy to remake itself, to adapt to the necessities of its new missions and priorities.  Leading the institution and effecting change within it via political and organizational processes are the raison d’être of the officer corps!  By their public trust, they are responsible at all times for both the current state of the Army and its professionalism; they lead every single soldier in the Army, every day, in every installation around the globe, maintaining the most effective organizational climates possible.  They are also responsible for those plans and policies that adapt the institution to changing realities.[71]  To be sure they are assisted and supported by legions of very professional Army civilians and by the most professional non-commissioned officer corps in the world, without which they could not fulfill their responsibilities.  But the fact remains that commissioned officers, motivated by a correct self-concept of who they are and what they are to do on behalf of American society, are the dominant force in military organizational change, intellectually and ethically.


            Thus we offer the following set of principles from which all officers, and particularly those at pre-commissioning levels, should draw both their vision and their motivation:


A Principled Approach to Officership[72]


1.  The officer’s duty is to serve society as a whole, to provide that which they cannot provide for themselves - security.  Thus a moral obligation exists between the officer and the society he or she serves, a moral obligation embodied in the officer’s “commission.”  Officers act as agents of society, both individually accountable to them and, as well, serving to strengthen the claim of the service on the affections of the American people.

2.  Professional officers always do their duty, subordinating their personal interests to the requirements of the professional function.  They serve with unlimited liability, including life itself.  When assigned a mission or task and particularly in combat, its successful execution is first priority, above all else, with officers accepting full responsibility for their actions and orders in accomplishing it.

3.  Officers, based on their military expertise, determine the standards of the profession, e.g., for tactical competence, for equipment specifications, for standards of conduct for all soldiers.  Within a professional self-policing role, officers set/change the profession’s standards, personally adhere to the standards, make the standards known to all soldiers, and enforce the standards.

4.  The officer’s motivations are noble and intrinsic, a love for his or her craft – the technical and human aspects of providing the nation’s security -- and the sense of moral obligation to use this craft for the benefit of society.  These motivations lead to the officer’s attainment and maintenance of the highest possible level of professional skill and knowledge.

5. Called to their profession and motivated by their pursuit of its expertise, officers are committed to a career of continuous study and learning.

6.  Because of both the moral obligation accepted and the mortal means employed to carry out his or her duty, the officer emphasizes the importance of the group over that of the individual.  Success in war requires the subordination of the will of the individual to the task of the group -- the military ethic is cooperative and cohesive in spirit, meritocratic, and fundamentally anti-individualistic and anti-careerist.

7.  Officers strictly observe the principle that the military is subject to civilian authority and do not involve themselves or their subordinates in domestic politics or policy beyond the exercise of the basic rights of citizenship.  Senior military officers render candid and forthright professional judgments when representing the profession and advising civilian authorities (there is no public or political advocacy role).

8.  The officer’s honor is of paramount importance, derived through history from demonstrated courage in combat -- the professional soldier always fights when called on -- it includes the virtues of honesty and integrity.  In peace, the officer’s honor is reflected in consistent acts of moral courage.

9.  The officer’s loyalty is legally and professionally to an office, rather than individual incumbents, and in every case is subordinate to their allegiance to the ideals codified in the Constitution.

10. The officer’s loyalty also extends downward to those soldiers entrusted to their command and to their welfare, as persons as well as soldiers, and that of their families during both peace and war.

11. Officers are gentle-men and -women -- persons of character, courtesy and cultivation, possessing the qualities requisite for military leadership.

12. Officers lead by example, always maintaining the personal attributes of spiritual, physical and mental fitness requisite to the demands of their chosen profession.  Through leadership, officers invest in their subordinates, both as soldiers and as persons -- and particularly in the vital non-commissioned officer corps -- to the end that they grow in character, maturity and skill.             



Further, we believe that the vocation of officership should be understood and executed, indeed lived, in a consistent and principled manner.  Given the importance of the ethical component of American military professionalism, the connection between the Army’s Professional Military Ethic (PME) and the principles of officership is very relevant.  If a principle cannot logically be derived from elements of the PME, then it should not be part of the self-concept as an officer!  Conversely, however, if the principles of officership are correctly consistent with the PME and supportive of it, then all officers regardless of rank should reflect seriously on how many of these principles they have inculcated -- are these principles imbedded in their own self-concept?  Those commissioned by society must remember that only to the extent that an officer corps is, each one, loyal to its PME, can it be considered professional.


