[April 26, 2021] In the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers (2001), Episode 5, Lieutenant Winters gives the task of escorting German prisoners to the rear.1 He tells one of his trigger-happy soldiers, You’ve got on round [of ammo] … I want to make sure all the prisoners make it.
There is a lesson in ethics in this scene. Winters cannot trust the soldier to do the right thing, so he puts that soldier into a position where he cannot do wrong without risking his own life. In war, as in our daily lives, there are times we must insist others simply do the right thing.
“Ethics is nothing else than reverence for life.” – Albert Schweitzer, French-German physician, theologian, and philosopher
Ethics, or simple honesty, are the building blocks upon which our society rests. Our military, the economy, government, religion are all able to conduct their missions if they are set upon honest standards.
All groups – organizations and societies – are judged by their social standards. And, those with the highest of ethics are held in the highest esteem. Dr. Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto argues that the most basic of ethics is derived from inherited traits of survival. While his argument is downplayed, Peterson’s main idea is that humans must have ethical standards; else, they melt into the goo of chaos and destruction.
I witnessed ethics in combat during the military trials of many Iraqi insurgents. Each man (yes, they were all men) had been found with prohibited weapons or explosives with the intent to kill coalition soldiers and contractors. Each was tried in a court of law established by the United States and based upon U.S. law.
Physical evidence is often lost on the battlefield when capturing prisoners. Thus, many of those tried were released after coalition witnesses failed to provide sufficient evidence of insurgent activities. “We knew they were guilty. They knew they were guilty. But we released them with the message that we would set an ethical standard and not deviate from it.”
Someday, we will only have one round. This round we may never use, but we will be required to do what is right.