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The Ethical Warrior: A Marine Corps model for cops

Physical and ethical training used by USMC may help officers confront, survive, and live with the realities of modern law enforcement

Today’s law enforcement officer faces many ethical challenges. The ethical issues that most often get addressed through policy and training are the legally-enforceable ones: accepting inappropriate gifts, misuse of position, conflict of interest. Yet there are other vital ethical dimensions at the very heart of the law enforcement profession. Gaining the trust and cooperation of those we serve, dealing effectively but dispassionately with those we pursue, and using force effectively but humanely are all affected by the ethical grounding of the law enforcement officer. This article explores the philosophical underpinnings of an approach to ethical development being used by the United States Marine Corps (Marines) that could be evaluated for use by the law enforcement community.

The harsh realities of the global war on terror have forced the U.S. military to face unprecedented challenges. The difficulty of fighting a protracted war against an elusive enemy, enmeshed in a skeptical foreign civilian population, has required some evolution in the way Marines are trained. The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) addresses some of the unique challenges of counterinsurgency. The Marines base their approach on clarifying the concept of an “Ethical Warrior.” They use MCMAP as a vehicle to inculcate this concept in Marines. The key idea: a Marine who views him or herself as an Ethical Warrior is better prepared to confront, survive, and live with the realities of modern combat.

In addition to being consistent with our strategy to avoid unnecessary killing and limit civilian casualties, there is evidence that a strong ethical foundation mediates the effects of combat burnout. While more research needs to be done, initial indications are that MCMAP’s combination of physical and ethical training may positively contribute to decreasing the severity of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Although the mission of the Marines is obviously very different from that of local, state, or federal law enforcement — one is certainly justified in asking whether the difference is so great that any ethical construct useful to Marines could possibly be appropriate for the law enforcement profession — the Ethical Warrior, as defined by the Marines, is a “protector.” As we will explore, the Ethical Warrior protects and defends his life, the life of others, and all life if possible. This ethic is consistent with the universal law enforcement obligation to protect and serve and may help officers confront, survive, and live with the realities of modern law enforcement.

One of the most important, and unique, phenomena of MCMAP is that Marines seem to respond best when stories with strong emotional impact that inspire moral behavior are interspersed with (or “tied into”) the physical training. The realistic physical training and the values tie-ins work best in combination rather than separately — and much better than a purely intellectual approach, such as a lecture on ethics.

The Universal Life Value
There is no “official definition” of an Ethical Warrior but, after years of discussion and refinement, the most satisfying description is that the Ethical Warrior is a “protector” of life. Whose life? Self and others. Which others? All others. There is an ancient Greek saying to the effect that: “All actions derive from philosophy.” In that regard, it must be said that the Warrior Ethic is based upon a clear philosophy of values. The bedrock of that set of values is a single universal value. Perhaps the best way to address this issue of a universal value is to relate a true life experience of Robert L. Humphrey. Humphrey was an Iwo Jima Marine rifle platoon commander who went to work for the State Department during the Cold War.

Humphrey’s mission, during that delicate time of détente, was to resolve a conflict (centered on the presence of an American missile base) between the U.S. and an allied country in Asia Minor. The future of that key U.S. installation was in jeopardy — the local people wanted the Americans to go home — due to unrest and rioting over our presence there. Humphrey, trained as a lawyer and diplomat, began his task by surveying the opinions of both sides.

Most Americans — including the ambassador — thought that the locals wanted money from the U.S. government, and even then, would only be truly satisfied when the Americans departed. In casual conversations with U.S. servicemen, Humphrey learned that many considered the local people to be “stupid, dumb, dirty, dishonest, untrustworthy, disloyal, cowardly, lazy, unsanitary, immoral, cruel, crazy, and downright subhuman.” No matter what he did, Humphrey couldn’t stop the negative talk — similar opinions of the developing world remain today, and of some poor U.S. neighborhoods, for that matter.

The survey of the local population, however, yielded surprising and encouraging information. The issue of the base was masking a different problem. Rather than money, the local people wanted to be treated with respect and dignity — their perception was that the Americans did not view them as equal human beings.

Humphrey thought he’d solved the problem. The servicemen only had to live up to the spirit of the U.S. Declaration of Independence — the notion that “all men are created equal.” He was dismayed to find that this was not enough to overcome the negative reaction to the unfamiliar customs and poverty which were a reality in that underdeveloped country.

Even the diplomats were of no help. One said, “Some people are tall, some people are short, obviously everybody is different.” It seemed as if they either didn’t believe in human equality, or didn’t know what the term meant.

What does this mean? How can one person teach another to view all others as equal human beings? Humphrey searched high and low for an approach that worked. He finally found one answer in an unlikely place, in the back of a truck in an impoverished rural village. The implications of this story are of clear importance to this day in discussing the concept of a universal value. We call it “The Hunting Story” and we’ll tell that tale in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, consider this: ethics are ultimately moral-physical. Moral people may want to step up and do the right thing, but they often lack the physical courage and ability. In part two of this article, we’ll examine why Ethical Warrior training must include martial arts, especially for professionals like Marines or law enforcement officers.

In partnership with Police1 Contributor Dr. George Thompson, Jack Hoban will be instructing “Verbal Judo and RGI Tactical Skills,” a user-level combined course, on August 4-6, 2010 in Syracuse, New York. Check for additional details here:

Jack E. Hoban is president of Resolution Group International, subject matter expert for Combatives and Warrior Ethics for the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, and trains police officers in de-escalation skills.

Bruce J. Gourlie is a former U.S. Army infantry officer, a retired FBI Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge for Intelligence and currently the director of security in a large healthcare system.

Correspondence can be sent to both authors by emailing Hoban & Gourlie.