One week ago I returned from a six week training school in Montgomery, AL. The program, Air and Space Basic Course (ASBC), is the first step in Air Force mandated professional military education and serves as a catch-all for second lieutenants still in their first year of service. The course seeks “to inspire new USAF officers to comprehend their roles as Airmen who understand and live by USAF core values, can articulate and advocate what air and space power brings to the fight, and are dedicated as warriors in the world’s most respected Air and Space Force.”

I enjoyed my time studying Air Force doctrine and strategy, competing with other officers in both physical fitness and acadmeic arenas, and spending time with a large cross-section of my Air Force peers. However, I was disappointed at how little the course did to really “inspire” me to “understand and live by USAF core values.” In fact, this course was one more incident that has served to open my eyes to see how bankrupt the Air Force really is when it comes to enabling its officers to live by the USAF core values and to truly be ladies and gentlemen.

The Air Force is a microcosm of American society at large and so is generally susceptible to many of the same vices that beset our universities, our religious institutions, our professional industries, and our political structures. One of the main vices that is currently eating away out our culture is relativism in general, and moral relativism in particular; by implication, this same vice is also having negative effects on the Air Force.

By its very nature the Air Force will never be able to embrace complete relativism, but must always accept that ideas have consequences–consequences like victory or defeat, life or death. However, the consequences of moral relativism are not always so obvious and I argue that the Air Force has more or less officially accepted the relativity of morality. It has accepted the false dichotomoy between facts and values.

Certain recent experiences serve to drive this point home: my squadron commander encouraged all of us to pursue our own spiritual health, offhandedly commenting that if that meant worshipping Satan then that was fine with him; my ASBC instructors consistently asked us how we FELT about various moral dilemmas facing military members while underlining the supposed fact that there were no right or wrong answers to the questions posed (questions like, “is it right for an officer to commit adultery?” “is it right for an officer to violate U.S. law forbidding torture of prisoners for the sake of the lives of his men?” “is it right for the Air Force to discriminate against open homosexuals?”); acquaintance with the Air Force definition of ethics as the study of various societies’ rules of conduct.

The Air Force explicitly states that it “attempts no explanation of the origin of the [core Air Force] Values except to say that all of us, regardless of our religious views, must recognize their functional importance and accept them for that reason. Infusing the Core Values is necessary for successful mission accomplishment” (emphasis mine).

While this is no indication that Air Force leaders explicitly accept moral relativism as generally true, they nevertheless cannot say anything about the origin of the moral code they have chosen to follow or offer anything beyond pragmatic reasons for insisting upon universal acceptance of their moral code within the Air Force. Thus their silence, combined with the general moral relativism in our society and officer candidates, leads to a practical moral relativism within in the Air Force. As the values will be challenged more and more by those who are angered by the Air Force imposing morality on its members, the Air Force has already determined that its only defense will be a retreat to pragmatism.

While I believe that morality is ultimately pragmatic and provides the only means to living well, I don’t think morality can be defended merely from a pragmatic perspective. Men will disagree on what their ultimate ends should be and will likewise disagree on the most pragmatic means of attaining those ends.

I am concerned that with this emphasis on pragmatism to justify morality, the Air Force is removing the very ground it stands on to insist upon upholding a moral code. As the foundation for the moral code erodes, the morals themselves will fall by the wayside and be replaced with whatever appear to be the most practical means to achieving certain ends. Pragmatism alone cannot produce justice. It takes just men to make just decisions. However, as the Air Force continues to be filled with officers trained in morally bankrupt universities, it will slowly fail to produce just men. As the just men go, so goes the ability to live justly and prosecute war in a just manner. This trend must be reversed before it is too late. I am but one voice among thousands. Who will help me?

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Posted by Tex


  1. Tex, good to hear from you! It’s a shame to hear about the moral relativism pervading the Air Force. My brother, a US Marine, has experienced much of the same relativism and religious pluralism.

    Please continue to fight the good fight and remain the gentleman you are.

    On another note: can you further explain what you mean by your belief that morality is ultimately pragmatic?


  2. Morality is ultimately pragmatic in that it is the means to the end of living the good life. The order of the universe allows one to follow certain moral principles in order to live successfully, accrue material wealth, have meaningful relationships, etc.

    Of course, if one has other desired ends, then living morally may or may not help achieve those ends.


  3. Constructive (I hope) Thoughts
    I agree that morality based strictly on pragmatism is problematic, to put it mildly. However, if your goal (or one of your goals) was to motivate someone to join you in the fight, then you need to be clearer about the fight. What is your cause in positive terms? I want to know if I want to join YOU in this fight. Okay, it is NOT relativism and the retreat to pragmatism is problematic. Although I think of some serious problems supposing your various cases (in question form) in response to relativism, why should I think that the retreat to pragmatism will not do the job?

    Also, you said “Thus their silence, combined with the general moral relativism in our society and officer candidates, leads to a practical moral relativism…” this connection should be supported a bit too.

    Keep up the good work! And I am really interested in the Military Ethics of today. Post more on this; I and others will want to read about that.


  4. Good to know that the AS class stuff applies to the real Air Force…


  5. My comments in italics.

    “J” wrote:
    What is your cause in positive terms?

    I’m working on this and am still very much in the brainstorming and refining phase. Briefly put, it is something like, “To regain a classical and foundationalist approach to ethics, promoting the formation of virtuous character among Air Force officers based on a recognition of the existence of universal moral principles.”

    Okay, it is NOT relativism and the retreat to pragmatism is problematic.

    I think relativism IS the root problem and the retreat to pragmatism has been the Air Force’s response. Relativism is problematic because it does away with any rational or knowable foundation for morality. Ethics is relegated to a theoretical sphere with no way of being hooked into reality and thus becomes superfluous to the more pressing tasks at hand (e.g. catching the enemy, blowing up the building, winning the battle, etc)–tasks which are not so easily swept away with a wave of the relativist’s hand, yet can easily be prosecuted in an unjust manner once disconnected from absolute moral principles.

    [W]hy should I think that the retreat to pragmatism will not do the job?

    Pragmatism doesn’t question whether the desired ends are right, just, or correct–it merely offers a means to obtaining the ends. Pragmatism will “not do the job” (I assume you mean ” not allow one to uphold absolute moral principles”–correct me if I’m mistaken) if the desired ends cannot be be plausibly attained through moral means.

    Also, you said “Thus their silence, combined with the general moral relativism in our society and officer candidates, leads to a practical moral relativism…” this connection should be supported a bit too.

    If the commanders of the Air Force are silent about the reasons grounding their decisions to uphold certain moral principles and only offer pragmatic explanations, they are implicitly allowing for their reasons to be overthrown should someone offer a better pragmatic counter-argument.


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