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Issues in Military Ethics

To Support and Defend the Constitution

Martin L. Cook

Publication Year: 2013

Reflections on, and analysis of, ethical issues facing military service in the United States.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page, Copyright, The Officer's Oath to the Constitution

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xii

The world and the U.S. military have changed dramatically, and along many dimensions, since the attacks of September 11, 2001. our military forces have been engaged in sustained combat for more than a decade. The experience of military life for individuals, especially but not exclusively in the ground forces, has changed from a primarily garrison force, occasionally ...


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pp. xiii-xvi

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Section I: Overview: Legacies and New Challenges

In this first section, we will address some quite general questions in military ethics. The first chapter, “What Should we mean by ‘Military Ethics’?” was coauthored with the distinguished Norwegian scholar Henrik Syse. I am honored to serve as coeditor of The Journal of Military Ethics with Henrik. We wrote this piece shortly after we assumed the positions of coeditors...

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Chapter 1: What Should We Mean by “Military Ethics”?

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pp. 3-6

Between us, we, the editors of The Journal of Military Ethics, have spent quite a number of years observing conferences devoted to “military ethics,” observing military training events claimed to be in service of that subject, reading papers submitted to a journal of that title, and listening to papers presented at academic conferences ostensibly bearing on military ethics questions....

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Chapter 2: Reflections on the Stockdale Legacy

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pp. 7-18

The most striking thing one immediately notices about the legacy of Admiral James Bond Stockdale, the senior U.S. prisoner of war in Vietnam, is the large number of activities and institutions that bear his name. Here is a list of the ones I know about, and I’m sure it’s only partial: ...

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Chapter 3: The Day the World Changed? Reflections on 9/11 and U.S. National Security Strategy

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pp. 19-30

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001, there was a great deal of rhetoric both from within and from without the Bush administration claiming that the nature and scope of those attacks marked a decisive turning point and watershed in U.S. foreign and military policy and perhaps in international law. It is clear that many decisions regarding ...

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Section II: Civil-Military Relations

The relationships among the military, American society, and the elected civilian government are a perennial source of tension and ethical challenge. In this section, we will examine the specific challenges that have arisen during the first Bush administration with an eye to teasing out more Chapter 4 examines a truly unprecedented event in American...

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Chapter 4: The Revolt of the Generals: A Case Study in Professional Ethics

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pp. 33-44

At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2006, comedian Stephen Colbert joked to an audience, including the president, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Air Force Chief of Staff, and many other Washington dignitaries that only those officers who hadn’t retired “supported Rumsfeld.” He further suggested that the only solution to the criticism of ...

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Chapter 5: U.S. Civil Military Relations since 9/11: Issues in Ethics and Policy Development

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pp. 45-66

The quest for the proper balance of ethical responsibilities between senior military leaders and their civilian masters is a perennial one. Constitutional government requires the subordination of the military to civilian leadership. Getting the balance right has become important in U.S. civil-military relations since World War II—primarily because, for the first time in its ...

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Section III: Ethics Education in the Military

Since long-serving members of the military are not simple government employees, but they are, in fact, members of a profession entrusted by their society with great responsibility, their education and training regarding their distinctive professional ethics is vitally important. Furthermore, as they rise in rank and responsibility, the nature of the ethical challenges they face ...

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Chapter 6: Teaching Military Ethics in the U.S. Air Force: Challenges Posed by Service Culture

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pp. 69-80

We often speak of “the military” rather monolithically—as if the active duty force (and, perhaps, especially the officer corps) were a single undifferentiated “profession of arms.” Obviously, in some respects, this is valid. For all their differences, the different military services of the United States—and even the militaries of other nations around the world—bear very strong “family ...

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Chapter 7: Professional Military Ethics across the Career Spectrum

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pp. 81-94

In the past decade, the Army has made great progress in defining and sharpening the central idea that military officers are “professionals” in a strong normative sense. Although we often use the term “professional” quite loosely to refer to anything a person does for pay, the Future of the Army Profession project and its successors have done much to bring a more...

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Chapter 8: Thucydides as a Resource for Teaching Ethics and Leadership in Military Education Environments

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pp. 95-104

Thucydides’ great work, The History of the Peloponnesian War, is an important reading in many courses in professional military education. It certainly appears in the precommissioning curriculum (the military academies) of the United States and at almost every level of subsequent professional military education...

