Are Military Professionals Bound by a Higher Moral Standard?

By J.Carl Ficarrotta USAF Academy

It is commonly believed that, in some sense, military professionals are bound by a higher moral standard. This belief is especially prevalent inside the military. Even though there are occasional (perhaps inevitable) moral failures, there are nevertheless numerous internally promulgated codes and public espousals that enunciate such a belief. Many commanders exhort their troops to moral goodness and chastise them when they fall short. Military education frequently includes courses on the demands of professional ethics. Indeed, from the top down, part of the background noise of professional military life are these higher expectations, and a belief that somehow, this line of work is one with a special moral status, special moral problems, and special moral demands. In this article, I want critically to address what, at least generally, this higher moral standard might amount to. I want briefly to offer a more concrete interpretation of what we might mean by a higher standard. I’ll then explore what reasons there might be for believing military professionals are bound by one. While my posture is a skeptical one, I still think there are arguments that make a partial case for some unique and especially strict military obligations. But I do not think we will be able fully to justify a more robust (and I think more commonly held) conception of higher demands on military behavior and character.

What Might We Mean By A higher Moral Standard? There are at least two ways we might elucidate the idea of a higher moral standard for the military. First, we could mean there are unique moral obligations for military professionals that most other people simply do not have. For example, we might think military professionals (but not people in general) are morally obligated to follow the orders of their superiors or be courageous in the face of physical danger. Call this the “uniqueness” interpretation. Second, we could mean military people have good reasons for being bound more strictly to the moral standards that apply to everyone. Here, we would ask military professionals more insistently to be moral, and would find them more blameworthy should they fail. Along these lines, we might say honesty is something we want from everyone, but that it is especially important for military people to be honest. Call this the “strictness” interpretation. Having offered these two meanings for consideration, a few preliminary remarks are in order to head off possible confusion. First, these two meanings are not mutually exclusive (so we might mean some combination of both), nor am I claiming them to be exhaustive of the possibilities (so there might be other meanings of the phrase I’m not addressing). Second, I think these two meanings might apply just as well either to what counts as moral behavior or what counts as a morally good character. Obviously, character and behavior are tightly interrelated, but moral theorists sometimes disagree about the place and role each of these properly occupies in the structure of our moral thinking. It is a disagreement I think we can fruitfully bracket for my purposes. higher standards, if we find them, might bind in terms of either behavior or character or both. And as it turns out, the arguments for higher standards I’ll be examining move freely (without suffering) between these two objects of moral evaluation. Last, keep in mind that I’ll be addressing moral standards for the military professional as opposed to standards of some other type (e.g., legal standards, standards of etiquette, standards of prudence, etc.). There are several lines of argument that might lend some support to claims that military professionals are bound by one or both of these understandings (uniqueness and strictness) of a higher moral standard: arguments that start with unique military situations, arguments that pay attention to the military function as such, and arguments that concentrate on the role of the military and its relationship to the larger society. These lines of argument, while distinct, share a good deal in common and overlap somewhat in both their approaches and their conclusions.

