Why the Military is on the Wrong Road

by Ch (LTC) Willard D. Goldman


A paper prepared for presentation to the Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics XVII Washington, D.C. January 25-26, 1996

(The views presented herein are entirely those of the author, and do not represent the official position of the JSCOPE Conference, United States Army, or the Department of Defense.) 
The popular press continues to taunt the U.S. military with suggestions that it has lost its moral compass. The indictment implicates junior recruits as well as our chief leadership enticing the American public to ask, Are the traditional military values of duty, honor, and integrity buckling under institutional pressure for damage control? Unfortunately, the militarys response to the relentless disclosures is near paralysis. Though we sense that there is a lethal element of truth in the charges, we do not appear to have a clue as to what to do about it.

 This inaction is particularly startling in view of the fact that Americas military already holds the moral high ground. No other institution in the nation is as energetic in ensuring every individual the opportunity to Be all you can be. No other association enjoys such unabashed admiration from citizens. The American military uniform, and the people who wear it, symbolize this countrys legacy of choosing justice over injustice.

 Still, commanders voice misgivings about the values young people bring to the Service. Of the 297,000 officers the Services separated from 1990 through 1994, more than 19,000 left with bad paper discharges for such reasons as misconduct, drug and alcohol abuse, and financial irresponsibility. The startling incidence of general officers being removed from promotion lists or forced into retirement due to mendacious behavior, even after long careers of association with the militarys values, indicates that, indeed, something is wrong. The public media may coldly thrive on the heat of scandals, but they are not the cause of the chaos.

 In todays world of instant news, one platoon-level soldier may have a startling impact on international policy by his or her values in action. Whether it is an instance of a Captain taking over a prison in Haiti, an enlisted soldier refusing to serve under a U.N. Commander in Europe, or a more villainous choice to be involved in a rape in Okinawa, what we do, and do not do, to ensure that our people incorporate the values so dear to our heritage is increasingly under public inspection. Our military can weather the scrutiny, but we cannot remain unresponsive to the current confusion (within the military and without) over how our people incorporate and reflect the institutions values.

 In Lewis Carrols Alices Adventures in Wonderland, Alice comes upon the Che shire cat at the crossroads and asks,

 Cheshire-[cat], . . . Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The cat answers,
That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
I dont much care where-- said Alice.
Then it doesnt matter which way you go, said the cat.

 The Department of Defense is struggling with a similar dilemma as Alice. We have not selected a path because we have no vision of where we want to get to. Our question is: Just which road should we take to develop and sustain an environment of trust and respect, where human dignity and worth are esteemed? If we have no such vision, the course we choose will not much matter.

 The young men and women coming to the military today are a diverse aggregation generally without the homogeneous values of their grandparents. Unfortunately, we have no effective mechanism for developing character in those who do not come from a values-rich environment. We repeatedly challenge them to embrace increasing ethnic, racial, gender, religious and individual diversity, but without equipping them with the training and education required to appropriate cognitive development and change.

 Our military continues to respond to socialization challenges as it always has--with individual, isolated programs. We have the Equal Opportunity program, Violence Prevention program, Sexual Harassment programs, religious and cultural diversity accentuation, participation in Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS), Suicide Prevention Training program, and others. We create and sustain them in ideological isolation, causing them to subsequently compete vigorously for scarce funding, personnel, and political resources. We may even further fragment our efforts as we have by partitioning the violence prevention program into six distinct sub-categories.

 This propensity to create new, isolated initiatives to address varied social misconduct has been the fundamental failure in the way the American military has addressed character development since the Eisenhower administration. We continually assume that secluded enterprises in the ethics, morals, or values arena are consequential just because they give the impression that we are going somewhere. This fallacious faith in new, detached projects does more harm than good by diverting the attention of those in leadership (who have the authority to cause real change) away from genuine solutions.