If it is the case, as we believe, that true character is more accurately seen in adversity than in success, then the application of these principles can, perhaps, be most readily understood in the context of recent issues within or close to the profession of arms -- Iran-Contra, Tailhook, Khobar Towers, Aberdeen, and the Commander-in-Chief’s impeachment.  In these particular cases, three applications of the principles come immediately to mind: the profession’s concept of selfless service, the relevance to the profession of the difference between morality and legality, and last, and most important, the officer’s valuation of truth.


            The concept of service is central to a principled understanding of officership.  It holds that the profession serves the American people by providing a socially useful and necessary function: defending Americans and their interests by being schooled in war and hence able to apply effectively protective violence at their request.  As noted in this essay, this meeting of a societal need creates the moral dimension of the Army’s professionalism as well as the noble character of the individual officer’s service to his fellow citizens.  Embodied explicitly in the commission and implicitly in the unwritten contract with society, this moral obligation requires of the officer unlimited liability, including life, as well as the moral commitment always to put service before self.  Therefore, if involved in the type of crisis noted above, there should never be in the officer’s mind the need to preserve self nor to take any actions at all in that direction.  To the officer, self is always to be abnegated to the higher calling through the disciplined application of moral or physical courage.  A self-abnegating officer has no legacy save the character and quality of his or her service, and to attempt to create or maintain such a legacy would violate the basic concept of service inherent to the profession and to a principled understanding of offficership.


            Secondly, just as the officer’s commitment to service is grounded morally in his or her obligation to society, under our form of government it is also grounded in law, both in the Constitution and in subsequent statutes.  But just because the commitment has two overlapping foundations does not mean that both are to be valued equally by the officer, nor equally available to the officer dealing with crisis.  Particularly within an increasingly legalistic society, the officer’s reaction to crisis must always be to place fulfillment of the moral obligation over that of the legal obligation, even at personal or professional expense.  His or her role must be to do the right thing, to pursue the right outcome on behalf of those served, American society.  It is clear that any issue of intense divisiveness, pushed far enough by hyper-legalism and equivocation, becomes a political issue resolvable only by political means -- reasoned discourse and compromise aimed, rightly, at the resolution of principled disagreements.  But for the officer to pursue such resolutions is to politicize the profession, exactly the opposite of what is needed for professionalism to survive.  A principled understanding of officership requires instead that officers strive to attain the highest of moral standards, regardless of the minimum that the law might allow.


            Third, and last, is the issue of truth.  Not only must commissioned officers always revere the truth, they must also never be in fear of it.  The crises being discussed here do not involve truth on which there might be understandable disagreement because of epistemological concerns.  The issues in political-military crises are much more mundane, but no less important -- what happened, when, where, what were the causes, who responded and how?  Since the truth, as well as the absence of fear about it, cements the bond of trust between officer and society, it is always to be pursued and displayed with exceptional vigor.  Utter transparency is the desired, indeed obligated, state between the accountable officer and the American people.  That means as a matter of highest principal that the officer speaks “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” at all times because he or she is perpetually under moral oath, upon accepting the commission.  Given this attitude and behavior, coupled with the concept of selfless service noted above, fear of the truth holds no power whatsoever over the officer.  It is, in fact, his or her very best companion during the long journey of service.


            Thus, application of the principles yields attitudes and behavior often at odds with those within the society the officer has chosen to serve.  Does this then mean that the officer is in any manner better than those in American society?  We do not believe so.  It means only that the officer is different, and has unreservedly chosen to be so.  Triumphalism and self-righteousness do not become the serving officer nor the profession any more than self-serving actions, appeal to legalisms, and disdain for the power of the truth.  It is better, we believe, for the officers, operating in camaraderie under the imperatives of their commission, to tend in a principled manner to each other, to their profession and to its ethos.




We trust this essay demonstrates that we are deeply concerned by the cracks in the edifice of professionalism in the United States Army.  We remain confident that a refocus on the framework of professionalism as presented here will help to correct what we see as serious corrosion, even violation, of the professional military ethic. And we are encouraged by the recent creation of a Center for the Professional Military Ethic (CPME) at the United States Military Academy, West Point.  Hence we offer through that Center this essay as a starting point for the officer corps’ review, reflection and dialogue on their, and the Army’s, purpose and ethic. We believe such to be essential to help the Army refocus on its key role as the willing and effective servant of the American people.

