Duty Should Not Be an Army Value


Charles J. Duncan


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A German firing squad executes Soviet partisans

Edwin Stanton, Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war, once received in his office the mother, wife, and children of a deserter. At the time, the typical sentence for desertion was death since any amount of leniency was thought to encourage other soldiers to desert as well. The family pleaded for the life of their loved one while Stanton stood “in cold and austere silence,” and “at the end of their heart-breaking sobs and prayers answered briefly that the man must die.” Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin describes what happened next, from the point of view of Stanton’s clerk:

The crushed and despairing little family left and Mr. Stanton turned, apparently unmoved, and walked into his private room.” The clerk thought Stanton an unfeeling tyrant, until he discovered him moments later, “leaning over a desk, his face buried in his hands and his heavy frame shaking with sobs. ‘God help me to do my duty; God help me to do my duty!’ he was repeating in a low wail of anguish.”1

Stanton epitomizes duty, defined by the Army as “fulfilling one’s obligations,” and whether he was right to decide on execution, his evident compassion and moral fortitude deserve our admiration.2 But when we consider which virtues should be a part of our core values, we should not allow emotionally compelling stories like this one to cloud our moral judgment. There is a dark side to duty that is not often discussed in the armed services, and it should cause us to question whether it should be included in the seven Army Values that are taught to incoming recruits. We will return to Stanton after we have examined the arguments against duty more fully.

Duty Is Logically Unnecessary

The case against duty rests on three arguments: (1) duty is philosophically superfluous, (2) duty can morally blind us, and (3) duty can overpower conscience. Let us start with the first argument.

Suppose a soldier is ordered to kill innocent civilians by a superior. Most ethicists would probably agree that this soldier should refuse such an order; we might say they have a duty to disobey. But the only way to reach this conclusion is to apply moral values other than duty, because if we rely on duty alone, we are simply presented with two mutually exclusive obligations—the duty to obey orders generally, and the duty to disobey immoral ones—with no way to adjudicate between them. This renders duty as a moral value logically unnecessary. If the ethics of duty are entirely contingent upon the application of other values, why not just skip the middleman and appeal directly to the moral principles that can stand on their own?

For example, it is generally unnecessary to ask oneself if an action is too selfless or too respectful from a moral point of view. Rather, in almost all possible scenarios, it is safe to assume that the more selfless, more respectful action is the right one.

But this first argument against duty could perhaps be used against values like personal courage and integrity. After all, many soldiers have fought bravely for the wrong side of a conflict, and most people would probably consider it immoral to truthfully inform the slave catcher that there is an escaped slave hiding in the cellar. However, an important difference distinguishes courage and integrity from duty: these values do not cloud our judgment in the same way that duty does. In fact, courage and integrity are sometimes necessary to admit to ourselves that what we are doing is wrong, whereas duty, as we will see in the next section, often works to discourage moral deliberation.

This abstract discussion is not merely academic; duty’s essential neutrality with respect to the rightness or wrongness of orders has consequences in the real world because when flawed human beings are presented with mutually exclusive obligations, they sometimes resolve their confusion by defaulting to whichever duties seem easiest to fulfill at the time, especially if they are tired, hungry, short on time, worried about their careers, influenced by peer pressure, or facing conditions of uncertainty. Even in cases where these more proximate factors are not in play, the same impulse to choose the easier wrong can result from bureaucratic inertia, lack of self-reflection, or just ordinary laziness.