Unique Situations, Contexts and Problems This much seems to me uncontroversial. The military profession, and the conducting of military operations, puts people in unique situations and contexts that pose unique and particularly pressing moral problems. Anyone taking the moral point of view will immediately notice them. To varying degrees, this is true of many—maybe even most—lines of work. Doctors, lawyers, clergy, businesswomen, whatever, find themselves faced with unique situations and contexts that create moral problems which simply wouldn’t come up very often in other endeavors. Keeping this in mind gives us one possible way to make sense of how and why the military professional is bound by a higher moral standard. We could examine all the special situations, contexts and problems we encounter in the military, and try to puzzle out the right way, morally speaking, to think about them. For instance, in a military operation, we no doubt judge it a moral obligation to do whatever we can to avoid hurting innocents. Or we might judge that because military officers have extraordinary authority over their subordinates, they ought to take extraordinary care in looking out for their subordinates’ welfare when issuing orders. This way of thinking lends some support to the “uniqueness” interpretation, and could lead us to suppose that the higher moral standard is merely an enumeration of the unique moral demands placed on military professionals because of the unique situations, contexts and moral problems they face in their work. Importantly, on this view the unique moral demands would bind anyone who happened to be similarly situated. Of course, military professionals are far more likely than other people actually to find themselves in these contexts. But on this account, the reason the military professional is morally required to do this or that is not primarily because of who or what he is. Rather, it is primarily the situations or the contexts in which the military professional finds himself that generate the moral requirements. This or that would be required of any person in the same situation. Likewise, we could make similar arguments for unique and hence higher moral standards in almost any endeavor. A doctor, for example, might be bound by a higher standard of helping the sick. Of course it is plausible that anyone who happens to be able to help a sick person has some (perhaps) limited moral obligation to do so, but the doctor is uniquely situated in that she is most often in a position to help. She is, in this sense we’re considering, bound by a higher standard. So this is one way we could understand and justify a higher moral standard for the military professional. The approach will generate a long list of (general and specific) morally appropriate responses to situations military professionals are likely to face. To follow orders of appropriately appointed superiors, not to kill or injure non-combatants, to attend conscientiously to one’s military duties and the like, would all be part of what binds the military professional more or less uniquely and would hence collectively constitute the higher moral standard. At least as far as it goes, what this approach establishes must be right. There are unique situations, contexts and problems, and these do generate unique moral demands. Still, this is rather a thin construal of a higher moral standard for military professionals, and is as notable for it what it doesn’t establish as for what it does. To begin, one might be inclined to think that invoking a higher standard for someone means (in some sense anyway) that a person is bound to do more than any similarly situated person would be bound. This thin approach—as I have developed it so far—does not establish such a requirement; and this may point up an inadequacy for this way of understanding a higher standard, depending on how important we think the requirement is. But more importantly, a higher moral standard so thinly construed says nothing directly about what the military professional may or may not do outside of the military context. If a military professional fails to pay his taxes, cheats on his wife, lies to his friend, whatever, I may be as disappointed in him as anyone else (for he was bound by the same moral standards that apply to us all). But I may not be especially disappointed in light of the higher standard (so construed and justified), because this standard was generated from and applies only to situations and contexts that are unique to the military. Maybe using this general unique situations approach, we could also say some something about a higher standard understood in terms of the “strictness” interpretation. We’ve seen that, at the very least, a military professional is obligated by the same moral standards as everyone else. Morality, in general, always makes its special and insistent claims on each of us, simply in virtue of the fact that we are human beings. But given the morally tough situations that come up in the military line of work, maybe military professionals ought to attend more carefully to these common moral standards, and indeed not succumb to the temptation to comport their behavior and character in accordance with lower standards. Anscombe was exactly right to warn us about the dangers of commonplace “pride, malice and cruelty” and to point out how quickly warfare can become injustice, and how easily the military life can become a bad life. So when we consider the moral dangers and temptations of military service, and survey the extraordinarily bad things that can happen when the military professional is not strict and courageous in upholding moral standards, we may rightly worry. If we are concerned to minimize the immorality that can be, and too often is, found in war, we will see good reasons to be on guard. The military professional, then, ought be especially strict and morally steadfast, and not yield to the extraordinary stresses that might easily lead him to violating moral principles that bind us all. Hence we might have a rough argument for binding the military professional in accordance with the “strictness” interpretation of a higher standard. This way of thinking about things seems to avoid the first difficulty we noticed with the thinner approach (which concentrated only on the “uniqueness” interpretation). That is, it seems to leave room for us to demand more of the military professional than we would of someone else similarly situated. Specifically, since military professionals know well the moral danger they might face, we might think they are bound—on this view—to be stronger, more disciplined, and have more moral courage in facing the temptations to do wrong in wartime. However, none of this addresses the second worry we noticed. Because these demands of strictness come from the special moral dangers present in military situations and contexts, we still are not in a position to say anything directly about the military professional’s conduct and character outside of the military context. In spite of these worries, I think by starting with the unique situations, contexts and problems faced by the military professional, we get a nice start in sharpening our understanding and justification of being bound by a higher moral standard, for both the “uniqueness” and the “strictness” interpretations. Still, I’m sure this way of understanding a higher moral standard for the military fails to capture all, or even most, of what many people are thinking when they invoke such a standard. If we hope to establish more, we must turn to some other ways of approaching the question, ways that might establish a thicker, more demanding version of the standard.

