Ethics in War Time


John Heelan takes up two complex questions concerning the military: relations with the government and military discipline: "The relationship between political masters and the military who do their bidding is tricky and can be manipulated by the former, who sometime sacrifice the latter for political reasons. Following recent WAIS debates, there are four ethical questions that perhaps merit some informed discussion in the group. The first two have to do with the relationship between the military and their political masters, the second two are about the acceptability of methods of interrogation. These problems arise world-wide and are not just those of the US or the UK.

Firstly, some background to the discussion. Without its discipline of "obedience to orders" it is likely that a military establishment will crumble (a good example is the Spanish Civil War in which that the discipline of the professional Nationalist forces routed the generally undisciplined Republican militias- other than the Communist cadres perhaps- because the militiamen were less likely to obey orders of their superiors without substantial discussion or even at all).

As I understand it, the lower ranks of modern armed services are expected to obey immediately any lawful order given by a superior rank without discussion. As one goes up the hierarchy, although there is more opportunity for discussion the further up the tree one climbs, there is still the expectation that the order will be obeyed, despite any misgivings of the person so ordered. At the top of the tree, perhaps resignation of commission is the only option to disobeying an order. [Perhaps Generals Sullivan or General Gard would correct me if I am wrong?]

Thus military commanders, loath to resign their commissions, will obey orders from their political masters- especially where the Commander-in-Chief and the President are the same person- even though privately they might think those orders unwise. Once the military forces are in the field, they expect, and perhaps have that right, to be supported by the general public on whose behalf they are risking their lives.

There is one more step in defining the problem; the manipulation of that expectation by the political masters. I suggest that the political masters often rely on those two elements (military obedience and "expectation of public support for our boys" once they are in the field) to finesse the general public into accepting unpopular political decisions.

The ethical problems are these: "How can the general public show their unhappiness at the political decision without appearing to deny support for the military doing the bidding of the political masters?" and "How do *all* ranks of the military display their unhappiness with their political masters without either having to resign or reject the culture of obedience?"


The next two ethical problems are topical: "Is mental torture as abhorrent as physical torture in interrogations?" Physical torture is generally despised by most civilised people, although still practised by some so-called civilised countries (see Amnesty International for the list). "Softening up" of the victims- by such techniques as humiliation, disorientation, sleep deprivation, fear of immediate execution or physical torture- seems to be regarded as more acceptable. But is it? When does mental torture become as bad as physical torture and leave equally long-lasting, but invisible, scarring? So the third and fourth ethical questions are these: "Is mental torture acceptable as an interrogation technique?" and, related to a previous question, "How should a military person react if ordered to carry out torture, either in its purely physical form or as part of a "softening up" for later interrogation"? In summary, the ethical questions I would appreciate WAIS views on are:

1. "How can the general public show their unhappiness at the political decision without appearing to deny support for the military doing the bidding of the political masters?"

2. "How do *all* ranks of the military display their unhappiness with their political masters without either having to resign or reject the culture of obedience?"

3. "Is mental torture acceptable as an interrogation technique?"

4. "How should a military person react if ordered to carry out torture, either in its purely physical form or as part of a "softening up" for later interrogation"?

Mike Calnan answers the four questions posed by John Heelan: "I served on active duty in the Army for 28 years. I was never sent in harm's way, but was prepared thanks to thorough training and high-quality professional military education. My answers are below.

1. "How can the general public show their unhappiness at the political decision without appearing to deny support for the military doing the bidding of the political masters?" I think the public, including the media, has generally handled this issue well. From my perspective in Mississippi (where there is broad support for the war), opposing viewpoints are still expressed and concern for the casualties is respectful. However, the political leadership has failed miserably, creating a World Wrestling Foundation atmosphere (with apologies to the WWF) of attacks and insults. Reasoned dialog is sorely lacking. The current President Bush did not conduct a national debate before the invasion of Iraq, as was done by his father before the first Gulf War.

2. "How do *all* ranks of the military display their unhappiness with their political masters without either having to resign or reject the culture of obedience?" They can't, at least not in public. The best they can do is to insist on clear orders and question anything that's unclear or appears to be illegal. Civilian authority over the Armed Forces is a long-standing American tradition.

3. "Is mental torture acceptable as an interrogation technique?" No, but the boundary surrounding mental torture is not well defined.

4. "How should a military person react if ordered to carry out torture, either in its purely physical form or as part of a "softening up" for later interrogation"? He should refuse, but the pressure to "go along" can be strong, and the moral grey zone is immense. What's the trade-off between hurting a prisoner and obtaining information that will reduce friendly casualties? This question is one example of why the decision to go to war should be a last resort, since warfare brutalizes everybody involved".

General Sullivan writes: "My answers to John Heelan's questions are as follows:
Question 1. I think the general public can act in a very positive manner by presenting their views in a civil, rational and constructive manner against their government waging war. These views should be free from rhetoric, misinformation and political spin that we get from the politicians and much of the media. There are two sides to every issue, and one as serious as rekindling a war that has been dormant for 12 years is worth debating. What bothers the military is seeing the unruly, peace marcher where anything goes, including causes that have nothing to do with the war, and eventually turns into a violent, unlawful riot by the protesters; then the issue becomes police brutality for trying to restore order. Those exercising their free speech rights by advocating overthrow of the government, the shooting of military officers or the burning of the American flag turn a legitimate protest into a confrontation where the protesters should receive the condemnation and scorn of all Americans, regardless of political persuasion. I think, in general, the American public has done a good job in expressing their views both pro and con over Iraq. It is definitely more civilized and less confrontational than during the Vietnam years.

Question 2. Nobody that I know of on active duty except Generals and Admirals in the highest positions of command or holding the highest leadership positions in each service ever get the opportunity to get face to face with influential politicians where they could voice their displeasure over Administration policies. There is much more opportunity to be in contact with political appointees in the Department of Defense (DOD) where you can voice your disapproval, and they normally will hear you out. But as is our law of the land, where civilian appointees can over-rule the military, then after the decision is made you salute and say, " Aye, Aye Sir" and support the decision. Your only recourse would be resignation, but I've only seen this occur a few times. One was General Fogelman, USAF, who as head of Air Force, resigned under the Clinton Administration because of disagreements with the Administration's cutbacks of the Air Force. I've seen many Naval and Marine officers resign their regular commissions because of disagreements over policy with their respective services, but many of those policies were derived from DOD decisions. I read a book about the "upward mobile" and how it festers in all organizations. This means when you're junior and young in an organization you are rebellious and say how messed up the leadership is and when you get there you will wisely show them how to run the organization with all sorts of constructive changes. After you've been there 10 years or so, you think the organization still needs some help but is pretty much headed in the right direction and you're getting used to being part of it. After 20 years or so you've attained a senior position and now you really believe in the merits of the organization and wonder why those junior folks feel disgruntled. I believe this is true in the military, academia and most large organizations.

All service members, regardless of rank, can write their Congressman or Senators if they feel their respective service is not satisfying their problem. Rarely, have I seen the "Congrint" (congressional interest letter to the Command)) decided after running its course work in favor of the service member because it usually lacks merit.

The first time I testified in front of the SASC, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Genersal Gray, called me up from my assignment as CG, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing and asked me to appear before the committee to protect Marine Corps interests. The hearing centered on the Army trying to get the USAF to procure an A-16 CAS (Close Air Support) aircraft to support the Army along with the F-16 fighter the Air Force way buying. The basic Army argument was that the USAF was mainly interested in destroying enemy aircraft and doing battlefield interdiction far behind enemy lines, but not in giving the Army CAS like the Marines give their ground troops. I was intimidated at first, as I thought that if I said the wrong thing I could hurt or embarrass the Marine Corps. I asked General Gray who would chop my remarks before I attended the hearing, as the other services always do lots of dry runs to ensure they say the right things and answer the questions properly. Gen Gray told me to "just do my homework, tell the truth-- I knew as much about it as anybody else in the Corps, so no one needed to chop it." I was amazed! There have been too few in the Washington DC political arena to give guidance like General Gray. There needs to be many more if you want the real facts from the folks actually performing the mission. The hearing went great for the Marine Corps, and that's the subject of some funny stories I will reserve for another email, if you desire. Every time I see a hearing on the news it brings back some fond memories.

