The British Army, like other professions, expects and requires its soldiers to uphold key values.
Whether they are on operations, in barracks or on leave, all ranks should display courage, discipline, respect, integrity and loyalty.
In this sense, the soldier is no different to any other professional, be they a doctor, a lawyer or a teacher. We rely on professionals to be disciplined and respectful, to show integrity and loyalty and, where appropriate, to take courageous decisions.
In fact, the five virtues outlined here are the bedrock of what the Army calls values and standards.
However, there is an additional value that sets soldiers apart and explains why the battlefield offers a different moral landscape to the GP’s surgery, the courtroom and the classroom. The sixth, and final, core value identified by the Army is selfless commitment.
As the Army Leadership Code states: “Ultimately, soldiers may be required to give their lives for their country, that is true selfless commitment.” Lawyers, teachers and medics are generally not expected to lay down their lives. Soldiers are sometimes required to make the ultimate sacrifice. This distinction makes the Soldiers of Character project, being conducted by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, unique among professions.
In a British military context, the research is unprecedented with the Army offering researchers access to officer cadets and serving junior officers.
The fieldwork, which started in March 2016, was completed in November 2016 and has involved investigating the place of Army Values and Standards among officer cadets, as well as junior officers (lieutenants and captains) from across all parts of the Army. The career stage and rank was chosen to include the leaders of today and tomorrow since some of the participants may be tomorrow’s generals.
More than 200 volunteers, both male and female, participated in a two-part survey. The second part comprised a brief questionnaire looking at their own 24 character strengths (including bravery, creativity and humility); and the first, more substantial part asked the officers to respond to four realistic and detailed military dilemmas.
The dilemmas were shaped by UK and United States Army officer expert panels, having been carefully developed over many years. They included a scenario involving a prisoner and a barracks-based dilemma focusing on personal relations.
The participants were drawn from many different regiments and cap badges including the artillery, infantry, medics, administrators, engineers and the Intelligence Corps. Inevitably, responses were shaped by the officers’ involvement in recent conflicts and operations (such as Iraq and Afghanistan for example) and also reflect experiences of asymmetric warfare, typified by the challenges posed by non-conventional, insurgent forces.
In addition to the survey, 40 detailed interviews were conducted with officer cadets and junior officers, split across the three experience levels, asking men and women to reflect on their experiences of Army values and standards. As with the surveys, the interviews were confidential and anonymous and we are extremely grateful to the volunteers for taking part in this important study.
The results are being analysed and it is the aim to publish the report in summer 2017. We are grateful to the Ministry of Defence and the British Army for granting this work ethical approval. We will be reporting the results to them in the first instance, before writing a publicly available report.
The project needs to be seen in the context of the Jubilee Centre’s wider investigation into character and virtues in the professions. In my view, the Army is fundamentally different because of its unique role and the requirement that officers risk their lives under unique circumstances. That puts special demands on character, values and standards.
Soldiers and their officers are the boots on the ground, operating in physically uncomfortable environments, often at the ends of human endurance; they have to show good character during prolonged exposure to extreme conditions.
The need for character and values in the Army is clear. But the Army is continually assessing important personnel issues such as this and we hope the results of the Jubilee Centre study can contribute to this.
Of course, character and values have always been at the heart of military life; they are integral to it. The Army has a tough role and must sometimes use difficult and forceful methods. In the spirit of Just War Theory, this needs to relate to good and just ends and be carried out in a just manner, otherwise soldiers risk being no better than criminals, murderers or terrorists.
It is our hope that this unprecedented research study will provide new insights into the complexities of character and virtues as they relate to the experience of being a junior Army officer at the start of the 21st century.
Dr David Walker, Research Fellow, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues