Lieutenant Colonel D. Chris Osborne
Indiana Army National Guard

Dr. Sam J. Newland
Project Advisor

U.S. Army War College
Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania 17013


AUTHOR: D. Chris Osborne (LTC), INARNG
TITLE: Senior Leader Ethics: A Sword, Not a Shield
FORMAT: AWC Writing Project
DATE: 30 June 1996
REVISED: 6 November 1996 for presentation at A Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics and Leadership in a Multi-National Environment at the National Defense University, Ft. McNair, Washington, DC, 30-31 January 1997.

A senior military leader's strong ethics yield power, enabling the leader to project his influence throughout his command and beyond, even to the enemy, thus serving as another instrument of strategic power. But defensive ethics to ward off problems are destructive of the traditional expectations of the American people in their senior military leaders.

The paper surveys ethics theory, then uses examples from antiquity and from World War II to examine the effects of leader ethics on the strategic conduct of war (and peace). From the examples are distilled propositions as to the scope and elements of leader ethics in the American tradition. These tenets are found to be consistent with the beliefs of our nation's founding fathers, centered about the concept of natural law, and expressed in words and deeds in the manner of civic humanism.

The paper argues the applicability of those precepts to today's military. It addresses a current issue: can or should senior military leaders be subject to a codified set of ethical guidelines?


A Society would come to grief without ethics, which is unenforceable in the courts, and cannot be made part of the law. Former Chief Justice Earl Warren.


The people of the United States long have scrutinized the conditions under which their sons and daughters serve in the nation's military forces. Parents want to hear that those forces are the best trained, best equipped, best clothed, best fed, and best led in the world. Generally, the military has been convincing as to the first four criteria. But the people have reserved to themselves judgment of senior military leaders -- or perhaps to themselves and to their representatives in Congress. For an American military leader has the benefit of the doubt -- until he violates the faith of the American people. That is our theme, our thesis -- that senior military leaders, while they may serve under a constitutional and statutory national command authority, ultimately are answerable to the people. And what is the standard to which they are held? It has not been the ephemeral one applied to politicians -- the opinion polls, the daily reaction of the editorial page, the Saturday Night Live skit. It has been a more enduring measure: ethics. For the people have adopted General Sherman's unvarnished description of war. They do not long for the glory, but they expect their leaders to moderate the hell. They do not demand triumph, but they require success -- outcomes of which they and their communities can be proud. And success is measured against an egalitarian notion that it must be success for all, from the commanding general to the ammunition handler. A senior leader who meets the public expectation has power. The confidence of his forces and his public enables him to project that power even more effectively, throughout his command and beyond, even to the enemy. Ethics is the frame that stabilizes the leader and the command through successes and setbacks and that assures the lowest recruit that he is in good hands.

Herein we seek the scope and tenets of leader ethics, and we examine the effects of leader ethics on the strategic conduct of war (and peace). And through this examination we find that the nature of the ethics that our society seeks in its senior military leaders is of the essence of our nation, derived from the grand and dangerous beliefs of our founding fathers, and based on the notions of natural law and civic humanism. But, as Earl Warren has pointed out, these grand ethics cannot be codified. Their power is in their pervasive influence throughout our society.

But will this model of ethics persist? Does it apply to the military of today and tomorrow? Ethics in the great tradition is selfless in nature, with its power flowing outward from the actor. Must we instead codify ethics into rules, laws, codes of conduct, with the power of outside enforcement directed against the actor should he stray? Is fairness the new standard, replacing right? Will ethics become a creature of contract law, of administrative law, rather than of the overarching natural law? Must a leader employ defensive ethics (if there were such a thing) to ward off the enemy within? We decry these developments, but we include and examine some of them here. For such purposes were appendices created, and would that these pseudo ethics be relegated there in perpetuity!


Analytically, ethics is the branch of philosophy that deals with human conduct and morality. Ethics is concerned with distinguishing between good and evil in the world -- between right and wrong human actions -- between virtuous and nonvirtuous characteristics of humans. Given this definition, should our leaders be ethical? Or, would anyone propose that our leaders be otherwise?

But what is the standard? John Stuart Mill, English philosopher and economist of the nineteenth century, was a well-known supporter of utilitarianism, a system of ethics according to which the rightness or wrongness of an action is to be judged by its consequences, with the consequences of ethical actions intended to further the greatest happiness for the greatest number. As Mill put it, A creed which accepts as the foundation of morals >utility or the >greatest happiness principle holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. In politics, utilitarianism is a basis for policy that places public good over private good and which may tolerate harm to minorities and individuals as collateral damage. But what of the imbedded concept that consequences measure rightness?