 Our military culture has become accustomed to a variety of unrelated efforts to help people treat one another with dignity. We are beset by ethics, morals, and values program pieces. Army Service Schools offer ethics courses taught by instructors with a divergence of credentials but without Service-wide standards or objectives governing the goals of those courses. We promulgate obscure Service Core Values (different for each service ) as foundational and then inexplicably change them.

 The Navy and Marines appear to have made the most progress in this arena by simplifying their values to Honor, Courage and Commitment. But the Army remains mired in perplexity over what their Core Values really are. Field Manual (FM) 100-1, The Army, simply worsens the confusion. It states that we have an Army Ethos, which it defines as the guiding beliefs, standards and ideals that characterize and motivate the Army, but is succinctly described in one word--duty. And then, Contained within the concept of duty are the values of integrity and selfless service . . . This is no effortless intellectual leap already, but on the following pages, we meet the Professional Qualities. By now, some of us wonder if we are still actually talking core values here. The professional soldiers core qualities [not Core Values] are commitment, competence, candor, compassion, and courage. Then follows, These core qualities are the facets of the soldiers character that undergird the ethos. What? I can find references to values in every book or article on ethical attitudes and behavior. But personal qualities? Predictably, the use of bizarre terms only exacerbates current confusion over what Army values are. Regulations and FMs differ from one another because individual proponent writers are too often temporary experts (action officers in the survival mode) and do not effectively collaborate ideas according to Service doctrine. Often, even within the same document doctrine is ambiguous because different writers have different educational backgrounds and distinct interests.

 However, we have are other sources of information on our ethos. We have Noncommissioned Officer and Civil Service codes, a DoD Code of Conduct (5500.7-R), academy initiatives to create environments of trust and respect, and chaplain-instructed moral development classroom booklets. We have academy mottoes, honor codes, the Constitution, Officers Commission, Oath of Office, Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), Laws of War, Standards of Conduct, and Service customs and traditions. Officer, Warrant Officer, enlisted, and civilian evaluation reports contain an ethics section. However, raters receive no training to evaluate ethical behavior or decision making, and the rated personnel do not understand the criteria by which they are evaluated.

 So, the problem is not that the military is not paying attention or has not offered answers. The problem is that the military has no unified approach or agreement as to which road it wants to take because it does not have a clue as to where it wants to get to. It is a case of the proverbial husband who refuses the assistance of a map because he firmly believes If I drive long enough fast enough, Ill eventually get there! The Cheshire cat said, "if you continue without direction" You most certainly will get somewhere.

 Air Force Chief of Staff, Ronald R. Fogelman suggests that the current criticisms aimed at that Service may be a problem of the Services culture. Williamson Murray, a military expert and former Air Force officer, argues that if Fog elman really wants to alter the Air Forces culture, he will have to aim for changes a decade from now and begin by revamping education and training for office rs and by picking generals who share his view.

 Bulletin board posters are not enough to alter a culture. On May 19, 1994, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Chiefs of Staff, and the Service Secretaries, signed a document (subsequently made into a poster) which bear s the auspicious title, The Department of Defense Human Goals. When examined carefully, however, these Human Goals are actually a series of admirable, but independent platitudes without a sense of common target. Each of the stated goals is so worthy, who could oppose any of them? But what corporate vision are these goals to attain? How may we ensure compliance and measure whether we have reached the goals?

 What the American military needs, instead, is a clearly stated vision for the kind of environment we want in the military, and an intelligible strategy, plus the collective will to strenuously pursue it. Only if DoD makes character development a top priority, and permanently institutionalizes aggressive programs at every professional life cycle stage will the American military reverse its descent into cultural chaos.

 Although the Services have had continual perplexity over just who (in the Service) holds responsibility for ethics and values training, they have adhered to a few favored means of accomplishing the training. Since Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall initiated Character Guidance programs in all branches of the Service in 1951, the production of booklets and teaching random classes in units has constituted our most consistent approach to character training. Marching soldiers into classrooms for an hour of lecture on dubious agenda by a trainer with unspecified credentials has achieved only the most indecisive results.

