The Professional Ethic of the US Army Officer
The US Army officer must conduct his affairs as well as live his life under a professional and established code of ethics. Other professions certainly have their own code of ethics, but the code of ethics for the Army officer is far more demanding on the individual. For the civilian, the code of ethics effectively stays in the office. Once they have “clocked out”, their time is their own – they are free to do whatever they wish without worrying about their subordinates or superiors. For the Army officer, however, their code of ethics must be carried on into their personal lives as well. As Don Snider writes, “an officer of character is more concerned with being the kind of person who does the right thing, at the right time, in the right way”. 1 He also describes the officer as someone who conducts themselves as not only as professionals in the working environment, but as “being a certain kind of person”. 2 This, however, is not the only challenge that the officer faces in his professional code of ethics. The greatest challenge is described by Samuel Huntington as the “management of violence”. 3
Huntington cites this as the single factor that separates all Army officers from all civilians. The Army, as an organization, is primarily responsible for inflicting violence upon other countries. Officers, as the management and overseers of the Army, are responsible for managing that violence. This, of course, requires a much stronger commitment to ethics than anything in the civilian world. Add to this that the nature of warfare and the means by which it is carried out are constantly changing, and that the nature of warfare and the means by which it is carried out are constantly changing, and you not only have a strict ethical code which must be maintained, but also a fixed code which must be maintained in the midst of an environment
1 Snider, Don M. “The Multiple Identities of the Professional Army Officer”, pg. 155
3 Huntington, Samuel P. “The Soldier and the State”, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957, pg. 11
which requires constant adaptation. To do this, as Huntington writes, the Army officer must be a lifelong learner. He says that the Army officer has “probably a higher ratio of educational time to practice time than in any other profession”. 4 This concept is immensely helpful in understanding the substantial ethical code under which the Army officer operates.
“The first virtue of officership is subordination”. 5 This single statement represents another aspect of the ethical standard which officers are to conduct themselves under. US Army officers are called upon to lead the greatest military in the world, and yet their first virtue is subordination. In fact, officers are to subordinate themselves more so than they are to lead. An explanation may be necessary to explain this. If you read a copy of DA Form 71, you will find that, upon commissioning as officers, they subordinate themselves to the Constitution of the USA (DA Form 71, JUL 1999). In doing so, they subordinate themselves to the government and all of the elected officials therein. In doing this, they also subordinate themselves to the citizens of the United States. In reality, Army officers are voluntary servants to the people and the government of the USA. It is for this reason that the Army officer must be a person of character, in and out of uniform, because they represent the Army to the civilian world. This may be the most complicated part of the ethical code of the Army officer: that they are called upon to lead troops, to cause and yet manage violence, and yet in leading the most powerful force in the world, they are mandated to subordinate themselves to the people and leaders of the USA. For this reason, the professional ethic of the US Army officer is the most demanding in the world, which is why “the professional man commands more respect” 6 than any other trade in the world.
4 Huntington, Samuel P. “The Soldier and the State”, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957, pg. 13
5 Swain, Richard. “Reflection on an Ethic of Officership”, pg. 9
6 Huntington, Samuel P. “The Soldier and the State”, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957, pg. 7
NG, LR, & NCU
My collection of personal papers written over the years