The Functional Line Hackett has claimed that a bad person “cannot be . . . a good soldier, or sailor, or airman.” Wakin and others seem to agree with this claim. These thinkers base their conclusion on an argument I’ll call the functional line. They acknowledge the “unique” moral situations and demands placed on the military professional, which we just explored. But they furthermore think that there are certain rather general demands on the character and behavior of military professionals, mostly of the strictness variety, that flow directly from the military function itself. For example, military units cannot function well, especially in combat environments, if the members of the unit are not scrupulously honest with each other. Also, military folk simply will not be able to do their jobs if they are not, to a certain degree, selfless. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be willing to tolerate even the ordinary hardships of military life, much less be willing to risk their lives. Similar arguments can be made for the virtues of courage, obedience, loyalty, and conscientiousness. Hence if one thinks (for whatever reason) that it is important to have a military that functions as well as it can, one also is committed for these same reasons to thinking military professionals are more strictly bound to exhibiting these virtues and behaviors. Notice that the functional line might be applied in some measure to any enterprise, especially cooperative ones. To the degree that any undertaking is important, then we at once have special reasons for more strictly binding those engaged in the enterprise to general moral standards that are necessary for its success. And cooperative enterprises typically depend very heavily on observing a number of moral standards. For instance, commerce would likely fail if the honesty of the participants dropped below a certain level. Hence insofar as, and to the degree that, commerce is important, we have reasons to be strict about honesty in a commercial setting. Identical arguments can be run for a large number of other enterprises (for example, fire fighting or police work). In each of these cases, we could argue for varying degrees of higher moral standards appropriate to participants in the enterprises. But the application of the functional argument to the military is particularly apt, and establishes particularly strict and broad versions of a higher moral standard, for several reasons. First, few undertakings require the level and intensity of cooperation that is demanded by the military function. So moral standards, the observance of which are needed for cooperation, become particularly important for the military professional. Second, there are other demands of the military function that, while not directly or primarily concerned with cooperation per se, are also facilitated by clearly moral standards. The needs for bravery, selflessness, and conscientiousness come to mind as examples. These functional requirements need not be related directly to cooperation (though they might be), yet they also generate special reasons for being strict with what amount to moral standards. So the military function seems to make broader moral demands than many other undertakings, in that the military function makes a greater number of these strict demands on behavior and character. Third, failure in the military context likely will issue in tremendously bad consequences, whether considered morally or otherwise. When the military person violates functionally grounded moral rules, there is potential for disaster we just do not see in many lines of work. If all this is right, then we have found some good reasons to think that military professionals have not only some obligations not normally encountered by others (as we saw in the unique situations approach), but that there are special reasons to be strict in enforcing many general obligations that apply to us all. I think the main idea here is right. But I also think we should be careful not to conclude too much from the functional line. All this argument leads us to are higher standards in the military context. Military people must be scrupulously honest with each other when there is some military issue at hand. They must be selfless when it comes to the demands of military work. They must be courageous when there is some military task to be performed. What the functional line does not establish is that the military professional has special reasons to be “good” through and through. The argument gives a soldier who would never even think about lying in his unit no special reason not to lie to his spouse or cheat on his income tax. The military function will be no worse off if a sailor always put the needs of the service above her own, but still gives nothing to charity. As long as a pilot is courageous in combat or in dealing with his fellow professionals, he might just as well be a coward with a burglar or his father or his wife. We might well be disappointed about these non-military moral failures, but the functional line doesn’t give us special reasons to be strict outside the military context. Now one might be inclined to think that what I’m imagining is not possible. Either people are honest or they’re not, selfless or not, brave or not. This kind of functionalist would think virtues or character traits are not something we can easily exercise in one context and then fail to exercise in another. Hence, if that is true, then for functionalist reasons, the military professional ought to be held to higher standards of honesty, selflessness, or courage in every context, through and through. Otherwise, failures will invariably bleed through into military life. So when a military