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Military Ethics Education – Bridging the Gap or Deepening the Chasm?

By Dragan Stanar

Samuel P. Huntington's understanding of civil-military relations, as he developed it in his work “The Soldier and the State”, still sets the standard today. It follows the logic of the strict, profound and clear-cut separation of military and politics. Contemporary professional armed forces appear to be the realization of Huntington's ideal.

Such strict military professionalism involves separation from the rest of society. Though advisable in some respects, it tends to widen the gap between civil society and the military. This is not only due to a lack of knowledge or increasing disinterest in all things military in civil society, but is also reflected in isolation and alienation on the part of the armed forces. The example of the US also provides valuable insights for European societies. Particularly worrying are feelings of superiority as a reaction to the frequently occurring loss of importance of professional armed forces in society, which promote mistrust of political decision-makers, disinterest in the political consequences of military decisions or even contempt for civil society and thus further deepen the civil-military gap.

To counteract this, experts recommend the (re)introduction of some model of mandatory military service as well as adapting and improving the education of military personnel, especially the officer corps. As there has been no trend towards the former in Europe to date, the second approach must be prioritized. Military ethics education must convey the exceptional moral status of military service and contribute to the internalization of a demanding professional ethos, without at the same time further nurturing harmful feelings of superiority. The aim is to strengthen the (almost metaphysical) bond between a nation and its armed forces by “peopleizing” alienated professional armies.

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