“How’s that Working for You?”:

Character Development and Assessment in Military Education


Dr. Pauline M. Kaurin

Department of Philosophy

Pacific Lutheran University

Tacoma, WA 98445






            The presence of Character Development (CD) programs as a part of military education and training is well established and widespread, but what is less clear is how effective they are.  In this paper, I examine the assessment of CD programs and address some of the obstacles and questions that must be addressed in order to have consistent and useful assessment information on which to claim success and/or make needed adjustments.  In order to determine whether and how well such programs work, we must first have a clear view of exactly what they are designed and accomplish, as well as what they are NOT claming to do.  With this in view, we can then look at some issues faced in the assessment of CD programs including: measuring for moral action, how to measure the success of zero toleration policies and the efficacy of remediation or other programs designed to give students a chance to learn from ethical ‘mistakes.’  Finally, I want to consider a core issue in the development of character in the military: the problem of external influence.  If one way of defining character is that one does the right thing under (and in spite of) adverse external influence, then should the learning environment be a supportive one or one that tries to account for and even replicate the kinds of external influences military personnel will face in their daily lives?  I want to suggest another way to look at this question, a way which I think also helps with some of the challenges with assessment faced by CD programs.



            On his daily talk show, Dr Phil McGraw famously asks guests the following question: “How’s that working for you?”  Usually this question is posed relative to behaviors or habits that are undesirable or counter-productive, as a means to get the guest to think about, assess and realign their behavior. However, the movement toward assessment in higher education also calls us to ask this question in terms of positive behaviors or content that we think we are teaching and that our students ought to be learning and therefore, ought to be able to measure and assess.   In this paper, I examine the assessment of CD programs and address some of the obstacles and questions that must be addressed in order to have consistent and useful assessment information on which to claim success and/or make needed adjustments.  In order to determine whether and how well such programs work, first, we must have a clear view of exactly what they are designed and accomplish, as well as what they are NOT claming to do.  With this in view, we can then look at some issues faced in the assessment of CD programs including: 1) measuring for moral action, 2) how to measure the success of zero toleration policies and 3) the efficacy of remediation or other programs designed to give students a chance to learn from ethical ‘mistakes.’  Finally, I want to consider a core issue in the development of character in the military: the problem of external influence.  If one way of defining character is that one does the right thing under (and in spite of) adverse external influence, then should the learning environment be a supportive one or one that tries to account for and even replicate the kinds of external influences military personnel will face in their daily lives?  I want to suggest another way to look at this question, a way which I think also helps with some of the challenges with assessment faced by CD programs.




            Before we can answer the question of whether and to what extent Character Development programs (CD hereafter) work, we must ask what standard are we measuring these programs against; in other words, what are CD programs designed to do?  Now the answer to this question, at least in the military context, seems obvious: to create military personnel with honorable, ethical characters that will produce ethical action.  This is simple, but as it turns out, deceptively so.  Are CD programs designed to create (ex nihilo) ethical character or to develop and hone (in a certain direction) moral character that is already presumed to exist? 

While there is military rhetoric along the lines of ‘breaking down’ to ‘build back up,’ it seems that most character development programs in the military (largely aimed at officers and potential officers) focus around development of pre-existing character in a way that is consistent with the institutional values of the military.[1]  West Point claims its mission is “…to educate, train and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country…”[2]  The Air Force Academy’s Center for Character Development is oriented around the internalization of core values and habit development; “…to graduate officers who have the forthright integrity and voluntarily decide the right thing to do – and do it!”[3] The Naval Academy wants to “…integrate the moral, ethical, and character development of midshipmen across every aspect of the Naval Academy experience.”[4]  Outside the academy context, the US Army sees character development in terms of building on or refining the character that people bring with them, stressing the character-competence connection and moving towards learning and internalizing Army values as their own.[5] “Once people believe and demonstrate Army values, they are persons of character.” In general, these programs are oriented toward having people internalize the moral values of the institution or at least bringing their own ethical framework into harmony with these institutional values; this task is achieved by refining or further developing the character that is already present. 


