In the war in Iraq and war on terrorism, it's often unclear to military leaders who "the enemy" is, creating such ethical dilemmas as whether to bomb threatening targets even though it may harm civilians or use torture tactics to get people to reveal enemy secrets. Military leaders Lt. Col. Dwight Roblyer of the U.S. Air Force and Lt. Col. Walter Schrepel, retired from the U.S. Army, explore such ethical challenges in a special issue of this month's Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology (Vol. 11, No. 1), a publication of APA Div. 48 (Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence). Their papers are followed by commentaries from peace psychologists.
In one commentary, psychologist Morton Deutsch, PhD--who served as a lead navigator in the U.S. 8th Air Force Division during World War II--suggests ways leaders can reduce misjudgments and misperceptions during military conflicts. For example, he encourages leaders to consult with independent outsiders who have unbiased views on the situation to compare judgments. They also may investigate whether leaders can reduce chances of misjudgments by regularly sharing interpretations of one another's communications through their respective media.
Tackling another ethical challenge, Schrepel describes how in the 1950s French colonial soldiers used torture tactics against a group of Algerian Muslims who were leading a revolt for independence from France. The French soldiers were reported as torturing, kidnapping and murdering innocent Algerians as well as destroying homes in their attempt to defeat the revolutionaries in the Battle of Algiers. In the journal's commentaries, psychologists ponder what makes well-disciplined soldiers behave so brutally--drawing similarities between the Battle of Algiers and the prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib facility, in which U.S. soldiers degraded Iraqi prisoners.
Albert Pepitone, PhD, an emeritus psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, notes in a commentary that soldiers may be pressured to resort to such torture tactics because of their group prejudices, pride, revenge or deindividuation--separating themselves from their own behavior.
However, "nothing is clearly in black and white" when it comes to such ethical challenges that military leaders face, notes psychologist Richard Wagner, PhD, editor of the journal. "We feel it's important that peace psychologists don't just talk about this among themselves but understand the concerns, dilemmas and perspectives in the military."
That's why Wagner and psychologist Jean Maria Arrigo, PhD, a journal board member, helped make the special section a reality. Military leaders and psychologists often don't realize one another's moral diversity, she says.