Professor Manuel Davenport

Texas A&M University


The chief objection of those who criticize the core values movement in the armed forces is that while its members may be required to memorize a list of core values this will not be sufficient in itself to change their behavior. Such critics differ, however, concerning what more must be done to change behavior or whether, indeed, anything can be done to modify the behavior of young persons who have been conditioned by 18 years of life in an egoistic civilian society. Even critics who believe that it is possible to induce young people to be more ethical may still object because they do not believe the armed forces are willing or able to do what is necessary.


I am an optimistic critic in that I believe it is possible to make the behavior of those in the armed forces more ethical and I also believe that the military establishment is able to make the necessary effort. In support of these beliefs I will use the Core Values Program of the Marine Corps as an example, and hasten to add that I do not mean to imply thereby that core values programs in the other branches are inferior. I focus on the Marine Corps program simply because I know more about it than other programs. I have visited Parris Island, talked with DIís and recruits there, and have discussed the effect of core values training with several young Marines now in the fleet.


Core values training in the Marines begins and is integrated with the basic training of recruits. During the 12 weeks of boot camp there are 4-6 core value classes every week, each of which lasts for at least one hour. Although 5 or 6 of these aproximately 60 classes are taught by a Navy chaplain most are taught by the platoon drill instructors. All the classes led by the DIís involve "hats-off" discussions of three kinds of cases: real events drawn from the DIís experiences, cases presented in the available instructional materials, and problems that surface in the platoon.


Discussions of problems drawn from the experiences of the Senior DI, known as "Senior Circles," might deal with suicide or alcoholism, for example, and might emphasize sources of support available in the Corps and methods for handling stress. The recruits are assured that it is better to seek help than to try to struggle alone. To make these points the Senior DI may talk about a fellow Marine who killed himself or drank too much and ask the recruits to suggest what could be done to prevent such results.


Drill instructors may also initiate discussions of core values by talking about a problem that has arisen in the platoon. For example, recently at Parris Island members of one female platoon accused members of another female platoon of being lesbians, and a "Senior Circle" was called to question whether such an accusation was a violation of core values and to determine, if it were, what steps should be taken to remedy the situation. It is important to note that the discussion was "hats-off," meaning that no one would be penalized for any comments made or confessions offered.


The official Core Values of the Marine Corps--which are the same as those of the Navy--are Honor, Courage, and Commitment, which are intended to encompass integrity, discipline, teamwork, duty, esprit de Corps, and other values. In the Naval chaplainís lectures, after training events, and in discussion of cases published in the instructional material conscious efforts are made to identify certain actions as examples or violations of the Core Values. After a march that a recruit completes despite stress fractures, the DIís will comment on the recruitís example of Courage. After reading about examples of heroism, the recruits may be asked to consider what Core Values are thereby exemplified.


Marines I have talked with, both males and females who had finished boot camp, all agreed that the "canned" lectures and cases were valuable in sorting out the differences among Core Values, but did not have the lasting impact of the more informal and less organized discussions based on DI or platoon experiences. They also agreed that all of their Core Value training suggested that Integrity seemed to be the overarching Core Value even though it was not named in the big three. This was not a cause for concern, however, because they seemed to realize that Core Values cannot be neatly separated.


What was also impressive is that these Marines were taught that Core Values should function both externally and internally. One must honor oneís fellow Marines, the Corps, God and country, but one must also honor oneís own self by taking pride in and expressing confidence in oneís own ability. By being courageous one makes others courageous. By being committed to oneís own self one is also committed to the Corps. Duty to self and duty to others should not be in conflict.


I am convinced that the Marine Corps is making the kind of effort necessary to change the behavior of its members for the better and has been effective in doing so. The DIís I talked to indicated that as they track the behavior of recruits in the fleet, about one-third will lapse back to their civilian mode within a year, but two-thirds will not. Factor in Marine Corps pride and cut it to one-half who do not lapse; this is still an impressive result.


The Marine Corps Core Values Program is effective for two reasons. First, the program begins with and is integrated with three months of recruit training. One , if not the central, objective of boot camp is to reduce diverse and egoistic individuals to equal and replaceable units in a team. Several recruits told me that the most difficult aspect of boot camp was not physical but rather the requirement to refrain from talking in the first person.


The point is that both the mental and physical demands are intensive and, thus, recruits are more teachable than they will ever be again. Further, Core Values training sessions are viewed by the recruits as welcome breaks from combat training.


The second reason the Marines Corps has been effective in implementing Core Values is that real-life examples are used in informal discussions. The recruits do not feel that they are being indoctrinated but believe they are arriving at solutions by team effort to problems they will face when boot camp is over. In the informal discussions led by DIís the Core Values are given, but the recruits feel free to determine how they can exemplify these values in specific situations. This combination of given values and freedom in determining how to realize them is a happy medium between a totally free-floating discussion of morality, in which even the values are up for grabs, and an indoctrination session in which the specific kinds of behavior as well as the core values are prescribed.


Without such freedom to determine how to exemplify core values the training sessions, indeed, would resemble Chinese brain-washing. With such freedom the conditioning concerning what the Core Values are, which does make use of operant conditioning enhanced by sensory and sleep deprivation, is mitigated by an element of choice. Marines may decide by means of group discussion how one may exhibit Honor, Courage, or Commitment in particular situations.


The result of such training is that the Marines believe that they are more morally sensitive and more honorable in behavior than other members of the armed forces. Whether true or not, this belief causes the Marines to take pride in being held to high moral standards. They do not complain because they would have it easier if the military were to lower its moral standards to those tolerated in the civilian world.