Consider Adolf Eichmann, who was hanged for crimes against humanity—that is, mistakenly choosing his legal duty to organize the transportation of Jews to extermination camps over his moral duty not to help kill innocent people.3 According to the philosopher Hannah Arendt, one important insight to be gleaned from his trial was that “so many were like him [Eichmann], and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.”4 Eichmann told the police and the court repeatedly that “he did his duty … [that] he not only obeyed orders, he also obeyed the law.”5

Adolf Eichmann

We should not make the mistake of assuming, simply because they are American rather than some other nationality, that American soldiers are incapable of acting similarly if they are told by their superiors that it is their duty. Indeed, the political theorist Michael Walzer has described how people apparently differ greatly in their predispositions to following immoral orders. At My Lai, where American soldiers massacred hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese civilians, the soldiers fell into several camps; some ran or resisted for a period of time, some even interposed themselves to stop the slaughter, but a number of them joined the murders “readily enough, as if eager to kill without risk.”6

Furthermore, the Eichmann case shows us why invoking Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 6-22, Army Leadership and the Profession, and advising soldiers to refuse illegal orders or to seek legal advice for complex questions is not always helpful and may even backfire.7 Eichmann felt his behavior was defensible precisely because it was legal. The other common injunction from ADP 6-22, to refuse immoral and unethical orders, is essential, of course, but not especially helpful for deciding what to do in a specific circumstance because in war it is often not so clear what the moral choice is.8 This brings us to the second argument against duty.

Duty Is Morally Blinding

We have seen how even relatively normal people, if they don’t think carefully enough, can choose the wrong duty; now we arrive at the second argument: that duty can, without our knowledge, blind us to the many psychological tendencies that lead to unethical behavior. Let’s examine a few of those tendencies.

One we might call gradualism: the tendency to commit greater and greater wrongs one small step at a time. For example, the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker points out that the Nazis did not implement their “Final Solution” right away; first there was political disenfranchisement, harassment, ghettoization, and then deportation. It is easier to commit an evil act if it is not so different from what is already common practice.9

Gradualism exerts its power not only on people like the architects of the Final Solution but also on individual criminals and government employees charged with carrying out orders. Roy Baumeister, a psychology professor at the University of Queensland, describes how rapists, institutional torturers, Mafia hitmen, and even soldiers can sometimes become addicted to killing and hurting people in much the same way that people become addicted to drugs. Several serial killers got their start in Vietnam after discovering how enjoyable it could be to kill other people.10 This cannot be easily explained away by faulty genes or mental illness since some cultures and eras produce far more serial killers than others.11

Another tendency is our willingness to displace responsibility when we are part of a system in which each individual has only a small part to play in the overall outcome. Baumeister illustrates the point by noting that during the Spanish Inquisition, Catholic clergy decided sentences, but secular authorities carried them out; that way, both the inquisitors and the executioners could sleep soundly at night.12

An auto-da-fé

The Stanford neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky describes another example, this time proving that bureaucratic distance is not always necessary for this human defense mechanism to kick in. The reason that firing squads tend to be composed of five executioners is that each member becomes less likely to object to a killing if he believes that his bullet alone may not have been lethal or may even have missed completely. The smartest autocrats, Sapolsky adds, have even learned that randomly assigning one blank round to each execution enhances efficiency still further, precisely because it gives each member of the firing squad a way to excuse his own behavior.13

Finally, researchers have found that since the human brain functions in large part by categorizing objects and assigning qualities to them, we find it quite natural to recategorize each other—and even ourselves—as something other than free agents with similar hopes and fears.14 For example, during war, many soldiers categorize their adversaries as “targets,” “the enemy,” or even “gooks” or “hajjis.”15 This probably makes it easier to kill them during battle. Baumeister relates an instance, though, that demonstrates that this mental categorization can be flipped under the right conditions. During the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, the famous writer and moralist George Orwell was about to fire on a fascist soldier who was relieving himself in no-man’s land. When Orwell’s fellow soldiers opened fire on the fascists, the man Orwell was aiming at fled while using both hands to hold up his trousers. Orwell admitted later that he could not bring himself to shoot at the man because “a man who is holding up his trousers is not a ‘fascist.’ He is visibly a fellow creature.”16 The story is instructive because it reveals how the default way of viewing someone on the opposing side of a conflict is not as a fellow creature but as something less than fully human.17

This tendency to dehumanize other people has been proven in numerous experiments. To give just one example, psychologist Albert Bandura, a professor emeritus at Stanford University, was able to increase how much his subjects administered electric shocks to people of a different ethnic group simply by allowing them to overhear one experimenter derogating the group as “animalistic.”18

