JSCOPE Banquet Address

30 January 2003

Colonel Anthony E. Hartle




            After-dinner speeches are always suspect, and speeches by professors are even more so.  The poet W.H. Auden once said that a professor is a person who talks in someone else’s sleep.  I called myself an Infantry officer for a long time, but after 24 years on the faculty at West Point, I have to admit to the appropriateness of the label professor.  To begin a sleep session, I sometimes tell a joke, invariably a bad joke and usually one about lawyers.  Since there are a number of lawyers here tonight, I will settle for a shaggy dog story.

            You may remember the one about the man who walks into a bar with a dog on a leash.  The bartender looks up and says, “Get the dog outta here.”  Man says, “You don’t understand.  This is a talking dog!”  Bartender says, “You’re carrying less than a full load, fella.  Out. Now.”  Man says, “No, really.  Let me show you.”  Bartender says, “OK, buddy.  Tell you what.  Your dog talks, I buy you and the dog a drink.  Dog doesn’t talk, I throw you out on your keesters.  Got it?”

            Man turns to dog, “OK, Heinz.  What do you call the thing on the top of the house that keeps the rain out?”  Dog says, “Rrroof!”

            “Now, what do you call the part of a golf course where the grass grows long?”  Dog says, “Rrroof!”

            “And who was the greatest ballplayer who ever lived?”  Dog says, “Rrroof!”

            With that the bartender grabs both the guy and his dog by the back of their necks, runs them to the door, and throws them into the street.

            They’re in the gutter, dusting themselves off.  Dog turns to his owner and says, “Do you think I should have said DiMaggio?”

            I am not sure that story has a point, but it is true that sometimes it is difficult to know the right thing to say.  Tonight, however, I want to talk about JSCOPE.  I am convinced that this conference serves an important purpose, and I want to tell you why.  First, however, for those of you relatively new to JSCOPE, let me review the path we took to arrive at this year’s conference.

            In the spring of 1979, a number of military officers attended a Hastings Center Institute on professional ethics.  When they looked around at those attending the conference, they were surprised to see other people in uniform there.  That handful of officers got together and concluded that a meeting that focused on professional military ethics would be useful.  The Marine officers in that group, from Quantico Marine Station, Virginia, hosted a conference in August 1979 for officers from all of the armed services who had an interest in military ethics.  A handful of officers attended, and most of those at the Quantico conference were involved in teaching military ethics at some level.  Because the meeting was unanimously perceived as beneficial, attendees from the staff of the Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, agreed to host another, more widely publicized conference on professional ethics the following year to which representatives of all the services were invited.

            The Air University sponsored the conference in January 1980 with an attendance of 33 officers and civilian professors.  At that meeting, those attending decided to form an organization to be called the Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics (JSCOPE).  Because of the permanence of Colonel Mal Wakin's assignment at the Air Force Academy, he was asked to serve as administrator and to make the Department of Philosophy and Fine Arts at USAFA the headquarters for JSCOPE affairs.  General Wakin chaired the JSCOPE activity until he retired about ten years ago. 

            Over a period of years both the objectives and the formal organization of JSCOPE evolved.  I have worked with JSCOPE since 1982 and have witnessed at first hand the development of this remarkable activity.  At the January 1985 meeting we adopted an organizational charter, setting forth the purposes of JSCOPE and providing for an Executive Board.  The Preamble of that document states:


            JSCOPE exists both by virtue of its members' commitment to professional military ethics and the continued willingness of service commanders to support the members' involvement.  The JSCOPE emphasis is on analysis, discussion, and education, with the intent of identifying and clarifying the ethical principles that should guide the actions of military professionals.


            JSCOPE'S objectives include:


1.  providing a viable forum for the discussion and exchange of ideas relating to professional ethics;


2.  fostering the rigorous and systematic analysis of military issues of ethical significance;


3.  clarifying the ethical norms and related behavioral expectations which should guide and constrain the conduct of military professionals;


4.  enhancing the quality and scope of military ethics instruction;


            For a number of years after 1985, we met at the National Defense University at Ft. McNair.  But after a vaudeville year in 1998, we decided to turn to a commercial setting.  That year, Roosevelt Hall was under renovation, so NDU agreed to allow us to use Eisenhower Hall, which had just been spruced up.  Three days before the conference was to start, President Clinton decided to meet with the Joint Chiefs at Ft. McNair—in Eisenhower Hall.  Someone on the White House staff liked the building.  It was no longer available to us. 