Immanuel Kant fathered deontology. It holds that the moral obligation to act is prime, not the consequences. The act carries the moral weight. A rival of utilitarianism, deontology rejects acts that harm minorities and individuals. Moral or categorical imperatives -- rules that command action independent of a desired end, including the happiness of the actor -- prevail. Do what is right, though the world should perish. Kant emphasized the necessity of reason and moral awareness. Without moral awareness, ethics is a form of compulsion, the tyranny of >You should,' >You ought not,' >You are supposed to.' It is an ethics of guilt and resentment, not love and respect. Or, what of the concept of determinism, which holds that human actions are entirely controlled by previous conditions under the laws of nature? Determinism may be understood as ruling out free will -- or perhaps more accurately may throw the whole matter into the realm of Calvinist predestination, a deep concept wrapped up in the relationship of man to God. And, wheeling about in a grand circle of logic, the Calvinist would tell us that it is given to man to strive as if his destiny had not been determined -- for how can he know?

Is religion of the essence of ethics -- or vice versa? Many see religion as the basis of morality, which addresses many of the same issues as does the more academic study of ethics. But individual morality and ethics based on the competing values and norms of differing religions or differing cultures (cultural relativism) will yield few standards or measures for our purposes here. The great melting pot of American society has to some extent given way to group identities and, perhaps, group ethics. In a May 1994 commencement address at the College of William and Mary, columnist George Will saw great danger in acquiescence to the post-modern concept that facts do not exist apart from the biases and traits of the people who hold them and that no idea or other cultural product is more legitimate than any other. Would we excuse criminal and antisocial behavior of drug dealers because it conforms to drug culture norms?


For our purposes here, we must repair to that which we know -- that our society values ethics in its leaders -- or at least says that it does. What in fact is society looking for, and is it worth the looking?

Is society looking to leaders to employ casuistry (under its pure definition) -- the determination of right and wrong in questions of conduct or conscience by the application of general principles of ethics? Or does it prefer the codification of ethics into specific rules and codes of conduct?

Or, would society accept the tenets of ethical relativism or situation ethics -- both rejecting categorical principles, the former in favor of the prevailing standards of the culture and time, the latter in favor of judging acts within their contexts? Perhaps the construction of ethical principles, rules, or codes through reason (the academic bent) could produce a common understanding that would prevail over religious views or cultural heritage. A recent analysis suggests that, to be effective, an ethical system must be a universally understood and adopted public system (within the larger society) with primacy over moral systems generated by the cultures and religions that make up that society. Is this setting of reason above faith reprehensible or impossible? The great tradition of natural law, enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, may be the balm to heal the divide. It would appear that philosophers of the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic faiths all have concluded that, through the power of reason given to man, he is able to discern some type of natural law.

Stepping back through history, we find St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) writing of the Jus Natural, implanted by the Creator, and made discernable to Man by reason. Ethics is the product of the application of reason. Just earlier, the Jewish writer Maimonides (1135-1204) had concluded that ethics requires action in universal terms and that reasoning leads to the universal view, leaving room for religion and for imagination in its application. Neither of these philosophers read Aristotle directly. They adopted the Aristotelian philosophy and arguments from the earlier Islamic philosophers Al-Farabi (?-950) and Avicenna (980-1037).

This promising approach can be reconciled with the two primary documents of our system of government. The Declaration of Independence invokes the Laws of Nature and Nature's God and the self-evident truths of the equality of men and certain inalienable Rights. Our Constitution, however, directs that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The founding fathers sought not a theocracy but rather sought out the laws of nature, apparently consistent enough with their own religion.

But we must proceed carefully -- and let us examine the lessons of history to identify that which we seek in our senior leaders.


If we delve far enough into the past, we find examinations of ethics that predate the religious and philosophical issues of more recent times. Perhaps here will be found a base from which to build. Of the writers of antiquity, we are drawn to Plutarch, the Greek philosopher and biographer (A.D. c. 46 - c. 120). Plutarch is famous for his Parallel Lives, arranged in pairs to contrast a Greek and a Roman. The subjects are statesmen and generals. And if we accept the translator Mr. Stewart's statement in his preface, all agree that [Plutarch's] morality is of the purest and loftiest type.