            Given that we are talking about character development or refinement, as opposed to character creation ex nihilo, the next question is: what kind of character is to be developed?  Why?   However, the answer to this question is by now means a settled matter, even within the Character Development communities in the military.  The services have different core values and their academies all employ different approaches; some focus more on academic training and classroom style discussion and discerning, others more on experiential learning with mentorship, still others see the military training process (including physical conditioning) as the place where character is developed.[6]  Despite these divergences, there is fairly widespread agreement across two points: first, that CD programs are to produce characters of a certain normative type, even if the content of the character is a source of dispute, especially in terms of what constitutes an ethical character in a given context, and second, that one should see the evidence of this character in action, particularly in the context of resistance to internal and external pressure. 

To further get at the question of the kind of character these programs are trying to develop, we will need to look at a couple key components. First, it will be helpful to have a conceptual grounding in some of the definitions and conceptions of moral character under girding the CD discussion.  Most of the philosophical traditions that military CD programs draw on agree that a good character is one that produces consistently ethical actions.  Aristotle insists on the link between virtue and action arguing that one becomes virtuous by doing virtuous actions from a right state.  One must not just know the right thing, but do the right thing in the right way for the right reasons.[7]  While Kant uses a different approach and language (because he is explicitly rejecting Aristotle’s starting point, experience and habituation), he agrees that a good character or ‘good will’ is one which acts ethically consistently and consistency is only achieved by having a proper motivation.[8]  Likewise, David Hume and John Stuart Mill agree that acting consistently from a proper motive is key to what it means to have a good or virtuous character.[9]    

These perspectives are seen in the concrete iterations of the various CD programs in the military context. West Point defines a leader of character as follows: “…someone who seeks to discover truth, seeks to gain an understanding of what is right, and then demonstrates the courage and commitment to act accordingly.  Character is manifest in conduct, reflecting intellect, will, compassion and the warrior spirit.”[10]  The Air Force Academy conceptualizes character in terms of doing the right thing for the right reasons, defining character as “…‘the sum of those qualities of moral excellence that stimulates a person to do the right thing, which is manifested through right and proper actions despite internal or external pressures to the contrary.’”[11]  The Army insists that good character is more than compliance with institutional rules, “People of character behave correctly through correct understanding and personal desire.”[12] Most these programs also define character in terms of specific set of traits or core values, even if the specific values on the list vary from group to group, and these values are viewed as integral to how that group or institution understand the specific content of character that is desirable.

Second, it is important to note that all these articulations of character (whether conceptual or concrete) attach special significance to importance of moral action, not simply moral awareness and understanding.  Aristotle insists that it is not enough to have an intellectual understanding of virtue, but one has to act, one must practice being virtuous.  Both he and Hume argue for the importance of habit in forming an ethical character, a point echoed by the Air Force Academy’s CD program: “Habits foster character…it is the person who has already decided to live with integrity, and reinforced that decision with their daily actions, that will maintain their under when placed under great stress…the Honor Code provides the precepts necessary to develop habits of integrity.”[13]  We also see here the idea of the Honor Code (a common feature of CD programs) as providing the conceptual and practical foundation for ethical action.  The honor codes can be viewed along an Aristotelian model of virtues that should be habituated – hence the focus on Non-toleration clauses – or along a Kantian model of the moral Law which persons of ‘good will’ assent to as a set of foundational principles.  In the end, what is desired is moral action, not just moral understanding and awareness.

