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The Disorderly, Undisciplined State of the "Good Order and Discipline" Term

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Technical Report

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Air War College Maxwell AFB United States

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Good order and discipline is supposed to represent a core military principle, a unique condition critical to operational success that sets the military apart from the rest of society. In recent years, however, critics have begun to allege a disparity between what military leaders say about good order and discipline and the reality of how they actually use the term. They note that in a series of proposed reforms, the military has cited good order and discipline as a primary basis for opposing such changes without substantively explaining how or why good order and discipline would be impacted. Critics see this as evidence that the military uses the term simply to cover its distaste for reform rather than convey a fundamental military principle. This paper studies whether these criticisms are warranted. It examines how modern military leaders have employed the term in recent decades, and how senior Air Force leaders understand good order and disciplines meaning. It concludes that the militarys use of the phrase has primarily focused on opposition to proposed personnel and social issues and that senior leaders definitions of the term are disparate and generalized. Thus, good order and discipline is plagued by usage that is at once narrow and amorphous, and the idea of good order and discipline may be losing its coherence and risks losing its persuasiveness. Ironically, the very notion of good order and discipline is itself in disarray, impaired by undisciplined use of the phrase. The paper closes with some fundamental questions about good order and discipline in the modern military that remained unanswered, and offers brief recommendations how the military can begin to reclaim this important concept. The format of this paper does not allow for a full treatment of these issues, but the hope is that this paper rekindles a much-needed and long-dormant discussion.

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  • Military Forces and Organizations

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