professional, say, cheats on his taxes, or lies to a salesman, I still have a special, functionally grounded reason for being particularly disappointed. I do not think this works. Clearly, perfectly ordinary human beings are capable of forming extremely complicated, situation sensitive dispositions. Do not almost all of us easily internalize habits of etiquette that alternately allow and prohibit us to do all sorts of things depending on the context? Likewise, given a normal human psychology, I see no reason to think we cannot form complex, situation-sensitive moral dispositions. Indeed, it would be very surprising if there were not moral dispositions sensitive to contexts and that take account of what might be at stake. I take it as obvious that there is some sense in which there can be honor among thieves. And the ugly truth is, history is full of examples of effective military professionals (who must have had the requisite functionally grounded moral qualities) who were—all things considered—very bad people indeed. Of course, whether or not (or to what extent) we have the moral-psychological capabilities I am postulating is an empirical matter. One functionalist thinker (Wakin) has conceded to me in conversation that we might well produce examples of people who are complex in the way I am suggesting. Still, he maintains that people of globally good character are far more likely to possess the functionally grounded military virtues. It is this likelihood he thinks, even though we occasionally see those of split personality, that justifies our functionally grounded desire that military professionals be good through and through. I am reluctant to do any more armchair psychology than I have already done, and point to this question as an important area for further research by those competent to carry it out. But to the extent that people can and typically do form complex, context-sensitive moral dispositions, I think the functional line is weakened in its attempt to make more general demands on military behavior and character. We might try another twist on this functional approach. If the military professional has the appearance of being moral through and through, the “more moral” image might contribute to military effectiveness in some way. Appearing more moral might make the military professional more effective in getting money and other kinds of support with those in the public who are morally minded. Indeed, garden variety moral failures by military professionals might erode public trust of the military, which could in turn impact money and support. Also, morally upright troops might be more inclined to follow military leaders they believe are exceptionally moral. Perhaps this twist will give us the reasons we need for extra strictness outside the immediate military context. I do not think this twist gets us very far. First, I am sure we were not exploring reasons military members have for merely looking good, but instead were trying to establish that they have special reasons for being moral. To make out the stronger conclusion using this argument we would have to add a further premise. Specifically, we would have to say one cannot appear good without actually being good. And I take that to be false. We could weaken the added premise (and also to a degree the strength of the conclusion), and claim that the best, easiest, or most reliable way of appearing good is to be good. But I take even the weaker premise to be dubious. Even though appearing good without being good requires a special skill in the settings we are considering, it is not a rare or difficult skill to acquire. The argument also rests on a controversial empirical claim as to the relationship between one’s willingness to follow and/or support military professionals and one’s beliefs about their more general moral behavior and character. Here once again, the argument may turn in large part on the results of empirical studies of this relationship. Will beliefs about “extra” moral uprightness really result in more support? Will beliefs about specific moral failings actually lead to a more general lack of trust? Do beliefs about a leader’s moral conduct outside the professional context have effects on the ability to lead? I think it is prudent, without the results of careful studies, to withhold judgment on these kinds of questions. And, even if we assume any of these to be the case, we would still need to finish the argument by showing that the degree of trust, support or confidence lost would be sufficient to impact the military function. That, finally, is where all functionalist arguments must bottom out. Besides, if we base the strict adherence to moral obligations solely on what it takes to get or keep public support, or what it takes to get troops to follow leaders, it might turn out that the military professional has just as compelling reasons on occasion to be especially bad. A less than morally upright soldier might identify more readily with a leader that shares his vices, and be less inclined to follow a leader that he views as “moralistic” or a “goody-two-shoes.” Or, for example, a public caught in the grips of some nationalistic or imperialistic ideology, might be less supportive of a military that was generally too tolerant or fair-minded or just. Such, I suspect, are the motivational psychologies of some troops and some segments of the public. Overall the functional line gets us some special reasons to be morally strict with the military professional, but only in the military context. The argument does not get us a knight in shining armor. Indeed, the higher moral standards for the military professional established by the functional line are ones that even a Nazi could and would endorse.