Third, overlapping the above discussions is the concern about how having good character is different (if it is) from instilling pure social conformity.  All of the CD programs discussed thus far, articulate ethical character in terms of being able to ‘do the right thing’ in spite of internal and external pressures or resistance.  Presumably, ‘doing the right thing’ cannot simply be defined in terms of submitting to prevailing social and institutional attitudes, so there is a clear tension between ethics as acting in the face of resistance and ethics as aligning one’s actions and values with the institutional or group’s values.  Clearly, if we are going to assess the extent to which CD programs ‘work,’  this tension needs to be addressed and accounted for, so that we are not simply measuring social conformity when these programs expressly insist that ethical character often requires or is tested by resistance and pressure.  (In Section II, I address some practical ways in which one might measure both of these elements, as well as the tension between them.)

Lastly, it seems that for all the conceptual frameworks discussed above there is some sense that moral risk taking and learning from moral mistakes is part of the process of moral development.  Since Aristotle and Hume focus more on experience as the source of morality, it link is quite explicit in their work.  While Kant is less direct, he does assume that people will make moral mistakes, and urges us to use that as motivation toward our own moral ‘perfection’ or progress and not to accept it as an excuse.[14]  It is at this point that we might notice a departure from the conceptual view of character, as nearly all CD programs who have Honor Codes also have (whether explicitly or implicitly in their practice) Zero Tolerance policies for ethical lapses or violations.  These Non-Toleration clauses are designed to foster a climate conducive to ethical behavior and provide a mechanism for accountability, all of which are commendable and necessary elements to building character. But does Non-Toleration accomplish this or does it actually hinder the end it is designed to achieve? Such policies at the very least raise the question of how and to what extent the process of making and then learning from, ethical mistakes is part of the CD models in the military.  Compounding the problem is the fact that some institutions (West Point, Naval Academy) have highly structured mechanisms for dealing with Honor Code infractions, where at other places (Air Force Academy, outside the academies) there is much more ‘discretion’ given to superiors and supervisors about how to deal with ethical lapses.   Do these processes teach something about moral character and how an ethical person learns from their mistakes, or do they teach more about responding to authority (out of fear or a desire to please) and social conformity?

The case of the cheating scandal at the Naval Academy in 1992-1993 is instructive as it highlights how some of these concerns play out in military CD programs.  In this case it seems that the ethical standards were too strict on one hand, with (at least the perception of) few opportunities to learn from mistakes and enhance moral development, the presence of “Honor Nazis” and a “gotcha” Honor Code enforcement system that appeared (to those observing its practice) to reward a certain kind of self-righteous, ‘ethical’ character.  At the same time the ethical standards (and especially their enforcement) were too lenient: one cadet rationalized his departure from the Code as “…the choice between taking a bullet for an unrealistic – and largely ignored – code of ethics and living to fight another day.”[15]  This perspective seems to be a common story that articulating a perception of the ethical culture of both removed from reality (too high a standard) and removed from being a good cadet (that living to fight another day was more important). 

The case also raises questions about the extent to which the official procedures ‘worked’ both in terms of uncovering unethical behavior and then properly dealing with it.  Cadets noted concerns about the boards being ‘rigged’, about inadequate and inaccurate information and limitations put on the investigational process.[16]  Is the CD development process, including any institutional structures designed to support the process, viewed as 1) merely yet another ‘hoop’ to jump through and/or 2) an external authority to be pleased and satiated? Further, the case brings us up not only against the tension that may present between the Honor Codes (following orders and rules) and one’s natural self-interest and concern for career, but also up against the real issue of unit cohesion and loyalty where whistle blowing may be necessary and desirable. At what point in the case, is it reasonable to expect confessions?  Does one weed out ‘bad apples’ even if they seem to be ‘good soldiers/sailors’?  How are the cadets assessing each other’s moral reputation and attaching importance to that assessment in terms of being a ‘good warrior’? 

            Thus far, we can observe that the CD programs in the military are designed to produce consistent ethical behavior.  However, we can also observe that the role of appropriate resistance to external influence is in tension with a certain level of institution conformity that is necessary.  In addition, it seems that CD programs and their assessment must wrestle with and account for the role of moral risk taking as it relates to moral progress and development, the effect of Zero Tolerance policies and how to measure ethical action, as opposed to ethical knowledge or awareness.




