home page links quotes statistics mission statement success stories resources Lighter Side Authors! Search Page
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 dignity?