Centre for Military Ethics

Playing Cards

Starting with the assumption that playing cards are a ubiquitous, everyday part of life, the idea is to use them as a vehicle for raising ethical awareness. 54 questions from across the broad area of military ethics have been carefully developed by leading researchers and ethicists based on professional military ethics education curricula, in conjunction with research and testing on military focus groups, and in consultation with specialist lawyers. The cards will be made available to military units and can be used to prompt informal discussion and debate, normalising the discussion of ethical challenges faced in military environments.

Each card has a web link to the King’s Centre for Military Ethics where each question on the card is supplemented with additional prompts for thought and discussion, explanation and information on supporting reading should you wish to explore the topic further. More material will be added on an ongoing basis. Groups of questions will be thematically linked so impromptu or pre-planned supported discussions can quickly be developed using the open-access material.

Category: Individual ConductIntegrityJustice/LegalityLaws of WarLeadershipMilitary and Society All
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Clubs Clubs Clubs Clubs 2 2 2 2
If a soldier is faced with an order they think is unjust, what should they do?
Is there a difference between unjust and unlawful? Does the difference matter?
Clubs Clubs Clubs Clubs 3 3 3 3
If a soldier is ordered to do something that they believe is illegal, what should they do?
Is it obvious that the order is illegal? Does the person issuing the order understand that the order is illegal?
Clubs Clubs Clubs Clubs 4 4 4 4
It is okay to make offensive jokes if it's just ‘banter’?
What do you think? Consider how others around you might feel
Clubs Clubs Clubs Clubs 5 5 5 5
Should you always report someone who has broken the rules?
Does it matter if you don’t think the rule is important? Think about the value of loyalty and integrity.
Clubs Clubs Clubs Clubs 6 6 6 6
Is it ever acceptable to challenge an order from a superior?
What do you think? Are there any circumstances in which you can or should question a lawful order?
Clubs Clubs Clubs Clubs 7 7 7 7
Is it okay to humiliate someone under your command if it helps motivate everyone else?
Think about the greater good. Can the ends justify the means? Should you treat everyone the same? Should a team look after all its members?
Clubs Clubs Clubs Clubs 8 8 8 8
If you break the rules you should be punished, even if the issue doesn’t seem very important.
What do you think? Is punishment required to make sure people obey the rules?
Clubs Clubs Clubs Clubs 9 9 9 9
Is it okay to pass work onto others just so that you can have some rest?
What do you think? Should work always be shared equally? Is it acceptable to refrain from combat if you feel tired?
Clubs Clubs Clubs Clubs 10 10 10 10
Should you ever conceal the risks of an operation from those under your command?
What if the operation goes wrong? Does it make a difference if you are at war? Does trust require the sharing of information?
Clubs Clubs Clubs Clubs J J J J
We should always be bound by the values and standards of the military when on duty.
What do you think? What are military values and standards meant to encourage?
Clubs Clubs Clubs Clubs Q Q Q Q
Is it okay to relax and get drunk in the mess, despite still being on base?
What do you think? As a professional, where do you draw the line?
Clubs Clubs Clubs Clubs K K K K
Is it weakness to tell someone if you have been psychologically affected by combat?
What do you think? This might help you receive the support you need to enable you to cope. Are you weak if you ask for help? What about if you don’t ask?
Clubs Clubs Clubs Clubs A A A A
It is acceptable to use offensive nicknames for colleagues if they don’t mind.
What do you think? Does is matter whether or not your colleague finds it acceptable?
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Spades Spades Spades Spades 2 2 2 2
As a commander, should you ever pursue an operation if you know that a high proportion of your own troops will become casualties?
What do you think? Should you put a greater priority on achieving your objectives or on preserving as many lives as possible?
Spades Spades Spades Spades 3 3 3 3
You discover a colleague is deliberately avoiding strenuous physical training by falsely claiming to be ill.
What do you do? Why is this a problem?
Spades Spades Spades Spades 4 4 4 4
You discover a colleague is making inappropriate comments about other colleagues on social media.
What do you do? Would these comments affect their professional working relationship? Does it matter if they’re off duty?
Spades Spades Spades Spades 5 5 5 5
A soldier, sailor or airman is entitled to ignore Rules of Engagement if they are too restrictive.
What do you think? By breaching Rules of Engagement, you might be breaching both National and International Law.
Spades Spades Spades Spades 6 6 6 6
As part of a multinational force, you hear other nationalities criticising the methods of your military
What do you do? Are their criticisms fair? Is this affecting the working relationship?
Spades Spades Spades Spades 7 7 7 7
Military doctors must treat people according to how wounded they are, not according to what side they are on.
What do you think? Doctors are bound by additional regulations they must follow. Does it matter if the other side don’t respect the same rules?
Spades Spades Spades Spades 8 8 8 8
As part of a multinational force, you learn of a superior allied officer accepting bribes.
What should you do? What about if people say it is part of their culture?
Spades Spades Spades Spades 9 9 9 9
As part of a multinational force, you believe that another nation is not pulling its weight, undermining the whole operation.
What should you do? Are the allegations true? With whom should you take up the matter?
Spades Spades Spades Spades 10 10 10 10
Is it acceptable to use whatever force is necessary to clear enemy from a position even if this involves killing more civilians than enemy soldiers?
What do you think? Are there other ways of carrying out the operation? The amount of force should never be disproportional to the expected benefit of the military operation.
Spades Spades Spades Spades J J J J
Can weapons of mass destruction be justified if they help to reduce the overall number of casualties of a conflict?
What do you think? Consider the long-term consequences of the use of these weapons. Remember that indiscriminate weapons are banned under International Law.
Spades Spades Spades Spades Q Q Q Q
Are civilians who support or help the enemy legitimate targets?
What do you think? Consider the rights protecting civilians under International Law. When do civilians give up their protection?
Spades Spades Spades Spades K K K K