[1] For the traditional understanding, see Michael Walzer, “Two Kinds of Military Responsibility”, in Lloyd Matthews and Dale Brown (eds.) The Parameters of Military Ethics (Pergaman-Brassy’s,  1989): 67-72.

[2] Comments in quotations are either exact quotes or from memory paraphrases of the lecture dialogue attended by all three of the authors of this paper.

[3] Major Mark L. Kimmey, “After the Deployment: The Impact of Peacekeeping on Readiness,” ARMY (July 1999): 11.

[4] Sam. C. Sarkesian, Beyond the Battlefield: The New Military Professionalism (New York: Pergamon Press, 1981).

[5] Sarkesian, 21.

[6] Samuel Huntington, The Soldier and the State (New Haven:  Harvard University Press, 1957), chapter 1.

[7] Bruce D. Porter, War and the Rise of the State (New York:  The Free Press, 1994).  For the American experience, see particularly chapter 7.

[8] Christopher Dandecker, “A Farewell to Arms?  The Military and the Nation-State in a Changing World," in James Burk (ed.), The Adaptive Military:  Armed Forces in a Turbulent World, 2d ed. (New Brunswick:  Transaction Publishers, 1998); and Michael W. Doyle, “Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs”, in Michael E. Brown, Sean M. Lynn-Jones, and Steven E. Miller, (eds.) Debating the Democratic Peace (Cambridge, MA:  MIT Press, 1996).

[9] Don Snider and Miranda Carlton-Carew (eds.), U.S. Civil-Military Relations: Crisis or Tensions? (Washington DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1995).

[10] The division of labor between military leaders and political leaders is not always clear, but what is accepted is that the role of senior military leaders includes the persuasiveness needed to obtain necessary resources.  See, Allen Millett, Williamson Murray and Kenneth Watman, “The Effectiveness of Military Organizations,” International Security (Summer 1986), 37-71.

[11] Louis Caldera and General Dennis Reimer, A Statement on the Posture of The United States Army Fiscal Year 2000 (Washington: Government Printing Office, February 1999), 26.

[12] See testimony by Colonel John D. Rosenberger, Commander Opposing Forces, National Training Center, Ft Irwin CA, before the Military Readiness Subcommitee, Committee on National Security, U.S. House of Representatives, 26 February 1999, (Accessed on-line).

[13] The potential of the RMA remains quite debatable.  For an excellent overview, see Colin Grey, The American Revolution in Military Affairs:  An Interim Assessment (Camberley, Surrey: Strategic and Combat Studies Institute, 1997).

[14] Steven Lee Myers, “Drop in Recruits Pushes Pentagon to New Strategy,” The New York Times, September 27, 1999, (accessed on-line).

[15] Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Gramercy Books, 1996), 665.

[16] Louis Pojman, Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong, 3d ed. (Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1998), 27.

[17] We reject the notion held by a few that one can compartmentalize life into different roles, hold different ethics for each role, and yet lead a morally consistent life.  See, Malham W. Wakin, “Professional Integrity,” (Sixth Annual Alice McDermont Lecture in Applied Ethics), U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado, 3 April 1996.

[18] We are indebted to Colonel Dan Kaufman for this observation.

[19] Huntington , The Soldier and the State, chapter 3.

[20] It should also be clear that we believe any military tradition, custom, or intrusion into the lives of soldiers that cannot be defended on the basis of a clear contribution to military effectiveness is, prima facie, questionable.

[21] One only has to recall the recent controversies surrounding the sexual escapades of Brigadier General Hale and the officers and non-commissioned officers at Aberdeen to see the damage that can be done to professionalism by embracing an inherently contradictory ethic.  In both cases, leaders placed personal interest and gratification above the needs of the service.  This is not to say that society condones rape or abuses of power, and clearly some of the activities of those at Aberdeen transgressed even the most lax versions of “post-modern” or egoist ethics.  However, the judgment society makes on most of these activities is much different than what the military must make if it is to function well.

[22] We define “radical force protection” as placing the prevention of friendly casualties at a higher operational priority than mission accomplishment.  Such “radical” force protection is not to be confused with sound Army doctrine that requires commanders, while accomplishing the assigned missions as first priority, to protect their forces prudently by the judicious application of the appropriate elements of combat power.  See, Field Manual 100-5, Operations, chapter 2 (July 1993) for a more complete discussion.


