U.S. Military Academy- Lesson plan — “Morality of Killing”

Morality of Killing
The Morality of Killing
PME2 – Lesson 1-2
Class Date: 14 Feb 2013
Morality of Killing
• Learning Objectives:
– Cadets will understand the moral justification for
killing in war
– Cadets will understand why members of the Army
Profession must study and have professional
discussions about this subject
– Cadets will know that as Officers they must:
• Train their Soldiers to be prepared to kill in combat
• Make the right moral-ethical decisions in war and train their
Soldiers to do the same
• Mitigate, identify symptoms of, and respond to “moral
injury” in their Soldiers and themselves
Morality of Killing
Why talk with Soldiers about the moral
justification of killing?
 Recruited to defend our country and way of life
 Trained to kill
 Equipped to kill
 Prepared to kill when called upon
 May be given orders to kill when required
 Not given an explanation of why killing in war can be
morally justified
Morality of Killing
Why do we need to know a justification for killing?
 Cannot trust our feelings or past experiences
 We (may not or probably do not) have prior experience of killing
 Even the blameless experience feelings of guilt
 To be mentally and morally prepared to ethically apply or give
orders to apply lethal force
 Prevents or reduces moral injury. If you justly kill someone
else, you ought to be able to live at peace with yourself
 Empowers us to talk to fellow Soldiers, family, neighbors,
media, etc., about what Army Professionals must sometimes
Basic Human Rights
By virtue of our humanity, every person
possesses the right to life and self-defense
Forfeiture of Rights
If someone threatens the right of another person’s
right to life, the aggressor forfeits their own right
The Soldier Defender
When a Soldier kills an aggressor who has forfeited his right to
life, that Soldier is doing his or her duty. The defender violates
no one’s rights, and thus he retains his right to life
Forfeiture of Rights
How does a person forfeit their right ?
• By violating or threatening to violate the right of
someone else who possesses the right to life
Shooting at people who possess their right?
Emplacing an IED?
Driving a vehicle that has illegal weapons?
Being a lookout for an insurgent safe house?
Transporting IED components?
Stealing US weapons and equipment?
Financing the insurgency?
Writing anti-coalition graffiti?
Mocking/disrespecting/mutilating US casualties?
Return of Rights
Is the Loss of Rights Permanent?
• No! By virtue of being human, a person defaults to
possessing the right to life when they surrender,
throw down their weapons, or are no longer a
• Threat = Intent + capability
– A wounded, incapacitated insurgent…no capability
– A zip-tied, detained insurgent…no capability
– Visit with an insurgent who is thinking about changing
sides…no intent
– The question of “Immediacy of the threat,” e.g., the
enemy combatant who is peaceful at the moment
Discussion Questions
1. Does this imply that the war has to be “just” for killing
in it to be morally justified?
2. Does a “Just War” require that some moral principles
(e.g., right to life) are universal?
3. What about cases in which the “aggressor” is not as
morally responsible as an attacker on the street?
– Child combatants
– Misinformed soldiers
– Family members accompanying the insurgent
Morality of Killing
Profession’s Moral Vocabulary
• Morally right: to kill someone who has forfeited his
right to life
• Morally wrong: to kill someone who still possesses
their right to life
• Morally excusable: to kill someone whom you
genuinely, reasonably believed to have forfeited
their rights, but in fact had not (The moral fog of
• Wrong is not necessarily blameworthy
• Accidental fratricide
• Unexpected/unplanned Collateral damage
Leading your Soldiers
to fight right
Assess, set and maintain a positive ethical leader/command climate
Lead by example - in word and deed
Demonstrate your Character, Competence, and Commitment by making ethical, effective, and
efficient decisions and acting accordingly
Learn all you can about the culture and origins of the conflict
“Know your enemy as you know yourself” – Tsu Zu
Humanize and respect all people
Talk about and make moral-ethical decisions and anticipate risks and consequences
Wargame, vignettes, what-ifs, use CAPE virtual ethical decision making simulators for training
Lead in the development of character in your Soldiers, inspire their shared identity as Army
Professionals in ethical defense of the Nation, enhance Soldier morale, and motivate unit
esprit de corps
Assign and mentor Battle Buddies – Soldiers have to have a trusted confidant
Acknowledge mistakes and “moral wounds” - discuss, unintended deaths and grievous
wounds – enemy, non-combatants, friendly forces
Identify Soldiers who may be “at risk” to commit unethical acts or be adversely affected by
the violence of combat and provide them caring leadership.
How We Fight
The Army Profession
The Army Professional
Defense of the Constitution
Protection of American People
Prevent/Deter, Shape & Win our
Nation’s Wars
Compliance with Treaties and Law of
Honorable Service to U.S.
Earn & maintain Trust
Ethical application of Landpower
Military Necessity
Distinction (combatants/noncombatants)
Prevent, Avoid, Reduce: Unnecessary
Restraint, Respect, Legitimacy
Accomplish the Mission
Live by the Army Ethic
Values based decisions & actions
Warrior Ethos
Protection of comrades
Protection of innocents
Respect, Restraint
Compliance with Law of War
Duty to Uphold/Enforce discipline and
right conduct
Demonstrate Competence, Character
& Commitment
Stewards others – coach, counsel,
Seeks and accepts responsibility
Accountable for own &unit
Army Professionals are entrusted to accomplish the mission and
defend the innocent by ethical application of lethal/nonlethal force
Every act of killing is a very serious, permanent action that requires
moral justification (often after the act in the heat of battle)
Soldiers only kill those who, by their own threatening actions, have
temporarily forfeited their own right to life (i.e., Combatants vice NonCombatants)
Killing someone, justifiably or accidentally, is upsetting to Soldiers at
some level. That is a normal human reaction
If the killing is morally wrong or the result of an honest mistake, the
psychological impact will likely be much greater
Leaders must address moral injury in their Soldiers and themselves
after every death in the area of operations, training, or in garrison
Learn the signs of combat related stress and moral injury and how to
reduce or mitigate that stress in your Soldiers and yourself (FM6-22.5)
Back-Up Slides
• Following Slides are for additional Information:
Examples of Moral Injury/PTSD from killing in war
Stages of Response to killing in war
Just War and Ethical Application of Landpower
Recommended reading:
• Kilner, Peter. “A Moral Justification for Killing in War,” Army
magazine, February 2010.