Barry McCaffrey was our keynote speaker that year and we had over 200 people attending—and the day before the conference we had no place to conduct it.  The Dean at NDU, however, assured me that we would have a place, that in fact they would make Roosevelt Hall available.  Because it had been released to the contractor, we could not get into the building until the next morning, but he assured me it would be available.  The next morning, one hour before the conference was supposed to start, workmen unlocked the padlocks on the chains on the doors of Roosevelt and let me in.  I found that the process of ripping out the interior of the building was well under way.  Ragged pieces of sheetrock and other debris were piled in the main lobby of the building—and in the auditorium we were to use.  The podium on the auditorium stage had been removed and the sound system wires protruded from a sizable hole in the stage floor.  I was a little concerned.

       With the Dean’s help we did find an electrician to come in and jury-rig the sound system, but he told us the projection booth was not recoverable.  We also found that the heating system was haywire and the temperature in our auditorium hovered around 88-90 degrees.  Those of us on the JSCOPE board rushed around moving sheet rock and piles of construction trash.  The sound system was restored 10 minutes before the start time of the conference, and I turned around to find General McCaffrey and his entourage wandering through this construction site.  He was understandably displeased at not having been met at his car, and even more displeased when he found that he could not use the Desert Storm film that was to be the centerpiece of his keynote address.  I won’t continue with the painful details, but after 1998, we ended our reliance on the National Defense University and moved the site of the conference here to the Hilton Springfield.

Membership in JSCOPE remains entirely voluntary and open to any person with an interest in professional military ethics.  Currently there are well over 300 active members including military officers and noncommissioned officers representing the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Canadian Forces, and various civilian organizations.  The Executive Board has six elected members including one representative from each of the five military services plus one elected civilian member, and we have a seventh member representing the Canadian Forces.  COL Ken Strain is the current Canadian representative, Dr. Fran Harbour is the civilian representative, LTC Gary Slyman is the Marine Corps representative, Captain Rob Ayer represents the Coast Guard, I have served for the Army (a duty being assumed by LTC Dan Zupan), and Dr. Bill Rhodes is the Air Force representative and Chairman of the Executive Board.

            I want to return to the issue of JSCOPE’s importance, and to make my point, let me relate several reports.  Each concerns atrocities or violations of the laws of war.  The first report takes us back to the beginning of WWI, 1914.  When Belgium resisted the passage of the German Army, targeted on France, in August 1914, news soon spread that “Belgian civilians, including women and children, were firing at German soldiers . . . .  It became an article of faith among Germans that Belgian civilians . . . often led by their own priests, perpetrated the most outrageous cruelties on isolated or wounded German soldiers.”[1] 

The German response to these claims, accepted and disseminated by the German chain of command, was merciless, as this excerpt from a report on the atrocities indicates. 


At Liege, which offered fierce military resistance, 850 civilians were killed and 1,300 buildings were deliberately burned down in three days.  At Louvain, the priceless university library was systematically demolished along with a host of other buildings. . . .  At Dinant, 674 persons, amounting to ten per cent of the population, were massacred.  At Tamines, much of the population was rounded up in the church, and from there all the men, a total of 383, were driven outside and executed by rifle, machine gun, and bayonet.[2]


            Through exhaustive research, historians have established that there was no civilian resistance of any significance among Belgians.  The Belgian government had repeatedly emphasized that civilians were not to resist the Germans, and they did not.  Even the Germans’ best efforts after the war produced no hard evidence of Belgian civilians fighting, let alone committing atrocities.  My conclusion is that large-scale atrocities often occur when governments or military institutions foster fears and sanction brutality.  When official doctrine and guidance strongly prohibit the abuse of prisoners and civilians, large-scale atrocities are much less likely.  When official doctrine and guidance demonizes the enemy and plays upon soldiers’ fears, atrocities are almost inevitable.  The only question is that of the scale.  In the German case, after the war it was established “with relative precision that, in the first weeks of the conflict, the German army had killed 6,500 civilians, mostly Belgian but also French, and destroyed 20,000 buildings.”[3]

            The German atrocities occurred during a time when civilian casualties were not acceptable except as a matter of military necessity, though the criteria for necessity remained unclear.  Half a century later, when I arrived in South Vietnam for service as an Infantry company commander, the situation was different in most places within the Army.  In March, 1968, I found myself in possession of a prisoner following a brief firefight.  At that time, the company had not only an attached Vietnamese translator, but also a Vietnamese soldier referred to as a Kit Carson scout.  Our scout, who had been with the company for about a month, was a chieu hoi, a former Viet Cong who had changed sides and now worked with South Vietnamese and American forces.  I had asked our translator to interrogate the prisoner, which he had done, and the translator said that the prisoner would not talk at all.  At that point, the chieu hoi pulled a knife from his web gear, stared at it for a moment, and then looked at me fiercely.  He said that he would obtain information from the prisoner and that we could then attack the enemy base we believed to be in the area.

