Morals under the Gun

Morals under the Gun: The Cardinal Virtues, Military Ethics, and American Society

James H. Toner
Copyright Date: 2000
Edition: 1
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Morals under the Gun
    Book Description:

    James Toner argues that the cardinal virtues are and must be the core values of the military. By embracing these values, the profession of arms serves as a moral compass in an increasingly confusing age. Building upon a bold introduction, which includes what many will regard as a surprising view of military ethics, Toner examines the four cardinal virtues -- wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice -- and places each in the context of a compelling case study from recent U.S. military history. He discusses the Flinn Case, the Lavelle Affair, a B-52 crash in Washington State, and the courageous actions of Hugh Thompson after My Lai. Morals Under the Gun connects ethics and moral theology with the armed services, demonstrating that the task of preserving virtue, both personal and professional, is a noble, if imperfectible, task.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4884-7
    Subjects: History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  4. 1 The Necessary Immorality of the Military Profession
    (pp. 1-12)

    One of the great difficulties involved in reading, writing, and teaching about military ethics is the tendency of people in the field, and I do not exclude myself, to be rather self-congratulatory about the moral climate we associate with the profession of arms. Blithely we contend that honor and truth-telling are functional military imperatives. Glibly we maintain that cheating and stealing contravene the norms of the professional military ethic. Rather smugly we declare our common allegiance to, and membership in, a self-proclaimed citadel of modem chivalry, whose corrupt knights—one thinks of Lieutenant Calley at My Lai—are supposedly the...

  5. 2 A New Beginning
    (pp. 13-28)

    I must apologize: almost everything in chapter 1 is deceitful or distorted; it is a hoax. I have misled my readers. In fact, I hope that parts of chapter 1 irritated or even angered readers. I took a dialectical liberty in the first chapter of presenting a set of fraudulent ideas so that I could offer reasoned alternatives throughout the rest of the book. If you were discomfited or exasperated, I apologize, first, for misleading you; I do not knowingly do it in the rest of the book. Second, I thank you for bothering to tum to this page, trusting...

  6. 3 Morals under the Gun
    (pp. 29-46)

    Is a painting by El Greco beautiful? Is a symphony by Haydn beautiful? Is the scene of two lovers walking hand in hand down a moonlit road beautiful? Is an acrobatic catch in deep centerfield by Willie Mays off the bat of Vic Wertz in the 1954 World Series beautiful? Is a stinking garbage truck, spilling over with rubbish and filth, while making its rounds in the hot sun on a July afternoon in the streets of New York City beautiful? Is a picture of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam beautiful?

    It is likely that we might agree on...

  7. 4 Moral Reasoning and the Cardinal Virtues
    (pp. 47-58)

    General of the Armies John J. Pershing is supposed to have said once that a soldier needs to learn only how to shoot and salute. In rather the same way, those attending church are supposed to know how to “pray, pay, and obey.” Nothing is said, in either of those witticisms, about selective obedience or disobedience on grounds of “conscience.”¹ In fact, for the past few decades conscience has received something of a bad press. “Surely,” the positivist might say in a wide-eyed and condescending way, “you don’t believe inthat”—as if conscience were in the same league as...

  8. 5 Prudence and the Profession of Arms
    (pp. 59-75)

    In Chapter 4 we discussed synderesis and syneidesis, rather abstract terms that refer to one’s ability to understand general principles of morality and apply them wisely and well to particular circumstances. The argument advanced there is that “ordinary sense and understanding” amounts to little more than conscience and that conscience is what synderesis and syneidesis are all about. There is another way to understand the argument advanced in chapter 4 that “ordinary sense and understanding” amounts to little more than conscience and that conscience is what synderesis and syneidesis are all about. That is to use the termprudence. Saint...

  9. 6 Justice and the Profession of Arms
    (pp. 76-93)

    DeuterocanonicalScripture refers to books in the Greek translation of the Old Testament that do not appear in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jews and Protestants designate the deuterocanonical books collectively as the Apocrypha and do not include them in their Bibles; they are a part of the Catholic Bible, however. Among these books is the first book of Esdras, which contains an extraordinary “debate.” The emperor Darius holds a great banquet. After all the guests have left, three bodyguards decide to debate the issue of what is the strongest thing in the world. They write down their answers, submitting them for...

  10. Interlude: Obiter Dicta
    (pp. 94-108)

    An obiter dictum is an incidental or passing remark or opinion; it is a tangent. In this brief tangent, I offer a few remarks about teaching, which is my life’s work.Teaching, directly or indirectly, is also the life’s work of all armed forces officers. All officers teach, by deed if not by word, in all that they do or fail to do. As a college professor dealing now principally with highly successful military officers and high-ranking government civilians, I think I am unusual in that I have also dealt over the years with thousands of students in undergraduate colleges...

  11. 7 Courage and the Profession of Arms
    (pp. 109-124)

    Bravery in battle; courage in combat; fortitude in fighting—is that not what the profession of arms is all about? Yes, for the armed services exist to win our country’s wars. But what is courage and how is it nurtured? Where does courage begin? How is it developed and sustained?

    We know that courage is unique to human beings. Animals may be daring by instinct, but they are not brave—if we consider bravery (a word I will use interchangeably withfortitudeandcourage) to be a calculated, chivalrous response to danger. A person, like a beast, may respond instinctively...

  12. 8 Temperance and the Profession of Arms
    (pp. 125-142)

    “Temperance,” we are solemnly instructed, “is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion.”¹ One dictionary definestemperanceas “moderation in action, thought, or feeling: restraint” and as “habitual moderation in the indulgence of the appetites or passions: self-control.”² One of the chief difficulties we encounter in discussing the wordtemperanceis determining what it means, who...

  13. 9 Character and the Profession of Arms
    (pp. 143-162)

    A common dictionary definition ofcharacteris this: “the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.” I have five definitions of my own:

    Character is the inventory of choices, made by a person during the course of his life, which influences current and future moral judgments.

    Character is the persistent effort to apply one’s concept of simple truth to moral complexity.

    Character is the settled ability to do what one’s well-formed conscience whispers despite the opposing noise of the crowd.

    Character is the range of the whole person, the person’s experience and...

  14. Epilogue
    (pp. 163-170)

    What can the armed services do to improve the characters and consciences of those joining the military, either in the grade of E-1 (private) or O-1 (second lieutenant)?¹ Certainly this has been a major topic for the profession of arms in the past decade; it appears to be even more pressing today. Before concluding with a few suggestions, I should frankly say that in the end there is no ultimate solution to this problem. There is no one book, there is no one school, there is no one teacher, there is no one training regimen that can ensure that our...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 171-200)
  16. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 201-210)
  17. Index
    (pp. 211-215)