It is even possible to recategorize ourselves. Anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon, who spent decades living with the Yanomamo in the Venezuelan Amazon, wrote that before a raid, his hosts would undergo a frightening, eerie ritual wherein the warriors would scream and growl like carnivorous animals.19 After the raid, any unokai (men who had killed another man during the raid) would undergo a purification ceremony followed by ritual confinement.20 Both of these kinds of rituals formally separate a soldier into two identities: the peaceful, innocent civilian; and the ferocious, morally compromised killer. Although modern armies do not employ rituals quite like these, they do employ other means of accomplishing the same thing. For example, shaving recruits’ heads during Basic Training, standardizing uniforms, enforcing strict rank hierarchies, and the once common practice of “hazing rituals” all partly serve to enforce the mental categorization switch of an innocent, individualistic civilian to a member of a lethal collective. But there is a downside to exploiting this part of our psychology: one study indicated that traditional human societies that adopt a standard battle dress are more likely to torture and mutilate their enemies than ones that do not.21 Sapolsky suggests that the goal of such deindividuation practices is not so much to ensure that the enemy won’t be able to recognize you afterward so much as “to facilitate moral disengagement so that you won’t be able to recognize you afterward.”22

The point of all these experiments and examples is not to show that duty always causes people to act unethically, nor to equate the U.S. Army with the Schutzstaffel (SS) or tribal warriors, but rather to show how the human moral sense can be disengaged or even co-opted for evil ends when a task is perceived to be a duty. Instead of acting as a check on immoral behavior, as integrity and courage do, the historical and experimental record suggests that a sense of duty is often a prerequisite for it.

Duty Trumps Conscience

The final argument against duty considers not just when duty opens the door to unwitting evil, but when duty causes decent, ethical people—who have correctly perceived the wrongness of an act—to go ahead and do it anyway.

In the early 1960s, an assistant professor at Yale University named Stanley Milgram set up an experiment in which “teachers,” led to believe they were assisting the experimenters in a scientific study on how punishment affects learning, read word pairs aloud to “learners,” who unbeknownst to the teachers were actually confederates of the experimenters. The teachers then tested the learners on how well they had supposedly memorized the word pairs. Every time a learner answered incorrectly, the teachers were supposed to administer an electric shock, with the voltage increasing with each wrong answer. The teacher and learner were physically separated so that the teachers could not tell that the “answers” they were really hearing were prerecorded sounds corresponding to different shock levels. As the voltage increased, the teachers heard the “learners” audibly protesting, banging on the walls, and eventually falling completely silent. Crucially, an experimenter stood by observing the teacher’s performance and instructing them to continue if they paused to question what they were doing.23

Left Quote

The experiment revealed a disturbing truth: that most people will torture an innocent human being to death as long as they are coaxed on by an authority figure.

Right Quote

The experiment revealed a disturbing truth: that most people will torture an innocent human being to death as long as they are coaxed on by an authority figure. Although many subjects became visibly distressed at the learners’ pleas (“Experimenter, get me out of here! I won’t be in the experiment any more! I refuse to go on!”), 80 percent of them continued the shocks at least past the point where the learners’ cries became “agonized screams” (270 volts, the setting that bore the warning: “Intense Shock”), 65 percent continued past the point where the learner stopped providing answers (labeled “345 volts—Extreme Intensity Shock”), and 62.5 percent kept shocking the learner’s presumably dead or unconscious body all the way to the final voltage setting (labeled “450 Volts—XXX”) before the experimenters finally intervened to end the experiment.24

This result belied the predictions of professional psychiatrists and behavioral scientists, who told Milgram through a survey that they believed only 1–2 percent of subjects would continue the experiment all the way through the final shock. If even the experts grossly underestimate how far other people will go to avoid disobeying authority figures, we can assume that the rest of us are hopelessly apt to make the same mistake—and to an even greater extent when predicting our own behavior.25

Jerry Burger, a professor at Santa Clara University, replicated Milgram’s experiments in 2008, confirming that the dutiful part of our nature that urges us to obey immoral orders is still very much with us. While Burger appropriately recommends caution when extrapolating his laboratory results to the more complicated world outside the ivory tower, Milgram’s classic studies were nevertheless granted real-world validation by American soldiers in Iraq, whose behavior we turn to next.26

A Modern Case Study

It could be said that, so far, the case against duty fails because American soldiers fight in just wars and are trained on how to apply the law of war in an ethical way. But this would be a mistake.

