Self-Promotion Alert: Army Magazine on Candor and Honesty

COVER_March2014Rick Maze, a reporter for Army Magazine, was kind enough to quote me extensively in his article, “Candor: Can the Army Handle the Truth?” which is available here. He also includes an extensive reference to the Rationalizations List.

8 thoughts on “Self-Promotion Alert: Army Magazine on Candor and Honesty

  1. In a quote here:

    “The Army’s myopic focus on the seven core values — loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage — may have created an institutionalized blindness to other virtues”

    That sums up my frustration with the “core values”. I always thought they were incomplete and often redundant… but the Army likes it’s mnemonic devices and the “core values” spell: LDRSHIP…. hooray. Leadership, if y’all didn’t get that…

    Selfless service? What would Selfish Service be?

    Personal Courage? What would Impersonal Courage be?

    In the 80s-90s, the Army (before the mnemonic device cult grew), had very good list of values, broad termed and short list.

    When I get home, I’ll find the manual and list them (yes, I forgot them).

    • I couldn’t find the manual, but an Internet search prodced a manual which bears the same list as the one I recall…

      Army Values:

      Strong character converts those values to conduct

      Ethical Framework for the Army:
      Selfless Service

  2. Interesting essay. Candor IS important and is a traditional military virtue besides. Personally, I see it as a vital adjunct to comradeship and the “can do” attitude necessary for a successful professional military. Not as a detriment. There are, of course, always the politicians-in-uniform who will trade their honor for advancement. But behind all of this are the petty civilian functionaries placed over the Armed Forces and composed of those who consider honor and virtue as values solely for the reactionary mind. We see a lot of that today.

    • Amen to that. As an ex Army Reservist who reached the exalted rank of Sp4 (big deal!) I think an article on candor is important. “Selfless Service” to me is realizing that you are part of the big picture and your buddies are counting on you. Kudos to the guy that wrote this article.

    • There is a distinctly fine line tread in the military circles in which Candor can be used an excuse for well concealed disrespect for leadership, as well as calculated attempts to undermine faith in a particular leader.

      The faith in that leader which boils down to literally the ONLY thing that matters in combat. One ounce of hesitancy borne of doubt in a leader’s command, could spell someone’s needless death or even failure of the mission. As a measure to protect even solid leaders from having even a shred of doubt floated in their ability, military cultures often over protect by taking to the extreme the notion of “don’t critique the leader”.

      Not saying it is right to do so, but that in the discussion of reopening the notion of Candor in the US military, must be delicately done, lest any ole joe start mouthing off and then using candor as a stock defense.

  3. Reviewing other resources on Military Ethics, I came across “The Armed Forces Officer” (this particular version being 1950’s). Chapter 2 is “Forming Military Ideals”. After reading the chapter, I had intended to copy paste the “ethical value” parts but realized there was too much to copy paste. I then decided to paste extremely valuable paragraphs with the main points highlighted, but couldn’t decide which was more valuable. Now I’m stuck copying and pasting the entire chapter, hoping to highlight key sections….


    I will merely paste the entire thing…it is long. It’s a worthy read, and Jack, I’m sure, you’ll see some of your dad’s words in it. I have highlighted the segments most applicable to the topic at hand – professional ethics of soldiers – but understand the entire chapter is a must read on warrior ethics.

    Chapter 2 – Forming Military Ideals

    Any stranger making a survey of what Americans are and how they get that way would probably see it as a paradox that within the armed establishment the inculcation of ideals is considered the most vital of all teaching, while in our gentler and less frigid institutions, there is steadily less emphasis on this subject.

    He would be entitled to the explanation that it is not so done because this has always been the way of Armies, Navies, and other fighting forces, or because it is universal in the military establishments of the twentieth century, but because nothing else would better suffice the American military system under present conditions.

    There are two main reasons why.

    The first is that we are an altogether unregimented people with a strong belief in the virtues of rugged individualism and in the right of the average man to go along about as he pleases so long as he does not do actual injury to society. Voluntary group cooperation rather than absolute group loyalty, developing from a strong spiritual bond, is the basic technic of Americans in their average rounds. It is enough to satisfy the social, political and economic needs of a democracy, but in its military parts, it would be fatally weak. There would be no possibility of achieving an all-compelling unity under conditions of utmost pressure if no man felt any higher call to action than what was put upon him by purely material considerations.

