drive this approach to ethics and policy?
a young Marine Corps Lieutenant straddling the Ho Chi Minh
trail along the border between Vietnam and Laos during Operation
Dewey Canyon in 1969. He is confronted with an ethics and
policy dilemma. Deep in the bush, a squad leader who has
just joined the platoon caught a young Marine sleeping on
watch and beats him severely. Both offenses, sleeping on
post and beating a subordinate, are serious offenses under
the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
OP on Hill 950 Overlooking Khe Sahn Valley:
to them, the Lieutenant gives each one more chance. He makes it
clear that if either commits another offense, he will be court-martialed.
Weeks later, however, he receives a letter from the outraged mother
of the Marine who had been beaten. She concludes a very caustic
letter with the question, "What kind of a unit are you running over
tries, for the first time in his life, to communicate
to another how he had translated his perceptions and beliefs
into an ethical judgment. Here, in concept, is what he wrote drove
The broad purpose of the Marine Corps is "to fight our countries
battles in the air, on land, and sea." As part of the Ninth Marine
Regiment, our purpose in being was to block a North Vietnamese
invasion during the Tet holiday.
The desired situation was that the North Vietnamese would not
invade the city of Danang would be secure, everyone would get
home safely, and the world would be somehow safer for democracy.
Otherwise, his Marines would fight bravely and well and repel
the invaders through a strong forward presence, aggressive patrolling,
and night defensive positions along the Ho Chi Minh trail.
of Reality. The current reality was that everyone in the unit
was exhausted; the unit was under strength due to casualties and
a lack of resupply because of the monsoon weather.
Underlying the Lieutenant's decision were the following values
that he held and that he believed were core values of the Marine
Corps as a whole:
respect and take care of each other.
at every level, though disciplined and tough, is compassionate,
embracing a parental "teacher-scholar" philosophy.
value the unique contribution that each Marine provides.
abides at every level.
encourage initiative, and shift authority downward,
understanding that to
err is human, and growth comes from allowing Marines
to learn from their mistakes.
families are part of our Corps. They are participants,
decision, Second Lieutenant Kenneth W. Johnson wrote to
the mother, was the one most calculated to achieve the many
purposes of all those involved and affected. Weeks later,
he received a letter from the mother. "I understand
now," she wrote and concluded: "God bless you, and take
care of our sons." While the actual correspondence is lost
in the mists of memory, the difficulty of answering that
letter, and the mother's response, has stuck with him over