            I had seen our scout in action in combat and knew him to be both cunning and ruthless.  I certainly had no doubt about his ability to extract information from a prisoner, but I told him no without hesitation, stating that we would evacuate the prisoner to our battalion headquarters.  That incident occurred in the spring of 1968, within a month of the infamous My Lai massacre.  I relate the story not to reflect any particular credit on myself for making that choice, but precisely because I do not believe my actions reflected personal merit.  Let me explain.

            I had served a tour of duty in Vietnam in 1965-66 with the 173d Airborne Brigade, which at that time was an all-volunteer unit consisting of seasoned professionals in the noncommissioned officer ranks.  The soldiers were well trained and highly competent.  As a young lieutenant in that organization, I learned how to function efficiently and professionally.  Before I returned to Vietnam on a second tour of duty, I taught counter-guerilla operations at Ft. Benning to officers on their way to Vietnam.  I knew what was expected of me as a leader and as an officer.  I knew the established procedures.  When our chieu hoi suggested torturing the prisoner, I really did not give the matter even a fleeting second thought.  As I look back, I recognize that my reaction resulted from the training and experience I had received.  I can claim no admirable moral motives in that I knew most of our prisoners were questioned briefly and then turned over to the South Vietnamese forces.  I further knew that VC prisoners in South Vietnamese hands did not fare well.  With respect to their fate, I had concluded that it was their country and in the case of the VC, the prisoners were their people.  How the prisoners were treated at that point frankly did not concern me, but I had no doubt about the appropriate treatment of prisoners or civilians in my hands.  My attitude was the result of training, established practice, and, quite importantly, institutional expectations.  I followed the rules as a matter of course, which is what the Army wanted and what most of us would want soldiers to do.

            Now let me relate a third report, a third story, one some of you heard here at JSCOPE two years ago.  This is one told by a senior officer about an incident in Kosovo.  He described a visit to a checkpoint on the border between Kosovo and Serbia.   A young captain commanded the element there, one consisting of six Bradley fighting vehicles, several tanks, and a good part of an infantry company.  The element thus had considerable firepower.  The general asked a number of questions, the kind that inspecting generals ask, many of them focused on the rules of engagement and how they applied.  Looking across the border at a collection of small homes about 100 yards away, the general asked, “What would you do if a militia force entered that village and started killing people?”

The captain replied that he would immediately notify his higher headquarters.  “You would take no other action?” the general asked.

The captain replied, “Sir, the ROE specifically direct that I fire across the border only if I am taking direct fire from there on my position.  Under no circumstances am I to move across the border to Serbian territory.”

The general probed the issue for several minutes, until in exasperation the captain asked, “Sir, what do you want me to do?  Violate the ROE and move into the village?”

The general replied, “Yes, I do.  I want you to think beyond this set of rules and think about the right thing to do in this situation.  Letting civilians be killed when you can directly intervene to stop it is not the right choice.”

About two weeks later, the two-star general was visiting the checkpoint position again, this time accompanying a three-star general.  After some conversation and a series of questions, the three-star clapped the captain on the shoulder and told him to keep up the good work. 

As the general turned to leave, the captain added, “And if a Serbian force moved into that village and began committing atrocities, I would immediately intervene and stop them.”  The visiting general turned a brick red color and said, “Over my dead body you will!” 

After our two-star general explained the reason for the captain’s statement, the visiting general stomped away.  On the helicopter on the flight back, however, he conceded that the issue was not clear-cut and that the captain’s answer was not obviously the wrong one.

