- How Do I Save My Honor? War, Moral Integrity, and Principled Resignation
Honor and shame, unlike guilt, represent the most public forms of cultural discipline applied to personal conduct and expressions of individual integrity. Shame punishments operate in ways designed to humiliate and embarrass, and, at times, to erode the capacity of the person to live within a cultural community. Honor bespeaks of the public recognition of a person’s willingness to uphold the reputation for behavior that attends communal values. The linkages between honor and shame emerge within and across closed community value systems connecting personal reputation for behavior to disciplinary punishments exerted by community agents acting at the behest of blood, clan, kinship, or regimental cultural orders. Honor arises as a consequence of the cultural legitimacy grounded in beliefs and ideologies that privilege group survival, primordial bonding, and communal loyalty above all other virtues.
William F. Felice, in How Do I Save My Honor? War, Moral Integrity, and Principled Resignation, thus refers to the moral conditions confronted by individuals within policy-making situations when their value loyalties become conflicted and ultimately divided in intolerable ways. The central focus of Felice’s analysis looks at how individuals situated in positions of influence or in offices with access to official information respond morally to instances fraught with ethical peril.
The specific sets of cases of interest to Felice are those that arose during the presidency of George W. Bush with respect to the US intervention in Iraq and subsequent revelations regarding various outrages including those infamously associated with Abu Ghraib. These events prompted a small but highly articulate group of individuals within the administration to undertake principled resignation from their official capacity [End Page 1160] and to leave office in a way designed to demonstrate their renunciation and rejection of policy. The list of individuals includes John H. Brown, John Brady Kiesling, and Wayne White who found it morally compelling to resign in protest from the US Foreign Service along with Aidan Delgado and Ehren Watada, both of whom resigned in principle from positions in the US Armed Forces. Felice also includes Mary Ann Wright, a US military officer who resigned from the US Foreign Service. Felice adds a separate chapter on British experience based upon members of Parliament and Cabinet during the Blair regime. This cross-section provides a rich tapestry from which Felice draws a poignant portrayal of officials caught in circumstances that make them beholden to communal bonding and ethical strictures of loyalty but who come to realize that continued service represents a profound defection from their own sense of moral integrity based on the very value foundations that make public service such a high calling.
In the course of his interviews with these individuals, Felice explores the political and policy options available to persons caught in the moral predicaments in which public disavowal of policy must come at the cost of one’s reputation for loyalty and, by implication, reputation for integrity or honor. The range of choices he considers includes remaining loyal within the organization while attempting to alter policies and decision making, and the possibility of quiet departure in ways that distance one’s personal disaffection from the sense of institutional or political dissolution. But such choices are ultimately of little value and significance in Felice’s analytical scheme. His scheme seeks to make a case for the role and ultimate moral force of principled resignation where an official addresses an entire polity and, indirectly, history by delineating the reasons for resignation in ways designed to restore not only one’s own honor but the honor of the entire official community that gave rise to and implemented the policies now deemed to be so abhorrent. Felice’s book stands as a tribute to those who by means of principled resignation seek, not only to restore personal honor, but as a consequence of the exercise of their public voice, reinvigorate public honor as well. Thus he makes a claim for the importance of a public space in a...