The Core Values Movement Falls Short


Notes for presentation


CAPT Arnold Resnicoff, CHC, USN



Background for my ideas is the fact that I have asked the same three questions to military audiences in many locations: 1 - Is the core values program for you? (It is always for "someone else" -- usually "those poor kids who don't have the values I had when I came in.") 2 - Have you ever used the list of core values to help make a difficult ethical decision? (Haven't found someone who has said "yes" to that yet. The program seems like it is a "poster program" -- just words on a wall.) 3 - What is the purpose of the core values program? (There are so many answers -- from character development, to building service identity, to "setting the rules" for ethical actions -- that it is obvious the goal, or at least the primary goal, is not clear.)


With this background, here are some of my key points: 1 - We have no service core values. Instead we immediately go to the individual service core values (army, navy-marine corps, navy, air force, and coast guard). Not only does this make it a nightmare to speak of core values in a joint setting (and more and more of our settings are joint settings), but it also emphasizes our differences without first establishing what we all have in common -- "once we take an oath and put on the uniform." Compare this to the Code of Conduct (possibly the only code we have that has really proven itself) for POWs. What would it be like to have separate service Codes of Conduct for POWs, instead of one? 2 - We must separate the long term goal of instilling values with the short term goal of supporting ethical decision making. Compare the EO programs, which separated the long-term goal of fighting bigotry and prejudice, with the short-term goal of fighting discriminations. We must do the same with values and ethics -- because "one size does not fit all." (I compare this to the Biblical command to "love our neighbor as ourselves." We cannot demand "love," according to the ancient commentators. However, when we translate this into the golden rule -- and focus on the commandment that our actions to another be those which we would accept from our neighbor -- then we can begin to "train." (The Army has a Commander's Estimate of the Situation--CES--to help a commander choose among alternatives in the field, using three simple categories of "suitability," "feasability," and "acceptability." Should we consider an approach to ethical actions that parallels this one?) 3 - Finally, not only don't we have joint or shared core values -- to link us to other service personnel, we don't have any shared values with U.S. citizens either. Galsworthy's play, "Loyalties," pointed out that it is almost impossible to have a loyalty that is not automatically a prejudice, and there is a tendency for some personnel with the strongest service core values (such as the marines) to feel disdain for civilians.


Put all of this together, and I begin with a proposition for a planning- training-mentoring framework:


Level one: "American" values -- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. (These are the "inalienable rights" we thought were worth fighting for to begin with.) This is the planning level, for many of the programs and initiatives we have. For example: life -- readiness; force protection liberty -- EO, religious accommodation/free exercise pursuit of happiness -- QOL (but separated into what some AF leaders are now calling standards of living, on the one hand -- such as pay and housing; and standards of life, on the other -- such as self-respect, pride, and hope)


Level two: shared military values -- the training level. Here we might expand the Code of Conduct to include situations outside of the POW environment, or set up a parallel Code of Ethics. The goal here is clear guidelines for actions and decisions.


Level three: service core values -- the mentoring level. This is the area of long-range programs to build on service history and heritage.


So -- those are some of the ideas. As you can see, I think we have some serious problems at the present time. I think we need to take a step back, to clarify goals -- within a program that links us to our nation ("I am an American"), other armed forces/uniformed personnel ("I am an American, fighting for my country"), and only then to our own particular service ("I am an American, fighting for my country as a U.S. Marine").


Hope some of these ideas strike you as ideas worthy to throw out on the table at this conference!