A Moral Military by Sidney Axinn

By Sidney Axinn

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We need not adopt either the militarist or the pacifist postures as absolutes for every situation. We can imagine wars in which one side was justified in fighting and wars in which neither side had a just cause. Therefore, we need not fight at the slightest insult nor abandon our friends and families if they are under vicious attack. We can choose a response, and a style for that response, on the basis of the facts of the situation and the pattern of risk of error that we find our duty demands.

If we were mechanical entities without freedom, we would have no responsibility for our styles. Let’s grant that. The problems of choosing specific moral styles or moral strategies must be dealt with in terms of examples. They come in later chapters. At this stage, we should look at available alternative theories. 34 We have shown relationships and distinctions between the parts of the traditional professional military ethic and have supplied some of the philosophical background, but we have not invented a new moral code.

Contrast two officers: One demands regular saluting and no use of his or her first name by inferiors in rank. A second “fraternizes” with the troops. The formal officer who lives by the book prefers the risk that the lower ranks will hate him or her rather than the risk that they may not obey in a crucial situation. The friendly informal officer prefers to risk a lack of obedience rather than the risk that the troops will not like him or her personally. These different choices of which error to prefer, if an error is made, can be called differences in style.

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