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Modern Military Morality

By P.H. de Vries


The author aims at providing a coherent body of ethics, a shared moral standard, for a modern Dutch military. He starts by describing the historical context and the present situation of the Dutch military and the morally relevant aspects. These include notions of justice in committing armed forces and a professional ethos based on duty, proficiency, resilience and respect. The author rejects the recent introduction of a code of conduct, mainly because this code does not address the operational character of military practice and does not provide a tangible link with the strong tradition of the military The author argues that a virtue‐ethical approach will be best suited to provide a coherent shared moral standard. He chooses the theory of Alisdair MacIntyre to further elaborate a normative framework that addresses both the operational nature of military practice and provides a strong link with military tradition. The theory is based on an interconnectedness of practice, narrative and moral tradition and claims to provide an objective method to establish which virtues are relevant for a practice. The theory aims primarily at the internal goods of a practice that can only be acquired by participating in that particular practice. The virtues enable the practitioner to excel and so increase the benefits gained by participating in the practice. After examining MacIntyre’s approach and reviewing several criticisms aimed at MacIntyre’s theory, the framework is augmented, including the notion that a practice also has an external goal, a purpose. This purpose provides an extra dimension in ascertaining which virtues are relevant. Also the idea that the special virtues of a practice must somehow fit with wider ideas of morality is taken into account. The ideas of MacIntyre are further supplemented with a the need to establish the constitutive parts of a practice as well as a method to determine more exactly what is the meaning, the content, of a virtue. The elaborated framework is than applied to Dutch military practice. First the constitutive elements of military practice are determined. Next is established what are the primary goods that people want to acquire in participating in military practice. Based on these goods, eight military virtues are identified: duty, military professionalism, comradeship, respect, resilience, discipline, courage and justice. The content of these virtues is further elaborated. The author continues to show how these virtues fit into a narrative and how this narrative enhances the individual virtuousness. The result is a coherent body of professional ethics. Next the author examines the role of the military institution and its place in Dutch society. In Dutch society the military has no reason to expect a priori status or power. Political control over the military is complete and widely accepted as a necessary and valuable feature of civil‐military relations. The only way to acquire status by the military is by excelling: a feature that fits well in Dutch general moral tradition. The nature of the Dutch Armed forces as a closed institution provides the next perspective. This feature entails the reciprocal values of duty and trust. The organisation has the duty to look after its soldiers and trusts that they will do their job, as well as the soldiers have the duty to execute their mission in the trust that the armed forces organisation will look after their wellbeing. Duty and trust are the core values of the organizational morality of the military. The notions duty and trust also provide a linking pin between ordinary morality of society and the organizational morality of the military and eventually the professional morality of the sailors, soldier, airmen and marechaussees1. The government has the duty to care for its military and trusts that the military will do their job; on the other hand the military has the duty to perform well and trusts that the government will take proper care of them. In this way a fit is also established between ordinary morality and military morality. The author concludes that the modified model he developed, based on the virtue‐ethical theory of Alisdair McIntyre, provides indeed a suitable way of establishing what could be the content of a modern military morality for the Dutch armed forces. He claims that a soldier educated and trained in accordance with the virtues will not only be a better soldier, but will also enhance military effectiveness and eventually this soldier will be a better person and a better citizen as well

Topics: Wijsbegeerte
Year: 2009
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