Detainee Abdou Hussain Saad Faleh

In 2004, the world learned how detainees were treated at the American detention facility Abu Ghraib. According to Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba’s AR 15-6 investigation, detainees were beaten, piled naked on top of one another, forced to masturbate for cameras, and subjected to numerous other forms of abuse.27 A few incidents veer into even more extreme territory: one detainee was sodomized with a chemical light, and another was asphyxiated (albeit accidentally) in a manner similar to a crucifixion or strappado hanging—that is, suspended by the shoulders with hands tied behind the back.28

The Abu Ghraib case bears a disquieting resemblance to the historical atrocities we encountered earlier, particularly with respect to the corrupting influence duty had on the participants. For instance, we see diffusion of responsibility between soldiers who believed they were following orders and lawyers who probably never stepped foot in an interrogation room. We also see confusion about which mutually exclusive duties to fulfill, extending from the enlisted military police all the way to the general officers. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the Combined Joint Task Force 7 commander, asked his staff at the time, “How do we ensure that we have the right mechanisms in place that allow our interrogators to push the limit of our authorities yet prevent a violation of the Geneva Convention and our duty to treat detainees humanely?”29 He also noted, correctly, that field manuals and doctrine had little to say about how to resolve the conflict because the relevant ethical issues were “beyond the scope” of such documents.30 The enlisted soldiers expressed their confusion as well; Spc. Megan Ambuhl lamented, “You’re taught from the very beginning that you have to follow your orders, and if you don’t you’re going to get in trouble … And if you do, obviously you’ll end up in trouble if someone finds out and they didn’t like the orders that you were given.”31

Contrary to what Ambuhl implies, there is no evidence that any orders or policy guidance from the soldiers’ superiors explicitly instructed them to pile the naked detainees into a human pyramid, lead them by a leash around the neck, or force them into sexually explicit positions, to say nothing of physical and sexual assaults.32 But if we extend a modicum of charity to the soldiers’ perspective, it is not so hard to understand why many of them felt bewildered by the institutional backlash to their behavior. For one thing, they worked alongside both military intelligence soldiers and Central Intelligence Agency officers as they “set physical and mental conditions” for interrogations, and it was not unreasonable to suppose that experienced CIA interrogators knew better than they did what was permitted and what was not.33 For another, we should note that Department of Defense policy did at one point authorize the use of stress positions, removal of clothing, and hoods on detainees, although the use of “scenarios designed to convince the detainee that death or severely painful consequences are imminent” was only deemed “legally available.”34 If we apply this standard to the most infamous photograph from Abu Ghraib, of a man standing on a box, hooded, with his arms outstretched and electrodes in his hands, then the soldiers’ actions were morally permissible; the problem is that they didn’t verify that the interrogators had the authorization they claimed to have—a bureaucratic oversight rather than a gross human rights violation.

