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By Reverend Dr. Victor Dobbin, Major General, British Army, Retired, CB, MBE, DD, Chaplain-General of the British Army (1995-2000), Director of the Leadership and Ethics Centre
In recognition of the serious fragmentation of moral authority felt generally in Western European culture, I propose an approach to the training of military ethics that complements traditional methods. This focuses on the concepts of ˜story and community" I suggest this approach because it relates to character development as well as to the ethos of a community, both of which are vitally important for the Armed Forces. Moral behaviour is more than behaving according to certain procedures or rules. It has to do with the type of person the soldier or officer is. It has to do with character and virtue as well as with the social context of the community in which a person lives.
Christians are reminded of the role of 'story' and story-telling within the Christian tradition and the proposal is made that these same concepts can be used effectively by the Armed Services to sustain their ethos, as well as to provide the sailor, soldier and airman with a personal moral guide that reflects the direction in which the Service Community wishes to move.
In the early years of the 20th Century P.T. Forsyth wrote, "The great problem before civilization is the moral problem. Our crisis is intellectual, no doubt, but it is still more ethical." He went on, "The moral problem is the problem of the hour and of the future. For it is the whole social problem. It is the issue on which civilization depends for its permanence; and yet it is the problem which civilization is least able to solve."
Late in the 20th Century in a book entitled Public Sector Ethics, edited by Charles Sampford, Noel Preston and C-A Bois, Stephen D. Potts writes "As we approach the beginning of both a new century and a new millennium, there are increasing signs that ethics in public service is an idea whose time has come."
To support these comments we need only think about the present financial crises facing our World. These crises have not come about solely because of a failure in knowledge of the financial markets by some bankers and traders, but to a large degree, on their failure to appreciate the importance of ethics in relation to their professional practices.
Regarding military ethics we recall the media reports, going back as far as 2005, of charges of brutality by members of American and British Armed Forces against prisoners in Iraq. Those disturbing and shameful reports showing photographs and giving details of some of the disgraceful activities that took place in Abu Ghraib prison as well as in certain Basra detention centres have increased awareness of the importance of ethics and led to additional training in the subject.