Study reveals lying in the military is common

U.S. airmen listen to Tim Davidson, not pictured, a department of human relations professor with the University of Oklahoma, during a leadership seminar at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Oct. 24, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kyle Gese/Released)

A recent study released on Tuesday revealed that lying is common in the military and actually inadvertently encouraged by the Armed Forces.

According to The Washington Post, the study was conducted by Army War College professors and retired Army officers.  They found that untruthfulness is “surprisingly common in the U.S. military even though members of the profession are loath to admit it.”

War College professors Leonard Wong and Stephen J. Gerras collaborated with the retired officers in the study.  They unveiled that many Army officers have become “ethically numb” in the face of overwhelming demands.  These officers also fear repercussions because they have to put their reputation on the line to verify that all requirements have been met.

While the issue is military-wide, Wong and Gerras focused their study on the Army because they were most familiar with that branch.  Their interviews spanned the ranks, from captains to colonels, and included several bases on the East Coast.

“When pressed for specifics on how they managed, officers tended to dodge the issue with statements such as, ‘You gotta make priorities, we met the intent, or we got creative,’” the report said. “Eventually words and phrases such as ‘hand waving, fudging, massaging, or checking the box’ would surface to sugarcoat the hard reality that, in order to satisfy compliance with the surfeit of directed requirements from above, officers resort to evasion and deception.”

The paper concluded, “In other words, in the routine performance of their duties as leaders and commanders, U.S. Army officers lie.”

The Washington Post reported that the paper’s release follows a series of high-profile incidents involving bad behavior across the services, including a corruption case involving senior Navy officers and incidents in which Army generals have been accused of sexual assault.

The study links the lies to “ethical fading,” which occurs when outside factors subtly alter an ethical dilemma. Recommendations from the professors included reinforcing restraint and acknowledging ethical shortfalls in the military.

The severity of the issue has already been taken seriously by the higher ranks.  Army Gen. Chief of Staff Raymond T. Odierno released an ethics “white paper” last July emphasizing the need to advocate for strong values like honesty and integrity.

“This White Paper identifies an omission in our doctrine – the absence of an articulated, accessible, and understandable expression of the Army Ethic,” Odierno said in the document.  “The Army Ethic does exist and emanates from our foundational heritage, beliefs, traditions, and culture. The intent, therefore, is not to invent the Army Ethic, but rather to glean its fundamental nature. Doing so is of urgent importance and is worthy of our collective wisdom and judgment.”


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