            With the conceptual framework for and the practical challenges that face military CD programs clearer, we can now turn to the question of assessment in these programs: How do you define, measure and assess success?  First, to do effective assessment we have to identify measurable makers of success or failure and then measure student progress against these markers. What counts as being an ethical person?  Are there certain kinds of positive markers that are reflective of an ethical culture and or ethical individual?  In the military context, is CD simply a matter of reaching certain character goals?  Is it a matter of reaching a certain level of moral character – of certain traits? One might think of this in terms of being able to demonstrate (presumably in action) attainment of the Core Values.  On the other hand, we might think of these markers in terms of being able to use and apply rules and principles in terms of ethical action  If so, what level counts as success?  80% 60%?   The Air Force Academy and West Point are clearly both thinking about this issue and have tried to articulate outcomes that they are interested in measuring.   USAFA lays out their markers in terms of eight outcomes, including some of the following: “1. Officers with forthright integrity who voluntarily decide the right thing to do and do it…3. Officers who are committed to excellence in the performance of their personal and professional responsibilities….6. Officers who take full responsibility for their decisions.”[17] Meanwhile West Point tends to approach the issue with more conventional (academically oriented) learning outcomes. Many of the objectives (especially earlier in the cadet’s career) are oriented around “knowing” or “being familiar” with certain content – ethical conceptions, theories, codes, law – being able to define, explain and later on, to apply this content in terms of specific situations. Toward the end of the process, we start to see learning objectives oriented around being prepared to lead and knowing how to establish (and presumably maintain) an ethical climate.[18]

At this point, a couple of observations are in order.  Many of the CD programs identify skills of being able to discuss/think critically about ethical issues and give analysis of such issues.  The US Naval Academy’s Capstone Seminar seems to fit nicely within this sort of parameter; the goal of the seminar is to hone to capacity of ethical discernment and decision-making by “…providing…the opportunity to discuss issues of leadership, character and ethics.”[19]  If this is what CD is about,  developing largely intellectually oriented skills, then most CD programs seem to be very successful, as do many ethics courses in civilian universities which claim very similar learning objectives (especially in areas of professional ethics like business or medical ethics).  If this is the aim, then conventional assessment instruments, including grading, surveys, self-reporting by faculty and students and examination of student work relative to learning outcomes, should be able to measure the extent to which these skills and content are being learned, and there are a myriad of models available. It then seems as if the major concern here would be a matter of finding which assessment instrument(s) to use.

However, one can be able to all these things and NOT have it translate into action.  In most of the cases, and the USAFA makes the case most pointedly, it seems that CD programs in the military are aiming for more than ethical awareness, discernment and decision-making, but are looking to see that people actually – presumably after exhibiting awareness, discernment and decision-making – can translate this training into consistently ethical action.  The USAFA academy is by far the most explicit in making this clear, but if we look carefully at al the academies and other CD programs in the military context the necessity of ethical action is affirmed.   This raises what I take to be the fundamental problem and challenge to assessment of CD programs in the military: how do you assess whether and to what extent people are acting ethically?  Clearly, this is a much more complex assessment problem and so accounts for the difficulty encountered in this discussion. 

Second, the existence of Zero Tolerance policies further complicates these assessment issues. While Zero Tolerance policies are designed to show institutional commitment to development of an ethical climate, there are serious questions about whether such policies achieve that end, and how one would know whether or not they did.  One (admittedly simplistic) model is to think about this in terms of “No ethical mistakes in _____ days.”   However, it should be clear the problems with this approach, especially in terms of measuring ethical action. Such an approach (to the extent that it rewards long periods without ethical lapses) incentivizes covering up or denying unethical action – especially if the primary assessment instruments are of the self-reporting or survey type – and provides strong disincentives to admitting, and then learning from and changing, unethical behavior.

