The Army Officers' Professional Ethic--Past, Present, and Future

  • January 01, 2010
  • COL Matthew Moten

Colonel Matthew Moten of the West Point History Department has asked why so many other professions have clear statements of professional responsibility, but the Army officer corps does not. This essay briefly surveys the history of the Army’s professional ethic, focusing primarily on the officer corps. It assesses today’s strategic, professional, and ethical environment. Then it argues that a clear statement of the Army officers’ professional ethic is especially necessary in a time when the Army is stretched and stressed as an institution. The Army officer corps has both a need and an opportunity to better define itself as a profession, forthrightly to articulate its professional ethic, and clearly to codify what it means to be a military professional. Finally, the monograph articulates such an ethic focusing on the four roles of commissioned officers—Soldier, servant of the nation, leader of character, and member of a time-honored profession.

NB:
In the Fall of 2013, the author of this monograph, Army Colonel Matthew Moten, chose to retire amid reports of his reprimand for misconduct and removal as head of the U.S. Military Academy's History Department, following an investigation of allegations made against him. Published in 2010, this monograph presents the results of Colonel Moten's critical analysis of an issue important to the Army: deepening our understanding of what the Professional Military Ethic means to the profession today. The monograph remains a solid contribution to the dialogue among professionals the Army leadership sought to ignite. In particular, readers should note well Moten's closing paragraphs:

"Before the Army accepts such a statement of its professional ethic, much debate is in order. Should we use hard phrases such as "total accountability" and "unlimited liability?" What are officers' core responsibilities as leaders and how far do they extend?

How concisely should we explicate our adherence to the principle of civilian control? Should we espouse nonpartisanship as part of our ethic? The debate required to answer such questions will provide impetus for an Army-wide discussion about the profession, its ethical values, and the role that it should play as a servant of American society in the future. Let it begin."

We, at the U.S. Army War College believe the conversation on the Army's professional ethic must continue, and still find value in Moten's 2010 work, notwithstanding the situation that led to his relief.