 Our second most favored approach is to create military academy character development programs. One rationale is--if we can train our best, most promising new officers, then they may ultimately have a beneficial affect on the larger Service during their careers. Of course, since academies tend to get the negative focus of the public press, any preemptive program has the Services support. Though the point is arguable, academy graduates appear to be better prepared to be leaders, much to the credit of character development programs.

 Nevertheless, the deduction that the military academies effort has a significant sway over the larger Service is faulty. USMA, West Point, currently supplies approximately 25% of the officers accessioned to active duty each year. For this paper, we will assume that this increased rate will remain steady, as will current active duty officer, enlisted, and civilian employee strengths, (optimistic!) and eventually 25% of all Army officers are academy graduates. In that most optimistic scenario, such graduates would constitute merely 2.7% of the total force of active Army officers, enlisted, and civilian personnel. Realistically, the majority of the academys character development programs benefits are confined to the walls of the academy and have insignificant effect on the Army community as a whole.

 Several years ago the Air Force Academy took the lead in character development in the military by administering an innovative, academy-focused, character development program and establishing a Center for Character Development (also at the academy). They succeeded in developing a program that successfully integrated their honor code system with their Services values and stated (desired) character development outcomes. They fixed their policy as: People develop best in an environment of trust and respect, where human dignity and worth are respected. Action officers and division chiefs from the Pentagon made eager pilgrimages to Colorado Springs to explore something truly novel an d innovative in the subject area.

 However, there was no grand strategy to experiment or test training method s and curriculum for broader application to the entire Service. They programmed no strategy for testing the programs influence on mentoring or values evaluation. In short, the program was never intended to leave Colorado Springs except in the most idealistic sense (via graduates).

 The Army's academy developed and instituted the Consideration of Others program to promote Those actions that indicate a sensitivity to and regard for the feelings and needs of others, and an awareness of the impact of ones own behavior on them; being supporting of and fair with others. The achievement of coherence of honor code system and human behavior outcomes prompted some Army leaders to ask, Why can't we apply this program to the entire Army? The simplest response is that programs that work in the confines of the academy are not necessarily applicable to the larger military culture. However, this begs the question: then, what about the other 75% of officers, Warrant Officers, junior and senior enlisted, and all the civilians? Even as we observe the Naval Academy forging a familiar path led by the highly respected Admiral Charles Larson, this is the question that ultimately demands an answer. The Army witticism about the new lieutenant from West Point arriving at her first duty station and being told by the First Sergeant, "Ma'am, you may have done it that way at the Point, but this is the real world!" should give us sober regard. Why should the language of character development not already be common to the environment into which the academy graduate arrives?

 Academies are appropriate in their pursuit of constructive environments. But rather than contriving such insulated programs in a vacuum, should they not be designed as interrelated elements of a larger, comprehensive, Service-wide strategy so that officers from the academies enter the Services committed to a common covenant participated in by every member of their Service?

 A third favorite means the military has of providing ethics training and education is in its Service schools. The schools have no Service-wide scheme or common goals, and emphasize philosophical ethics, or metaethics, rather than applied ethics. Command and General Staff courses and War Colleges address the ethics of war at the strategic level with little focus on mentoring values. Since we provide the preponderance of this institutional training for officers in the grade of 03 and above, we may assume we have not yet taken seriously the concept that in todays high-tech battlefield, national policy may be made at platoon level with the firing of a single bullet.

 The fourth, and possibly the most controversial means of doing something about ethics is the creation and publication of codes. Former and current Army officers continually promote an Officers Code as the answer to how we may create and sustain an ethical milieu. Colonel (RET) Lloyd J. Matthews says,

 It is time to distill the standards and ethical elements that exist in mil itary culture into a professional code--the essence of our professions most cherished values, enshrined in a single document we can look to with something approaching true reverence.

 Never mind that since DoD created the Code of Ethics for Government Service, and the Army developed the Creed of the Noncommissioned Officer, no one has tested for, or apparently even inquired about observable changes in attitudes or behavior of those whom we would expect to be most affected by such codes.