    Military ideals are therefore, as related to this purpose, mainly an instrument of national survival. But not altogether so, since in the measure that they influence the personal life and conduct of millions of men who move in and out of the services, they have a regenerative effect upon the spiritual fiber of the Nation as a whole.

    There is the second and equally important reason that, whereas wars have sometimes been fought for ideal causes, as witness the American Revolution and Civil War, war itself is never ideal, and the character of our people is such as to insist that from our side, its brutalities be minimized. The barbarian who kills for killing’s sake and who scorns the laws of war at any point is repugnant to the instincts of our people, under whatever flag he fights. If we did not have some men of this type among us, our penitentiaries would not be filled. The ravages which they might commit when all of the barriers are down on the battlefield can be prevented only when forces as a whole believe that armed power, while not ideal in itself, must be made to serve ideal ends.

    To speak of ethics in the same breath with war may seem like sheer cant and hypocrisy. But in the possibility that those who best understand the use and nature of armed power may excel all others in stimulating that higher morality which may some day restrain war lies a main chance for the future. The Armed Services of the United States do not simply do lip service to such institutions as United Nations. They encourage their people to take a deep personal interest in every legitimate activity aimed to bulwark world peace. But while doing this, they keep their powder dry.

    Military ideals are not different than the ideals which make any man sound in himself, and in his relation to others. They are called military ideals only because the proving ground is a little more rugged in the service than elsewhere. But they are all founded in hard military experience; they did not find expression because some Admiral got it in his head one day to set an unattainable goal for his men, or because some General wished to turn a pious face toward the public, professing that his men were aspiring to greater virtue than anything the public knew.

    The military way is a long, hard road, and it makes extraordinary requirements of every individual. In war, particularly, it puts stresses upon men such as they have not known elsewhere, and the temptation to “get out from under” would be irresistible if their spirits had not been tempered to the ordeal. If nothing but fear of punishments were depended upon to hold men to the line during extreme trial, the result would be wholesale mutiny and a situation altogether beyond the control of leadership. So it must be true that it is out of the impact of ideals mainly that men develop the strength to face situation from which it would be normal to run away.

    Also, during the normal routine of peace, members of the Armed Services are expected to respond to situations that are more extensive, more complex, and take longer to reach fulfillment than the situations to which the majority of men instinctively respond. Even the length of the enlistment period looks like a slow march up a 60-mile grade. Promotion is slow, duty frequently monotonous. It is all too easy for the individual to worry about his own insignificance and to feel that he has become lost in the crowd. Under these conditions a man may go altogether bad, or simply get lazy and rock with the grain. But nothing except a strong belief in the ideals he is serving will make him respond to the larger situation and give it his best effort. Ideals have the intensely practical end of strengthening men for the better discharge of duties which devolve upon them in their day-to-day affairs.

    What is the main test of human character? Probably it is this: that a man will know how to be patient in the midst of hard circumstance, and can continue to be personally effective while living through whatever discouragements beset him and his companions. Moreover, that is what every truly civilized man would want in himself during the calmer moments when he compares critically what he is inside with what he would like to be. That is specifically the reason why the promulgation of military ideals is initially a problem in the first person, singular. The Armed Services have in one sense a narrow motive in turning the thoughts of younger leaders toward a belief in ideals. They know that this is a lubricant in the machinery of organization and the best way to sweeten the lives of men working together in a group toward some worthwhile purpose. But there is also a higher object. All experience has taught that it is likewise the best way to give the individual man a solid foundation for living successfully amid the facts of existence, irrespective of his situation. The military system of the United States is not committed to grinding out warriors per se, but to the training of men in such manner that they will be able to play a better part anywhere, and will find greater satisfactions in what they do. All the time, when the service seeks to emphasize to its ranks what is the “right thing to do,” it is speaking of that course of conduct which in the long run is most necessary and useful to the individual.