[23] Huntington, The Soldier and The State, chapter 4.

[24] The apolitical tradition has not been without critiques.  For the “fusionist” debate of the 1970s and 1980s see, John H. Garrison, “The Political Dimension of Military Professionalism”,  American Defense Policy (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997): 472-478.  For a more recent criticism see Christopher Gibson and Don M. Snider, “Civil-Military Relations and the Ability to Influence: A Look at the National Security Decision-making Process,” Armed Forces and Society (Winter 1999): 194-218.

[25] Sarkesian, chapters 8, 9.

[26] Steven Kull and I.M. Destler, “Misreading the American Public on International Engagement,” (Center for International and Security Studies, University of Maryland, Program on International Policy Attitudes, 18 October 1996): 1-5.

[27] This quote is, in fact, Madaline Albright speaking to Colin Powell, see Colin Powell, My American Journey (Random House, 1995): 576.

[28] The absurd response by the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Trent Lott, to the Air Force’s courts martial of Lt. Kelly Flinn for disobedience and conduct unbecoming of an officer is instructive in this regard.  See, Elaine Sciolino, “Air Force Chief has Harsh Words for Pilot Facing Adultery Charges,” (The New York Times, May 22, 1997) A1.

[29] William Bianco and Jamie Markham, “Vanishing Veterans: The Decline in Military Experience in the US Congress” (TISS project, forthcoming, see footnote 35).

[30] Don M. Snider, “The Uninformed Debate on Military Culture”, Orbis (Winter 1999): 11-25.

[31] Deborah D. Avant, “Are the Reluctant Warriors Out of Control?” (Security Studies, 6, 2 (Winter 1996/7).

[32] Richard Kohn, “Out of Control,” National Interest 35 (Spring 1994): 3-17, and Richard Weigley, “The American Military and the Principle of Civilian Control from McClellen to Powell, Journal of Military History 57 (October 1993): 27-58.

[33] This is certainly not a new issue for senior officers in the Army.  See, for example, Maxwell Taylor, The Uncertain Trumpet (Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 1959) and Matthew Ridgway, Soldier (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1956): 217-219.  For a more recent era, see H.R. McMaster, Dereliction of Duty, (New York: Harper Collins, 1997).

[34] Ole R. Holsti, “A Widening Gap between the U.S. Military and Civilian Society: Some Evidence, 1976-96”, International Security Vol. 23, No. 3 (Winter 1998/99): 5-42; and with Joseph Collins, International Security, Vol. 24, No 2 (Fall 1999): 199-207.

[35] The results of a major, two-year study by 28 scholars under the direction of Richard H. Kohn and Peter D. Feaver and the auspices of the Triangle Institute of Security Studies (TISS) into the existence and potential implications of such a gap were initially presented in October, 1999.  The 20 individual studies will be published during 2000.  For a summary digest of survey results and study conclusions, see Peter D. Feaver and Richard H. Kohn, “Project on the Gap Between the Military and Civilian Society- Digest of Findings”,, (accessed on-line).

[36]  This paper was written prior to the announcement by Army Chief of Staff General Erik K. Shinseki of his vision for reforming the Army (address to the Eisenhower Luncheon at the Association of the United States Army [AUSA] annual meeting on October 12, 1999).  The arguments presented in this essay, we believe, support his vision to do just that.

[37]  Michael Howard, War in European History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), 75.

[38]  See Barry R. Posen, The Sources of Military Doctrine: France, Britain, and Germany between the World Wars (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984); Stephen P. Rosen, Winning the Next War: Innovation and the Modern Military (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991); and Kimberly Martin Zisk, Engaging the Enemy: Organization Theory and Soviet Military Innovation, 1955-1991 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), and Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett, (eds.). Military Effectiveness (Three Volumes) (Boston:  Unwin Hyman, 1990); see also Allan R. Millett, Williamson Murray, and Kenneth H. Watman, “The Effectiveness of Military Organizations”, International Security 11/1 (Summer 1988).

[39] John A. Nagl, “Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife:  British and American Army Counterinsurgency Learning during the Malayan Emergency and the Vietnam War”, World Affairs 161/4 (Spring 1999);

 Alastair Ian Johnston, “Thinking About Strategic Culture”, International Security 19/4 (Spring 1995); Carl H. Builder, The Masks of War: American Military Styles in Strategy and Analysis (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1989).

