"Conscience has rights because it has duties." --John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890)
Paper Precis: The profession of arms trains soldiers, providing them with fundamental military skills and properly insisting that they obey lawful orders; the profession, however, inadequately educates soldiers, enabling them to distinguish lawful from unlawful orders (a task difficult enough, at times, even in antiseptic classrooms). Still, military manuals insist that soldiers—exercising their faculty of reason as human beings*have the "ordinary sense and understanding" to tell when orders are reprehensible. At its heart, that is a natural law argument, which, in turn, contends that soldiers have, and should continue to cultivate, an informed conscience. A matured conscience is the product of experience, of training, and of wise education. An effective way to help develop conscience is by teaching the ancient cardinal virtues—which are the "real" core values—paramount among, and complementary to, other approaches suggested in the paper. Although the military services do not exist to run schools of philosophy, their failure to teach "character" is to court disaster.
General of the Armies John J. Pershing (1860-1948) is once supposed to have said that a soldier needs to learn only how to shoot and salute. In rather the same way, those attending church are supposed to know how to "pray, pay, and obey." Nothing is said, in either of those witticisms, about selective obedience or disobedience on grounds of "conscience." In fact, for the past few decades conscience has received something of a bad press. "Surely," the positivist might say in a wide-eyed and condescending way, "you don’t believe in that"--as if conscience were in the same league as the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny. After all, isn’t "conscience" merely what society (or our parents, teachers, coaches, ministers, and even drill sergeants) might tell us? We are impaled on the horns of a very difficult dilemma. On the one hand, soldiers are supposed to obey orders; on the other hand, they are supposed to disobey illegal orders. Soldiers are expected to have the decency and the moral power to distinguish, even in combat, orders which are "good" from those which are "bad." I submit that this task is burdensome enough, say, for a forty-two-year-old senior officer with a master’s degree and with twenty years of military experience. The same task for an eighteen-year-old private or airman is practically impossible. To the extent that there is relief from this dilemma we must depend upon, well, conscience—upon those "self-evident" truths to which Jefferson referred in 1776. In basic training or boot camp, when should we teach "conscience"? Perhaps after basic rifle marksmanship? Perhaps before CBR/NBC training? After grenade throwing? Before hand-to-hand training? By whom should "conscience" be taught? By the chaplain? No: that would smack of enforced religiosity. By the drill sergeant? No: he’s trained to inculcate only martial science. By the commander: No: she’s not trained in the philosophical arts. By a corps of well-meaning civilians? No: they would have little credibility, particularly with newly minted privates and airmen. If we admit that illegal—not just stupid—orders have occasionally been given and that we want our soldiers to recognize and refuse such orders, we must depend upon conscience, for, as will be pointed out below, our military manuals do exactly that. Because conscience is intimately related to natural law, and thus to subjects seemingly arcane and ethereal, it is rarely, if ever, taught in basic military training. We thus leave our soldiers*officers and enlisted, experienced or inexperienced, more or less educated—in the intractable position of having the responsibility of disobeying illegal orders when they have never been instructed how to recognize such orders. It as if we were to expect our riflemen to be expert marksmen without so much as a class—let alone practical work on ranges—about the details of maintaining, loading, aiming, and firing weapons. We expect our soldiers to obey and, if necessary, to disobey; we train in the one but resolutely ignore the second. We expect of the religious person that he, too, will "pray, pay, and obey"—but only up to a point. My concern in this paper, then, is with conscience and natural law—and with their application to the crucial task of the soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine: to obey orders insofar as informed conscience permits.
The professional military services are neither debating societies nor philosophical associations. They exist, primarily, to go to war. There can be no doubt that orders must be presumed to be legal. An army whose members quarreled about, or questioned the legality of, every order issued would soon fall into chaos and anarchy. Having taught ethics for eight years to senior officers in a war college, I have repeatedly asked this question: "How many illegal orders have you received in your career?" Occasionally, someone will suggest that she has been told to do something manifestly wrong. But that is rare. The modern military is not the collection of Sybarites it is occasionally painted as being.
