The United States military abides by a code of ethics that could be described as better than the morals that influence many in the civilian population based on information from Major General Jerry E. White of the Air Force Reserves. “In the military, we take a different view” of drugs, alcohol, sexual indiscretions, infidelity and dishonesty. Honoring the code of ethics builds trust amongst fellow soldiers, local and foreign communities.
Each branch of the military shares the same basic code of ethics. Dr. James H. Taylor in an article for the Air & Space Power Journal in 2003 describes ethics as “morality, concern for righteousness, or principles of goodness.” Taylor a distinguished teacher of military ethics and former member of the U.S. Army instructs that each member of the military owes a debt of gratitude to their country, those that came before them and the chain of command. He notes that these values are defined as “"service before self" (in the Air Force), "selfless service" (in the Army), or "commitment" (in the Navy and Marine Corps).”
“Personal convictions form the most effective basis for moral and ethical behavior”, according to Major General White. In his article Personal Ethics versus Professional Ethics, he further explains that commanders would prefer every military member be instinctively capable of doing what is right. However, “personal convictions change with our society” especially when so many in the intellectual and educational communities practice relativism. Engaging in what feels good for the moment rather choosing conduct based on moral definitions of right or wrong. When personal ethics are lacking, the consistency of laws must be established.
Morality and Necessity
The military has a delicate task of balancing “what is right and wrong with what it values a necessary to accomplish its mission” by establishing desirable standards of behavior, according to Air Force Major Drew D. Jeter. In his paper, "Moral Leadership in an Increasingly Amoral Society" for the Air Command and Staff College, Jeter says the desirable behaviors have been “coded into law” the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) that has governed members of all military branches since 1951.
Personal Life Ethics
In the military there is no distinction between conduct in personal life and that of the military life. The two are one. With the military codes of ethics, conduct and standards of behavior are expected even when off duty. National Defense University of the Air Force's Air University defines six levels of public morality requiring observance, including observance of the law and avoiding conflicts of interest. For example, under Crimes Article134, a military member who fails to repay debts may face dishonorable conduct charges. Debt as with other behaviors may effect a soldier's judgment and pose possible national security risks should they be blackmailed or offered financial relief by domestic or foreign enemies.
Behavior and ethics in the course of war are complex and may become blurred on the battlefield if it were not for the high standards of the U.S. military, its codes of conduct and military laws. Primarily soldiers are obligated to protect their fellow soldiers, our nation, the Constitution and civilians. The military code of ethics even requires that captured enemies and detainees receive first aid, food and basic human needs such as food and water.