Chapter 2: Forming military ideals.  pp. [13] through [26] continues with the exploration of dogma and development of “clear-eyed faith”. 

The author (who some believe to have been General Marshall, at least in first drafts) is writing for a specific audience: military officers.  He steadily contrasts civilian American ideals to military ones.  American civilians are “unregimented people, with a strong belief in the virtues of rugged individualism” and the right to do as he pleases up to the point of injury to others.  This doesn’t work when one is trying to develop “an all-compelling unity.”  By standing for unity and collective action, the author believes that the military stands not just as counterpoint to the rest of society, but comments upon it and enriches the values of unity for civilians. 

Much of this sound so aspirational as to be almost laughable in mainstream U.S. thought, and perhaps to military readers as well.  This chapter and the one before may sound a bit like the Boy Scout Manual.  Many of us are angry at the wars we have (I’m deeply unhappy, myself), and may have a strong urge to discount the most aspirational verbiage of military thought.  At the same time, many of us who have the luxury of this fury aren’t living the physical and emotional dilemmas that this book addresses.  At other points, it’s just the same, only less vivid: the boredom more easily given variety, the job more easily changed, and the loyalty asked for of less compelling nature.  The author considers several aspects of military life that make this necessary, not of all of them directly.

1. Military personnel are frequently stationed away from the benefits of the society they protect. 

2. Military personnel must balance the virtues of restraint in frequently unrestrained situations, such as, and specifically, combat, or other areas where force is its main advantage.  Therefore ethics are required; moreover, the use of greater force upon a disintegrating armed force, such as through punishment or discipline, will not be sufficient under these conditions.

3. Boredom, isolation, loneliness, create opportunities for lost morale and lost discipline.  Recognition in the form of promotions may be hard to obtain (hmmm, this is sounding more civilian all the time) and the situations that they may face inbetween these long, eventless periods are complex and require a critical awareness.

Much of this chapter reads like Rudyard Kipling’s “If”, plus an additional healthy dose of stoicism:

Ideals have the intensely practical end of strengthening men for the better discharge of the duties that 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.  Morever, that is what every truly civilized man would want in himselve 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 ideals is essentially a problem in the first person, singular. [15-16].

The simpler virtues:
The espoused virtues are a life’s work, no doubt about it.
1. Honor: holding oneself to a course of conduct because of a conviction it is in the general interest, even though one knows it may lead to “inconvenience, personal loss, humiliation, or grave physical risk”.

2. Veracity:  after study and reflection, one says and believes what he thinks to be true, even if it would be easier to lie or not speak up.

3. Justice: one acknowledges the interests of all parties rather than serving self-interest.

4. Graciousness:  One acts and speaks forthrightly, agrees warmly, disagrees fairly and respectfully, participates enthusiastically.  One does not hold grudges, takes reverses in stride, and does not whine and complain.

5. Integrity: One has integrity if his interest in the Service comes before personal pride, and when one does the right thing (book says: duty) whether anyone is watching or not.

These are the things to strive for, and a good deal more besides, and at the end of the chapter one sees why there is so much emphasis on this moral code.  This chapter is a lead-up to the most difficult of conditions for an armed services member: the Code of Conduct for Prisoners of War.  [25-26].  Since this book is elderly, I look up the Code of Conduct on the internet.  It was revised in 1977, and again in 1988 to make it gender-neutral.  Basically, the part A in each of the articles is the same, only more clarifications with respect to the Geneva Convention, etc, have been added.

And the rest of us?
For the purposes of U.S. civilians, the military ideals espoused in this book are little different than the ones we should try to grow for ourselves.  The difference is in degree of loyalty to command, and in the amount of personal sacrifice that is frequently involved.  In many ways, these ideals combine the best of self-improvement with those of a life lived for others.  It’s all very sentimental, unless one is in the midst of a maelstrom and wishes to emerge from it with something irreplaceable.  The part that the book leaves out: that even with strict adherence to these principles, or a best-case effort, one doesn’t always end up with one’s self-faith intact.  Yet what other method is there to try?  I’m still thinking about this.

The second worthwhile purpose is to reflect on the sacrifices that others are making, and the personal toll that it takes.  No, I am not talking about a murky faith in the military, but rather this: many in our society benefit from the service (military service or other service)  without reflecting upon its personal cost to those that serve.  In the case of the military at least, we rely upon their service without, in a sense, even having to make a personal request. 

One can be against conflicts in which we are engaged, yet the sacrifices made are still in our name.  That is the fault and responsibility of the leaders we elected (or failed to dislodge).  Our armed services also serve us in other ways and in other capacities, in other lands and at home.  Whether we believe the military to have incorporated these virtues intact or not–we could reflect that others have steadily trained in order to serve us more fully, and absolutely, than we are inclined to serve ourselves. 

In this, unfortunately, the Armed Services Officer Manual tells the truth: Civilians have the luxury of being self-indulgent mavericks, while military personnel, in many ultimate senses, do not.  Our recompense can only be to provide courtesy and whatever remediation possible to those who have made such sacrifices–and the reciprocity so far seems lackluster on our collective part.

Series Intent: Introduction & Forward to this Series 
  Next week: Less ethics, more practicality: Responsibilities, Privileges, and Careers

Further reading, for those who want to be ethically competitive:
The Enchiridion of Epictetus: The ultimate stoic of service
Rudyard Kipling’s “If”  — You’ll be a man, my son
W.E. Henley’s Invictus  — The captain of my soul

Opportunities to serve today’s military:
Veterans Administration Volunteer site
Wounded Warrior Project site
If anyone wants to write in with other programs, I’d be glad to check them out.