In his book Power and Constraint, Jack Goldsmith notes that the military responded to the War in Vietnam, “which left the U.S. military at the lowest point in its history . . . with a renewed emphasis in instruction and training in military honor, ethics, and morality at West Point and other officer-training grounds.” Goldsmith connects this emphasis on honor, ethics, and morality to the rise of “lawfare” — the relatively recent phenomenon of law and lawyers significantly affecting the conduct of war. And Goldsmith describes the leading role that Gen. David Petraeus played in the rise of lawfare.

Are those who enter the military from West Point and other officer-training grounds more honorable these days? I don’t know. The military is more legalistic and more politically correct, but that’s not the same thing.

I suspect that today’s military officers, including its top leaders, behave with approximately the same amount of honor as their predecessors from the Vietnam era and before. This wouldn’t be surprising. The politics of an institution sometimes changes in a generation, but human nature doesn’t.


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