Here, too, we see the pernicious effects of gradualism come into full force. Spc. Sabrina Harman describes the gradual way in which the soldiers came to dehumanize the detainees:

In the beginning you see somebody naked, and you see underwear on their head, and you’re like, Oh, that’s pretty bad—I can’t believe I just saw that. And then you go to bed and you come back the next day, and you see something worse. Well it seems like the day before wasn’t so bad.35

For soldiers who are tired, under near-daily bombardment, severely underresourced, and untrained, it is not obvious that putting naked detainees in stress positions every day, putting hoods over their heads, yelling at them, and finding creative ways to humiliate and terrify them is all acceptable—obligatory—but putting these same detainees into a pile and taking a picture is suddenly a despicable criminal offense.36

Finally, and most poignantly, we see the agonizing surrender of conscience to duty in Harman’s letters home, which express her inner turmoil even as she reluctantly participates in the abuse.37 Harman was convicted, in a bit of cosmic irony, of dereliction of duty.38

Of course, many factors other than duty contributed to the abuse, including the lack of officer supervision at the prison, dysfunctional command relationships at upper echelons, and the presence of largely unaccountable contractors.39 But in war, it should be expected that leaders will be stretched thin, supplies scarce, and organization haphazard. These considerations do not obviate the Army’s responsibility to do everything it can to ensure soldiers behave ethically even when no one is watching, nor should they cause us to conclude that Abu Ghraib was the result of unusually bad luck.

On the contrary, the bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee Report on Abu Ghraib in 2008 concluded explicitly that the cause of the abuses was not “a few soldiers acting on their own”; it was that policies made further up the chain of command set a standard for how detainees could be treated, and a moral “erosion in standards” ensued.40 Dr. Philip Zimbardo, an eminent Stanford University psychology professor who was asked to testify on behalf of the perpetrators, fleshes out this idea more. Based on his work and the work of other psychologists, Zimbardo argued that most people who find themselves in a place like Abu Ghraib will cave to the situational forces that impel them to commit evil: “It’s the exceptional person, the heroic person who can somehow resist.”41 Perhaps that is why dozens of people participated in or ignored the abuse rather than report it.42

Is Duty Indispensable?

There are a few ways to argue that the Army should continue to consider duty one of its core values. First, some might argue that the word itself is not really understood by any reasonable person to be sanctioning immoral behavior. It would be needlessly pedantic to anticipate every possible way a definition could be misconstrued and then append all the qualifications necessary to refute them. But this objection does not really account for how human beings make decisions. Cultural psychologists have shown that people often make subconscious decisions by asking themselves, “Is this the kind of place where people do X?”43 If an organizational culture successfully propagates the idea that it is a virtue to “do your duty,” then it is implicitly understood that refusing to do your duty is wrong. Teenagers who find themselves in a situation like Abu Ghraib may subconsciously ask themselves, “Is this the sort of place where people are encouraged to voice their dissent, or is it the sort of place where people are expected to follow orders?”

Another argument is that without a sense of duty drilled into new soldiers, units will descend into anarchy and inefficiency as subordinates stop to question every order issued by their superiors. This is a dubious claim. As the examples provided above should make clear, the experimental and historical evidence strongly suggests that people are by nature far too dutiful rather than too rebellious, and many other kinds of organizations manage to foster a sense of mission and esprit de corps without extolling the virtues of duty.

Left Quote

There’s a dark side to this surrender [to duty], however. You impair, and in some cases lose altogether, your ability to make sound judgments.

Right Quote

However, some traditionalists may argue that the Army is unique—most corporations do not expect their employees to dodge bullets or improvised explosive devices—and so a sense of duty is indispensable for military soldiers. But this might be a case of the focusing illusion, what Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Laureate in Economics, coined our tendency to exaggerate the importance of ideas while we happen to be thinking about them.44 In other words, when we ponder duty in a safe classroom, we may tend to overstate just how much it matters to someone who is being shot at. In his aptly titled book What It Is Like to Go to War, Karl Marlantes describes several more prosaic motivations for soldiers in combat, like self-preservation, unthinking reflex, fear of the consequences of disobeying, and even pleasure.45 Notably, his treatment of duty as a motivation is deeply ambivalent. He writes:

There’s a dark side to this surrender [to duty], however. You impair, and in some cases lose altogether, your ability to make sound judgments as an individual, whether in the mud of war with all these frightened kids around you or in the battle for corporate survival. You are far more likely to engage in groupthink. You are far more likely to go along with the bad assumptions, the wrong perceptions of reality. The primary reason for this abandonment of the individual viewpoint is simply that with so much pain and grief going on, who would want to make individual judgments? This would entail taking responsibility for the pain.46

Our natural inclination, it seems, is to be blindly dutiful at precisely the moments we most need to be thinking clearly.