Demands of the Role This next argument I will explore is a lot like the functional line. Call it the “role-based” argument for a higher moral standard. On this view it is not just that the military function—narrowly defined as fighting—demands more of the military professional. There is also a more or less well-defined role one occupies in the military structure and in society at large when one is a military professional. Perhaps the military role carries with it unique and stricter moral demands that include, but go beyond, what can be generated by functionalism alone. Take as an illustration of this role-based idea the moral standards concerning the behavior of police officers. A police officer is morally bound to do something about a crime in progress, while ordinary citizens are not always expected to step in. The unique obligation flows immediately from the role the police officer is filling. A parent is bound to care for his or her children in ways others are not morally required to do. The obligations are attached to the roles. So if one assumes a role in society (rather than pretending to assume it) this frequently carries with it some very definite moral baggage. As long as you are not a charlatan or a con man, you take on either unique obligations or stricter obligations (or both) because you agree to them by assuming the role. Indeed, these various expectations and understandings concerning one’s behavior and character as an occupant of a role are part of what it is for something to be a role. Now I do not want to claim that the only role-based moral obligations are those driven by the brute expectations of society. There may be other sorts of reasons for higher standards attaching to roles that I have not thought of or explored. Nor do I want to claim that society’s brute expectations are always ones we should meet—they might, after all, be unreasonable expectations. My thought here is merely that if a society has certain expectations, and I voluntarily assume this publicly understood role, then I have at least prima facie, honesty-based reasons for meeting those expectations. Now consider the military professional. If one voluntarily assumes that role then there are certain standards of behavior and character to which one at once agrees. What are they, exactly? As an easy starting point, certainly an obligation to attend honestly and conscientiously to every day military duties comes with the package. A similar demand is made by almost every role. If called, doing one’s best in combat seems uncontroversially an obligation attached to the role. We should also assume that the explicit oaths that demand obedience to superiors and loyalty to the constitution are part of the public understanding of the military professional’s role-based obligations. There may be more. But when someone assumes the military role, unless he is a fraud, he at once assumes some moral obligations which are attached to the role (whatever those obligations turn out to be). Of course, one might ask why the military professional should not be a fraud. Fair enough, and we might be able to conjure some special reasons military people have not to be frauds in regard to their role. But that is bigger game than I am stalking here. I am happy at this point to explore what kind of complex, role-based moral obligations we can deduce from a more simple moral obligation like not being a fraud. It is a higher standard that we are trying to establish. So, if we assume the role as it is generally understood in the society, and couple it with a prohibition of fraud, I think we can establish the uncontroversial moral standards I have already mentioned. But have we found an argument for higher standards, particularly higher standards that go beyond the demands of functionalism? The obligations I have listed (attending to duty, fighting when called, obeying superiors, and being loyal) are not anywhere near exhaustive of the moral possibilities, do not ask more in degree or in kind than functionalism, and as stated, may be obligations we all have. How much more does the military role require? For this line of argument to do its work, something about the military role and our publicly shared understanding of it would need to point toward unique and stricter demands that go beyond functionalism, toward the strict obligation to be good through and through. I am skeptical. Indeed, there are at least two worries about taking this any further. First, we can wonder straight away if role-based expectations for the military professional in our (or any) culture actually do go beyond the uncontroversial demands I have already listed. If they do not, then we would have no basis inside this role-based strategy to invoke any higher standards. It would be as if we told a doctor that she should not cheat on her spouse because she was a professional. I do not think this makes sense. Granted, a doctor has some special reasons not to lie to her patients about their medical conditions precisely because she is filling the role of a doctor, since this role carries with it a special component of trust in the doctor-patient relationship. But if it is wrong for her to cheat on her spouse, it is because infidelity would be wrong for anyone, not because she is a doctor. If there is no special expectation attached to the role, then there is no justifiable criticism based on such an expectation. So does the military profession have special moral expectations attached to it as a role in society, expectations that should lead the military professional to be morally “better” than the functionalist would require, maybe even good through and through, in virtue of her role? It is not easy for me to answer this question with certainty, but I would judge the answer is no. When a military person neglects his children, writes a bad check, cheats on his taxes, whatever, I object morally and legally. But I think the grounds of these objections are standards I would apply to anyone, and there is not a sense that the military person has let me down specifically in regard to his role. Once again, though, I would expect a more definitive answer to come from actual empirical investigation (perhaps a sociological study of exactly what constitutes our publicly shared understanding of these roles). I suppose I might be judging wrongly about the content of these role-based expectations. But that leads me to my second worry about taking this strategy any further. If the culture actually does expect the military professional to be more morally upright than others in many or most ways, and believes this is inherent in the role, should this be part of their expectations? Sure, reasonable expectations coupled with assuming the role generates obligations. But is it reasonable to expect as much from the military professional as we are supposing here? I think that if some people believe the role demands more than functionalism, their conception of the role is an unjustifiable one. I do not know of a better way to justify the reasonableness of our role-based expectations than grounding the expectations in the functions themselves. And indeed, the shapes these functions take are not arbitrary. The traditional professions, for example, are tethered to several important and perennial human needs (for health, justice, and defense) and the professional roles are conditioned by the function of best providing for those needs. Now we have already seen that the military function, even broadly understood, only makes certain limited demands in the moral sphere. So, I think, a functionally ungrounded claim that military professionals are bound by a higher moral standard is unreasonable, and should carry no weight as part of the foundation for this role-based strategy. Thus it makes the question of actual public expectations for the role an interesting empirical question but, without some supporting rationale, not of too much use for our purposes. But why assume we need an argument in support of the expectations? Assume (controversially) that the public simply expects military professionals to meet a higher moral standard, and this has nothing to do with their thinking about the function or their legitimate understanding of the role. They are paying military salaries, so if this is what they want, however overly demanding, and for whatever reason, this is how the military should be. Given the brute expectation, the professional would be cheating the taxpayer if he took the job pretending to be especially morally upright, but not really taking the higher moral standard aspect of it seriously. There is a great deal wrong with being willing to abandon the requirement for reasonable expectations. I’ll mention, but not explore, how arbitrary and unfair it would be to take this view. How could we consistently hold one group on the public payroll (the military) accountable for higher, non-functionally grounded, moral standards, but not all the others on the public payroll (various civil servants and politicians at almost every level)? And I will set aside wondering once again if there is such an expectation in the public at large. It is still by my lights doubtful that there is a brute demand in our culture for the military to be more moral than the rest of us in non-functionally grounded contexts. Maybe worst of all for this idea is that, given we stipulated these were not reasonable, functionally grounded expectations, we leave ourselves open to a couple of disquieting possibilities. First of all, here we say the only reason military professionals have for being bound by some higher moral standard is that this is what the public expects in the job, and hence they agreed to these things when they took the job. What then would keep these higher standards from disappearing in the future? If we uncritically base the obligation on brute public sentiment, history teaches us that this sentiment can change, and not always for the better. Second, I fear this kind of thinking might lead too many military professionals to think (however wrongly) that brute public sentiment is the sole (or at least “trumping”) source of all their moral obligations. Then, in another place or time, we might hear the specious moral argument that the public wants Jews killed, and they are paying military salaries, so the military professional is obligated to do it. No, if there is a higher moral standard based on something beyond function or a functionally shaped role, we had better have a good reason for thinking so. And “just because the public says” is not, by itself, good enough.