My last story comes from Bosnia.  A colonel in charge of American forces there told me about a difficult situation for another young officer.  As you know, the program of ethnic cleansing led to a massive exodus of refugees who later wanted to return to their homes.  That applied to all the groups, Bosnians, Serbs, Croats.  In a particular town, all Muslims had departed but wanted to return to their homes after the Dayton accord brought an end to open conflict.  At that point, a carefully orchestrated plan was put in place for the gradual movement of small groups of Muslims back into their homes where they formerly lived among the ethnically Serb towns nearby.  Most of the Muslims simply wanted to go home, but their return was also a political act, one exploited for political ends by Muslim ethnic nationalists.  Serb nationalists soon reacted by organizing a mass march on the town.  The mission of the U.S. force was to prevent the large and unruly Serb march from reaching the town.

The U.S. Forces had sent up a series of roadblocks at choke points along the road that the Serb marchers had to take to get to the Muslim community.  The roadblocks were spaced so that no large groups would suddenly appear in the town.  They were placed so that the Serbs had to overcome obstacles to get around them—cross deep ditches, climb railroad trestle embankments, and so forth, which would slow them down and break up large groups.  The captain had orders to delay the crowd’s arrival at the town until nightfall, when cold and darkness would combine to reduce the marchers in number and energy.  Though they knew they could not control the Serbs, the command wanted to slow them down and disperse them.

At the command post at the second roadblock, the captain received a report that a large group of Serbs had broken through the first roadblock.  The report indicated that the crowd had aggressively approached the roadblock led by a Serb man carrying a baby in front of him at chest level.  When he reached the line of U.S. troops blocking the road, he strode forward, thrusting the baby at the soldiers.  The soldiers moved back at that point, opening their line, and the Serbs surged through the roadblock behind the “baby ram.”  The captain then saw the group of Serbs coming around the curve, moving rapidly toward the second roadblock.  He had to decide what instructions to give the soldiers lined up across the roadway in front of him.  His orders were to prevent the Serbs from advancing, but he was also constrained from using force for other than defensive purposes.

            That was one of several situations that the colonel took back to Germany to integrate into training scenarios for soldiers preparing for duty in Bosnia and Kosovo.[4]

The point of these stories is that military service today involves more than just obeying the rules, the issue in 1914; more than not committing atrocities, the issue in Vietnam.  Obedience and responsibility in military operations have always required considerable maturity, good judgment, and reflective preparation for difficult situations, but the operations have become more and more challenging over the last two decades.  Especially so since even young soldiers now must sometimes make decisions that require that they understand the reasons for the rules.  There may well be times when they will have to weigh quite reasonable orders and decide whether to obey.  The four reports I have talked about illustrate that development, from WWI when we would have liked to see the Germans just follow the rules, to Vietnam where following the rules kept untold numbers of soldiers on the moral path, despite notorious exceptions like My Lai and Son Thang,[5] and then to Bosnia and Kosovo, where the senior leadership, in some cases at least, expects subordinates to think through situations in terms of morally acceptable outcomes and not to be satisfied with a rote application of the rules of engagement.  The professional military ethic can help leaders make difficult decisions.  We will never have a formula that cranks out the correct moral answers, but understanding the application of the professional military ethic will certainly help officers make informed and considered decisions that affect many people directly, and indirectly can affect us all.

      That is where we find ourselves today, and that is why I think that JSCOPE is particularly important.  This is one forum in which interested people from all services and from civilian life can meet to examine important moral issues concerning the military profession and try to understand how best to influence and support men and women in uniform as they do what must be done to defend our country.  This forum, unique in being free from the constraints of official organizations and responding to concerns of participants, provides a means of examining and exchanging ideas and perspectives that does not exist elsewhere.  Those activities are always valuable and potentially enlightening for us and for the people that we talk to when we return to our duty stations and workplaces.  Ideas presented at JSCOPE influence many people.  One year the results were a matter of professional interest to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

The context of the war on terrorism has now made the world a still more complicated place for everyone, the military included, and JSCOPE makes a contribution to helping us engage that complexity with success.    Again, I appreciate the opportunity to share some thoughts with you this evening.  Thank you for sharing your thoughts with all of us in JSCOPE.  Have another great day tomorrow and come back next year.



[1] Istvan Deak, “The Thinkable,” The New Republic, February 18, 2002, 33-34.

[2] Deak, 34.

[3] Deak, 33.

[4] COL Anthony Harriman related this story of an event that occurred at Mahala, BiH.  Mahala lay behind Serb lines for most of the war.  After the Dayton peace accord, it lay just across the Interentity Boundary Line on the Republika Srpska side.

[5] See Gary Solis, Son Thang: An American War Crime (Newport, RI: US Naval Institute, 1997), for details of the Son Thang atrocity.