Mr. Long had translated the thirteen lives of distinguished Romans who lived during the period of the civil wars of Rome. In his preface, he recounts words of the author, Plutarch, that in themselves may provide guideposts for us today. For I do not write Histories, but Lives; nor do the most conspicuous acts of necessity exhibit a man's virtue or his vice, but oftentimes some slight circumstance, a word, a jest, shows a man's character better than battles with the slaughter of tens of thousands, and the greatest arrays of armies and sieges of cities. Mr. Long tells us that The object then of Plutarch in his Biographies was a moral end, and the exhibition of the principal events in a man's life was subordinate to this his main design . . .

Of Pompeius, we find this in manner of introduction. For in addition to his other endearing qualities, Pompeius could give without seeming to confer a favour, and he could receive with dignity. Later, in an interesting vignette, Pompeius demonstrated restraint, a sense of justice, and an appreciation of troop discipline after the military conquest of a city.

Pompeius had determined to punish the inhabitants of Himera which had sided with the enemy; but Sthenis the popular leader having asked for a conference with him, told Pompeius that he would not do right, if he let the guilty escape and punished the innocent. On Pompeius asking who the guilty man was, Sthenis replied, it was himself, for he had persuaded those citizens who were his friends, and forced those who were his enemies. Pompeius admiring the bold speech and spirit of the man pardoned him first and then all the rest. Hearing that his soldiers were committing excesses on the march, he put a seal on their swords, and he who broke the seal was punished.

Returning from conquests in triumph to Rome, Pompeius disbanded his army upon landing in Italy and journeyed toward Rome. Far from losing his power with the dispersal of his army, the people seeing Pompeius Magnus unarmed and advancing with a few friends, as if he were returning from an ordinary journey, poured forth through good will and forming an escort brought him into Rome with a larger force . . . We can feel the power of an ethical leader -- the power that transcends armed might -- drawn perhaps from Pompeius' honesty, his respect for others, his acceptance of responsibility, his discipline.

But, at the age of forty-six, having defeated many enemies on the battlefield, Pompeius could not rise above power politics in Rome. For the power which he got in the city by fair means, be employed on the behalf of others illegally; and as much strength as he gave to them, so much he took from his own reputation, and so he was overthrown by the strength and magnitude of his own power before he was aware of it. It was Caesar who rose as Pompeius fell, through long and great national strife. Could there be any clearer example and expression of the concept that power may be with man but is not of man? That when the ethics that controlled the power are fractured, the power turns on the leader as would a punctured high-pressure hose? But in the end, at the age of fifty-nine murdered on the orders of Ptolemy, the last words of the tragic Pompeius would ring true to our own founding fathers. Quoting Sophocles in words of deep meaning against the panorama of his life, Pompeius tells us over the span of centuries that:

Whoever to a tyrant bends his way,
Is made a slave, e'en if he goes a freeman.


Let us come forward in time, near to our own, but with enough distance to view our subject in perspective. World War II -- the crucible of men, of societies, of philosophies in arms, of ethics. Here we see the great, the small; the glorious and the mean; the tests of leadership and of leaders. Echoing Plutarch, we cannot here weave the great tapestry of history, nor would it serve our purpose. But we can examine the artifacts, the vases whole or broken, upon which are painted the telling moments of leadership and of ethics.

Omar N. Bradley

A small example, perhaps, is the tableau of General Omar Bradley, then II Corps commander, relieving Major General Terry Allen, Commanding General, 1st Infantry Division, and Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., his Assistant Division Commander, from their posts during the campaign in Sicily. In Bradley's words, Early in the Sicilian campaign I had made up my mind to relieve Terry Allen at its conclusion. This relief was not to be a reprimand for ineptness or for ineffective command. For in Sicily as in Tunisia the 1st Division had set the pace for the ground campaign. Yet I was convinced, as indeed I still am, that Terry's relief had become essential to the long-term welfare of the division.

Under Allen the 1st Division had become increasingly temperamental, disdainful of both regulations and senior commands. It thought itself exempted from the need for discipline by virtue of its months on the line. And it believed itself to be the only division carrying its fair share of the war.

Allen had become too much of an individualist and the division too full of self-pity and pride. So, A[t]o save Allen both from himself and from his brilliant success, I decided to separate them. Roosevelt had to go as well to clear the field for an incoming division commander. Bradley called the two men to his CP in Nicosia.

