NEWPORT, R.I. – The U.S. Naval War College (NWC) hosted its first Ethics Symposium of the 2014-15 academic year as part of the convocation events held Aug. 18 at the college.
The event is held three times a year for each class with the aim of instilling a broad ethical understanding for students at the school.
The keynote speaker for the event was Rear Adm. Margaret Klein, senior advisor to the secretary of defense for military professionalism, who addressed meeting ethical challenges in a society that is constantly changing.
“An evolving profession is one that survives and thrives, by seeing change as an opportunity to broaden your thinking and your experience,” Klein said to the students. “And there is a bit of a moral imperative for us to evolve, because we serve society and it’s the nation’s values and rights that we defend.”
The theme of serving society and maintaining a social trust with the public is one echoed by the organizer of the event, Martin Cook, professor of leadership and ethics and Stockdale chair of military professional ethics at the NWC.
Cook said that the event is important for future military leaders because ethics is often seen as an issue of personal integrity and not professionalism.
Being the best professional possible, keeping up on developments, thinking creatively and solving problems are all aspects of an ethical leader, according to Cook.
“When we talk about ethics with Navy people, they want to talk about personal character and integrity, and obviously that’s important,” said Cook. “But it’s hardly the overall picture. You can be the nicest guy in the world and still be incompetent, and if you are incompetent, you are not professionally ethical.”
Professionals from all fields must maintain their level of knowledge and development to preserve their social trust, said Cook.
“When you go to a doctor, you expect them to be reading medical journals; when you go to a lawyer, you expect them to be keeping current on the state of their profession,” said Cook. “The same is expected from military leaders.
“For most Navy people this is a relatively new concept, they don’t really think of themselves in these terms. They use the term professional, but that usually means that they are competent,” he added.
During her remarks, Klein underscored Cook’s point.
Klein said that teaching ethics to military students is part of an effort “to place moral competence on the same plane as tactical or technical competence.”
Ethical incompetence can threaten and even ruin careers as fast, or faster than technical incompetence, according to Cook.
“We [the U.S. military] are firing flag officers about every other week for personal misconduct,” he said, “for doing things that would be funny if it weren't so sad. We need to broaden the understanding of what being ethical is.”
Klein serves as senior advisor to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel for military professionalism.
She reports directly to him on issues related to military ethics, character and leadership. Her role is to evaluate service professional development programs already in place and recommend the best practices for adaptation and adoption across the department.
The symposium can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/usnavalwarcollege and will be available later this week.