Sunday, July 6, 2014

Robinson, ed. (2008) Ethics Education in the Military (military education)

Professor Paul Robinson of the University of Ottawa has assembled an all-star cast of ethics scholars and teachers from Netherlands, Japan, Norway, US, Australia, UK, Canada, France and Israel. One of at least four serious international comparative case studies of various aspects of security education, Robinson’s collection gives a sense of both the variety and consistency of ethics education in developed, western countries. It would be interesting to explore cultural differences in other linguistic groups - Russian, Spanish/Portuguese, Chinese, for example. Tellingly, the two American chapters focus on single institutions -West Point and USAFA, while most of the other chapters provide a more global overview of how different institutions and organizations fit into the overall plan for conveying ethics and values to military leaders and in at least the German case, the rank and file without distinction.
     Ch 3 on West Point and Ch 5 on USAFA explore both philosophical and organizational dimensions.  The USAFA chapter is candid about the chaplain-lawyer-leadership-psychology-Character Development Centre competition. The champions seem to have grown like topsy with every scandal--a reflection of too much money, perhaps.  Again, smaller institutions seem to fare better, and the Canadian model sounds admirably coherent, although spurred by the same sort of problems. Australia (Ch. 7) also has a coherent ethics program, within which the Australian Defence College (equivalent to Canadian Defence Academy) manages programs for each of the major institutions (ADFA, recruit training, etc). The appendix to this chapter on military ethics case studies is a good example of international learning. 
Norway (Ch. 8) aims to “promote good and prevent evil” and military chaplains edit two journals on military ethics. Germany (Ch. 9) is special because there is an overarching philosophy of Innerefuhrung inherited from denazification, and ethics education irrespective of rank, with four main elements in the curriculum: ethics of peace, leadership responsibilities, conscience and obedience, and the soldier’s profession. The chapter on France (Ch. 10) focuses on St. Cyr and the École Interarmes, the ethics of serving the state and commitment to republican values, which might be problematic if the republic renews itself regularly. Hude also admits to the anti-intellectualism of the military academy. This is a natural element of military culture (doers privileged over thinkers) but seems both more extreme and less internally criticized in francophone military culture, from what I have seen in the Écoles Nationales de Vocation Régionale in West Africa. My favourite chapter is Peter Olsthoorn’s on the NL, which includes a discussion of the problem of ethics being reduced to “not getting caught” - a central issue for rules-based systems which seem to predominate in the Weberian states of the western world. Olsthoorn discusses the problems that follow from attempts to judge intention as well as action, and the difficulties of inculcating virtue.  In Israel (Ch. 12)  ethics instruction is shaped by the features of the abbreviated educational setting, the heterogenous population (and presumably its hostile environs). Japan (Ch. 13) comes closest to being a non-Western state, and Admiral Ota focuses on the imperial precepts of loyalty, propriety, valour, faithfulness, righteousness, and simplicity, dating back to 1887, the midpoint of the Meiji Restoration, and therefore perhaps drawing on Western as well as  traditional influences.  
     The responses to these case studies are thoughtful and comparative, so the overall achievement of the book is to weave a picture of a surprisingly coherent western military values system, at least for the ten countries represented.

(also posted on Amazon)
David Last, 8 October 2013

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