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Beyond the Limits of Codified Morality: A Christian Military Ethic - Self-formation and the Ethical Military Professional
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Article Index
Beyond the Limits of Codified Morality: A Christian Military Ethic
Self-formation and the Ethical Military Professional
Moving Beyond the Limits of Codified Morality
The Soul as Ethical Substance
A Christian Military Ethic
The Cost of Serving
Conclusion: Honoring God by Living Up to His Standards
All Pages

Self-formation and the ethical military professional

The process of ethical formation begins as soon as new recruits commence military training, through instruction in, and personal exploration of, core values: which in the Royal Air Force is referred to as The Beliefs and Values Programme. Every member of the RAF, officer and enlisted, receives a copy of The Ethos, Core Values and Standards of the Royal Air Force, which states:

Core values are those values by which we lead our lives and which we aspire to develop in others. The Royal Air Force core values are: Respect, Integrity, Service and Excellence, nurtured by effective and consistent leadership ... Every member of the Royal Air Force has the duty and ability to lead and the moral responsibility to live by our core values.11

Military instructors issue this text to new members of the RAF and order that it should be read and the core values adhered to. However, it falls to the chaplains12 – over four sessions spaced throughout initial training – to enhance the adoption of these core values by exploring their significance with classes of recruits or officer cadets: encouraging the process that is referred to in this article as creative self-formation. Each core value is approached thematically (Respect, for example) in a separate session. Hypothetical incidents are outlined and the recruits invited to imagine themselves located in the scenario as, say, the perpetrator or the victim of bullying, or as an armed combatant in time of war. Self-reflection is then encouraged, using questions such as: How do you think you would feel [in such a situation]? What do you think of your colleague’s response? How does such a reaction reflect the core value of, for example, respect or integrity? Such sessions progress in what might be termed a ‘confessional’ dynamic: individuals (including myself as chaplain at that time) publicly describing how a particular action could result in either a positive or a negative outcome, as well as making known the feelings that such hypothetical actions engender.13 Individual views or descriptions, would, in turn, be discussed by the group. Following these elements of self-reflection and discussion the final part of a session would then encourage or incite further self-forming in relation to the RAF core (and other) values. Each session would conclude with the recruits being encouraged to continue to apply the core values to their current and future actions. Overall, the process might be more accurately described as encouraging, or inciting, critical self-reflection, self-policing of attitudes and actions, adherence to codes and creative ethical self-forming.

There are a number of strengths and weaknesses to be found in this approach. On the positive side, in addition to the order by military instructors to observe the core values and put them into practice, time is spent with recruits and officer cadets exploring possible responses using hypothetical examples drawn from military life. Not only were responses discussed and collectively analysed, the consequences of particular responses were assessed. For example, one recruit voiced his opinion that shoplifting was a socially acceptable hobby in the deprived area he came from, while ‘grassing.14 on your colleagues – no matter how severe or criminal their actions – should be punished by violent retribution. Over the course of four sessions the implications of these activities were explored with his class of fellow recruits, considering how theft can lead to the breakdown of individual trust, unit cohesion and morale, and ultimately impact upon fighting effectiveness. The consequences of a ‘no grassing’ approach were also considered: bullying and other anti-social or criminal activities could escalate, leading to a breakdown of unit cohesion and military discipline. While the peer influence of the group hopefully persuaded the former gang member to refrain from stealing and to report activities such as bullying, there is no evidence to show that such an outcome was definitely achieved. Further, there was insufficient time available to explore the much deeper social and psychological origins of his views. However, having even limited space in the training programme to explore such issues and their potential consequences is more likely to lead to a positive outcome than simply setting out rules and punishments. If someone has spent a lifetime ignoring rules and caring less about punishment, there is little likelihood that the donning of a military uniform will have some magical ethical effect.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 April 2012 13:17