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Issue 2019/02

Between Personality Development and Skills Acquisition: Ethics for Soldiers

According to a definition by social ethicist Thomas Bohrmann, the ethical field referred to as military professional ethics aims to investigate ethical principles – such as human dignity and justice – that are relevant to society as a whole and prioritised in the military domain, and to investigate them under the conditions prevalent in the military as a particular sphere of action and experience. 

What does this mean for ethical education in the armed forces?

The conscience, which is shaped by personal experience, represents the final resort in the decision-making process and forms the foundation of soldierly behaviour. Given the moral challenges that can face soldiers in conflict situations, the conscience requires continuous education. 

Soldiers, however, are responsible not only to their conscience, but for it, which is why the military chaplaincy needs to provide orientation for the development of the conscience.

What does this mean for the educational formats offered by zebis?

It is important to respond promptly to current and urgent issues with which soldiers are confronted, which means getting involved in the latest debates around peace and military ethics, and even initiating them.

Working across disciplines to combine the perspectives of ethics, international law, politics, and the military is as important as ensuring obvious internationality in this age of foreign deployments.

Both of these aspects shape the educational work of zebis, which includes seminars and podiums across Germany as well as an international workshop for career officers in Auschwitz. 

As an ecclesiastical education provider to the German armed forces, zebis develops its educational formats on the basis of a theological peace ethic, that of “just peace”, an approach based to the highest degree on the prevention of violence, but which does not seek to avoid the questions of an age so permeated by it.

The foundational ethical educational work of the military chaplaincy is provided first and foremost in Lebenskundlicher Unterricht (LKU, or character guidance training), which zebis supports by regularly training military chaplains.

Key to this is our Online Teaching Portal which is being expanded step by step, with its integrated media library. The working materials available there for LKU are fed by the latest academic discussions as well as the practical experience of military chaplains.

Our international e-journal Ethics and Armed Forces represents the third of zebis’ working areas alongside training events and the Teaching Portal. To complement the latter, which supplies content specially to be imparted in LKU, our e-journal provides a broader readership with access to the latest discussions on peace and military ethics, as well as security policy.

This issue, entitled “Between Personality Development and Skills Acquisition: Ethics for Soldiers”, discusses key issues: what are ethics and why do soldiers in the German armed forces require ethical training? How do military professional ethics relate to peace ethics? How can and should ethics be taught, and what role does Lebenskundlicher Unterricht play? 

This publication largely avoids the discussion of concepts and positions from outside Germany for reasons of space. We plan to treat this subject in another edition.

I would like to express my thanks to the authors of the contributions and to all those who were involved in the production of this issue. As always, I wish you, dear readers, an informative read of Ethics and Armed Forces.

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