As if scripted by a higher hand, en route the two generals were ticketed by a corps MP for violation of uniform regulations! Allen had been riding with his helmet in his lap, and Roosevelt was wearing an unauthorized stocking cap. Arriving at the CP, Roosevelt addressed the corps commander, Brad, we get along a helluva lot better with the Krauts up front than we do with your people back here in the rear. The relief followed. Both Allen and Roosevelt rebounded and returned as leaders in the invasion of France. We find Omar Bradley seeking the greater good (as Mills would teach) while acting on a moral imperative (B la Kant). And surely he sought a greater good than merely serving the interests of the moment, as he saved both men and the division from foundering in their own moral wallow, with all of them rising up again as strong as or stronger than before. Discipline was more than order to Bradley. It was of the essence of soldiers and armies, forming a foundation for military action. Earlier, Allied troops had paraded through Tunis to celebrate the North African victory. But Allen's brawling 1st Infantry Division (Bradley's words) was celebrating on its own, looting wine shops and rioting when excluded from the clubs of service troops in Oran. But while Bradley moved to tighten discipline, he admitted that his command had overlooked the soldiers' need for relaxation after emerging from combat. He saw how the Rangers had taken care of the situation on their own, setting up temporary camp on the sea coast and stocking it with extra rations and a truckload of beer. For several days, the battalion banqueted, roistered, and swam in the Mediterranean. After this break they went into bivouac with good morale for a resumption of training.

Corps commander Bradley was finding that discipline is of and for the soldier, and is not wholly the province of the commander. And perhaps he was finding that honest appraisals of people and problems can strengthen both the troops' respect for the leader and the leader's respect for his troops -- and can breed a little humility, the leaven that makes the loaf of responsibility and power rise.

Winston S. Churchill

Winston Churchill maintained a dialogue with the British people, sometimes directly, sometimes in subtle ways. From his famous blood, toil, tears and sweat address to the smaller matters of life in war-stressed Britain, Churchill by words and deeds was a catalyst of resolve and of stability in the face of the gravest threats to a traditional society. Churchill made much of his mother's American roots, and he struck a responsive chord in the American people. His ethics were like ours!

One of those smaller but significant moments occurred when, as First Sea Lord, he met with three young men who were candidates for naval cadetship. All three had excelled in the educational competitive examination, but all had been found unfit for the Naval Service after personal interviews by a committee. Churchill found that the first candidate exhibited a slightly cockney accent, and the other two were sons of noncommissioned merchant seamen. In a message clear but restrained, he reminded the naval authorities that the whole intention of competitive examination is to open the career to ability, irrespective of class or fortune, concluding: Pray make me proposals for rearranging the present system so as to achieve the above conditions. Cadetships are to be given in the three cases I have mentioned. For Churchill would preserve Britain, but he would act against the baser practices of its society.

On the grander strategic stage, Churchill believed that with high command came the patriotic and moral responsibility to take all actions that might preserve the nation and its people. He abhorred inactivity of forces and lack of initiative of leaders, and incompetence was to him anathema. His faith in France and its generals was destroyed in May, 1940. Churchill had become Prime Minister on May 10. Bad news flowed from across the Channel, and early on May 17 Paul Reynaud, Premier of France, telephoned, saying in English, We have been defeated. We are beaten; we have lost the battle. Churchill was shocked at the finality of the news, and that afternoon he flew to Paris. He met with Reynaud, Idouard Daladier, French Minister of War, and General Gamelin, Commander in Chief of French Armies. They explained that German armor forces had broken through and were moving at high speed upon Paris. Breaking a silence, Churchill posed the question: Oj est la masse de manoeuvre? But there was no strategic reserve! Churchill, an ally, asking the obvious question, had challenged the military leaders of France in their own tongue -- and was dumbfounded at the reply. Mingling philosophies, we might posit that the Kantian moral imperative to act had been violated -- and the utilitarian consequences were swift.

Turning from Churchill's steadfastness for his British people, we find recent accounts of his dealings with his fellow leaders of the Grand Alliance that would call Churchill's punctiliousness, at the least, into question. In what has been called Churchill's finest hour in May and June of 1940, he maintained Britain's political resolve to stay in the war while some of his fellows privately were contemplating the possibility of terms with Germany. President Roosevelt wanted to keep the British and the French in the war, and he most certainly wanted to ensure that the British fleet did not fall into German hands. Roosevelt, perhaps, was angling for assurances that, should Britain withdraw from the war, her fleet would set sail for the New World. But, at home, Roosevelt was loath to exhibit any desire for the United States to enter the war.

Washington, through the British Ambassador, did make tentative inquiries concerning the potential fate of the British fleet. Churchill responded indirectly with statements that if Great Britain broke under invasion a pro-German Government might obtain far easier terms from Germany by surrendering the Fleet thus making Germany and Japan masters of the New World. Was this scare-mongering? Was it ethical? Or are ethics beside the point in such diplomatic bartering among nations, in which the United States on its part went to the brass tacks, insisting that Britain deliver remaining gold reserves from safekeeping in Africa as consideration in the lend-lease and bases arrangements. We see that Stalin later was not disinclined to use similar intimations of a separate peace with Germany to extract concessions from his allies.