We must be clear at the outset that, in the absence of superior information, subordinates must obey superiors. In the absence of inflamed conscience, subordinates must follow orders. Orders cannot be challenged, let alone ignored, for cavalier reasons. The Manual for Courts-Martial, for example, is very clear: Any military person who "willfully disobeys a lawful command of his superior commissioned officer . . . shall be punished, if the offense is committed in time of war, by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct . . . ." Indeed, the MCM is very clear that "the dictates of a person’s conscience, religion, or personal philosophy cannot justify or excuse the disobedience of an otherwise lawful order" (Art. 90). In Article 92, moreover, the MCM instructs us that any military person who "having knowledge of any other lawful order issued by a member of the armed forces, which it is his duty to obey, fails to obey the order . . . shall be punished as a court-martial may direct." Lawful orders must be obeyed; but can Article 92 be read as saying that soldiers have the duty of disobeying unlawful orders? Or is that merely a form of eisegesis—reading into a text what one wants to find there? Thus far, consideration has been given only to the issue of soldiers’ disobeying unlawful orders. Suppose the soldier obeys the unlawful order. Does he incur legal and moral responsibility for not disobeying such orders? The MCM puts it this way: "It is a defense to any offense that the accused was acting pursuant to orders unless the accused knew the orders to be unlawful or a person of ordinary sense and understanding would have known the orders to be unlawful" (Rule 916 [II:109]). In other words, soldiers must obey orders unless "a reasonably prudent person" would know better than to follow such transparently unlawful orders. But what is "ordinary sense and understanding"? And who, more precisely, is the "reasonably prudent person"? If we dispense with the tome known as the Manual for Courts-Martial and deal, presumably, with the clearer field manuals covering such subjects as obedience to and disobedience of certain orders, are we likely to resolve the problem at hand? Consider the Air Force’s manual on International Law—The Conduct of Armed Conflict and Air Operations. We are instructed there that if an act "was committed pursuant to military orders," such is a defense "only if the accused did not know or could not reasonably have been expected to know that the act ordered was unlawful." The manual points out that "Members of the armed forces are bound to obey only lawful orders." (AFP 110-31 [15-6]). That same manual then attempts a clarification: An order requiring the performance of a military duty may be inferred to be legal. An act performed manifestly beyond the scope of authority, or pursuant to an order that a man of ordinary sense and understanding would know to be illegal, or in a wanton manner in the discharge of a lawful duty, is not excusable. The basic Army manual on this topic, The Law of Land Warfare, which dates to 1956, is of little help. Its language is worth extensive quotation: The fact that the law of war has been violated pursuant to an order of a superior authority, whether military or civil, does not deprive the act in question of its character of a war crime, nor does it constitute a defense in the trial of an accused individual, unless he did not know and could not reasonably have been expected to know that the act ordered was unlawful. In all cases where the order is held not to constitute a defense to an allegation of war crime, the fact that the individual was acting pursuant to orders may be considered in mitigation of punishment [FM 27-10, #509]. This paragraph is followed by a masterpiece of obfuscation: In considering the question whether a superior order constitutes a valid defense, the court shall take into consideration the fact that obedience to lawful orders is the duty of every member of the armed forces; that the latter cannot be expected, in conditions of war discipline, to weigh scrupulously the legal merits of the orders received; that certain rules of warfare may be controversial; or that an act otherwise amounting to a war crime may be done in obedience to orders conceived as a measure of reprisal. At the same time it must be borne in mind that members of the armed forces are bound to obey only lawful orders. After quoting the passage above, former Army LTC Paul Christopher says that "In other words, the relevant military manual advises soldiers to obey only lawful orders while at the same time acknowledging that they will often be unable to tell lawful orders from unlawful ones!" We seem to have arrived at these conclusions: First, lawful orders must be obeyed, but in a proportionate manner. Second, unlawful orders must be disobeyed. Third, people of ordinary sense and understanding—reasonably prudent people—can, will, and must distinguish the one from the other. If soldiers of ordinary sense and understanding disobey a direct order in time of war and are subsequently court-martialed, they may be put to death—so they had better be right in their refusal to obey, even though bullets, grenades, and other missiles may be flying their way during the course of their moral meditations.
