Moreover, it is possible to behave morally in the heat of the “unforgiving minute.” Supporters of the Trump war criminals claim that the SEALs and others under fire simply cannot weigh the legality and ethics of their actions. This is untrue. A classic example comes from the SEALs themselves.
In Afghanistan in 2005, a small detachment confronted an excruciating choice as it went after a high-value target. Civilian goatherders stumbled across their position. Knowing that if let go, these civilians could endanger the mission, the officer in charge, Lt. Michael Murphy, determined that they were noncombatants and could not simply be killed. He let them go. They appear to have told the enemy. A massive attack followed, resulting in severe American casualties — including Murphy’s death. Yet he made the right ethical and legal decision. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for that combat action.
How? Because he had been trained and prepared for that decision. Ethics is a muscle, and it only grows stronger when exercised. Murphy had a history of selfless decision-making and protecting others. Our military operates under the concept of commander’s intent. We tell leaders and subordinates what the overall goal is, so if a leader is killed, the plan does not die with them; anyone can take command and carry on. This applies also to ethical cultures. Leaders like Murphy knew the law and the spirit of that law and could use that intent to guide their decision-making.