Eva van Baarle and Peter Olsthoorn (2023) Resilience : a care ethical Perspective. Ethics and Armed Forces.

Ethics and Armed Forces 2023 (1):30-35 (2023)
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Not only the direct physical experiences of deployment can severely harm soldiers’ mental health. Witnessing violations of their moral principles by the enemy, or by their fellow soldiers and superiors, can also have a devastating impact. It can cause soldiers’ moral disorientation, increasing feelings of shame, guilt, or hate, and the need for general answers on questions of right and wrong. Various attempts have been made to keep soldiers mentally sane. One is to provide convincing causes for their deployment, which risks an “end justifies the means” way of thinking. The good cause can provide a moral justification for horrible atrocities. Another method, introduced in the USA, Canada, and Australia, aims to strengthen military personnel’s resistance by promoting and maintaining a happy, optimistic state of mind through the use of positive psychology. Alongside making soldiers “morally fit” for all kinds of situations, the focus could also be on moral recovery and forgiveness. Such a care-based military ethics approach, aimed at mutual understanding and interdependence, could help soldiers handle the emotional impact of moral conflicts. This demands that military units reflect on their organizational culture and rethink oaths and codes of conduct that focus mainly on efficiency and readiness, as well as the soldierly self-image with its seemingly still deeply rooted warrior ethos. Today, resilience and positive psychology in the military is apparently mainly geared to assuring its soldiers’ readiness. An appropriate set of virtues and understanding of virtue ethics that are less centered on self-perfection and autonomy could point to a different form of character-building and lead to a better understanding of others.

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Peter Olsthoorn
Netherlands Defence Academy


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