These are hard questions, and perhaps unnecessarily so. For it may be that here we find one of our limits. Our inquiries perhaps should not push beyond the scope of leadership of a military force or even of a nation into that of diplomacy, involving essential matters of sovereignty. For here we see the chess games of leader against leader on a stark battlefield devoid of troops, with only the chiefs and their closest staffs to join the fray. This is a different issue.

Harry S. Truman

Harry Truman, as a politician the product of the Kansas City political machine of Tom Pendergast, rose to senior leadership in a time of strategic confusion and danger. He found himself at the focus of a great strategic and ethical issue -- whether to employ the atomic bomb. What do we find in this man in the way of ethics? It may be that in Truman's success (some would say unlikely success) we find a proof that middle American society is (or was) solid enough to inculcate ethical values even in one who rose from business failure into a political career through deal-making and mutual back scratching. In the words of Alonzo L. Hamby, his most recent biographer:

For thirty years, he earned a living and made a reputation as a professional politician. His climb to the top in this Darwinian world can be seen as a triumph of the values America represented. Thus to celebrate him is to celebrate ourselves.

In 1905, at age twenty-one, Truman joined an artillery battery of the Missouri National Guard. He left it in 1911. In 1917, two months after the United States declaration of war against Germany, Truman reenlisted in the Guard. He was elected a first lieutenant.

Truman earned a good reputation as an officer. He was sent on advance detail to artillery school in France to learn the French 75mm field gun. He was promoted to Captain and given command of a battery. In its first engagement, Truman's battery became disorganized, and Truman proved his courage by personally controlling the situation. As the battery participated in larger engagements in support of the Thirty-fifth Division infantry, Captain Truman exhibited the characteristics of a seasoned combat commander. After the armistice, Truman was recommended for appointment as a major in the regular army. But he opted for a full and immediate separation from the U.S. Army. He considered his mission complete. But less than six months later he applied for appointment as a major in the reserves. By 1932 he had achieved the rank of Colonel and was commanding officer of the 381st Field Artillery Regiment. But when he took his seat in the Senate in 1935, army regulations required that he be relieved of his reserve command and put on Ageneral assignment, in effect ending his military career. In the early stages of his political career, Truman was beholden to the Kansas City political machine of Tom Pendergast. As a county administrator and a United States senator, Truman struggled to walk an uneasy path between the practical demands of real-world politics and the ethical absolutes of disinterested public service. But regardless of the critical reviews Truman received or his lapses into the behavior of a shrill, angry partisan, his ideology, while of less philosophical origins than that of our founding fathers, was traditional in nature. From his parents, he learned the values of the straight-arrow Victorian male: monogamy in marriage, courage as a soldier, honesty in transactions with others, a strong belief in the sanctity of agreements (whether between individuals or nations), and a sense of personal honor that led to his discomfort at having to deal with corrupt politicians or make dubious compromises.

To Truman fell the momentous decision whether to drop the atomic bomb. On April 12, 1945, he was summoned to the White House, learned of the death of President Roosevelt, and took the oath of office. Truman expressed his feelings as I feel like I have been struck by a bolt of lightning. Soon he learned of the progress of the Manhattan Project. He appointed a committee to recommend a course of action as to the use of the atomic bomb. The committee recommended its use against Japan without warning. There was reluctance among Truman's military advisers to accept less than unconditional surrender from Japan, including the ouster of the emperor. Truman was informed of tentative Japanese peace inquiries forwarded to the Soviets. But under the circumstances, it seemed clear that Japan was prepared to fight to the end. On July 25, 1945, Truman gave the go-ahead to drop the bomb. July 26 proclamation in the names of Truman, Clement Attlee, and Chiang Kai-shek demanded the unconditional surrender of Japan. The Japanese prime minister Kantaro Suzuki declared in a press conference that Japan would resolutely fight for the successful conclusion of the war.

The bomb fell on Hiroshima on August 6. With no surrender offer or other word from Japan, Truman did not interfere with the planned employment of the second bomb. It was dropped at Nagasaki on August 9. Japanese military leaders still resisted surrender, but the emperor Hirohito made the decision favored by civilian officials. The surrender was tendered.

