Breaking Ranks: Dissent and the Military Professional
By Lt Col Andrew R. Milburn, USMC, is assigned to Special Operations Command, Europe, Future Operations (J3).
... a profession that values integrity and moral courage cannot at the same time justify a deceptive approach to dissent. By taking an open stand, the military professional displays the courage of his convictions but also implicitly accepts personal consequences, whether he is right or wrong. His stand may persuade the issuer of the order to reconsider or it may draw the attention of the legislature to the issue.
On the other hand, it may be purely symbolic—and have no effect on the decision. Regardless, he has exercised his moral autonomy and taken the consequences. He may, after all, have been wrong in his predictions, and this point is key because the military professional, however well placed and intelligent, is always fallible. Allowing him moral autonomy to dissent benefits the process of policy execution overall; sanctioning the practice of "slow-rolling" orders deemed to be immoral ultimately sabotages this process.
The truth of this statement becomes more apparent when, rather than looking to past examples of bad orders that were slow-rolled to good effect, one looks at a potential policy decision whose consequences could be highly controversial but are by no means predictable.