II. If we need people of "ordinary sense and understanding," how are we to develop these people in the military forces? People of "ordinary sense and understanding" are, in fact, people of conscience and character. "Persons of strong character," writes COL Hartle, "are the ultimate resource for any military organization, and they are by definition persons of integrity—individuals whose actions are consistent with their beliefs." We could expend a great deal of time and effort debating the precise definition of such terms as conscience, character, and integrity. Let us take for granted the idea that, like competence, conscience and character and integrity must be developed. CON-SCIENCE, after all, means WITH KNOWLEDGE; conscience must be formed. That suggests that there are sources or "formers" whose function it is to develop "persons of strong character," people of "ordinary sense and understanding," and "reasonably prudent" people. Recently, the armed forces, and numerous industries, have embraced with some fervor the concept of "core values." I will not list here the "core values" of all the services; nor is it my intent to impugn in any manner what is an obviously honorable intention of bringing before service members’ eyes the fundamental values of their profession. One must raise, however, the question of whether there is a bridge between core values and disobedience of unlawful orders. Can a recitation of "core values," however well intended, lead to the kind of moral reasoning one requires in order to refuse unlawful orders? One point must be made about core values, and the Air Force core values—integrity, service before self, and excellence in all we do*can stand as an example. One scholar has pointed out that "A person can be forthrightly honest, forget about self, and achieve excellent results—all for the sake of an evil purpose." A number of Nazis, he points out, shared in these "values." He goes on, however, to point out that the USAF core values, understood in the framework of agent, act, and outcome "are a comprehensive plan for framing ethical issues . . . ." The argument, then, is that core values may be necessary; but, certainly, they are not sufficient. They cannot take the place—nor are they intended to do so—of moral reasoning. But there is a danger that memorization of a list of values may, in some quarters, be regarded as a permissible substitute for the kind of difficult analysis which attends moral reasoning. One wishes that a better, clearer, older list of virtues had been embraced by the services. Athens and Jerusalem—shorthand for the ancient Greeks and Scholastic Christians—had "core values." In Plato’s Laws, one reads that wisdom (or prudence) is paramount; then comes temperance (or moderation); from the union of these two with courage springs justice (or truthfulness); and courage itself is fourth. In the Book of Wisdom, one finds the list repeated. The cardinal virtues are, at heart, means for developing that faculty of conscience which is the essence of a "reasonably prudent" person; to be sure, no one can lay claim to having "ordinary sense and understanding" without a well-formed conscience, which is the amalgamation of proper "core values."
If a soldier—let alone a commander—is deficient in any one of the four classic, cardinal virtues, one may reasonably predict ruin for his command and his career. The cardinal virtues are so called because they derive from the Latin word cardo, meaning "hinge." All the other virtues hinge on or are related to these four. Permit discussion of five terms: · Virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do good. · Prudence (or wisdom) encourages our power of reason to find our true good and to choose the proper means for attaining it. · Justice (or truthfulness) is the firm commitment to give God and neighbor their due. · Temperance moderates the attraction of the pleasures of the senses. · Fortitude (or courage) ensures firmness in difficulties and constant pursuit of goodness. One need be only slightly conversant with current military events to know that character defects in wisdom, truthfulness, moderation, and/or moral courage have been the undoing of numerous leaders, military and civilian, in the past decade. As good as current service "core values" are, such concepts as "candor" or "commitment," or "excellence in all we do" are not hinges upon which conscience itself can be founded. The bedrock ideas of the cardinal virtues provide such a groundwork. The argument I want to make here can be simply put: Soldiers deficient in the cardinal virtues will have serious defects of character—and of conscience. For conscience does not magically or mystically appear; it is formed over the years, as a matter of habit, because of good education, of experience, and of training. Conscience is taught by wise teachers, by good books and films and conversations—and it is caught from sometimes hard experience and suffering. When we read that soldiers—people—of "ordinary sense and understanding" (or reasonable prudence) ought to be able to distinguish licit and binding orders from illicit, and therefore not binding, orders, we have embraced a natural law argument with powerful application in what COL Hartle regards, quite properly, as "the hardest place to maintain our humanity"—war. If we place soldiers in combat demanding—and since the war crimes tribunals at Nuremberg, Tokyo, and Manila we have indeed demanded—disobedience of unlawful orders which people of "ordinary sense and understanding" would refuse, then we must train and educate our soldiers. III.