Some have floated the worst case estimate of 46,000 American deaths without use of the atomic bomb -- a reasonable price, they say, to have avoided atomic war. But not so to Truman, an artilleryman who had seen the face of combat. And . . . in the end, a brutal certainty remains. Japan was unable to muster the will to quit until two atomic bombs had been dropped. Truman made the necessary decisions. They were not wrong, though there are many who cannot bring themselves to use the word right in the same sentence with Hiroshima.

Douglas MacArthur

In General of the Army Douglas MacArthur is an enigma of leadership. In an assessment condensed for an encyclopedia, historian Louis Morton distills the large themes of MacArthur's manner of generalship. Let us set them forth and then make a closer examination.

In an age when war had become increasingly complex, MacArthur showed a mastery over all aspects of his profession. He combined supreme self-confidence with unflinching courage. His unusual strategic sense and intuitive understanding of the enemy led him to make insightful, often brilliant, wartime decisions. Impressive in appearance and dramatic in action, he demanded and received unquestioning obedience.

But the qualities that made MacArthur great were also the sources of his weaknesses. He was extremely egotistical and would tolerate no criticism. Remote and authoritarian, he seemed to lose touch with the common man. Although he insisted on complete loyalty from his subordinates, he often disagreed bitterly with his superiors.

MacArthur's complex personality inspired both love and fear. His admirers gave him their wholehearted devotion. His critics seemed to find fault with almost everything he did. Few persons could be indifferent to this proud and colorful warrior. But no one could deny that he had served his country well during the difficult period when it moved away from a policy of isolation to assume leadership of the free world.

Others would deny to MacArthur the laud bestowed by Morton. Author Eric Larrabee warms to the task with What are we to make of this strange man . . . . There is a hollowness here, a lack of centrality, of commitment and conviction beyond the self that could have redeemed what is otherwise empty posturing. As a human being he was a shell of tarnished magnificence, a false giant attended by real pygmies. Larrabee, as have others, appears entirely to lose objectivity in addressing MacArthur, savaging the general, his staff, and his supporters with a fire hose of vituperation.

MacArthur had been called an American Caesar. In 1932, presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt privately had named him (with Huey Long) one of the two most dangerous men in the country. When President Truman on April 11, 1951, relieved him of his Far Eastern and Korean commands and from the direction of the occupation of Japan, MacArthur had been in the far east for fifteen years. Some feared that he would return by way of a crossing of the Rubicon. But in MacArthur's words, The legal authority of a President to relieve a field commander, irrespective of the wisdom or stupidity of the action, has never been questioned by anyone. The supremacy of the civil over the military is fundamental to the American system of government, and is wholeheartedly accepted by every officer and soldier in the military establishment.

The Japanese, the vanquished enemy, took to MacArthur more readily than many of his countrymen. Upon MacArthur's relief, the Japanese Prime Minister broadcast these words:

The accomplishments of General MacArthur in the interest of our country are one of the marvels of history. It is he who has salvaged our nation from post-surrender confusion and prostration, and steered the country on the road of recovery and reconstruction. It is he who has firmly planted democracy in all segments of our society. It is he who has paved the way for a peace settlement. No wonder he is looked upon by all our people with the profoundest veneration and affection. I have no words to convey the regret of our nation to see him leave.

Even Larrabee acknowledges that MacArthur was that rarity among Americans, a truly Far Eastern-oriented man. His predilection was of great value to the United States and was appreciated by those Eastern nations with whom we would be allies. MacArthur was not a man of the people. He perhaps was a leader for the people, with a determination and purpose that America should prevail. But, dare I suggest, the contrast of the image of Douglas MacArthur with our mental portraits of Bradley, Churchill, and Truman may reveal another dimension of the leader ethics we seek. Our leader figures (even if British) must be minutemen, militiamen, volunteer citizen soldiers in the grand spirit of the Revolutionary War -- not mercenary war lords ruling foreign provinces, whether the Phillippines, Japan, or elsewhere. In this perspective, the allegations that MacArthur accepted large monetary honoraria from the Philippine government are not as damning as his supercilious attitude toward the private soldier or the elected official, in which he appears to sully the common values and body politic he served to defend. Perhaps in MacArthur's famous address on the occasion of receiving the Sylvanus Thayer Medal at West Point, May 12, 1962, we can find the focus of the man's personal ethic, which may be askew of the citizen-soldier tradition. General MacArthur regards the award as not intended primarily to honor a personality, but to symbolize a great moral code -- the code of conduct and chivalry of those who guard this beloved land of culture and ancient descent. That is the meaning of this medallion. For all eyes and for all time, it is an expression of the ethics of the American soldier. MacArthur venerates the calling of arms -- the knight, the warrior of the ages. He glides past the new day, the rising sun of Franklin's remark, the new birth of the Republic -- and that may be where he his ethic departs from our inchoate set of leader ethics. But few can fault him in his imagery -- the beckoning call of this timeless warrior as he nears his objective. In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange mournful mutter of the battlefield. But in the evening of my memory, always I come back to West Point. Always there echoes and reechoes in my ears -- Duty -- Honor -- Country.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Picturing from first- and second-hand accounts the strategic leadership styles of the great figures with whom we have visited, we may see Pompeius as a grand but tragic actor on the epic stage of the Roman Empire; Bradley as the great foot soldier who seems always to rise just above the level of those about him; Churchill as the unbowed boxer challenging the old champions and sparring his way to the top; Truman as the frustrated but persistent captain of artillery whose unruly troops somehow fire first and longest in the battle; MacArthur astride his steed, gliding confidently through the din of battle. But from Eisenhower's book Crusade in Europe, we have the impression of seeing the great conflict from a satellite hanging high above the continent. Eisenhower's great discipline and sweeping but dispassionate view of events gives us the big picture but none of the details. We must form much of our picture from accounts of other men.