    As to what one man should seek in himself, in order to be four-square with his own life and all others who are related to his personal situation, it is simple enough to formulate it, and to describe what constitutes maturity of character. In fact, that can be done without mentioning the words “patriotism” and “courage”, which traditionally and rightly are viewed as the very highest of the military virtues.

    No man is truly fit for officership unless in the inner recess of his being he can go along with the toast known to every American schoolboy: “My country, in her intercourse with other nations may she always be in the right! But right or wrong, my country!” And he will never do a really good job of supporting her standards if, when the clutch comes, he is lacking in intestinal fortitude.

    But there is this to be said about the nature of courage and patriotism, in the same breath that we agree they are essential in an officer of the fighting establishment – neither of these qualities of itself carries sufficient conviction, except as it is the product of those homelier attributes which give dignity to all action, in things both large and small, during the course of any average work day.

    When Dr. Johnson remarked that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel he was not belittling the value of love of country as a force in the lives of men, but to the contrary, was pointing out that a profession of patriotism, unaccompanied by good works, was the mark of a man not to be trusted. In no other institution in the land will flag-waving fall as flat as in the Armed Services when the ranks know that it is just an act, with no sincere commitment to service backing it up. But the uniformed forces will still respond to the real article with the same emotion that they felt at Bunker Hill and Manila Bay.

    There is a Civil War story from one of the campaigns against Stonewall Jackson in the Valley. A Confederate who had had his leg shot away turned on his pallet to regard a Union private who had just lost an arm, and said to him, “For what reason did you invade us and make all this trouble?” The boy replied simply: “For the old flag.” That may sound like sentiment from a distant past. But turn to the story of Major Devereux and the Marine defense of Wake Island. He wrote that the “music” had always gone sour, and had invariably broken down when he tried to play “The Colors.” But on the morning of Pearl Harbor, when the flag was raised, the garrison already knew that the war was on. And for some reason which no man could account for, the bugler rose to the occasion, and for the first time, every note came straight and true. Devereux said that every throat tightened and every head went higher. Yet Devereux was a remarkably unmelodramatic fighting man.

    But to get back to those simpler virtues which provide a firm foundation for patriotism and may become the fount of courage, at least these few things would have to be put among the fundamentals:

    1. A man has honor if he holds himself to a course of conduct, because of a conviction that it is in the general interest, even though he is well aware that it may lead to inconvenience, personal loss, humiliation or grave physical risk.

    2. He has veracity if, having studied a question to the limit of his ability, he says and believes what he thinks to be true, even though it would be the path of least resistance to deceive others and himself.

    3. He has justice if he acknowledges the interests of all concerned in any particular transaction rather than serving his own apparent interest.

    4. He has graciousness if he acts and speaks forthrightly, agrees warmly, disagrees fairly and respectfully, participates enthusiastically, refrains from harboring grudges, takes his reverses in stride, and does not complain or ask for help in the
    face of trifling calamities.

    5. He has integrity if his interest in the good of the service is at all times greater than his personal pride, and when he holds himself to the same line of duty when unobserved as he would follow if all of his superiors were present.

    The list could be longer, but for the moment, we can let it go at that. These standards are not counsels of perfection; thousands of officers have adhered to them. But it should be said as well that if all leaders at the lower levels in all of the services were to conform in the same way, the task of higher command would be simplicity itself. The cause of much of the friction in administrative machinery is that at all levels there are individuals who insist on standing in their own light. They believe that there is some special magic, some quick springboard to success; they mistakenly think that it can be won by bootlicking, apple-polishing, yessing higher authority, playing office politics, throwing weight around, ducking the issues, striving for cheap popularity, courting publicity or seeking any and all means of grabbing the spotlight.

