Posted February 22, 2006
The Armed Forces Trying To Define Their Ethical and Moral Responsibilities in
an Unconventional War
Originally printed in the Newport (R.I.) Daily News NEWPORT -- Quoting sources as diverse as American frontiersman Davy Crockett, French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and television president Josiah Bartlett,
the Navy’s top chaplain made the case Tuesday for following traditional
conduct of warfare rather than responding to unethical tactics used by Iraqi
insurgents. Rear Adm. Louis V. Iasiello, chief of the Navy Chaplain Corps,
put the finishing touches on a two-day professional ethics conference at the
Naval War College.
This year’s event focused on “The Ethics of Insurgency and Counter-
Insurgency.” The problem for American military leaders in Iraq is following
international guidelines for conducting war when the other side totally
rejects those rules. But members of a panel Tuesday morning and Iasiello
agreed that the American military should not use a golden rule standard –do
unto them what they do unto us—to guide their conduct. “You represent all
that is good, all that is sacred in our American society,” Iasiello said.
“You must conduct yourselves with the same sense of honor, duty and courage
of those who came before you.”
During the noon presentation Iasiello used clips from the show “West Wing”
to illustrate the philosophical dilemma faced by policy makers when dealing
with a ruthless enemy without conscience. In one scene, Navy Admiral
FitzWallace, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff for the show’s president,
decries the limits placed on his men and women when confronting an enemy
with no scruples. The enemy was wiring pregnant women with suicide bombs and
sending them in to blow up hospitals.
“Can you tell when it’s peacetime or wartime anymore?” FitzWallace asks the
show’s presidential chief of staff. “I can’t. You’re talking to me about
international laws? The laws of nature don’t even apply here.”
After showing that clip, Iasiello recalls Crockett’s involvement in the
Creek War and how Americans, angered by two Creek massacres at American
military installations, deliberately burned down a cabin containing a party
of Creeks. When the Americans, starved by weeks on the road, found a cellar
of potatoes under the cabin, they hungrily ate them despite the fact they
were covered by remnants of those killed in the cabins. “I could never eat
taters again,” Crockett allegedly wrote later. Panelists at Tuesday’s
morning session agreed that using insurgents’ tactics might win a particular
battle in Iraq but could help lose the war.
“The bottom line is quite often they get away with cheap shots,” said COL.
John Toolen, director of the U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College.
“We have to prove to people, who are really victims, that we are not going
to be indiscriminate about our fire and we’re going to make sure we don’t do
any harm. By doing harm, we may be creating 10 or 15 new insurgents that you’ll end up having to fight in the future.”
When military men and women find themselves faced with a tactical decision
on the type of or how much force to use, they should ask themselves one
question, said Navy Commander Peter Dutton, Head of the joint military
operations department at the Naval War College. “We are facing a clash of
values,” Dutton said. “We need to ask do we value individual life and human