In the Humble Opinion of LittleBill, Socialist, Atheist, and Humanist
Ethics on the battlefield

Ethics on the battlefield

Sarah Sewall, director of Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, most recently wrote the introduction to the University of Chicago Edition of the new U.S. Counterinsurgency Field Manual.

Ethical lapses among military personnel in Iraq pose a grave danger not simply to U.S. military professionalism but also to the operation itself. According to a newly released Army field survey, significant numbers of U.S. troops directly undermine their mission by mistreating civilians. Ironically, the same person who inscribed high ethical standards into new U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine -- Gen. David H. Petraeus -- inherited this compromised force. While the Army and Marine Corps can address future education and training for U.S. forces, is it too late to fix the problem in Iraq?

Intuitively and anecdotally, we understand the corrosive effects of irregular warfare. An unseen enemy that won't respect the laws of war tempts the opposing force to abandon its professional ethic. Now for the first time, we have hard data that scopes the extent and nature of the problem.

Read the rest of Sewall's column from the San Francisco Chronicle
(Sunday, July 1, 2007)


Vigilante said...

This is a great post, Lil'Bill!

Unlike conventional wars, civilian protection is the military mission. This type of war demands that U.S. forces assume more risk on behalf of the civilian. . . . If even a small proportion of forces fail to "get it," their actions can discredit the larger effort.

Guerrillas, though, are the worst imaginable instructors of ethics. . . .

After the reported massacre of civilians at Haditha in November 2005, the Marine Corps ordered up refresher training. But more of the same is unlikely to do the trick. Unlike laws or rules of engagement, ethics reflect a deeper cultural and institutional ethos. They provide an internal compass to help troops "know what to do" in challenging circumstances. Counterinsurgency ethics are particularly perplexing and complex because the primacy of civilian protection appears at odds with military service values that stress loyalty to fellow Marines and soldiers. It will take time for each service to articulate, inculcate and tend an ethic of counterinsurgency consistent with its culture.

. . . . .The Army and Marine Corps deserve credit for finally daring to measure the state of battlefield ethics. It's important to understand how many troops are morally adrift in this counterinsurgency. The tragedy is that this realization may -- like the counterinsurgency doctrine and the "surge" itself -- be too little, too late to change the course of Iraq.

This underscores what I have been saying about how being assigned to occupation duty can corrupt the military forces of even the most professional armies. It happened to the French in Algeria and to the British (for a time) in Northern Ireland.

I'll be cross posting this.