Saturday, April 24, 2010

The scars of war

Nancy Sherman has an interesting piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the psychological reality that soldiers experience when returning from war.  It is an interesting piece.  In part the article is a plea for a discussion, I suppose at least in academia, on the burdens of a soldier that has returned from war.  Her latest book, which I have just started reading, seems to be the full treatment of this topic. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Question of identity

The story that the 372nd MP company is returning to Iraq is interesting and stresses the relevance of the question of identity over time: what constitutes the same unit? As you may know, this is the unit whose members committed the events that we now know as the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. But is the same unit really returning to Iraq? Should we worry that because it is the same unit they might do the same thing? The unit, whatever that is, was never punished though some if its members were and some of it superior officers were.

Clearly it is not the fact that the unit retains the same people that keeps the unit the same over time. Units have people come and go all the time. We don't even know how many soldiers who were members of the unit during the scandal are still in the unit. (Units lose lots of members after deployments and I am sure the 372nd lost more than most.) Geographically, units move, so their identity is not tied to a physical place. Unit's missions change as well, so that too cannot be the source of "the same unit". . . It is very much a Ship of Theseus issue. In this case it seems like a real-world question where our theory of identity is relevant to how concerned we need to be about the future of this unit. Moreover, the unit will undoubtedly get close scrutiny because people believe that it is the same unit.

On a practical level, because of the scandal this unit has undoubtedly received very serious training and warnings so that they will not repeat the mistakes the unit made in the past, but what should we expect of the unit?

Clearly though there is something that keeps this unit the same as it was the first time it was deployed. Its designation is the same. The unit's reputation is damaged, perhaps irreparably. It is a worthwhile question for philosophers of military things.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Peter Amato - "Crisis, Terror, and Tyranny"

Peter Amato's "Crisis, Terror, and Tyranny: On the anti-democratic logic of empire" (in Gail M. Presbey Philosophical Perspectives on the `War on Terrorism'; Rodopi 2007, 113-128) is an almost boilerplate anti-capitalist, Bush-is-Evil, America-can-do-no-right screed with a brief interlude of three and a half pages repeating (for no apparent reason) an odd, but not crazy reading of Plato's Republic.  There is otherwise no philosophical content.  

The essay is essentially a list of alleged evils that the US has perpetrated. (The majority of footnotes are newspaper "reporting" said evils.)  There are many assertions and accusations that could really use clarifications and support (e.g., the US government did more than any other force in the twentieth century to resist democratic aspirations, (121)).  The article basically tells you that it is making an unfalsifiable claim (Many believe that the US Promotes democracy because they want it to be true. The government propagates a "democratic veneer to cover and protect its autocratic plutocratic client regimes" (119), so in case you think otherwise you are looking at a veneer). The article has the flavor of a rant in that it is likely only compelling (or even comprehensible) to someone who already knows and agrees with the conclusions and approaches of the essay, and shares the authors rage, and has it for the same reason the author does.  There is a large metaphor that is used to substantiate the author's point, which is essentially that if we use that metaphor the point makes no sense (120).

I have no problem with screeds.  I have been known to send them in emails myself.  But I do wonder how this made it into a philosophy anthology.  

Saturday, January 9, 2010

On Asa Kasher's "Teaching and Training Military Ethics: An Israeli Experience"

On Asa Kasher's "Teaching and Training Military Ethics: An Israeli Experience" (_Ethics Education in the Military_ Paul Robinson, Nigel de Lee and Don Carrick, eds.)

Kasher's paper is an interesting discussion by an extremely thoughtful philosopher about teaching ethics in a military setting to military officers. The paper begins by outlining why Israel may be in a unique ethical position vis a vis military ethics: Israelis in military service are homogeneous in many ways, have extensive combat experience, have a peculiar military education, have particularly qualified officers, and a decentralized concept of command philosophy.

Also, Kasher makes a point I think to have broader repercussions than I suspect he realizes when he prefers to introduce military ethics as a set of principles rather than virtues. The US Army attempts to inculcate virtues as ethics, i.e., the Army values. Kahser's reason for not using this approach is interesting though: in a democracy, the goal of a military is not to change the character of the citizens, but rather maintain their nature and autonomy as humans. Inculcating virtues is an approach that is designed to change someone, not necessarily only their behavior.

So how to introduce ethics to military officers? Kasher claims that experience has shown that the best way to introduce ethics into a military setting is by making it part of their professional development; that is by showing that military ethics adds insight into the military profession. But a course in military ethics must be approached properly. Kasher thinks it misguided to treat military ethics as merely a discussion of moral issues in military affairs. This is because such a course ends up considering the relationships that moral individuals have with each other qua moral individuals instead of the relationships that individuals have with each other in the context of a complex military hierarchy, the latter being necessary in the Army.

In what setting should Military ethics be taught? Should it be taught as an academic course or as a purely military course? Kasher suggests something in between. Academic ethics generally stress criticizing established theory. It does not stress taking responsibility for correct decisions. His experience has shown that it is best to start with a theoretical background and then move to case studies, first presented by military instructors and then by the soldiers in the class.

Finally, it is interesting to note that of we contrast this military ethics education with academic ethics academic ethics is meant to teach ethics, military ethics is meant to inculcate ethics, so ethical pedagogy is way underexplored as a philosophical and psychological field. In that sense then, Kasher's paper is an interesting counterpoint to standard approaches to ethics. It is also useful to think about whether or not a similar account works for other branches of applied ethics where we might want to inculcate ethics as well. Business ethics did not arise in university curricula because of the theoretical interest of academics. It arose as a response to a public demand. But the public does not demand that future business people know ethics, rather that they practice it. So inculcation must be a part of a course in applied ethics, whatever subject it is.