Posted on February 1, 2015 by MG (USA, Ret.) Dan Wright  |   Twitter Facebook Email AddThis


While the Nation wrestles with multiple threats posed by various armed groups in the Levant, the Arabian Gulf, parts of Africa, and the Afghanistan/Pakistan areas of Asia we note a re-opening of the discussion of what to call these groups – terrorists, insurgents, incipient nation states, or criminals – to name just a few options.  Military legal professionals, Judge Advocates, know that it makes a difference, or should make a difference, in how these adversaries and their supporters are targeted, the implications of our military efforts, and how the “armed group” is treated if and when they come under American control.

I recently read an article by retired Army Lieutenant General Jim Dubik in the February 2015 Army Magazine, “No Avoiding the Moral Responsibility of War.”  It is a good article and I commend it to you.  His focus is on the decisions senior leaders at the highest level of our military must make when confronted with moral issues – particularly whether a senior leader can or should resign in certain circumstances.  It brought to mind a slightly different but subpart of his article – which is the performance of the American Army as LTG Dubik described it, when it is “between a rock and a hard place.”  We know that following the Law of Armed Conflict can be a large part of helping Soldiers make those tough choices.  We also know, as LTG Dubik says, that it is not all of it.

Still, Judge Advocates know how important a role they have in ensuring American Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Coast Guardsmen, and Marines conduct operations while adhering to the Law of War.  We all know, and have seen from the last decade-plus of difficult combat, the importance of creating, maintaining, and operationally employing a disciplined military force and the long term impact that structure has on the people in our military and, indeed, on our Nation.  Despite changing environments, differing administrations, differing approaches within administrations, or changing diplomatic aims and political goals, the Judge Advocate must always focus an approach that ensures the Military can accomplish National goals while not sacrificing its core standards and values regarding the import and impact that the role Discipline, Justice, the Law of War, and ultimately the Rule of Law, all have on our Military and our Nation.

The role of a Judge Advocate, regardless of where or at what level he or she is assigned, is ultimately to give credence, meaning, and strength to the concept of a “disciplined military force” – the only way we want the American Military to be.  Judge Advocates help commanders and leaders infuse that discipline by adherence to the Rule of Law – by Judge Advocate participation and oversight in the Military Justice system, by the strict application of the Law of War in operations, by the administration of routine rules and regulations – whether in government contracts, employment issues, environmental laws, and the like – and by the overall conduct of the American Military in all circumstances, in both peace and war.

It is a tall order.

America is fortunate to have the dedicated Judge Advocates of all services who have served our Nation so well in trying times, going back to the founding of your Association during World War II.  The JAA will continue to act to give Judge Advocates a voice and to support them as they provide advice and assistance on “Moral Decisions” – whether made by the Private in the field or the Four-Star at the Pentagon.

Thanks for your continuing interest and support of the Judge Advocates Association!

Dan Wright

Major General, U.S. Army (Ret)


Judge Advocates Association

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