    Any one of this set of tricks may enable a man to carry the ball forward a yard or two in some special situation. But at least this comment can be made without qualification: Of the men who have risen to supreme heights in the fighting establishment of the United States, and have had their greatness proclaimed by their fellow countrymen, there is not one career which provides any warrant for the conclusion that there is a special short-cut known only to the smart operators. True enough, a few men have gained fairly high rank by dint of what the late Mr. Justice Holmes called “the instinct for the jugular” – a feeling for when to jump, where to press and how to slash in order to achieve somewhat predatory personal ends. That will occasionally happen in any walk of life. But from Washington, Wayne, and Jones down to Eisenhower, Vandegrift, and Nimitz, the men best loved by the American people for their military successes were also men with greatness of soul. In short, they were idealists, though they likely would have disclaimed that label, since it somehow connotes the visionary rather than the intensely practical man.

    But it isn’t necessary to look at the upper brackets of history to find the object lesson. The things that any man remembers about his own father with love and reverence have to do with his forbearance, his charity toward other men, his strength and rightness of will and his readiness to contribute of his force to the good of other people. Or if not his father, then it may be an uncle, a neighbor or one of his schoolmasters.

    In one way, however, it illuminates but half the subject to reflect that a man has to find purpose in himself before he can seek purpose in any of the undertakings of which he is a part or in the society of which he is a member. No man is wholly sufficient unto himself even though he has been schooled from infancy to live according to principles. His character and the moral strength from which he gains peace of mind need constantly to be replenished by the force of other individuals who think and act more or less in tune with him. His ability to remain whole, and to bound back from any depression of the spirit, depends in some measure on the chance that they will be upgrading when he is on the downswing. To read what the wisest of the philosophers have written about the formation of human character is always a stimulating experience; but it is better yet to live next to the man who already possesses what the philosophers are talking about. During World War II, there were quite a few higher commanders relieved in our forces because it was judged, for one reason or another, that they had failed in battle. Of the total number, there were a few who took a reduction in rank, went willingly to a lower post in a fighting command, uttered no complaint, kept their chins up, worked courageously and sympathetically with their commands, and provided an example of manhood that all who saw them will never forget. Though their names need not be mentioned, they were imprinted with the real virtue of the services even more deeply than many of their colleagues who had no blemishes on their records. Their character had met the ultimate test.

    The men who had the privilege of working close to them realized this and the sublime effect of his personal influence helped strengthen the resolve of many others.

    Because there is so much at stake in the matter, the services cannot depend solely, upon such influence as would be exerted on their affairs by the occasional idealist, but must work for that chain reaction which comes of making the inculcation of military ideals one of the cardinal points of a strong, uniting inner doctrine. It is altogether necessary that as a body, the power of their thought be shaped along ideal lines. The ideal object must be held high at all times, even though it is recognized that men are not perfect, and that no matter how greatly they may aspire, they will occasionally fail. Nor is the effort to lead other men to believe in the transcendent importance of goodwill made less effective because the leader has a conscience about his own weakness, provided he has the good sense not to flaunt it. He need not be a paragon of all the virtues to set an example which will convince the other men that his ideas are worth following. No man alive possesses perfect virtue, which fact is generally understood. Many an otherwise ideal commander is ruthless in his exactions upon his staff; many a petty officer, who has won the absolute love of all men with whom he served, has found himself in the middle because he couldn’t think straight about his debts. But these things do not lessen the impact upon men of thinking together about common ideals and working together toward the fulfillment of some high obligation. the pursuit of ideals culminates in the experience of mutual growth. If that were not so, men who have served the arms of the United States would not continue to have a special respect for the uniform, and an extra reverence for the flag, for years after they have passed from the service. These emotions are not the consequence of habit, but come of having known the comradeship of other men whom they loved and respected, who shared these same thoughts, and believed in the same body of ideals.

    Any normal man loves his country and it is natural in him to regard highly the symbols through which this affection is expressed. An American child of kindergarten age already feels an emotional attachment for the national emblem. The recruit who has just entered upon service can begin to understand that his regard For his uniform must be a far different thing than what he felt about his civilian dress, since it is identified with the dignity of the Nation. His training in military ideals starts at this point, and for the main part is carried forward subtly, by transfer of this same feeling to all other objects associated with his military life. His perseverance in the care of weapons, in keeping his living quarters orderly and in doing his full share of work is best insured, not through fear of punishments, but by stimulating his belief that any other way of going is unworthy of a member of a fighting service.

    Precision in personal habits, precision in drill and precision in daily living are the high road to that kind of discipline which best insures cool and collected thought and unity of action on the field of battle. When men, working together, successfully attain to a high standard of orderliness, deportment and response, each to the other, they develop the cohesive strength which will carry them through any great crisis. For this reason mainly, military life is far more exacting than civil life. But the services hold that what is best for the many can be achieved without cramping the personal life or blighting individuality and initiative. Within the frame of our system, we can achieve obedience and discipline without destroying independence and impulse.

    This is idealism, though we seldom think about it in that light. Further, it is all the better that in the beginning these impressions are developed obliquely, rather than through the direct approach of reading a lecture on ideals and ethics, since it means that the man is assisted to reach certain conclusions by himself, and as Kant has said, those things which a man learns pretty much on his own become the ideas that he is least likely to forget.

    Looking at this subject in its largest aspect, it should be perfectly clear that any institution must know what its ideals are before it can become coherent and confident, and that there must be present in the form of clearly available ideas an imaginative conception of the good at which the institution aims.

    This is fully recognized in the American armed establishment. For many years, the program of indoctrinating military ideals has been inseparably linked with instruction in democratic ideals, teaching as to the American way of life and clear statement of the policies and purposes of the Government of the United States in its relations with all others powers and peoples.

    Moreover, it is an accepted principle in all services that this mission can not be carried forward competently except by those officers who are directly in charge of forces. It is not a job for chaplains or orientation specialists, because it cannot flourish unless it is in the hands of those leaders whom men know well and in whom they place their confidence. When men are well led, they become fully receptive to the whole body of ideas which their leaders see fit to put before them.

    There are two points which follow, as a matter of course.

    An officer’s ability to talk effectively on these or other subjects to his men can be no better than his information, irrespective of his zeal or of his own firm belief in the ideals of his country and service.

    All other things being equal, his effectiveness will depend on the extent to which he participates in all of the other affairs of organization. If he is remote from the spirit of his own unit, and indifferent to the varying activities which enter into the building of that spirit, he will not have a sympathetic audience when he talks to men about the grand objectives of organization. There is something terribly incongruous about a man talking to troops on the ideal purposes of the military service if all they see of him convinces them that he is loyal only to his own rank and his pay check. It can be said without any qualification that when an officer’s interest in the unit is limited strictly to those things which have to be done in line of duty, even though he attends to them truly and well, he will never have a strong hold on the sympathy and imagination of his men. When he takes an enthusiastic part in the sports program of the ship, the company, the squadron or the battalion, even though he has no natural talent for sport, when he voluntarily helps in furthering all activities within the unit which are designed to make leisure more enjoyable, and when he is seen by his men attending religious exercises, his magnetism is increased. It was noteworthy during World War II that church attendance among enlisted personnel took a tremendous bound forward when it was seen that their officers were present at church services. This provided tremendous support to those chaplains who were intent not only on praising the Lord but On passing moral ammunition to all ranks so that they would be better prepared for the ordeal ahead.

    Recognizing that instruction in the duties of citizenship, and providing information which will enable Americans to have a better understanding of their national affairs, is part of the arch of morale and of a strong uniting comradeship, the Armed Services nevertheless hold that the keystone of the arch, among fighting forces, is the inculcation of military ideals and the stimulation of principles of military action. Unless orientation within the services is balanced in this direction, the military spirit of all ranks will suffer, and the forces will deteriorate into an assembly of Americans who, whatever their enthusiasms for the nation, will lack an organized capacity to serve it efficiently along the main line of resistance.

    To round out any discussion of how military ideals are formed, much more needs to be said about the nature of courage on the battlefield and, in preparation for it, about the winning and meaning of loyalty within the Armed Services and how instruction on these points and all related matters is best advanced within the organization.

    But the object of this chapter is to define certain governing principles. The substantive parts of the subject can be more clearly presented further along in the book.

    • Excellent essay, Tex. I fear that few of those civilians in positions of power over our military today have any appreciation of this or care to acquire any. The question is, are our young troops allowed this knowledge themselves?

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