Military Review: Ethical Fading

First Lieutenant Robert Callahan wrote a short piece in the March-April Military Review titled I’m FadedIt is a reaction and example to last year’s Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession, which as the title implies, tackles dishonesty in the Army profession. 

In his article, Callahan recounts how he omitted things from his record of medical history over time after learning from other officers how they filled out the forms. As Callahan learned, other officers often did not include every detail about themselves because they believed some of those details were irrelevant or might preclude them from some required training. Even though Callahan had at one time been thorough and honest on the forms, he felt compelled to do what everyone else was doing.

Callahan calls his action a result of “ethical fading.” While at his commissioning source or in his first couple of years in the Army, there was no question as to how he should complete the forms. It was only after he learned what others were doing – and getting away with – that he considered doing the same. Once he understood how the system worked, he worked chiefly towards “meeting the appropriate deadline and continuing with my day.”

In his story, instead of being reprimanded, the officials managing the paperwork simply let him know that his new and old paperwork did not match, and they allowed him the opportunity to make the correction. He writes:

I believe this nudge represented an effective and reasonable first step for implementing the recommendations of Wong and Gerras (Lying to Ourselves). Calling out obvious dishonesty and then correcting it shows that integrity always matters. Acknowledging that a systemic integrity problem can be fixed by focusing on the truth instead of staging a witch hunt to push dishonesty reflects that all Army officers are responsible for this problem, reaffirms each officer’s commitment to the Army Values, and regenerates the military profession one officer at a time.

This was a good, honest piece that put a story to a real problem. While in the scheme of things this was a small transgression, the pressure on officers to be dishonest can be immense – often because of anxiety over the subsequent “witch hunt” of which Callahan refers.

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