The soldier who refuses an order in time of war may risk a court-martial, and conceivably his life, on the strength of "a judgment of reason," or a "sense of right and wrong" which we identify, customarily rather weakly, as "conscience." There are two terms upon which that soldier’s legal defense—hence, his very life—might well depend. The first is synderesis, which means "inborn knowledge of the primary principles of moral action" (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary [unabridged]). Although synderesis is often used interchangeably with "conscience," St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) understood synderesis as "the quasi-habitual grasp of the most common principles of the moral order (i.e., natural law), whereas conscience is the application of such knowledge to fleeting and unrepeatable circumstances" [often called syneidesis ]." If, by synderesis, we mean "habitual knowledge of the first principles of practical reasoning . . . that are naturally known" and by syneidesis we mean the "capacity to apply general principles of moral judgment to particular cases [Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (unabridged)]," we are, in essence, concerned with the natural law. For "ordinary sense and understanding" implicitly refers to synderesis and syneidesis. Why? In a crisis, where does the soldier turn for guidance when he thinks he has been given an unlawful order—as were the soldiers at My Lai? If his comrades are carrying out such orders, should he follow suit? But to whom, then and there, can he appeal? The chaplain? A JAG officer? A higher-ranking officer? They are not there. The soldier has one place to seek a hurried answer—his "soul," or his "psyche," or his "conscience." Insofar as circumstances permit, he weighs his orders against whatever standards of decency and honor make him what he is. The military has helped to form his soldierly skills; does the military owe him nothing—not readings, not classes, not teachers—as he meets this terrible test at this terrible time? If "ordinary sense and understanding" is merely what the "crowd" says, then how is it that we hold Calley and his complaisantly homicidal platoon morally liable for a massacre? (They acted, after all, "together"; one almost writes "virtually together.") Truth—and its manifestation in conscience—is not the product of, or limited to, a murderous platoon, a deformed culture, or an ethnocentric pride. There may be times that ordinary sense is truly extraordinary. And that is where natural law enters the picture. Natural law is considered by some theologians and philosophers to be inherent in human nature, helping us rightly to order our conduct with respect to God and neighbor. St. Thomas Aquinas defines the natural law as "the participation of the rational creature in the eternal law of God" and contends that all men and women, through the light of reason, can arrive at a basic moral code, embracing at least the principle that good must be done and evil avoided. One of the best and shortest explanations of the concept appeared more than thirty years ago in an excellent book about Edmund Burke (1729-1797): Natural Law was an emanation of God’s reason and will, revealed to all mankind. Since fundamental moral laws were self-evident, all normal men were capable through unaided "right reason" of perceiving the difference between moral right and wrong. The Natural Law was an eternal, unchangeable, and universal ethical norm or standard, whose validity was independent of man’s will; therefore, at all times, in all circumstances and everywhere it bound all individuals, races, nations, and governments. True happiness for man consisted in living according to the Natural Law. That natural law—or the "Moral Sense"—is no dream of idle (and medieval) theologians is attested to by James Q. Wilson, who wrote recently that Mankind’s moral sense is not a strong beacon light, radiating outward to illuminate in sharp outline all that it touches. It is, rather, a small candle flame, casting vague and multiple shadows, flickering and sputtering in the strong winds of power and passion, greed and ideology. But brought close to the heart and cupped in one’s hands, it dispels the darkness and warms the soul. This is not a matter merely of philosophy, but of international and municipal (i.e., domestic) law. Natural law, according to one source, has "left its imprint upon international law with such concepts as justice, morality, rationality, and equality under law." Natural law, if we accept Wilson’s analogy, is a moral sense found in all rational people; its relationship to conscience is perhaps best explained in a recent papal encyclical: "[W]hereas the natural law discloses the objective and universal demands of the moral good, conscience is the application of the law to a particular case; this application of the law thus becomes an inner dictate for the individual, a summons to do what is good in this particular situation." That quotation captures the precise difficulty of the soldier who receives what he regards as an unlawful order. But how does he know? Especially in situations of stress, whom does he consult? There is no time for appeal to anyone other than the one who has issued the order. The only recourse that the soldier has is to "consult" his conscience—which is to apply principles of the moral order (natural law) to the "fleeting and unrepeatable" circumstances in which he finds himself (synderesis and syneidesis). Rather like the character of Moliere (1622-1673) who had spoken prose all his life and was delighted to learn that he had been doing it unaware, very few soldiers are cognizant of the moral reasoning process they employ in weighing the courses of action open to them in moments of moral crisis. There is little point or purpose in trying to educate soldiers about recondite philosophical concepts and vocabulary. What matters are the following fundamental points: · Soldiers must be trained to know that the orders they receive are presumably legal and moral, and that they are therefore binding. · Soldiers must be educated so that they understand that they have the right, and the duty, to disobey illegal orders. · Soldiers must be educated so that they understand that carrying out any order they receive which they regard as contrary to what soldiers of "ordinary sense and understanding" would do should very probably be disobeyed. · Soldiers must be educated so that they understand that no guidelines, checklists, "decision logic trees," or "option sheets" exist for them to consult in moments of stress, particularly in combat situations. · Soldiers must be educated to understand that, nevertheless, they have moral resources upon which they can, should, and must call, if they find themselves in the exigent circumstances of perhaps refusing an order. Among the moral resources available to soldiers, even in moments of great stress, are these: the treasury of their own spiritual, religious, and ethical constructs; the teachings of their parents and other family members; instruction from religious counselors, teachers, and coaches; their academic education and personal/professional experience; and their professional military education, whether it be through the level of war college or only basic training.
