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What Are Military Ethics?

Military ethics govern how a member of the military should behave in combat situations.
Military ethics training begins as soon as someone enrolls in the military.
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  • Written By: Haven Esme
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 July 2014
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In the military, there are ethics and standards that military members are expected to abide by. The ethics often represent values that are core beliefs. These beliefs should motivate the actions and attitudes of military members and help them to carefully consider their behavior at all times. For example, in the United States Army, the core values or ethics that members abide by are loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. These ethics form the acronym LDRSHIP.

In most cases, servicemen and women learn about military ethics as soon as they enroll in the military. During military training, or “boot camp,” there are certain ethical guidelines that are reinforced and instilled in service members. Some of the most common military ethics include concepts that involve responsibility, honor, trust, accountability, and loyalty. During basic military training, service members learn what these ethics mean to the military and are required to abide by them to remain in the military. Eventually, military ethics become a part of military life and become habitual standards that servicemen and women live by.

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One of the main reasons that military ethics are established is to help servicemen and women adhere to a high standard of integrity, ensure that conduct is ethical and legally correct, and to promote trust among service members. To reinforce military ethics, solders are often forced to memorize creeds. The creeds are poetic sayings that repeatedly remind the solider of their necessary duties. Military creeds are considered dogma, which means that the creeds are considered authoritative and are not to be disputed. Creeds are also meant to serve as a reminder that military members have an obligation to never disgrace their “uniform” or country.

When military ethics are violated, there is often a price to pay. The military member that has violated the ethic will likely incur a reprimand or other consequence such as being subject to administrative actions. If the ethic that was violated has resulted in criminal misconduct, disciplinary action may extend into the military justice system and military members will be held accountable for criminal activities and misconduct.

It’s important to understand that military ethics vary from country to country. A military's ethics often reflect the same ethics of the society or nation that the military is a part of. Some codes of conduct that may be considered acceptable in an American military may seem unethical to another’s nation’s military system and vice versa.

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Discuss this Article

StormyKnight
Post 11

@waterhopper- Kudos for bringing out such a touchy topic area. My opinion is that it is not an ethical issue regarding gays or lesbians being in the military. I don't really think that has anything to do with military ethics.

However, I do think that they are making our nation look like one that discriminates by making the whole gay and lesbian soldier thing a big deal. I will leave it at that so to not stir the pot any more than we already have.

WaterHopper
Post 10

I certainly don't want to cause a stir or be out of line in any way but I do have a concern about the military ethics. I'm not really sure that it is actually an ethical issue but it is still one of concern. Our country, with it's excellent morals and ethics, wants to tell gay and lesbian people that they cannot serve their country. In my opinion (and this is just MY opinion), that is wrong and unethical.

If an individual is willing to possibly give up their life serving our country, why does it matter what their sexual orientation is? I'm not saying that I am for it or against it. However, I am against the military making that decision and still calling themselves "ethical" and "just". The military, of all people, should stand behind the constitution in every area.

KLR650
Post 9

@Charred - What you said about your brother reflects back on how seriously ethics are taken in the military.

You said he could get a very high clearance as a civilian. I would bet this means he had a high clearance when he was in uniform as well, and those guys take their clearance very seriously.

One wrong move, even a DUI or a very small thing like a couple of bounced checks or getting caught in a bar fight can cost you your clearance, and with it your job. They go through their whole careers knowing that they have to conduct themselves to a certain standard every day, no exceptions.

This kind of mindset is what makes them so prized by employers. They have to live their ethics every day, and if they were not able to do that they would be gone before they ever got to the employer.

Nepal2016
Post 8

@hamje32 - You are certainly right, not everyone agrees on what morals and ethics should be. I think an even bigger problem that is one of basic human nature. You can teach ethics to a group of people and some people just aren't going to get it, and some will just go through the motions when somebody is watching.

This can get problematic when you have officers and their men wandering around in the field with the kind of destructive power that a military unit has. That is why standards have to be tightly maintained, and problems need to be dealt with really quickly.

parkthekarma
Post 7

@Mammmood - I agree with you that retired military personnel are in high demand for leadership positions in private companies. I know I always like to hire them. For me, it is the combination of the "get it done" attitude and the ingrained sense of ethics.

My only issue with some of them is that some people who have been used to firing off orders for the last 20 years and having people instantly obey sometimes have a rough time adjusting their delivery style to a civilian audience. This doesn't happen too often, and for the most part I am very happy with my ex-military employees.

Esther11
Post 6

It has certainly been true throughout history that military codes in other countries have been different than ours. Some of the countries involved in World War II had very different codes of behavior.

Sometimes in past and present times, the military codes of other countries were similar to the ethics of the population as a whole, and some were quite different. I'm glad that today we don't embrace the philosophy of "anything's fair in love and war."

I'm really proud of our military personnel. For the most part, they adhere to the high standards of moral and ethical behavior, which makes our military successful.

BoniJ
Post 5

I agree that our military needs to have strict codes of behavior. In their training, they first need to be taught so that they understand exactly what it means to be honest, responsible, loyal etc. In their upbringing, these ethical words may have had a somewhat different meaning.

Memorizing creeds is a good way to help the military remember the traits they need to adhere to. They need to have them well ingrained, because during a tense, critical crisis, they have to know what to do, quickly.

One trait that I question is courage. This trait can be defined in many ways. I don't know the specifics of military behavior code, but does courage mean you are required to throw yourself in front of your fellow soldier to save him when you would surely die?

MrMoody
Post 4

@hamje32 - I don’t think that we can come to an agreement on some of the divisive social and moral issues.

However, I do believe in the basic social contract, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I think we can form a decent public policy using that as a basic framework.

As to your point about relativism, this is a philosophy shared by a few in our society but not the majority. I think that for all practical purposes it can be shoved aside.

hamje32
Post 3

@Charred - While I agree with the basic gist of what’s been said so far, I’d like to point out that the study of ethics can be a thorny one plagued by individual biases.

I don’t think that anyone would disagree with the importance of trust, loyalty, honor and other basic military codes. However, the fundamental question of what is right and wrong opens up a can of worms.

In the last few decades, some people have advanced the idea of situational ethics, arguing against absolute values and saying that right and wrong depend on the situation. I don’t personally believe that, but relativism is very much a core conviction of these people.

That’s why the study of ethics in public policy is rarely black and white. How do we come to an agreement?

Charred
Post 2

@Mammmood - Yes, ethics and business are two fields of research that should be wedded in my opinion. I never majored in business so I don’t know how much they focus on ethics as part of their curriculum of study, but I’m pretty sure it’s a core component.

As to your point about the military graduates being sought out in the business world, I have a real world story to that effect.

My brother worked in the military for quite some time, doing some super secret stuff which for obvious reasons I won’t get into. When he left the military, he was in demand by IT companies that needed workers with top secret security clearance.

He was able to get the highest clearance possible from what I understand and remains in good standing with his firm. A degree can’t buy you that kind of trust.

Mammmood
Post 1

I have tremendous respect for the military and the high ethical and moral standards to which they subscribe. Personally, I think that these military ethics should pervade all of our society in every way. All of our legislation should reflect a strong ethics policy.

There’s simply nothing about the ethical standards of the military that wouldn’t benefit society as a whole. But I do understand that in the military you work with a microcosm of larger society, a small group of people who are involved in life and death struggles. There’s no room for compromise or dilly-dallying.

I also think that’s the reason that people who graduate from the military are so highly sought after in the business world, especially in companies where an ethical business is a top priority.

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