[40] See Rosen; and Williamson Murray and Allen R. Millett (eds.), Military Innovation in the Inter-War Period (London: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

[41] Deborah Avant, "Officer Attitudes and Change in the post-Cold War US Armed Services" in Theo Farrell and Terry Tarriff, (eds.), The Sources of Military Change: Military Organisations and Their Changing Environments in the Modern Era (Forthcoming).

[42] Given the paucity of resources used to exploit its unknown potential, the vision of high-technology, major-power warfare as portrayed in Joint Vision 2010 and Army Vision 2010 has, we believe, proved thus far to be incredible to the majority of the Army officer corps.

[43]  The decision in 1997 by Chief of Staff of the Army, General Dennis Reimer, to deploy one of the Army’s premier heavy divisions, the 1st Cavalry Division, to peacekeeping duty in Bosnia can be seen as evidence that the senior leadership of the Army eventually accepted the importance of performing OOTW missions.  It can also be interpreted as evidence of the extreme stresses placed upon the institution in the post-Cold War world.

[44] In addition to the TISS study discussed in footnote 35, a second, multi-year study of the U.S. military will be completed in late 1999.  Conducted independently by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC, but with the cooperation of the separate services it examines empirically by field research the organizational climate within the armed forces today and recommends policies and adaptations to maintain service cultures most supportive of future military effectiveness.  For a discussion of the growing  “perceptions gap” between senior Army leaders in Washington and the junior grade officers in the field, see American  Military Culture in the 21st Century, Executive Summary and chapter 6 (Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC (forthcoming).

[45] For the training revolution see, Robert K Griffith, Today’s Army Wants to Join You: The US Army’s Transition from the Draft to an All-volunteer Force (Washington DC: Center for Military History, 1995) and Anne W. Chapman, The Army’s Training Revolution, 1973-1990 (Ft Monroe, VA: Training and Doctrine Command, 1990).  For recent research into the importance of self-concept in motivation and leadership, see Robert G. Lord, Douglas J. Brown and Steven J Friedberg, “Understanding the Dynamics of Leadership: The Role of Follower Self-Conceptions in the Leader/ Follower Relationship,” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 78, 3 (June 1999).

[46]  For an analysis of the impact of the reduction in officer numbers on the officer corps, see David McCormick, The Downsized Warrior:  America’s Army in Transition (New York:  New York University Press, 1998).

[47] American Military Culture.

[48] American Military Culture.

[49] The data on Army morale in the 1990s is taken from, Department of the Army, DCSPER QOL Survey, Sept 1998-June1999.

[50] Michael O'Hanlon, "The Pentagon's Unrealistic Procurement Plans. "Available at, (accessed on-line).


[51]  All citations are from a text of the AUSA speech disseminated throughout the Army over email on October 13th, see footnote 36.  The speech was covered by the media on the same day, drawing generally favorable reviews; see Steven Lee Myers, “Army is Restructuring With Brigades for Rapid Response”, (The New York Times, October 13, 1999), A16.

[52] Emphasis added.

[53] For a thorough treatment of this incident, see Mark Bowden, Blackhawk Down: A Story of Modern War (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1999).

[54] For the relief of Secretary Aspin, see chapter 24 of Elizabeth Drew, On the Edge: The Clinton Presidency (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995).

[55] In fact, Edward Luttwak’s theory as presented in Foreign Affairs was largely an assertion without empirics to support it, and has subsequently been clearly refuted.  For his theory, see Edward Luttwak, “Where are the Great Powers?” Foreign Affairs 73 (July/August 1994): 23-28; “Toward Post-Heroic Warfare,” Foreign Affairs 74 (May/June 1995): 109-122; and “A Post-Heroic Military Policy,” Foreign Affairs 75 (July/August 1996): 33-44.  For a devastating critique of Luttwak, see James Burk, “Public Support for Peacekeeping in Lebanon and Somalia: Assessing the Casualties Hypothesis,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 114, No. 1 (1999): 53-78.