Orders which breach the Laws of War must be disobeyed, even if there is a strong tactical or strategic case for obeying them.
What do you think? The Laws of Armed Conflict and International Humanitarian Law are absolutes - but what if you would be punished for disobeying the orders?
Spades Spades Spades Spades A A A A
How should the presence of civilians in the area of a combat operation affect the conduct of an operation?
What do you think? How might it affect the tactics or weapons used? Are the civilians likely to be harmed by the operation? What if they choose not to leave?
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Hearts Hearts Hearts Hearts 2 2 2 2
Is necessity ever a reason to break the Laws of War?
What do you think? You should disobey any order that is clearly illegal. The rules already take into account necessity.
Hearts Hearts Hearts Hearts 3 3 3 3
Is the pre-emptive destruction of civilian property to deny it to the enemy is a legitimate tactic?
What do you think? Can you ever be certain that the enemy will take possession of that property? Why does it matter?
Hearts Hearts Hearts Hearts 4 4 4 4
You suspect the enemy is flying a white flag in order to launch an ambush.
What do you do? What is an accepted or acceptable way of indicating surrender? How do you find out if they mean it or not?
Hearts Hearts Hearts Hearts 5 5 5 5
Should you treat your prisoners of war in accordance with International Law, even if the enemy does not?
What do you think? The Geneva Conventions protect the rights of prisoners of war. We uphold the rules because it’s the right thing to do regardless of what the enemy does.
Hearts Hearts Hearts Hearts 6 6 6 6
Is it acceptable to use the same methods and weapons as the enemy if they have used them first, even if they are forbidden?
What do you think? This would be in breach of International Law. Does the fact that the enemy has used such weapons legitimise their use?
Hearts Hearts Hearts Hearts 7 7 7 7
Can a country use whatever tactics and weaponry are necessary if it is on the brink of being defeated?
What do you think? Can the ends justify the means? What about the slippery slope - when would you stop?
Hearts Hearts Hearts Hearts 8 8 8 8
A local soldier you are working with in their country beats a prisoner.
What should you do? Do you have to accept whatever your allies do? Where do you draw the line?
Hearts Hearts Hearts Hearts 9 9 9 9
You should do everything possible to protect and preserve historic sites and cultural property, even during a war.
What do you think? What if the enemy are using the sites as cover?
Hearts Hearts Hearts Hearts 10 10 10 10
The military should only be used for defending the state.
What do you think? What about protecting foreigners? Who gets to choose?
Hearts Hearts Hearts Hearts J J J J
Can service personnel refuse to serve if they disagree with their government’s decisions?
What do you think? Is there a difference between an illegal order and one you simply disagree with?
Hearts Hearts Hearts Hearts Q Q Q Q
Do you have a duty to find out the reasons behind a particular deployment or conflict you are involved with?
What do you think? Do your superiors always know best?
Hearts Hearts Hearts Hearts K K K K
How should you act if a civilian abuses you for being in the military?
What should you do? How do you uphold military values and standards in such a situation?
Hearts Hearts Hearts Hearts A A A A
The use of torture can never be justified.
What do you think? Are there any exceptions according to the law?
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Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds 2 2 2 2
Should you discuss and debate the reasons for being deployed with a) those in the military and b) those not in the military?
What do you think? Does everyone in the military have a moral obligation to understand the reason for going to war? Do you need to know why?
Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds 3 3 3 3
The military must always act as an ambassador for the state.
What do you think? The actions of a nation’s military always reflect on the state. Is that a good thing?
Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds 4 4 4 4
How can I justify being paid to kill people?
What is the ultimate purpose of the military? Is killing essential to this? Why are military personnel sometimes allowed to do things that other people are not?
Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds 5 5 5 5
Should the military ever be used to keep order at home?
What do you think? Is the military the correct organisation to fulfil this role?
Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds 6 6 6 6
Should soldiers expect to be treated well by their government and by society when they leave the military?
What do you think? Should there automatically be such a relationship between the state and the military? Is this fair if you are no longer protecting your society?
Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds 7 7 7 7
You discover a colleague who has money problems is selling military equipment for personal gain.
What do you do? Does their financial difficulty have any bearing on whether their actions can be justified?
Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds 8 8 8 8
By joining the military, I realise and acknowledge that I forfeit certain rights and privileges for the duration of my service.
What do you think? Should you have to forfeit them? Which rights do you think you give up?
Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds 9 9 9 9
Should the military have positive discrimination to recruit a more diverse workforce?
What do you think? What might the effects of this policy be? Should all appointments be based only on merit?
Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds 10 10 10 10
Is it in the best interests of society if the military is transparent and its actions can be examined freely?
What do you think? Should the causes of war and the actions in war always be examined? Is there anything that must be kept secret?
Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds J J J J
Should veterans have priority access to healthcare if they are injured during military service?
What do you think? What if this deprives civilians affected by the same condition of the healthcare that they need?
Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds Q Q Q Q
I should be fully prepared to die for my country before joining the military.
What do you think? What about if you change your mind whilst serving?
Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds K K K K
You should be entitled to refuse to serve if you are ordered to use force against your own citizens.
What do you think? Is the order legal or not? Could the order ever be right?
Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds Diamonds A A A A
Should those bereaved by military service be entitled to extra support from the state?
What do you think? Should support from the state extend to military families as well as to military personnel?