Toxic Warrior Identity, Accountability, and Moral Risk

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Academics working on military ethics and serving military personnel rarely have opportunities to talk to each other in ways that can inform and illuminate their respective experiences and approaches to the ethics of war. The workshop from which this paper evolved was a rare opportunity to remedy this problem. Our conversations about First Lieutenant (1LT) Portis’s experiences in combat provided a unique chance to explore questions about the relationship between oversight, accountability, and the idea of moral risk in military operations. In this paper, we outline a particular experience of 1LT Portis’s that formed the basis of our discussions, before elucidating the ethical issues this experience raised. In particular, we see 1LT Portis’s experience as, first, illustrative of the problem of moral risk – when military personnel are placed in situations of moral temptation. The problem of moral risk, we propose, is best understood through the framework of the military’s duty of care. Second, we see his experience as highlighting tensions within the dominant moralized warrior model of the military profession. What we call a toxic warrior identity — a distorted form of the moralized warrior identity — can negatively affect the attitudes of military personnel toward rules, policies, procedures, and accountability mechanisms, particularly in relation to non-combat related roles and duties and when leaders must choose between competing bureaucratic demands. We see 1LT Portis’s experience as illustrative of these tensions, yet his experiences also highlight important concerns about the impact of increasing bureaucratic demands on military functioning. In the conclusion, we address the need to balance concerns about toxic warrior identity with legitimate criticisms of overly demanding bureaucracy and suggest avenues for further research on this issue.
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Archival date: 2021-02-16
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