Drucker, Kant, and Junger’s War

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This paper explores the main points of Peter Drucker’s, “What is Business Ethics?”, Immanuel Kant’s, “Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals, First Section”, and Sebastian Junger’s book, War.  Drucker establishes the importance of the activities of organizations and business operating internally to satisfy an external expectation of ethical behavior.  Kant discusses his deontological maxim of duty-based activity derived from reason. These main concepts are applied to the activities of the most heavily attacked platoon operating in Afghanistan. The 173rd Airborne is presented as an example of an organization adhering to duty (Kant) but the question remains is that duty expected by society as Drucker would require of any organization. This paper shows that the 173rd Airborne accommodated both Drucker and Kant by adhering to an individual and combined community ethics, a Kantian maxim, meeting and exceeding the expectations of the society they were members of, adapting to the situation by adapting their behavior to include both individual ethics as well as unit cohesion, practicing reasonable and appropriate behavior considering the circumstances, satisfying Drucker. 

In our first article, Peter Drucker writes of a generalized role of business ethics. Outlined in his opinion is that they are essentially internal, that business must conduct their affairs ethically including favorable internal structure fostering a business culture of ethical corporate practice.  In this case, the individual must act in accord with what is best for the organization.  However, society at large demands that businesses conduct themselves in an externally acceptable and appropriate ethical model encompassing social and corporate responsibility. Businesses, like any individual, are bound by individual ethics.  Another key facet of Drucker's model for proper business ethics is governed by the concept of prudence (Drucker 27). “The Ethics of Prudence can easily degenerate. The concern with what one can justify becomes, only too easily, concern with appearances (Drucker 28).  Whether an individual or a corporation, one must always avoid the appearance of impropriety.  The motivation for all business endeavors is profit and return on investment, this must be balanced against conducting business in a morally favorable fashion while providing a return to shareholders.

Kant is essentially the definitive deontological utilitarian. This referenced work outlines his maxim for good, happiness, and rational activity.  Kant argues that the maxim of good ethical behavior is activity considered to be good, and this contemplation is arrived at by reason, and reason alone. Further, the decision to act well is in accord with a duty to act toward the good in whatever activity is being engaged in.  Kant states that the “Supreme good is happiness” but that the realization of this good is a product of reason. (Kant, 1st section).   In Kant’s maxim, there is no moral reason, just adherence to duty (deontology). Duty, for Kant, is sufficient to justify an action that is morally just. In Kant’s opinion, the reason is supplanted by adherence to duty, pedantic adherence to duty is the only thing necessary for morally correct action. 

Sebastian Junger’s book War chronicles the activities of an elite force in Afghanistan stationed in the Korengal Valley.  This unit, the 173 Airborne brigades were the men who saw the most combat action in Afghanistan. The valley was located in quintessential Taliban strongholds.  They were under constant threat of attack with few resources to fend off attack except for their own personal weapons and their solid instincts.

“Society can give its young men almost any job and they'll figure how to do it. They'll suffer for it and die for it and watch their friends die for it, but in the end, it will get done. That only means that society should be careful about what it asks for. ... Soldiers themselves are reluctant to evaluate the costs of war, but someone must. That evaluation,  ongoing and unadulterated by politics, maybe the one thing a country absolutely owes the soldiers who defend its borders” (Junger 225). 

This quote explains that the unit was acting in accord with their interpretation of duty. No contemplation goes into the reason behind their duty, they just do what is necessary to stay alive and complete their mission. It is also very clear that each individual in the unit must work for the collective good for their mutual survival, this was outlined in Drucker’s article. 

The Korengal Valley saw more casualties for a single outpost than any other unit in Afghanistan.  Junger spent over a year with this unit chronicling the experience in his book. Ultimately it was decided that the Korengal Valley was not of strategic significance and therefore all troops were withdrawn. Many gleeful.  Others, permanently scarred by the experience finding themselves unable to function in a non-combat environment. 

For purposes of this paper, comparing and contrasting Drucker and Kant to Junger’s War chronicle elucidates the notions of the proper role of organizations or corporations, the maxim of duty, and the reality of war and combat.  The suggestion of the assignment is to apply these ethical principles to the actions of the 173rd Airborne in Afghanistan. 