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Section IV: Religion in the U.S. Military

Religion is a vital and complex subject one must come to terms with if one is to understand the U.S. military. It plays out in a number of different dimensions.
Religion also plays an important role in helping individual military members understand themselves and their role in the military. The chapter...

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Chapter 9: Is Just War Spirituality Possible?

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pp. 107-120

In this chapter, I wish to explore a topic that I find troubling and difficult and that I suffer a number of disadvantages in even attempting to address. But it is a fundamental question that lies at the heart of the cogency of the entire enterprise of Christian just war thinking. The question is this: is it possible, in the midst of combat, to maintain the kinds of attitudes ...

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Chapter 10: Christianity and Weapons of Mass Destruction

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pp. 121-132

In this chapter, I want to consider the ethical implications for attitudes about weapons of mass destruction from a modern Christian perspective radically different from the better-known just war tradition. Just war, with its central concerns with proportionality and discrimination, certainly represents the mainstream of the major traditions of the Christian past—Roman Catholic ...

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Chapter 11: Evangelical Christianity in the U.S. Military

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pp. 133-146

It is inevitable that religion will play a significant role in the U.S. military. Living in the most religiously active developed society on earth, it is certain that many, if not most, officers and enlisted personnel will have significant religious convictions and that those convictions will frame at least partially what they think and do. Furthermore, the understanding of patriotism for ...

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Chapter 12: Diagnosing a Loss of Religious Diversity in the U.S. Military

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pp. 147-156

Nobody who has spent any significant time with the modern U.S. military can fail to note the importance—one is tempted to say, the pervasiveness— of religious language and activity.
I’m at the stage of life where I’m now able to look back on the “good old days.” Like everyone who reaches that stage, I’m inclined not only to...

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Chapter 13: Whether (Modern, American) Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved

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pp. 157-172

Christian ethics has, in recent decades, generated a large body of excellent scholarly work on the theory and application of just war theory. Similarly, recent literature is rich in discussions of violence—both the literal kind, and the extended sense of institutional and structural violence. Amidst this literature is a rather notable lack of attention to the moral concern most ...

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Chapter 14: A Force for (Relative) Good: An Augustinian Perspective

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pp. 173-188

In recent years, the military forces of the United Kingdom have adopted the phrase A Force for Good as a motto. Similarly, the U.S. Navy has adopted the slogan, America’s Navy: A Global Force for Good. One suspects that there are many reasons for this. All militaries need to make efforts to manage the public’s perception of them. Marketing one’s military force as a ...

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Section V: Ethical Issues in War

This final section includes three chapters that deal directly with questions of ethics in the conduct of war.
The first, on Michael’s Walzer’s controversial concept of “supreme emergency,” explores the question of whether in a just war the “good guys,” on the brink of losing to the “bad guys,” are ever morally justified in disregarding...

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Chapter 15: Michael Walzer’s Concept of “Supreme Emergency”

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pp. 191-206

In my experience of many years of teaching Michael Walzer’s classic Just and Unjust Wars, few chapters have so consistently provoked heated debate and confusion as his chapter “Supreme Emergencies.” As Walzer himself observed about this argument, “You can imagine the skepticism with which this account of emergency ethics was greeted, especially where even the ...

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Chapter 16: Asymmetric Air War: Ethical Implications

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pp. 207-222

Developments in the technology of airpower have, since the 1970s, opened an enormous technological gap between the U.S. Air Force (USAF) and the air forces of all other nations. The combinations of stealth airframe technology, precision guidance systems, electronic and satellite technology, and computer developments have combined to create a unique air force. ...

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Chapter 17: Ethical Dilemmas in the Use of Airpower in Counterinsurgency War

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pp. 223-236

Air power contains the seeds of our own destruction if we do not use Ideas about the most militarily useful application of airpower have changed a good deal over the century of its use. At various times, surveillance and reconnaissance, air-to-air engagement with enemy aircraft, strategic bombing (whether area bombing of built up areas, or the attempt to locate and destroy ...


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pp. 237-258


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pp. 259-264

Back Cover

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p. 282-282

E-ISBN-13: 9781438446929
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438446912

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2013