Eisenhower spent ten years working with MacArthur, who wrote of Eisenhower in an early 1930s efficiency report that This is the best officer in the Army. When the next war comes, he should go right to the top. It was Marshall who implemented that recommendation in 1942.

While Eisenhower infrequently expressed the thoughts that underlay his actions, his diary of February 23, 1942, shows his inclination to suppress personal achievement for the good of the greater effort: In a war such as this, when high command invariably involves a president, a prime minister, six chiefs of staff, and a horde of lesser >planners,' there has got to be a lot of patience -- no one person can be a Napoleon or a Caesar. According to his biographer, of all the generals of World War II, Eisenhower came closest to a Napoleonic role, but he himself never would make such a comparison. He had no false modesty, was conscious of the crucial nature of the role he played, but never thought of himself as a Napoleon. Always, his emphasis was on the team. The only difference in his Presidency was that he applied the principle on an even wider scale. He was not self-effacing, but realistic, aware that there were definite limits on his powers, and keeping his self-image in perspective. Eisenhower's story is that of the consummate staff officer rising to become a leader of leaders.

Dwight Eisenhower was a product of Abilene, Kansas. In 1947 he described his boyhood there, saying that Abilene provided both a healthy outdoor existence and a need to work. These same conditions were responsible for the existence of a society which, more nearly than any other I have encountered, eliminated prejudices based upon wealth, race, or creed, and maintained a standard of values that placed a premium upon integrity, decency, and consideration for others. Any youngster who has the opportunity to spend his early youth in an enlightened rural area has been favored by fortune. Ike's biographer, Stephen Ambrose, describes his last words thus: He said softly, >I want to go; God take me.' He was ready to go home, back to Abilene, back to the heart of America, from whence he came. His great heart stopped beating.


What are we to make of our quest? Must we pan more and more gravel until a golden nugget is revealed? Why are we comfortable with some leaders, and not with others? Certainly not all of them were philosophers -- how can we ascribe to them philosophic qualities and motives? Or must we leave the whole matter as a mystery -- a nut too tough to crack?

Generally, the leaders we have scrutinized were held in high esteem. The American public elected two of them to highest office. Churchill perhaps appealed more to U.S. opinion than to that of his own countrymen, who ousted him when he persisted in his wartime leadership style as the war concluded. Of all, MacArthur aroused the most doubt and division. While he was appreciated for his accomplishments, the people and their opinion-makers did not warm to his modus operandi and questioned his motives. So it was not results themselves that engendered support. Was it their characters, their values, their ethics? Those supported by the public, whether high in the firmament or lower on the horizon, had a direct, respectful, honest, other-directed style. They worked from the self-evident truths of the natural law -- and were keenly aware of their environments. They were respectful of their soldiers, other leaders, and the public they served. They were honest to the extent that their superiors or electorates seldom questioned their veracity and judgment. And the faith of their publics and of their military forces let them be confident with their enemies, whether in war or in the peace that followed. It was power -- not just strength of arms, but power from the hearts of the people. And add to this collective power the internal characteristics of responsibility, discipline, and courage -- and now we find power focused.