Further, no news is not necessarily good news.  In other words, the fact that there have been few or no (reported) incidents of unethical behavior does not necessarily show that people are acting 1) ethically and 2) out of a good moral character.  (Recall that both of these components are crucial to a variety of ethical approaches embraced by military CD programs.)  To make the point more bluntly: one could refrain from unethical behavior and still not be engaging in ethical behavior or ethical behavior for the right reason.  So we are pressed to ask: are CD assessment programs measuring lack of unethical behavior or the presence of ethical behavior, or both?   

At this point a comparison to a similar CD issue in the civilian academic context is illustrative.  In spring 2008, Pacific Lutheran University revised its Academic Integrity Policy, laying out three options for faculty and staff to deal with cases of suspected violations of the policy.[20]  In the first case the faculty or staff can deal with the case via and informal meeting with a student; in the second case, a more formal meeting (with witnesses) can be called and an Academic Dishonesty Report must be filed and in the third case, the matter can be referred (at faculty request) to an Academic Dishonesty Hearing Panel.  The result of this policy (and earlier incarnations which were even more permissive about when reporting and hearings were necessary) is that only the most egregious cases get reported, faculty and staff generally handle cases of suspected dishonesty on their own.  The result is that only anecdotal and sporadic information is available to assess to what extent and in what ways academic dishonesty is a problem and/or students are demonstrating academic integrity.

One might argue that this is best way to handle such matters, in that the faculty or staff can best assess the intention behind the violation and provide learning opportunities, all of which is true and is a part of learning from one’s ethical mistakes.  It should be noted here that this model is quite similar to what we saw above with respect to violations of the Honor Codes and the remediation processes (which I discuss in more detail below). However, one significant problem that is compounding problems with the assessment process is that we do not have a good grasp on the extent of the problem, cannot identify serial offenders and that by the time it reaches the hearing process its often too late for it to be a learning moment.  What is left tends to be expulsion or some other serious sanction or a simple acquiescence to authority response, but not necessarily an authentic and meaningful opportunity to learn and self-reflectively embrace integrity.  On the other hand, if even the most minor instances of academic dishonesty are reported (and no action need be taken if the faculty requests), it would be much easier to assess the level and nature of this kind of unethical behavior.  Given that there are these kinds of problems just with the assessment of the presence of one kind of unethical behavior, we can see how difficult it is going to be to assess for the presence of ethical behavior – since lack of unethical behavior does not establish the presence of ethical behavior.

Third, in trying to look for markers of unethical as well as positive markers for ethical action, we must be highly cognizant as to whether we are measuring the authentic ethical climate or measuring the level of social conformity.  Many have raised concerns about how one gathers realistic and accurate information in a way that does not reflect mere social conformity; Kelly and Gibson in discussing this issue at the US Coast Guard Academy note, “If individuals know the type of climate that is desired by upper management, they will tend to state that desired climate exists, even when this is not true.”[21]  This problem is further compounded by the pressures added to the system by the presence of Zero Tolerance policies and Honor Code systems; both systems (perhaps unintentionally and counter-productively) incentivize conformity, so any assessment process must look at the roots and rationale behind this conformity.  In an authentic ethical climate (which I discuss in more detail in Section III),  people voluntarily and from proper motivation, deliberation and (possibly) desire, bring their beliefs and actions in line with the prevailing ethical norms which they come to endorse as their own or at least consonant with their own.  This is a very different dynamic than superficial obedience based upon fear, a desire to please or a desire to appear ethical for career reasons.  Clearly to get at this difference will require some sophisticated measurement vehicles that look not just at action or ethical belief, but at assessing how and why people come to these conclusions.[22]

Lastly, in order to develop assessment strategies that will address moral risk taking and learning from moral mistakes, we must ask: what do remediation or other ‘learning’ processes teach about character? The Air Force Academy offers honor probation to cadets who have been found to have violated the Honor Code.[23]  This provides the cadet time to reflect and to engage in processes designed to eventually restore the Cadet’s standing in the community.  A mentor leads the cadet through this process and cadets must “…successfully accomplish daily ethical journals, honor projects, a calendar and unit briefing, as well as receive positive recommendations from their mentors and commanders.”  It seems likely that other similar remediation processes may exist at the other academies, since there seems to be some discretion in the process by which the determination is made as to whether a cadet has violated the Honor Code and what the punishment will be, with the most serious punishment being separation.

