Marvin J. Harris
United States Army Sergeants Major Academy
Department of Military History
November 26, 2013
Since 1775, the birth of the United States Army, many men and women have served in the United States military. These individuals have given their lives in defense of democracy, both at home and abroad. The oath of enlistment these individuals took to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” is a major obligation. Whether it was through the draft or a voluntary commitment, these individuals are willing to give their lives in defense of their country. Along with their commitment to defense, these soldiers also committed themselves to be ethical professionals as well. The burden of being a member of the United States military is different than any other profession. Military members must maintain a high standard of ethics both on and off duty. Leaders in the United States military always enforce a high standard of both professionalism and ethics. Failure to maintain ethical standards and a high sense of professionalism may lead to a lack of trust within the command and the service. It may also lead to a lack of faith in the military by the general public. Ethics is the foundation that the United States military is built upon.
Before a paper can be written on Military Ethics, one must define the following words: ethics, values and morals. Ethics are standards by which one should act based on values. Values are beliefs, such as, honor and integrity that motivate attitudes and actions. Lastly, morals are values which we attribute to a system of beliefs. Ethics, values and morals are formed as we mature and become adults. They are shaped by our families, teachers, friends and our environment. The military is represented by all aspects of society, which consist of individuals with different ethics, values and morals. Bringing individuals together and molding them to share the same ethics, values and morals is challenging, if not unfeasible.
The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is the basis of military law in the United States. The UCMJ is what separates members of the military from non-military members and civilian laws. Military members are govern by both military and civilian laws. If a crime violates both military and state laws, it may be tried by a military court, a civilian court or both. A military member can't be tried for the same misconduct by both a military court and another federal court.
Military ethics often imitates the same ethics as society. Because of the nature and purpose of the military, the same cannot be said in reverse. Ethical violations that are offenses in the military may not be violations to non-military members. Ethics are the foundation for which the military and the UCMJ were built upon.
Military Ethics: Is It an Oxymoron?
In his book “True Faith and Allegiance”, James H. Toner raises the question as to whether ethics in the military exist. He believes that the word ethics much like the word love is too ambiguous. Just because a word is hard to define, does not mean the word does not exist (Toner, 1995).
So what exactly is ethics?
Ethics is the critical study of standards for judging the rightness or wrongness of conduct (Toner, 1995, p. 9). In the military the actions of Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen are based on their training and the UCMJ. Not whether the action is ethical. We have all heard, seen and read stories about the treatment of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib Prison. It is argued by some that the treatment of these prisoners was unethical. There are also some that argue, since these were prisoners of war, their treatment was acceptable. So that raises the question, were the prison guards acting unethically, or carrying out their duties as directed? If you believe that the prison guards were simply following orders to possibly gather military