Also, history shows that even untrained civilians who were never part of a dutiful culture usually prove themselves just as capable of heroics when the circumstances warrant it. For example, ordinary human beings consistently risked their lives to help strangers during the Blitz of London, and more recently the Federal Emergency Management Agency has actually expressed concern that too many untrained volunteers rushed to help during the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 and during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.47 Apparently, we do not need to be indoctrinated with any formal code in order to act altruistically because, as some psychologists have argued, it is already coded into our DNA.48

So, is duty indispensable? Unless its defenders can make a convincing argument that units will perform worse in combat and commit more war crimes if they go out of their way to encourage respectful dissent instead of dutifulness, then the answer seems to be no.

What Is to Be Done?

Cultural change cannot be brought about overnight, but as long as Army recruits are expected to learn the Army values in basic training, regurgitate them at promotion boards, and incorporate them into their personal ethical codes, the Army will continue to perpetuate moral confusion and increase the likelihood of misjudgments on the battlefield.

The best course of action would be to entirely abolish the seven core Army Values and start from scratch. In addition to the arguments presented here against making duty an official virtue, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Pete Kilner, the chair of character development at West Point, has convincingly argued that loyalty is also overvalued; it is no accident, in Kilner’s view, that loyalty happens to be the favorite virtue of despots and criminal bosses around the world.49 In another edition of the same magazine, I reviewed the work of psychologists, political scientists, and sociologists who consistently find that people raised in a culture that values honor also tend to be more prone to unjustified violence, including not only bar-goers who fight over parking spots but also presidents making decisions about war and peace.50 The Army has changed its values at least three times in the last half century, so if three of the Army’s seven core values are on questionable ground, perhaps it is not so radical to change them once more.51

Another option for change, less preferred but far more politically and logistically feasible, is adjusting the Army’s official conception of duty and the way it trains its soldiers. Perhaps “fulfill your obligations” could be replaced with “fulfill your obligations, to your team and to yourself.” This would convey the importance of listening to one’s conscience rather than blindly obeying questionable orders. The rest of the definition should not emphasize teamwork quite so much—peer pressure and diffusion of responsibility, as we have seen, is a powerful motivator for unethical behavior, and human beings find that teamwork comes naturally anyway—but should include a sentence about acting ethically even when it is hard.52

The existing ethics training material produced at the Center for the Army Profession and Leadership appropriately covers the three main schools of ethics: virtue ethics, utilitarianism, and deontology (rule-based ethics).53 However, the curriculum could be improved if it also included experiments like Milgram’s and case studies like Abu Ghraib. Classroom instruction that relies on obviously contrived scenarios will not capture an audience’s attention as fully, nor evoke as much self-reflection, as real-world examples; and bullet points that describe our psychological biases will be met with skepticism or apathy unless they are accompanied by the often-fascinating scientific evidence that supports them.

Stanton Revisited

I have tried to make the case that duty is at best an unhelpful moral guide, and at worst a justification for atrocities. But if it is so harmful, what are we to make of people like Stanton? What sets them apart cannot be duty because many people fulfill their (perceived) obligations with gusto, whether they are power-hungry bureaucrats, religious fanatics, cutthroat CEOs, terrorists—and yes, even soldiers carrying out immoral orders. Stanton, however, freely chose to commit himself to the right cause, namely preserving the Union and abolishing slavery, and then he worked himself nearly to collapse in defense of it. What we admire about him is not his deference to Lincoln’s authority—in fact, he was quite outspoken about his disagreements with the president—but his profound compassion for his fellow human beings, his resolve in the face of physical exhaustion and emotional anguish, and his sound moral judgment.54

What constitutes good moral judgment is a very difficult question, but we do know that “duty” offers us nothing toward the attainment of it, and any military or political leader who finds that they cannot inspire soldiers’ devotion to a mission, except by appealing to duty, should ask themselves if the mission in question is really justifiable.