• Terkel, Studs. The Good War: An Oral History of World War
II, 1984.
• Grossman, David. On Killing: The Psychological Cost of
Learning to Kill in War and Society, 1996.
“Moral Injury” *
“My son is wrestling with what he did during his deployment. He was
raised Catholic and was taught morality and values. Our son is really
grappling with the fact that he took a human life and I don't know
exactly how to explain it, excuse it, or justify it. I want him to feel
okay with what he did and about himself. I am avoiding the word
forgiven, because I don't feel there is anything to forgive.
We are supportive of his decision to join the military and are very proud
of his accomplishments and ability to do his job effectively. I don't
know how to impress upon him that killing in war is justified and not
the same as murder, and that he did what he was trained to do and
did a good job. Any words of wisdom would be appreciated. “ ---a
Soldier’s Mom
A Lieutenant's Story
The last guy I killed was in a vehicle that came up to my
checkpoint during a HVT raid in Fallujah. He tried to evade, I
opened up as per ROE at the time. I zeroed 28 rounds of a 30round magazine into the passenger and driver. The driver was
hit but not killed, and managed to back his car into his
driveway 300 meters away.
What I’ll never forget about that engagement was listening to
the family react when they saw the inside of the car and their
loved one without a chest. I saw a counselor for about 6
months when I got back. I quit when I could start sleeping
through the night without having to drink a six-pack
beforehand. There are other instances which vary in their
troubling meanings to me, but I think the one above is the
most prevalent.
A Veteran of Honorable Service
He was in active combat in Somalia, Honduras, and Iraq. I think Somalia was the
hardest for him. Yesterday I came into our room and saw him staring at the wall.
He was pale, diaphoretic, and clenching his fists. I have never seen him like this. I
asked if he was ok. This startled him and sort of "woke" him. He said he was fine
and didn’t want to talk about it. Later he told me he has been starting to have
dreams again and has had a few episodes of feeling charged/panicked, but he is
able to regain composure and be fine. We talked at length for the first time about
his dreams and his feelings about the people he killed while in combat. He carries
so much guilt. At the time he just reacted. He is an amazing shot with patience and
near perfect aim. He said at the time there was a moving target and he
reacted. Now he remembers those same incidences and sees their faces. He is
haunted by them. He didn’t want to talk to me or anyone else about it because he
didn’t want to be looked at for what he had done instead of who he is.... Is there
anything you can recommend that I can do or he can do to help deal with his
guilt? I love him dearly, he is amazing. I want him to be free. He has carried this
for so long. He has been out of the service for 8 years now and it is still with him
every day. ---- an Army Wife
Killing Response Stages
1. Concern
about being
able to kill
2. Killing
3. Exhilaration
from Killing or
personal Survival
4. Remorse &
Nausea from
2.x. Inability
to Kill
1.f. Fixation
with ability to
5. Moral or Logical
Rationalization &
2.f. Fixation with
inability to Kill
3.f. Fixation
5.f. Rationalization Fails
(Moral Injury)
4.f. Fixation
with remorse
& guilt
Just War
• Just War theory (jus bellum iustum) is a doctrine, also referred to as a
principle of US military ethics. The purpose of the doctrine is to ensure
war is morally justifiable through a series of, all of which must be met for a
war to be considered just. The criteria are split into two groups:
• The right to go to war (jus ad bellum) – the morality of going to war. The
US Joint doctrine in JP 3-0 recognizes this principle as “Legitimacy” which
has been added to the 9 Principles of War.
• Right conduct in war (jus in bello) – moral conduct within war and war
fighting. The US is a charter signatory to the Geneva Conventions and the
UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Those principles have been
incorporated into the Law of Armed Conflict (FM 27-10/ATP 6-27). The US
Joint doctrine in JP 3-0 recognizes this principle as “Restraint” and
“Respect” which have been added to the Principles of War, which the US
Army Doctrine (ADP/ADRP 1) have further described as “Ethical
Application of Landpower.”
• Just War theory recognizes that while war is terrible, it is not always the
worst option. There may be responsibilities so important, atrocities which
can be prevented or outcomes so undesirable that they justify war.
Final Thoughts
• War is “good” only as the lesser of bad alternatives, and killing
in war is the same.
– Perhaps killing in war is akin to a doctor amputating the
infected limb of a wounded warrior. It is sad and painful,
but it is the right choice among lousy alternatives and
should be done by a skilled professional.
– “Killing a jihadist can be as satisfying as excising a cancerous
tumor.” – a recent Army combat veteran
• We are “as sick as our secrets.” As members of the Army
Profession, we should talk among ourselves about the moral
realities of killing. As an Army Professional it is your Duty to
talk to your Soldiers, peers, mentors and family about this
• LTC Pete Kilner, [email protected]
• Has been studying and writing on this subject
since 1997.
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