For Drucker, applying the social demand for ethical behavior for organizations including the 173rd Airborne seems absurd. Certainly, society would like to think that the finest military force in the world is conducting itself inhumane and acceptable ways. However, the 173rd Airborne was under constant threat and active attack. Regardless they maintained their presence and held the valley.  The unit developed an internal ethical scheme that was consistent with the task at hand. It is doubtful that even Drucker would challenge that.  This highlights the greatest problems with Drucker’s assessment.  Yes, society wants ethics, but do they really?  The government deregulated many industries leading to a financial collapse and a whopping recession. It's been a challenge to recover from this problem.  This makes Drucker’s conclusions suspect, and nearly inapplicable to the mission of the 173rd Airborne. 

Junger points out the lackadaisical attitude of the platoon at Konegal Valley, often fighting in flip flops and shorts. War is indeed hell, but they almost never saw any other units. For what reason did they have to dress out. It was unlikely the Taliban would complain. However, this could be considered a lack of prudence for Drucker, and loose organizational cohesion considering Professor Fort. However, this seems to prove the opposite. Adhering to individual standards preferred by Fort and Drucker increased unit cohesion and organizational strength, therefore giving them better able to execute their duty satisfying Kant.   

Considering Kant and Junger’s War the unit followed the maxim of duty under a completely utilitarian system of deontological thinking which Kant is famous for.  The 173rd Airborne was in no position to question their orders.  Further, with the constant attack, they really were maintaining survival while holding the valley, which they did. Under a strict interpretation of the maxim of duty, the unit did exactly what they were ordered to do.  It is not the position of the military to question the validity of the orders they are given, they are to be followed, and this is the essence of Kant’s maxim.  

Kant’s maxim is supposed to relieve us of all worry.  Reason informs the maxim to act in accord with the duty required for the particular situation. Understanding the actions of the duty is all that is required, questioning the reason informing the duty gets sticky.  

In Professor Tim Fort’s video on this subject, he recounts being reminded of the idea that the test of true morality is doing the right thing then you know you will NOT get caught. He mentioned a story that Plato recounted in one of the Socratic dialogues that are very similar to the story of the ring in Lord of the Rings.  Fort’s consideration of this story in response to War suggests that the 173rd Airborne may have acted inappropriately because they were a forgotten platoon in the middle of nowhere defending a valley that ultimately was determined to be strategically insignificant. However, considering applications of Drucker and Kant to the case of War, It appears that, under that lens, the platoon acted in accord with both Drucker and Kant. 

We have explored the main points of Peter Drucker’s, “What is Business Ethics?”, Immanuel Kant’s, “Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals, First Section”, and Sebastian Junger’s book, War.  The 173rd Airborne was used as an example of a subset organization of the United States Armed Forces given the mission to defend and hold the Konegal Valley in Afghanistan.  This was the harshest duty in Afghanistan. Yet the members of the platoon executed their duty faithfully. Considering the extraordinary circumstances their behavior became unorthodox and fodder for analysis.  

This paper evaluated how the 173rd Airborne exemplified Drucker by exhibiting conduct of a cohesive unit for the overall safety of the other troops and success of the mission. We also saw how Kantian maxims were met by the troops with regard to not questioning their duty, loyalty, or purpose, but doing their jobs and doing them honestly. Although the conditions seemed harsh, the circumstances were extraordinary, therefore, it is reasonable to give credit where credit is due. The 173rd Airborne conducted themselves in a manner consistent with military tradition and with honorable duty.  They adhered to Kantian duty, and Drucker’s organizational cohesion represented by individuals standing with the group.

Works Cited

Drucker, Peter F. “What is Business Ethics?” National Affairs, 1986 http://www.nationalaffairs.com/doclib/20080708_1981632whatisbusinessethicspeterfdrucker.pdf

Junger, Sebastian. War. New York: Twelve, 2010. 

Kant, Immanuel. Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals. Philosophy, n.d., http://philosophy.eserver.org/kant/metaphys-of-morals.txt