An assessment process must address not only the question about whether these remediation processes work (and what ‘work’ might mean, that is what is the purpose or intent of these processes), but must also get at the reason that they do or do not work. It is possible that these remediation processes are more a matter of social conformity, of getting back into the good graces of authorities and the bureaucracy in order to preserve one’s career.  While it seems likely that there are cases of this kind, it also seems possible that these processes may have opportunities for genuine ethical learning and growth on a personal level, given that there is a heavy focus on intellectual reflection and academically oriented projects and activities.  The question of course, in any given case is: how would an outside evaluator know?  Is there a way to demonstrate and measure what has been learned and for what reason?   Assessment for these kinds of processes are absolutely central and essential since the possibility of making and learning from moral mistakes seems critical to moral development, the avowed goal of the military CD programs as articulated above.  To address this issue, the assessment processes will need to be more qualitative (with all of the difficulties that go with this move fully acknowledged): post experience interviews with all participants, survey with qualitative comment sections in order to try and get out not just what was learned, but how it was learned.  In addition, it seems that longitudinal studies of alumni and staff who have been through the process would be helpful to assess what impact the remediation process had on the cadet in his/her experience in the field and over the course of their career and what aspects of the processes were most efficacious to moral development.





Since much of our discussion of assessment of CD programs in the military context keeps coming back to the tension between conformity with the values of the military and appropriate resistance to external and internal influence, I want to close this paper by examining how this issue should play out in CD programs and their assessment.  In this section, I want to examine the dangers of both too supportive a learning environment and too challenging a learning environment and propose what I call a ‘third way’ to get clear on what CD programs are trying to do and then use that conception to more clearly orient and focus the assessment processes.

In order for cadets to learn and eventually internalize the values of the military context in which they will serve, it seems intuitive that they need a supportive learning environment.  By and large the academies and other training and educational contexts are designed to set out the ethical standards, but then are also designed to help cadets and new personnel to take the necessary small steps toward appropriate ethical development.  For many, the values of the military may be at odds with or at least foreign to the values they hold, so it would seem that a lot of support is necessary for success.  How could this be a bad thing?  There are clear dangers of to an overly supportive learning environment, in that we – in the legitimate interest of being supportive – end up eroding ethical standards to help success come easier on one hand, or setting students up for failure by creating a protective cocoon that does not replicate and prepare students for the actual operating environments they will inhabit in their careers on the other.  Kelly and Gibson note that character, like academic skills must be tested and the harder the test, the greater the value in ‘passing it’. Such ‘tests’ ought to have the opportunity for both positive and negative feedback, so that cadets may know what they are doing that is consistent with the ethical culture, but also know where their actions are inconsistent or in tension with the ethical culture, where they need to make adjustments and why these adjustments are needed, not just out of pure social conformity.[24]  If cadets are to take ethical decisions seriously then there must also be serious consequences (as there are in the field), but still be able to productively learn from them.