Question 3. I don't know what mental torture constitutes. It's totally foreign to anything I was ever exposed to except for the POW training I went through at the Pickle Meadows' Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in the high Sierras, south of Reno. We had to go through as POWs in a simulated POW compound where the guards wore Russian uniforms, spoke a little Russian and made life miserable for you, plus it was winter at 8000 ft of elevation. Many lessons were taught, but the one I remember most was when they tricked you by having you sign for a blanket; it was freezing and we were stripped to almost being bare. After the two days of misery they conducted a debriefing and told us where we went wrong in several areas. For example. when we signed for the blanket they had taken our picture, unbeknownst to us, and put it on the front page of their "fake" newspaper with a caption "Marine pilot, Captain Michael P Sullivan is photographed signing germ warfare confession." It gets your attention and makes you think about being smarter if you should ever have the misfortune to end up a POW.

However, two weeks ago I was at a dinner where Lt Col Al West attended. He was the Army BnCmdr relieved for firing a pistol in close proximity to the ear of an Iraqi prisoner by trying to scare him into talking. He talked and evidently his confession enabled the Army to prevent an ambush of LtCol West's troops. As you remember it was big news in the media for a while. He reported the incident himself to his commander, and it went up the chain of command, ending up with his relief. LtCol West seemed like such a gentle, kind man that I would never have picked him out of a crowd to be an Army infantry officer. He now regrets his action, but to save lives he'd probably do it again. He said the Army was right to relieve him. He is now going to teach school in Florida.

Question 4. A prisoner of war was to be treated according to the Geneva Convention when I was on active duty. Being in aviation I never had any exposure to enemy POWs except for occasionally seeing a group of them being marched to a holding area till they could move them off the airfield. My war in Vietnam was completely different from the guys fighting in the jungle seeing the terrible horrors of war, up close and personally, as a daily diet. They see their buddies killed or their bodies attached to booby traps, so their state of mind and sense of justice are totally different from those of us that haven't experienced the worst of the worst in combat. I don't justify or condone torture methods, but I can see how it happens when you are forced to live through the inhumane things that the ground combatants face. Now this latest sick, sick incident of maltreatment of iraqis prisoners is unthinkable and, in my opinion, there is no excuse for it as the guards had a relatively safe assignment without the stress of combatants. I believe all involved will suffer serious punishment".

General Robert Gard answers John Heelan's four questions about ethics in war time:

1. "How can the general public show their unhappiness at the political decision without appearing to deny support for the military doing the bidding of the political masters?" General Gard: "Comment unfavorably on the policies, but express support for the efforts and sacrifices of the troops who must carry out the directives of duly constituted political authority.
2. "How do *all* ranks of the military display their unhappiness with their political masters without either having to resign or reject the culture of obedience?" General Gard: "The military is constrained from public criticisms of political decisions. High level officials can offer their candid advice, but must support the decisions of their civilian superiors.
3. "Is mental torture acceptable as an interrogation technique?"General Gard: "No; but international humanitarian law is rather vague on what constitutes unacceptable conduct in interrogation".
4. "How should a military person react if ordered to carry out torture, either in its purely physical form or as part of a "softening up" for later interrogation"? General Gard: "Refuse to participate in violations of standards stipulated in the Geneva Conventions".

RH: Long relevant sections of the Geneva Convention were read in Congress yesterday.

 

 

 

Ronald Hilton -


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