Profession of Arms and Professional Ethics

Categories: Professional Ethics

Characterizing the Army as a profession is a widely debated issue. Some attest that the military employs a small cadre of professionals, yet this does not qualify the entire vocation as a profession. Others are not so kind and paint a picture of mindless robots simply following orders. The debate rages because it is fundamentally difficult to find an absolute definition for a profession. This troublesome task is further exasperated because the trust of the public ultimately certifies a profession. Nevertheless, the principle characteristic that remains constant to all professions is that they possess a guiding ethic that controls the effective application of their expertise.

  The Army constitutes a profession because it possesses an ethical framework that is intrinsically present within the institution. As it relates to a professional ethic, all professions possess a code that governs the moral, ethical and legal activities of their members.

For example, The American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics holds to the Oath of Hippocrates.

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This oath is Western civilization’s expression of the ideal conduct of a physician. Lawyers also take an oath of office that anchors them to the ethical practice of their craft. This code of ethics provides parameters for lawyers on how they should conduct their affairs and matters ranging from client confidentiality to conflict of interest. Similarly, all members of the United States Army swear or affirm an oath upon initial entry. The Oath of Enlistment or the Oath of Office marks the beginning of each Soldier’s military service and their commitment to a higher ethic.

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This oath is the bedrock of the Soldier’s moral and legal principles. The Army Values, the Soldier’s Creed and the Warrior Ethos exemplify the pinnacle of the Army’s organizational ethic. Some might argue that many organizations have a similar ethic, yet they are not a profession. Why are athletic teams that incorporate and enforce team rules, not considered professions?

Another issue concerning the Army professions ethical barometer stems from comments made by senior Army officials like General Maxwell Taylor, the fifth Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. According to him, as long as a man performed his duty he was fine. “For [GEN] Taylor, a good [S]oldier, even a good [O]fficer, could be a bad man.”5 What these dissentions fail to consider is that the Army, or any profession, does not singularly apply its ethic to the daily living of its members. Concerning the members of an athletic organization, it must be understood that one does not ethically hit, pass or throw a ball. Athletes do not apply ethical guidelines in the performances of their sports. Conversely, GEN Taylor fails to realize how private character affects the ability to command troops. One cannot compartmentalize the ethic of professionals into private and public sectors. Professionals apply their ethic to the application of their craft on behalf of the society they serve.

Soldiers, like all members within a profession, must exercise their ethic in the execution of their work, not just in their private lives. Although, a universal criterion to qualify a particular vocation as a profession is difficult to quantify, the possession of a guiding ethic is common to all professional definitions. The Army is a profession because throughout its ranks it has continued to operate within the ethical framework it has set forth for itself. The Army, as a profession, demonstrates not only that it possesses ethical cannon, but is committed to operating by it. The Army Values, the Soldier’s Creed and the Warrior Ethos are the natural outpouring of these ethical cannon. Regardless of these facts, it remains unique to a profession that they cannot simply declare themselves a profession. The public reserves the right to determine so. Americans will only continue to regard the Army as a profession based on our effective and ethical application of landpower. Despite many ethical failings, the American people recognize that the Army possesses the courage to hold its members ethically accountable and therefore legitimize itself as a profession of arms.


  1.,. ‘NOVA | The Hippocratic Oath Today’. Last modified 2014. Accessed September 12, 2014.
  2. Robinson, Paul. Ethics Training And Development In The Military. Ebook. 1st ed., 2007. Accessed September 11, 2014.
  3. Training and Doctrine Command, “An Army White Paper: The Profession of Arms,” 8 December 2010, 2.
  4. U.S. Department of the Army. The Army Profession. Army Doctrine and Training Publications 1. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Army, June 13, 2013. Accessed September 11, 2014.
  5.,. ‘Code Of Ethics Examples’. Last modified 2014. Accessed September 11, 2014.

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Profession of Arms and Professional Ethics. (2016, Apr 30). Retrieved from

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