            On the other hand, there are equally concerning dangers to having a learning environment that is too challenging and sets the bar too high.  Productive learning requires students to be stretched and challenged so that they may learn new skills and hone the skills and abilities that they bring, but the question is always where is the line between productive challenges and counter-productive and demotivating ones.  As we saw in the USNA case, contexts in which there is (or there is a perception that there is) little or no room for error end up incentivizing cover-up, lying and group reinforcement of bad behavior that sets up a dangerous cycle (seen in atrocity literature) where ethical violations need to be justified by further ethical violations, both by the same person and by other members of the group.[25]  

Further, CD programs in the military tend to echo the following statement by the Air Force Academy: “Officers with forthright integrity who voluntarily decide the right thing to do and do it…They do not choose the right thing by calculating what is most advantageous to themselves but by having a consistent and spontaneous inclination to do the right thing.  Not only are they prompted to do what is right, they actually do it.”[26]  Most programs have mandatory CD components, which raises the question of how we get the above outcome (voluntary, consistent and spontaneous ethical action) given the mandatory nature of these programs.  

These two danger points raise into relief the following question: how do we have an environment that is at the same time supportive where it needs to be and challenging where it needs to be, especially in terms of accurately modeling and anticipating the environments they will serve in?   In order to get at this balance, it is helpful to mine the discussions, which have been going on in the military ethics community for quite some time, about what an authentic and realistic ethical culture might look like.  First, there is clear consensus that Core Values be taken seriously; they must be meaningfully integrated, demonstrated and lived by superiors at all levels, the reward structure should be oriented around the ethical climate to a large degree.  This is designed to mitigate the problem that Kelly and Gibson point out where new members of the community soon come to sort out whether, where and to what extent the proclaimed ethical culture is in fact the ‘real’ ethical culture, that is whether the informal working systems actually reflect and reward the proclaimed ethical values.[27] 

Second, dealing with these kinds of perceived gaps is necessary to mitigate and minimize careerism and self-preservation as a primary concern, in order to develop authentic and sustainable other regarding virtues. Given the emphasis in the military (admittedly a necessary and integral one) on obedience to order, how do CD programs avoid instilling simple social conformity?  We must consider that there is at the very least a serious tension (and possibly an outright contradiction) given the nature of military culture, and assessment instruments are going to have be designed with this tension in mind. 

Finally, CD programs must give serious and sustained attention to a role for the development and progression of the ethical person; this must include an integrated approach for moral risk-taking and learning from mistakes.  An aspect that becomes essential given the role of external influence is the dilemma around how to teach moral courage. Kelly and Gibson suggest one plausible solution familiar to many parents: catch them acting ethically and then give reinforcing feedback.[28]  However, the flip side of this suggestion must also obtain, superiors, peers and others (including the cadets themselves) must call out unethical/borderline action and engage in processes of critical self-reflection.  The ethical culture in the military must orient training and rewards toward developing habits of self-reflection and self-reporting and construct and streamline an authentic and meaningful process for remediation.  In my view, this is one of the most important tasks for CD programs and their assessment programs since it seems to be the least developed aspect and the aspect with the most potential for the long term development of consistent and sustainable ethical character and ultimately, action.

            If we return to the conceptual frameworks with which we began our discussion of CD programs, we can see that there are resources here to call upon.  Kant insists that each rational agent has a duty to his/her own moral progress, so in the military context, we have to think about how to build this into an ethical climate where moral erosion and desensitization are a real concern and danger.   In a context that may place loyalty above other ethical values and view whistle blowing as snitching to outsiders as unpatriotic, damaging to unit cohesion and violating relationships, this work will be difficult as it is essential.   From another vantage point Aristotle, Hume and Mill all to varying degrees call us to think about how to balance habituation, reason and social inputs (including proper sentiments) in the pursuit of ethical character and the action that naturally is seen as arising from it.



In this paper I have argued that the CD programs in the military context are oriented around character development, as opposed to character creation.  There are several aims of these programs that directly impact and make challenging and problematic their assessment: the focus on ethical action, not just ethical knowledge or awareness; the role of Zero Tolerance policies in the Honor Code/Core Values system; and the role (or lack thereof) of moral risk taking and remediation processes as integral to the process of moral development.  I argued for a ‘third’ way to think about how to make the learning environments appropriately supportive and challenging at the same time, in the hopes that clarifying what we are trying to do in these programs – creating an authentic ethical culture which will help produce and hone consistent ethical character and action – will also help in the development and accurate, meaningful and pedagogically useful assessment instruments and information.



