An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Commentary Search

May Chaplain's Reflection

  • Published
  • By Capt. Benjamin McEntire
  • 169th Fighter Wing
"Time to Consider: Ethics and Morality in Times of War"  


How often do you think about matters of right and wrong? More importantly, how often have you thought about WHY you believe what you do about those questions? In today's society, we usually don't spend much time dwelling on those questions. That's 100% understandable; they're difficult and answers rarely come easily. Warfighters, from the strategic to the tactical level, have to decide whether or not to kill, and if to kill, when and how. Setting aside questions of right and wrong until a more convenient time, is a luxury we can't afford. The following are a few points where working through one's beliefs about right and wrong influence one's role as a warfighter:


1 - A moral and ethical framework helps determine whether or not military action is justified by asking a question. The question we ask at this level is, "In what situations is violent action justified and why?" This is a question those determining policy and strategy have to face, but it is one every warfighter answers when they use force. Some, particularly criminal and tyrannical elements, believe violence is an acceptable way to acquire and sustain wealth or power, and often for any other end. Others draw a more narrow line, and say that violence is acceptable only when it is needed to save the lives of others or protect them from exploitation and oppression. How you answer that question will influence how you view military operations.


2 - Thinking through questions of right and wrong also helps one determine what military action should be taken. Thus, if you believe that violence is justified in a specific situation, do you believe that all kinds of violence are justified in that situation or only certain forms? That is a hugely important question for today's warfighter, because the answer will determine how they fight, and wars can be won or lost by how they are fought. Why? Because very often battlefield victories are meaningless if the enemy gains a psychological and political victory. More than one nation has lost wars to weaker forces because their execution lacked moral and ethical restraint. (This is especially true for those fighting insurgents who rely on the support of the populace or outside nations.) The lesson of their defeats show that future victories can be obtained by fighting and operating in ethically informed ways.


In short, our moral and ethical beliefs serve as a compass (or GPS in today's hi-tech world) that helps us navigate through tough times. As the warfighter of today and possibly one of the leaders of tomorrow, take time to work through the tough questions of right and wrong. No one will ever come away from combat without having their beliefs challenged, and many change their beliefs as a result of their experiences. However, those who never think about matters of right and wrong before having to make a serious moral or ethical decision can find themselves without the kind of guidance they need in that moment. If the decisions need to be made quickly, as is often the case in combat, isn't it better to have a steady compass right on-hand than to have to look for it?


If you would like to talk about questions of right and wrong, or just need a confidential sounding board as you work through these questions, the SCANG Chaplain Corps would be glad to be a listening ear. We all need help with questions of right and wrong from time to time, and that is especially true for the warfighter. When you need us on this issue, or for any other reason, you can reach us at 803-647-8265.