Group Image While I would not rest my case on the public’s brute expectations for the military, the public image of the military is not morally irrelevant. To see this, consider a commander required to discipline some of her troops for writing bad checks to merchants off base. In addition to the appropriate punishments, the commander could correctly admonish such offenders for the bad effects their actions had on the image of the military with local merchants. Because the military constitutes a readily identifiable group, many kinds of misconduct by the few can lead to bad consequences for the many. Some people might form, however hastily, general opinions about how they should view all military professionals. So the fact that it is easy to identify someone as a member of the military, together with the tendency of some people to form generalizations based on thin evidence, gives us yet another special reason for the military member to be moral. One person’s misconduct or lack of character hurts her fellow professionals. Maybe here we have a reason for a higher moral standard outside the military context. There seems to be something to this. But as with our other arguments, I think we should be sensitive to its limitations. First, (as we saw in our earlier twist on the functional line) it insists directly only on good image and not on genuine goodness. To establish genuine moral strictness we would need to believe genuine moral goodness was causally necessary (weaker version: causally closely related) to good image. Insofar as this is true, the argument provides reasons for a higher standard; to the degree that it is false, the more we would be inclined to say that the argument establishes only a case for good appearance and that the real crime is getting caught. These issues parallel the ones we examined in the twist on the functional line. Also, even if the argument works, it only establishes higher moral standards the breach of which hurts other service members because of the resulting bad image. So to even get started, we would need to have enough people being caught to create the bad image. If only one soldier in 10 years, for example, commits murder, and this has no appreciable effect on the image of soldiers in general, then this image argument does not give me a special reason to be disappointed in the soldier. Besides, even if such an image does take hold, a bad image does not always hurt the members of the affected group. Segments of the population might disapprove of what they perceive of as misconduct in a group without this doing serious, positive harm to the members of the group. Pretend it is widespreadly (even if mistakenly) believed that military professionals are heavy drinkers, have foul mouths, are sexually promiscuous, and do not have proper regard for their health. Are we sure this will cause harm to the group as a whole, harm sufficient to provide a special reason for all members of the military to refrain from these behaviors? If the harm does not result, then the argument fails. Moreover, the types of misconduct that would elicit this kind of societal response (a generalization that results in harm to the group) could and probably would vary from place to place and time to time. Hence what the higher standard requires would vary as well. So all in all, while group image considerations give us some reasoning in support of a higher standard, it is not what I would call a firm foundation—what it requires would be tentative and variable. Last, it is also interesting to notice that the argument would apply to any readily identifiable group. If this line of thinking is correct, then doctors, lawyers, racial groups, women, men, members of any group really, also have special reasons under certain circumstances not to misbehave publicly. After all, the image problem can affect any of these groups as well. In fact, all of us belong to one or more of these readily identifiable groups. This being the case, I am not sure how we can make sense of the resulting standard being a higher one, particularly if we thought that meant it was a standard that bound just, or especially, the military professional.

Conclusion I do not think there is any simple and single answer to the question of what should count as a higher moral standard, and whether we have good reasons for thinking military professionals are bound by one. A number of different considerations point to a loose collection of unique military obligations and some special reasons for being strict with obligations that bind us all. But these obligations mostly are restricted to the military context. Even if we stretch what counts as relevant to military duties and responsibilities to the broadest extent plausible, the higher standards we can truly justify are not as extensive as may be commonly thought. We should conclude that military professionals are bound by some unique and/or especially strict moral standards, but they do not encompass all of morality. We ask an awful lot of military professionals, particularly in the moral sphere. But outside of functionally driven contexts, I claim we have little or no basis for asking them more insistently than others to be moral, or blaming them to a greater extent than we blame others for the same offenses. I do not think we can justifiably ask them to be saints.