Meanwhile, the question Army ethicists should ask themselves is: Which virtues or principles are not entirely contingent upon the application of others? And which ones tend to illuminate moral questions rather than muddy them? Some values, like selfless service and integrity, pass this test. Duty does not.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of Military Review, the Army University Press, the U.S. Army, or the Department of Defense.


  1. Doris K. Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005), 671.
  2. “The Army Values,” Army.mil, accessed 25 April 2022, https://www.army.mil/values/.
  3. Encyclopedia Britannica Online, Academic ed., s.v. “Adolf Eichmann,” accessed 22 February 2022, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Adolf-Eichmann.
  4. Hannah Arendt and Amos Elon, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (London: Penguin Books, 2006), 276.
  5. Ibid., 135.
  6. Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars (New York: Basic Books, 1977), 310.
  7. Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 6-22, Army Leadership and the Profession (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Publishing Office [GPO], 25 November 2019), 1-3–1-4, accessed 22 February 2022, https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/ARN20039-ADP_6-22-001-WEB-0.pdf.
  8. Ibid., 1-4.
  9. Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Viking Penguin, 2011), 566.
  10. Roy Baumeister, Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty (New York: W. H. Freeman, 1997), 345.
  11. Ibid., 345–46.
  12. Ibid., 496.
  13. Robert Sapolsky, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (London: Penguin Random House, 2017), 472.
  14. Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works (New York: Penguin Books, 2015), 306–13.
  15. Pete Kilner, “Know Thy Enemy: Better Understanding Foes Can Prevent Debilitating Hatred,” Army 67, no. 7 (July 2017), accessed 31 May 2022, https://www.ausa.org/articles/know-thy-enemy.
  16. Baumeister, Evil, 318.
  17. Ibid., 318–19.
  18. Albert Bandura, Bill Underwood, and Michael E. Fromson, “Disinhibition of Aggression through Diffusion of Responsibility and Dehumanization of Victims,” Journal of Research in Personality 9 (1975): 259, accessed 25 April 2022, http://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Bandura/Bandura1975.pdf.
  19. Napoleon Chagnon, Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes—The Yanomamo and the Anthropologists (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013), 82–84.
  20. Ibid., 92.
  21. Sapolsky, Behave, 473.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), 17–23.
  24. Ibid., 23, 24, 34.
  25. Ibid., 31.
  26. Jerry Burger, “Replicating Milgram: Would People Still Obey Today?,” American Psychologist 64, no. 1 (2009), 9–10, https://doi.org/10.1037/a0010932.
  27. Antonio M. Taguba, “AR 15-6 Investigation of the 800th Military Police Brigade,” 27 May 2004, 16–17, accessed 3 June 2022, https://www.esd.whs.mil/Portals/54/Documents/FOID/Reading%20Room/Detainne_Related/TAGUBA_REPORT_CERTIFICATIONS.pdf.
  28. Ibid., 17; Jane Mayer, “A Deadly Interrogation: Can the C.I.A. Legally Kill a Prisoner?,” The New Yorker (website), 14 November 2005, accessed 22 February 2022, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2005/11/14/a-deadly-interrogation.
  29. Senate Committee on Armed Services, 110th Cong., Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody (Comm. Print 2008), 165, accessed 22 February 2022, https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Detainee-Report-Final_April-22-2009.pdf.
  30. Ibid.
  31. Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris, The Ballad of Abu Ghraib (New York: Penguin, 2009), 164.
  32. Christopher Graveline and Michael Clemens, The Secrets of Abu Ghraib Revealed: American Soldiers on Trial (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2010), 300.
  33. Taguba, “AR 15-6 Investigation,” 18.