The modern natural law of Niccolb Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke held that man through reason can discern certain legal principles that will establish peace in an otherwise government-less state of (human) nature. These principles become the essence of any legitimate constitution -- the social contract that gives effect to natural laws and serves man. Any government, to be legitimate, must observe these natural rights of its citizens. Any government that fails to do so forfeits its warrant to be obeyed. We hear these themes in the powerful words of our founding fathers. So modern natural law sets a standard of legitimacy. But what impels a man or woman to act for that country, so rightly established?

The case has been made that the Founders also were much influenced by the tradition of civic humanism. The civic virtue of that philosophy is, in the military setting, expressed in the concept of martial virtue. In the civic tradition, it is a citizen militia that provides for the defense of the republic. The defining feature of civic humanism, then, is that pervasive, individual virtue is the sine qua non for any republic, and that such virtue must be expressed through voluntary citizen participation in all of the affairs of the state -- including the defense of the state. The citizen and the soldier had to be one. The standing army was suspect. The mercenary (not uncommon in Revolutionary times) was anathema.

But the militias too often broke before the onslaught of professionals. George Washington, who had expressed his faith in the virtuous citizen-soldier, came to rely on regulars as a constant element of his military strategy -- but he continued to employ his militias as well.

The argument of David Kirkwood Hart's 1994 paper is that the professional military establishment of the United States is, and ought to be, the moral descendant of the ideal of the citizen militia of the civic tradition, rather than the descendant of the ideal of the standing army. As such, its underlying moral philosophy must be derived from martial virtue, which is civic virtue gone to war. For that reason, civic-soldiers must never shift their moral gears when called to military service. And Athe term noblesse oblige is not something left over from the novels of Sir Walter Scott and Raphael Sabitini. In general, it means that rank implies -- requires, in fact -- moral nobility. Noblesse oblige means that one acts always in a morally superior manner.

Distilling the elixir from this vat of observations and philosophies, may we be so bold as to list the key elements of senior leader ethics? Without setting order of precedence, we have these ethical traits: (1) openness and awareness; (2) honesty in all matters; (3) respect and egalitarianism; (4) responsibility . . . to the nation, to allies, to the soldier, and even to a defeated enemy; (5) selflessness/humility; (6) high standards and discipline; and (7) moral and physical courage -- operating in the framework of the societal values of our founders' natural law and civic humanism. And of those many or few who possess these traits, the true leader exhibits skills of vision, will, and influence focused on his mission. Senior leader ethics are not the product of any school of philosophy. Rather, senior leader ethics are an amalgam of ethical traits, leader skills, and the traditional values that are an inextricable part of our free society.


At the senior leader level, must we change? Is there a problem with the traditional values and their applicability to strategic leadership? Are those precepts we have considered not exactly those we would want for our nation, our communities, our families, our comrades in arms?

Some may be put off by the Eurocentric focus on western values. But the literature of the natural law and of civic humanism is replete with references to similar teachings of Oriental seers, and one author has characterized the North Vietnamese Army as a product of martial virtue.

But we are beset with proposals for and implementations of codes of ethics in all professions and walks of life. The Department of Defense and its members, as an executive branch institution, are subject to the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 and rules promulgated by the Office of Government Ethics, entitled Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch, issued as the Joint Ethics Regulation. Much is made of these ethical standards and their progeny, but do they apply to the exercise of strategic or senior leadership? If the senior leader does a don't or leaves undone a do, is he unfit? Perhaps he is, but not because of the published rules! If a leader fails to maintain our civic values -- those of our Founders, those of our public -- he must go. But until then, he sets the standard. And if our citizenry does its duty -- the duties of civic virtue and martial virtue under a government legitimate by natural law -- then fairness and common values will be woven into our civic and military leadership standards in the right way -- by each of us taking a turn at the loom. Our senior leaders need not practice defensive ethics and damage control. An enlightened citizenry participating in our national life and its battles will judge them at the bar of public ethics. Must we change? Perhaps. But it is to the extent that we may have strayed that we should change -- back to the traditional values, back to our national roots. While our military struggles with downsizing and reorganization, it must never break ranks on the matter of ethics. Military education must focus on ethics. Officer selection and evaluation procedures must emphasize ethics. Never should one of our military leaders be hounded into pandering to the whims of media and meddlers, and never should one be destroyed by the press or other ax-grinders. The American people despise such treatment of military leaders. Never should a senior military leader teeter and fall. If he cannot catch himself, his comrades in arms must do so, and either stand him back straight and tall or carry him off the field of battle with the respect that an old soldier deserves. If the ethical underpinnings are in place, all can be confident in standing together, because never should we have elevated a senior leader who has not the ethical core that our nation requires.