I hope you enjoyed today’s talk.
Ambassador Eikenberry, drawing upon his own experiences in Afghanistan, talked about the tough ethical decisions that a military and diplomatic leader has to make.
I think there are at least two ethical questions that you might think about for this blog response. The first question is a very practical one, and one that was brought into sharp focus with Ambassador Eikenberry’s example of the platoon leader. In short, American forces were in a deadlock with Taliban forces, and a few meters away from the American position were two corpses of enemy soldiers. The 110 degree weather quickly started decaying the corpses. Nevermind the smell and the horrific view– the corpses became health hazards. The platoon leader thus decided to burn the corpses. There was a journalist who captured that in video, and suddenly, the video was all over the news. And indeed, Ambassador Eikenberry told us that the platoon leader clearly violated the rules. So there’s public outrage in the States, in Afghanistan, and around the world. As a leader, you certainly need to take that into account. But you also need to take the institution’s integrity into consideration, as well as your authority within the institution (indeed, you should remain an effective leader), and your personal moral judgment about the act. Taking that (and any other issues you think are relevant) into account, what do you do?
The second question is more theoretical– indeed, it might be viewed as a question about democracy at large. So it’s a hard question to answer in a blog response, but it is certainly worth thinking about. Start with the idea that central to democracy is open political discussion about the toughest of issues– issues about which, among other things, people have passionate disagreements. As a citizen of a democratic society, then, you are a participant in that nation-wide political discussion, both as a speaker and as a listener. What moral duties, if any, do you have as such a participant? As a speaker, do you have the right to say just about anything you want, as long as it is a genuine opinion of yours, and as long as it is political in nature? Are you, for example, allowed to say things that are terribly offensive and perhaps even uncivil? As a listener, do you have the obligation to listen to, or at least to allow, anything that is said? Or are you, in certain cases, warranted in silencing the opinions of others?
I look forward to reading your thoughts– I always read them. These issues are very controversial, though, so do remember to be civil.