  34. William J. Haynes II, general counsel of the Department of Defense, to Secretary of Defense, memorandum, “Counter-Resistance Techniques,” 27 November 2002, accessed 22 February 2022, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB127/02.12.02.pdf; Memorandum for Commander, Joint Task Force 170, “Request for Approval of Counter-Resistance Strategies,” 11 October 2002, accessed 22 February 2022, https://www.esd.whs.mil/Portals/54/Documents/FOID/Reading%20Room/Detainne_Related/Request_for_approval_of_counter-resistance_strategies_08F0130_Final.pdf.
  35. Gourevitch and Morris, The Ballad of Abu Ghraib, 106.
  36. Ibid., 81–82; AR 15-6, Procedures for Administrative Investigations and Boards of Officers; Anthony R. Jones, AR 15-6 Investigation of the Abu Ghraib Prison and 205th Military Intelligence Brigade (Buffalo, NY: William S. Hein, 2005), 3, 26, accessed 22 February 2022, https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=451656; Taguba, “AR 15-6 Investigation,” 26.
  37. Gourevitch and Morris, The Ballad of Abu Ghraib, 110–11, 200–1.
  38. The Associated Press, “Soldier Is Found Guilty in Abu Ghraib Abuse,” New York Times (website), 17 May 2005, accessed 22 February 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/17/us/soldier-is-found-guilty-in-abu-ghraib-abuse.html.
  39. Jones, AR 15-6 Investigation, 17; Gourevitch and Morris, The Ballad of Abu Ghraib, 106; Taguba, “AR 15-6 Investigation,” 26.
  40. Senate Committee on Armed Services, Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees, xii.
  41. Graveline and Clemens, The Secrets of Abu Ghraib Revealed: American Soldiers on Trial, 178.
  42. George R. Fay, AR 15-6 Investigation of the Abu Ghraib Prison and 205th Military Intelligence Brigade (Buffalo, NY: William S. Hein, 2005), 7–8.
  43. Vivian Wagner, “Littering and Following the Crowd,” The Atlantic (website), 1 August 2014, accessed 22 February 2022, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/08/littering-and-following-the-crowd/374913/.
  44. Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (London: Penguin Random House UK, 2012), 402.
  45. Karl Marlantes, What It Is Like to Go to War (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011), 26, 30, 77, 139.
  46. Ibid., 142.
  47. Gavin Mortimer, The Longest Night: The Bombing of London on May 10, 1941 (New York: Penguin Group, 2005), 206, 229–33, 303–4; Devlin Barrett, “ID Program Limits Volunteers at Disasters,” The Seattle Times (website), 2 September 2007, accessed 22 February 2022, https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/id-program-limits-volunteers-at-disasters/.
  48. Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (New York: Pantheon Books, 2012), 158–59.
  49. “Peter Kilner,” U.S. Military Academy at West Point, accessed 22 February 2022, https://www.westpoint.edu/simon-center-professional-military-ethic/profile/peter_kilner; Pete Kilner, “Is Loyalty Overvalued?,” Army 67, no. 12 (December 2017), accessed 22 February 2022, https://www.ausa.org/articles/loyalty-overvalued.
  50. Charles Duncan, “Honor Has No Merit as One of the Army Values,” Army 69, no. 2 (February 2019), 13–14.
  51. “Summary Lists of the Evolution of the Army Values, 1970-Present (as of: 1 Oct 18),” Center for the Army Profession and Leadership, 1 October 2018, accessed 22 February 2022, https://capl.army.mil/character-development-project/repository/summary-lists-evolution-of-army-values.pdf.
  52. Haidt, The Righteous Mind, 221.
  53. “Army Ethic Development Course,” Center for the Army Profession and Leadership, accessed 22 February 2022, https://capl.army.mil/army-ethic-development-course/parts.php.
  54. Goodwin, Team of Rivals, 560, 669–70.


Charles J. Duncan graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and went on to serve with the 10th Mountain Division and the 66th Military Intelligence Brigade. He also completed a deployment to Paktiya and Logar Provinces, Afghanistan, in 2013–2014 for Operation Enduring Freedom.


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September-October 2022