MILITARY ETHICS AND THE CHAPLAIN
CH (CPT) JUSTIN DUBOSE
DL C4 (H-RC) FY16 CLASS 412
August 16, 2017
War and conflict have been issues for as long as man has existed on this planet. The biblical account of creation, in the book of Genesis, reveals to us that not only did war between God and man occur within the first generation, but physical conflict – that is, murder – occurred within just two generations. It cannot be contested that war is a reality, and one which will never cease to exist as long as mankind inhabits the Earth. Man will war against God, man will war against man; tribe will war against tribe; nation will war against nation. Indeed, as the Cold War so pointedly illustrates, even idea will war against idea.
How are we to respond to this issue? One major response came from the likes of Christian thinkers such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas in what came to be known as the “Just War Theory”. This theory provides a criterion by which both man and state can either justify or fail to justify a war based upon whether the motivations for war meet certain criteria. As military Chaplains are employed by the state itself, and yet remain as ordained clergy within a religious faith, they occupy a unique place – both professionally and theologically – to speak to the issue of “Just War Theory”. As a part of their “dual functionality” as both Soldier and shepherd, Chaplains must wrestle with this issue and convey the results of such theological wrestling to their commanders as well as their Soldiers.
One of the key theological paradoxes within this Just War Theory is that Jesus Christ is clearly an advocate of peace. He did, after all, advise His followers to “turn the other cheek” when they are struck (Matthew 5:39) by an adversary. He was, after all, silent before His accusers and did not open His mouth (Isaiah 53:7) even though He could have deployed “legions of angels” (Matthew 26:53) to dispatch His accusers. Clearly, in an ideal state, peace and forgiveness would reign forevermore and war would be but a painful memory, at best. However, as Michael Walzer notes, “realism is the issue”. Fortunately for us, Jesus Christ was a realist. Though He was willingly peaceful, like an innocent lamb before His shearers, He understood and spoke to the realities of human existence. As He was Himself the victim of a war in which He was a non-combatant, He looked lovingly on His accusers and pronounced forgiveness over them in their ignorance (Luke 23:34). Christ acknowledged the reality and agony of war, but clearly emphasized peace and forgiveness as not only the objective, but also as the most necessary and powerful presence in the thickest of combat.
Historians have noted that even before our nation formally existed, early colonists “laid out a rationale for self-defense consistent with classical just war theory.” Just War Theory has been examined and employed in every war since the founding of our nation, and continues to be so presently. In his article on Just War Theory, Welzer notes the practical reason supporting this fact when he writes that the Just War Theory “made war possible in a world where war was, sometimes, necessary.” The ugly reality and necessity of war will always clash with the ideals and virtues of peace and forgiveness, and thus the uniquely theological voice of the Chaplain will always be relevant and necessary to Commander and Soldier.
In a practical sense, the Chaplain’s voice becomes most impactful in the area of ethical decision-making. Their role as an advisor to the Commander on such issues profoundly shapes the ethical standard set by the Commander, which directly impacts decision-making. ADRP 6-22 unequivocally ties the organizational leader as the champion of an objective ethical standard which is to be maintained by those within the organization. In section 7-23, which deals with ethics and climate, we see that “a leader is the ethical standard-bearer for the organization, responsible for building an ethical climate that demands and rewards behavior consistent with the Army Values.”
As a Chaplain, one of the most pivotal roles that we play is as a theological advocate for ethical decision-making by the Commander which impacts every Soldier in our unit. The realities of war will be forever present in a profession of arms and, since those realities exist, the demand for theological thinking and ethical decision-making will persist. AR 165-1 makes this abundantly clear when it reads, in Section 9-10a, that right morals and ethical decision-making deeply affect “service, command climate, unit readiness, and cohesion.” The importance and impact of decision-making on Soldiers cannot possibly be overstated, especially given the ever-present reality of war. As nations continue to war, they will continue to employ and train Soldiers to be their warriors. As these warriors valiantly perform their duties, it is imperative that the Chaplain provide not only a clear theological voice for the individual, but an equally clear ethical voice and presence which impacts the Commander and the decision that he or she must make.
Dr. Paul Robinson, in his article on the development of ethics in the military, stated that “Moral leadership is a vital supplement to formal ethics training.” The maximum possible amount of training will not necessarily translate to an ethical Soldier, or to ethical decision-making by the command. However, as the Chaplin continues to personally exert moral leadership and embody ethical decision-making, he or she can influence the Commander to themselves develop moral leadership. In our profession of arms, this is perhaps the most important role than any individual can play, and one which can have profoundly positive or negative ramifications depending on its employment.
Headquarters, Department of the Army. ADRP 6-22: Army Leadership. Washington, D.C, 2012.
Michael Walzer “The Triumph of Just War Theory (and the Dangers of Success)” Social Research (Winter 2002), Vol. 69, No. 4
Dr. Paul Robinson, “Ethics Training and Development in the Military” Parameters (Spring 2007), http://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/parameters/Articles/07spring/robinson.htm
Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations (New York: Basic Books, 2006), https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=kZnx7WVJbeUC&oi=fnd&pg=PR9&dq=The+rules+of+war+Walzer&ots=Sw5PrvxAlz&sig=g2fZOVbf2R2TzqtrZKwV4h7AwYU#v=onepage&q=The%20rules%20of%20war%20Walzer&f=false (accessed August 16, 2017).
Eric Patterson and Nathan Gill “The Declaration of the United Colonies: America’s First Just War Statement” Journal of Military Ethics (2015), Vol. 14, No. 1, p. 8
Headquarters, Department of the Army. AR 165-1: Army Chaplain Corps Activities. Washington, D.C, 2015.
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