Duty, Honor and Spoon Bending


Is it any mystery that huge swaths of our culture seem confused about who the bad guys are in the world today?

I mention it because, I caught the last half of a report on NPR about cadets at West Point and the Army’s intensified efforts to teach them ethics—particularly battlefield ethics.

Sadly, today’s combat soldier not only has to put his life on the line in an extraordinarily complex situation. He has to do it with the knowledge that every split-second decision he makes amid the enveloping fog of war may be second guessed by a hostile media, a preening Congress, or a Hollywood celebrity who once played the wife of a soldier in a movie and therefore has both expertise and moral authority.

Thus, as the NPR report pointed out, West Point is intensifying its efforts to help soldiers make sound moral decisions in the heat of conflict.

But one particular snippet of the NPR story really caught my ear. From the transcript

“I don’t know. I’ve always had a hard time with West Point trying to shove ethics down my throat,” said Tom Brejinski, a senior from Chicago. He says ethics are personal and subjective, and trying to teach a cadet the difference between right and wrong should not be the military’s role.

Of course, anyone who claims that ethics are “subjective and personal” has imbibed deeply of the spirit of this age—a conscience-dulling beverage that goes by the name “postmodernism.” It is a bracing thing to contemplate that we now have an entire generation of people entering adulthood who think like Cadet Brejinski.

Brjeniski and his fellow PoMos have been lied to by their teachers (the ranks of which were filled largely with unrepentant survivors of the sixties.) 

The hard truth is, moral laws are no more subjective and personal than the laws of physics. (Of course the wildy popular Matrix trilogy of movies was, in part, an indulgement of the fantasy that the laws of physcis are subjective and personal, as well. “There is no spoon.”)

But as a sage once said, “We don’t break God’s laws. We break ourselves upon them.” 

So here were are. A culture in which a desperate minority of us are saying, “Actually, dude, there is a spoon. And if you jab it in your eye, you’re liable to put it out and then you’ll be short one eye. Just FYI.” On the other side you have a seething postmodern sea of Cadet Brejinskis who view these confident claims as intolerance and “cramming it down our throats”; who have come to believe no one person’s version of truth has a superior claim to validity than another’s, no matter what Nature and Nature’s God seem to be shouting about it.

This then is the culture that, within hours of the collapse of the World Trade Center, offered us this pearl of wisdom:

“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”*