If we are prepared to say that "ordinary sense and understanding" means "conscience," then I think we must be prepared to meet, even if we cannot resolve, a most pressing problem. Is it reasonable—and is there evidence to suggest and to support—the notion that soldiers, enlisted or officers, can reason morally at the levels required to "follow their [well-formed] consciences"? The work of Lawrence Kohlberg, for example, is troubling, in this context. Kohlberg has distinguished six stages of cognitive moral development, each stage representing a certain manner of thought about moral problems. We begin at a preconventional level, stages one and two, where morality is wholly utilitarian—based upon a calculus of pleasure and pain. By the age of about ten, we have moved on to the conventional stage, levels three and four, where we are aware of interpersonal relations and social systems. Obedience to authority comes from our desire for approval and our wish to maintain social coherence. Stages five and six comprise the postconventional level, where there is awareness of a social contract and of universal ethics—a principled level. Kohlberg has argued that very few people have reached the conventional level by the time of high school graduation. From 5% to 10% of adults reach the sixth level. Kohlberg’s theories are controversial and have been widely challenged, but that is not of immediate concern here. If there is any value to his thesis—and I am persuaded that there is—its importance to the armed forces lies in this: How can we reasonably expect young men and women, especially in combat, to look deep into the abyss of their own souls and consciences, perhaps refusing orders on grounds of conscience as "reasonably prudent" people of "ordinary sense and understanding," when they simply do not have ordinary sense and understanding, do not know the cardinal virtues, and have little prospect of engaging in serious moral reasoning? The late Christopher Lasch offered this observation: Many young people are morally at sea. They resent the ethical demands of "society" as infringements of their personal freedom. They believe that their rights as individuals include the right to "create their own values," but they cannot explain what that means, aside from the right to do as they please. They cannot seem to grasp the idea that "values" imply some principle of moral obligation. They insist that they owe nothing to "society" . . . . What can the armed services do to improve the characters and consciences of those joining the military, either in the grade of E-1 or 0-1? Certainly, this has been a major topic for the profession of arms in the past decade; it appears to be even more pressing today. Before concluding with a few suggestions, I should frankly say that, in the end, there is no ultimate solution to this problem. There is no one book, there is no one school, there is no one teacher, there is no one training regimen that can ensure that our armed services will recruit or train only morally and mentally sound people—people who truly possess "ordinary sense and understanding." But merely because this is not a task which can be completed does not relieve the profession of arms from its paramount responsibility to promote—to put it squarely—the proper formation of conscience among its troops. How to do so: First, build a culture of high ethical expectation, in line with this advice to the corporate world: Hire and promote first on the basis of integrity; second, motivation; third, capacity; fourth, understanding; fifth, knowledge; and last and least, experience. Without integrity, motivation is dangerous; without motivation, capacity is impotent; without capacity, understanding is limited; without understanding, knowledge is meaningless; without knowledge, experience is blind. Experience is easy to provide and quickly put to use by people with all the other qualities. If the unscrupulous and immoral are routinely appointed, or elected, to positions of power—if "character" truly does not matter—then we must fear for the service, corporation, or country which speaks thus of itself. This quotation from Title 10 of the U.S. Code makes the point: All commanding officers and others in authority in the naval service are required to show in themselves a good example of virtue, honor, patriotism, and subordination; to be vigilant in inspecting the conduct of all persons who are placed under their command; to guard against and suppress all dissolute and immoral practices . . . [section 5947]. The creation of a climate of high ethical expectation is thus not only a moral imperative; it is a legal requirement as well. While thoughtful observers will want to define dissolute and immoral, one is tempted to suggest peremptorily that when they see them, they will know them. (Are there practices or activities so morally reprehensible that people of "ordinary sense and understanding" not only would not participate in, but would be shocked and ashamed even to know about?) The list may be growing shorter, but I trust that there is still such a "list." Second, excellent drill instructors, drill sergeants, and technical instructors must be recognized and rewarded. Part of their "training to train" must involve knowledge of the cardinal virtues. This is not an attempt to make drill sergeants into philosophers; it is an effort to impress upon those