[56] The recent research is: Steven Kull, “Americans on Kosovo,” The Program on International Policy Attitudes (University of Maryland, May 27, 1999).  This research into American public opinion on Kosovo specified a successful outcome for US goals, and in turn a substantial majority of Americans responded they would continue to support the effort, notwithstanding 250 US military casualties. The two conditions cited in the text have been well known for years by public opinion scholars, most of whom also hold that the relationships between public and elite opinion are extraordinarily complex.  See, for example, Benjamin I. Page and Robert Y. Shapiro, The Rational Public (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992) and Bruce Russett, Controlling the Sword (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990).

[57] See Eric V. Larson, Casualties and Consensus (Santa Monica, CA:  Rand, 1996).

[58] In contrast, Americans supported the Gulf War in 1991 fully aware of predictions of a significant number of casualties.  But even then, the Bush administration barely created the elite consensus the public sought; the Senate voted to support the intervention passed only 52-48.

[59] The "Mayhew hypothesis", which suggests that the first concern of any political leader is his or her reelection, was first presented in David Mayhew, Congress: The Electoral Connection  (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974).


[60] This issue of “radical force protection” eroding service ethics may point to a serious flaw in the Goldwater-Nichols legislation of 1986.  This may be a case of political guidance and military orders flowing through joint channels of communication/command which are at serious ethical odds with the service’s Title 10 responsibilities to “man, equip and train” forces which embody an ethical culture supportive of effective warfighting.  See findings and recommendations of CSIS Study.  

[61] It should not be lost on senior Army leaders, as it has not been lost on the Army officer corps in general, that this was one of the principled reasons for the resignation of Air Force Chief of Staff, General Ronald Fogelman.

[62] Andrew Gordon, “The Doctrine Debate:  Having the Last Word”, in Michael Duffy, Theo Farrell and Geoffrey Sloan (eds.), Doctrine and Military Effectiveness (Exeter, UK:  The Strategic Policy Studies Group, 1997), 47.

[63] J.O. Urmson "Saints and Heroes," in A.I. Melden (ed.), Essays in Moral Philosophy (1958), 199-202.

[64] The authors are grateful to Colonel Anthony Hartle for assistance in developing this example.

[65] See Porter, War and the Rise of the State, particularly chapter 7; and Huntington, The Soldier and the State, particularly chapters 1 and 2.

[66] Originating with Catholic theologians in the Middle Ages, the principle of double effect is the view that there is a difference between the consequences of our actions that we intend and those we do not intend, but still foresee (Walzer, Michael, Just and Unjust Wars 2d (Basic Books, 1992:152). While it has a variety of applications, when applied to military situations, it explains when a military force may act in such a way as to bring about the deaths of noncombatants. The principle has four conditions: 1) the bad effect is unintended, 2) the bad effect is proportional to the desired military objective 3) the bad effect is not a direct means to the good effect and 4) actions are taken to minimize the foreseeable bad effects, even if it means accepting an increased risk to combatants.

[67] By extra risks, we mean those risks not minimally necessary to accomplish the mission.

[68] This, in fact, was LT Calley’s defense during his trial for atrocities he and his platoon committed at My Lai. He claimed, “If there is one thing I am guilty of, it is valuing my soldiers’ lives over that of the enemy.” Since by enemy he meant more than 400 women and children, most of whom posed no threat to his unit, we can see that in fact he is claiming that no noncombatant’s life that was worth that of a soldiers’. We can also see by this example, the absurdity of such a claim. While he may have killed, with minimal risk, some people who would later kill some of his soldiers, such an action is not morally defensible. See Frontline Episode, “Remember My Lai” March 5, 1989.

[69] Walzer, p. 157.

[70] See, “Foreign Policy: The ABC Club,” Economist, May 22, 1999: 30-31; and Michael Debbs, “Post-Mortem on NATO’s Bombing Campaign”, (The Washington Post National Weekly Edition, July 19-26, 1999):23.  For more detail, see Paul Kahn, “War and Sacrifice in Kosovo”, Philosophy and Public Policy, 19, 43 (University of Maryland, Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, Spring/Summer 1999):1-6.

[71]  See Don M. Snider, “An Uninformed Debate on Military Culture”, Orbis and John A. Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: British and American Army Counterinsurgency Learning During the Malayan Emergency and the Vietnam War (Oxford:  Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, 1997).

[72] This list was compiled by Dr. Snider in 1996 from multiple sources within the literature of civil-military relations, military ethics and military professionalism.  It has been improved by comments from several senior officers and refined in class discussions and research projects during two academic years, during which time it reached its present form.