 The primary difficulty with expecting too much from codes is definitions. Once we precisely define the emotion-laden statements, the resultant code is little more than indefinite platitudes without means of exacting compliance. The second problem with codes is they are grounded on a mistaken assumption that people read rules and then conform their attitudes and behavior accordingly. Academies interrelate codes to code systems of enforcement and personal development. Without such systems to ensure cognitive dissonance and compliance, neither attitudes nor behavior will change as a result of written codes.

 So what do we do? There is but one road that will lead to success and these are the steps on that road:


  1. The Department of Defense (DoD) must immediately take the lead in developing a joint character development initiative by forming a DoD planning group, led by military leaders with the authority to make things happen. Their mission should be to submit a detailed DoD character Development plan for Secretary of Defense approval by January 1996. The initial task must be to create a consensus of senior and junior members as to where we want to get to and which road(s) we should take.

  3. DoD must clearly state its vision and objectives accompanied by nothing less than the commitment to change the U.S. Military culture over a 10-year period. The initiative must define, develop and execute a military-wide incremental, developmental training and education program of character development that challenges men and women at every professional level to live the concepts of the Services (unified) core values. The program must begin at accessioning, precommissioning, basic training and civilian recruitment, and continue seamlessly until retirement or other separation. Like physical training, unless themilitary culture incorporates character development (better than it has instituted Equal Opportunity programs!), no change will occur. We must target lifestyle as opposed to individual classes and programs.

  5. DoD must remake the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DE OMI) into a Center for Character Development (implementation arm of the DoD policy office at DoD) with allied and coordinated academic, policy, and implementation centers located at appropriate locations in the individual Service.

  7. DoD, in collaboration with the Services, must state the shared core values of all the Services as DoD core values. Services must then begin to coordinate their regulatory documents to reflect the new unified (DoD) core values. However, we must strenuously oppose the provocation to define this unified set of values before embarking on a character development program.

  9. DoD must enlist the aid of the most respected civilian and military subject matter experts to construct a unified, progressive, developmental (socialization ) curriculum for all personnel in the milieus of (a) institutional education, (b) operational assignments, and (c) individual professional development. This integrated school, assignments, and PD curriculum will be the backboneof the program. Schools, units, and PD must not be allowed to merely incorporate the program into existing schedules in the way equal opportunity was incorporated. We are calling for major reconstruction at no mean cost.

  11. DoD must ensure that individual Service rating forms and rating processes (to include civilians) are the teeth of an overall character development program by insisting that ratings develop personnel and their character, rather than merely evaluating their performance. The military adage people will do it if you put it in the rating, remains true. Simultaneously, we must strenuously pursue an area we address rather poorly--awards systems.

  13. DoD must develop an aggressive means of marketing the character development program to all military and civilian members of the military community, their families, and the general public to create and sustain an institutional and national identity with the decided-upon values and goals. We want to ensure that prospective personnel understand something of the commitment required. We want to attract persons with ability, dedication, and capacity for growth, and to make departing military and civilian members more appealing to civilian industry. Most important, we should begin today telling our nation what we are already doing right!

As an Air Force Academy publication states, the Services ability to educate, train and inspire outstanding leaders, and instill character, is linked to our commitment to develop and sustain an environment of trust and respect, where human dignity and worth are esteemed. A comprehensive character development program in the U.S. military will accomplish the DoD Human Goals and far more. People with ability, dedication, and the capacity for growth will want to work in an environment where such values are rewarded. Equal opportunity, violence prevention, sexual harassment prevention, and other human relations emphases will be incorporated as part of everyday human relations rather than continue as isolated programs.

 Department of Defense, we want you to lead us, without further delay, on the road to an environment of trust and respect, where human dignity and worth are esteemed. To change our military culture will not be the road of least resistance, and swift payoffs, but instead will mean a significant outlay of resources and many years of hard, creative work. But if we are up to the challenge, our children, and their children, will someday be proud to fill the ranks where we and our forefathers stood before them.