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Symptoms of Moral Deterioration in Situations of Conflict
One of the British Army's most senior officers, Sir Graeme Lamb, was quoted in the Sunday Telegraph, dated August 22, 2005, as saying that the allegations of prisoner abuse against soldiers could fatally undermine the British Army. "We are in very real danger of losing our place in society as a highly respected British institution which today stands virtually alone in the eyes of this and many other nations." General Lamb, who had himself commanded troops in Iraq, is reported to have said, "The officers and men under our command did not live up to the standard we expected of them. Those who failed were empowered when they should not have been, were left unsupervised when we probably knew they should not have been." One reason for this situation, he claimed, was because the British Army was being forced to recruit soldiers from a "morally corrupt and dysfunctional" society, where young men idolize foul-mouthed footballers. He remarked that many recruits were "cocky and arrogant and brought up on a diet of football brots and binge drinking--who are not educated in and able to recognize self-discipline."
The General's comments raise a number of very important points. The failure of some soldiers and officers to live up to the high moral standards expected by their leaders does not lie entirely with the Army but with a society that has failed to equip young men and women with the moral values and principles necessary to become responsible citizens as well as responsible soldiers.
Society needs to reflect on this and invest seriously in the moral education and character development of its young men and women, who when they are given the task of fighting wars, killing the enemy and, if necessary, giving their own lives for the sake of some just cause that they, their commanders, their government and nation believe in, will not behave in a manner unbecoming to the Army of which they are members.
Not surprisingly, the unethical behaviour of a small minority of American and British personnel has been studied and examined in some considerable depth and both the British and the American Armed Forces have since re-emphasised the importance of training in ethics and have examined their respective training programmes.
To issue an 'Aide Memoire' to all soldiers on Core Values and revisit the subject of ethics training within the British Army was, in my opinion, not a knee-jerk reaction to the regrettable incidents that took place in Iraq some four or five years ago. In fact, in the late 1990's the Army deliberately set about putting more and more emphasis on one component of their military doctrine, namely, "The Moral component of Fighting Power."
Part of my contribution at that time was an attempt to make the senior generals aware of the moral background from which they were recruiting and training their young personnel. We were living, and still are, in a society in which moral authority has become seriously fragmented. We were, and still are, part of a society in which there is considerable evidence of a serious erosion of personal responsibility. In addition, we were conscious, and still are, of the emphasis being placed on human rights without any equivalent emphasis being paid to developing the sense of personal responsibility.
I became convinced that the challenges facing us then, as now, were not only the immediate challenges such as those relating to lapses in the moral behaviour of troops on operations, but also the much deeper philosophical challenges that shaped, and continue to shape, the society from which the soldiers are recruited.
Western society, writes Jonathan Sacks, has been "largely formed from two primary influences, ancient Greece and ancient Israel, and it owes their combination and dominance to Christianity, formed in the encounter between these two civilisations."
Michael Polanyi, scientist and philosopher, is quoted as saying, "The past three hundred years have been the most brilliant in human history, but their brilliance was created by the combustion of a thousand years' deposit of the Christian tradition in the oxygen of Greek rationalism."
In my attempts to paint a background for the senior officers, I wrestled with the question; "Why are things as they are? How can we best understand our situation?" Professor Iain Torrance, then of Aberdeen University and presently the Dean of Princeton Theological Seminary, accepted my invitation to deliver a number of lectures to senior officers at several gatherings. One of those lectures was entitled; "The Fragmentation of Moral Authority and the Cult of Individualism." Professor Torrance's lectures stimulated much discussion and thought.