who develop soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines that the ideas of wisdom and prudence, courage (moral and physical), temperance, and justice and truthfulness are part and parcel of the uniformed services: "that is the way we do business here." If drill sergeants are rightly expected to be physically fit, how much more important is it that they be ethically fit? Third, recognize and reward the officers who teach, lead, and inspire the NCOs and cadets, midshipmen, candidates, and trainees under their command—the lieutenant colonels, colonels, commanders, and captains who administer ROTC, OCS/OTS, and the federal academies. Once this becomes a "dead-end" job (as "corridor talk" has had it for years), the "best and brightest" officers understandably will seek to avoid this kind of duty. Fourth, drop the various "core values" of the services and develop a serious, substantial and phased program of instruction in the cardinal virtues. What does it suggest when the services have different "core" values—or when they have six and then three, or eight or seven or four (depending upon which list one uses)? If the core values are merely nouns—and not introductions to moral reasoning—they may as well be regarded as simple shibboleths, or bumper sticker slogans, useful, perhaps for decorative hall posters but not as an aid to serious thought. Not for nothing have the cardinal virtues endured for 2,000 years. Fifth, develop a required book list/film list which every service member is expected to read (or view). Good education inculcates wisdom and virtue, but there is no doubt that some of the best educated leaders have been the most self serving and even debauched. Although good education will not solve all the world’s problems, surely providing service members with the opportunity for moral development is a sound investment. The services led the way for our country in helping to provide an improved racial climate. Is it too much to expect that the same kind of effort might wisely be invested into a program of moral development? If the services can develop programs to help prevent sexual harassment, can it be that much more difficult to expand the curriculum toward the goal of having members act wisely and well always? The goal is nothing less than to help members of the armed forces to reason morally, thus being able to reach a higher "Kohlberg stage" than would be practicable without such education. Sixth, re-discover the leadership principles and traits of leaders which used to be employed in leadership development courses. Such principles as "Take responsibility for your actions"; "Set the example"; "[L]ook out for the welfare of your [people]" are timeless. Improvisational management techniques have their place, but not at the expense of the military ethic. The entrepreneurial spirit, too, has its place, but the U.S. military is not a business with "customers"; it is a fighting force whose first article in its Code of Conduct tells its members that they are fighters—warriors. The development of a sound moral code is not in the least a depreciation of the warrior spirit; rather the development and inculcation of a sound moral code adds to that spirit and makes it dignified (in the full sense of that term) and defensible. Seventh, employ the heritage of the installation to promote examples of moral worth. Do the troops at, say, Fort Benning know who "Benning" was; do the troops at Maxwell AFB know who "Maxwell" was? Ranges, buildings, streets, and so on are frequently named after fallen warriors. Who tells their story? Do the troops understand the meaning of taps? The connection between current troops and the "long gray line" must be made again and again by articulate speakers. Eighth, adopt the Air Force approach to teaching. Although I have some reservations about the "core values" chosen, the Air Force technique of attempting to have commanders and leaders speak about ethics and ethical situations (and then having a cascading effect from that strong, positive influence) is wise and may well work when speakers talk from the heart. The goal of interjecting "ethics situations" and the core values at appropriate moments "across the curriculum" is exactly the right approach. The idea is to keep the idea of wise and virtuous conduct "on the radar screen."
The words of the Latin poet Juvenal (60-140) explain the point: "Consider it the greatest of crimes to prefer survival to honor and, out of love of physical life, to lose the very reason for living." If our service members do not know that there are truths and powers beyond the immediate; if our service members do not know that there are wisdom, temperance, courage, and justice as moral criteria; if our service members are not taught to reason morally; if our service members do not understand that conscience means participation in what is ethical rather than what is expedient—then they cannot be "reasonably prudent" people. Then there is no such thing as "ordinary sense and understanding." Then there is nothing left that is worthy of defense. Unless the cardinal virtues—leading to well-formed conscience and high moral character—are re-discovered, the profession of arms will be like Nero fiddling as Rome burns. But our modern Nero may be excused by his invincible ignorance, for he will not know that he is fiddling and he will not know that Rome burns.