[1] See Thomas Ricks, Making the Corps.  (New York: Touchstone, 1997), p. 29.  “The job now is to strip them of their old civilian identities before building new Marines.”

[2] “Information Paper on Character Development at West Point” www.usafa.edu/isme/JSCOPE99/WestPoint-info99.html  paragraph 1.

[3] Center for Character Development Homepage  www.usafa.af.mil/Commandant/cwc/?catname=cwc


[4] United States Naval Academy, Office Development www. Usna.edu/OfficerDevelopment/

[5] FM 22-100 Appendix E: Character Development

[6] It should be noted that no group employs only one of the above strategies.  They all use these strategies to some extent, so it is a matter of where they put the emphasis and more resources.

[7] See Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics  1105a15-30.

[8] See Immanuel Kant’s Grounding to the Future Metaphysics of Morals  400.  “Duty is the necessity of action done out of respect for the law.”

[9] John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism, p. 18.  Mill does note that the virtue of an action does not require motive, but that the virtue of the agent does.  Hume (like Aristotle) sees action as the proof of one’s internal moral dispositions and habits. See David Hume, Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals,  p.81-2.

[10] “Information Paper on Character Development at West Point” www.usafa.edu/isme/JSCOPE99/WestPoint-info99.html  paragraph 2

[11] Maj, Brian F. Hall and Col. David Wagie, “The US Air Force Academy’s Cutting Edge Character Development Program” in Airpower Journal (Summer 1996), p.36.

[12] FM 22-100 Appendix E: Character Development

[13] Center for Character Development Homepage  www.usafa.af.mil/Commandant/cwc/?catname=cwc

[14] See Kant’s “Universal Practical Philosophy” in Lectures on Ethics,  p. 66-7. and

[15] Jeffrey Gantor, Michael O’Donnell and Tom Patton, “The EE Cheating Case at USNA” in Case Studies in Military Ethics. (eds. Rick Rubel and George Lucas Jr.), p. 129.

[16] Ibid., p. 130.

[17] Maj, Brian F. Hall and Col. David Wagie, “The US Air Force Academy’s Cutting Edge Character Development Program” in Airpower Journal (Summer 1996), p. 36-37.

[18] “Information Paper on Character Development at West Point” www.usafa.edu/isme/JSCOPE99/WestPoint-info99.html  Annex B

[19] “1/C Capstone Seminars”  www.usna.edu/Ethics/capstone/index.html 

[20] “Academic Integrity Policy” www.plu.edu/academics/integ.html

[21] CDR Patrick Kelly and Dr. John Gibson, “We Hold These Truths: The Development and Assessment of Character” www.usafa.edu/isme/JSCOPE96/kelly96.html  p. 7.

[22] One possibility is to make use of the AAR (After Action Review) not just as a learning process for soldiers and sailors, but also as an assessment vehicle. 

[23] “Honor Probation” www.usafa.af.mil/Commandant/cwc/cwch.cfm?catName=cwc 

[24] CDR Patrick Kelly and Dr. John Gibson, “We Hold These Truths: The Development and Assessment of Character” www.usafa.edu/isme/JSCOPE96/kelly96.html  p. 7.

[25] See my “Identity, Loyalty and Combat Effectiveness” www.usafa.edu/isme/JSCOPE2006/kaurin96.html notes

[26] Maj, Brian F. Hall and Col. David Wagie, “The US Air Force Academy’s Cutting Edge Character Development Program” in Airpower Journal (Summer 1996), p. 36.

[27] CDR Patrick Kelly and Dr. John Gibson, “We Hold These Truths: The Development and Assessment of Character” www.usafa.edu/isme/JSCOPE96/kelly96.html  p. 7 -8.

[28] Ibid.