The Ethical Warrior

Robert Humphrey, a Marine rifle platoon commander in the 1945 battle for Iwo Jima, had seen the worst the world had to offer. But to him, the lesson was not only the cruelty of war, but also the ethics of the warrior. The Japanese had twisted the moral code of "Bushido" into a philosophy of hate and intolerance. In contrast, Humphrey’s experiences inspired him to write a creed, for American warriors then and forever more: "Wherever I walk, everyone is a little bit safer because I am there. Wherever I am, anyone in need has a friend. Whenever I return home, everyone is happy I am there. It’s a better life!" In the global war on terror, America’s warriors have to apply that ethic to an enemy that has arisen from yet another culture, with a code of warfare of his own. In our new Counterinsurgency (i.e., "COIN") Field Manual we are adapting tactics and training to better enable individual soldiers and Marines to perform COIN operations. The new training will include powerful cross-cultural conflict resolution skills; wider ranges of armed and unarmed martial arts capabilities, and have at its core a strong ethics element.

The U.S. Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) is such a program. MCMAP is an ethics-based combatives program consisting of three main elements: (1) character (Ethical Warrior training), (2) mental (military skills and mindset training), and (3) Physical (martial arts and combat conditioning).

Notably, the Ethical Warrior Training is considered to be the core of the program.

Using the methodology and lessons learned from MCMAP, a new kind of moral, mental and physical training can be developed for COIN forces. The "new way forward" in Iraq and other areas experiencing counterinsurgencies will be lead by young men and women with these skills.

A Question of Values

The core of MCMAP is the Ethical Warrior Training. This focus has led to a need for a clarification of the intangibles that make up the Warrior Ethic. Even the USMC Core Values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment required a hard look. After all, don’t our enemies display courage and commitment too?

Yes they do. And there is "honor among thieves." So what makes us different?

We had to go all the way back to our 1776 values for the clue. The foundation of Ethical Warriorship is that "All men are created equal." This often quoted but largely unexamined term pertains to the intrinsic value of life, not to any relative value such as, culture, ethnicity, religion or behavior. One of our mentors at MCMAP, the late Robert Humphrey, called this concept the Life Value.

Insurgents operate as if all men are not created equal. They don’t respect the lives of those they consider non-observant of their fanatic cultural, political, and/or religious values. And they will kill anyone — even innocent women and children — to reach their goals.

Warrior Ethics have respect for human equality as the premise — just as it is stated in our philosophically enabling document, the Declaration of Independence. Warrior Ethics charge us to act differently than insurgents — more respectful of all life — killing only to protect lives and when we have to.

The Ethical Warrior shows respect for the value of life, regardless of the relative values of culture or behavior. This is a nuance that is very hard to put into words. But it is the secret of stopping cross-cultural violence. It may be the secret to winning the global insurgency.

Winning hearts and minds? Respect for culture won’t necessarily do it. Respect for others’ religious beliefs won’t necessarily do it. Our religions, cultures, behaviors may not be reconcilable. However, even when cultures seem irreconcilable, conflict can often be adequately resolved — and the killing stopped — if a deeper, more fundamental universal value can be activated mutually. That value is the life value as expressed by an acknowledgement of human equality.

Let’s not be naïve, American forces must and will close with and kill insurgent combatants. Yet, the role of the Ethical Warrior is not only to kill, but also to protect life. Whose life? Self and others’. Which others? All others, if we can. Even our enemies (as the U.S. forces are often called upon to do), if we can.

The concept of protecting others, especially those not of our "in-group," is a difficult one for us tribally-oriented humans. To risk our lives for others, even strangers, even our enemies, is very anti-intuitive. But there is a great measure of satisfaction in a life lived according to the precept of protecting others — and the key to trumping the conflicting relative values between us.

Ethical Warriors are "protector/defenders." This approach actually makes for more skillful warriors on many levels — able to accurately assess many different kinds of situations and utilize the level of violence appropriate and necessary for each. In other words, Ethical Warriors are nicer when that works, more aggressive when that works — with the ability to make better judgments along the entire continuum of force. People ask: If the program is ethics-based, wouldn’t that tend to make our soldiers and Marines "too nice?" Not to the bad guys it doesn’t. There is only one thing more dangerous than a U.S. Marine, and that is a fired up U.S. Marine in the act of defending his fellow Marines and the innocent people under his protection.

Ethical Warriorship: Risks and Rewards

But this approach is more dangerous for the Ethical Warrior who must get out of the compounds, out of the armored Humvees, and walk the streets with the people. Ultimate success in COIN is gained by Ethical Warriors risking their lives to protect the populace. This buys the time necessary for the countries who struggle with insurgencies to supply the security necessary and the freedoms possible to make it on their own and in their own way as viable, peaceful members of the world community.


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