My initial reaction in hearing that the Army is in the process of creating a “courageous restraint” award, an award given to soldiers who restrain from using force that could endanger innocent lives, was worry. By incentivizing soldiers to not defend themselves with force where it’s warranted increases the chances of them being killed themselves.
In these conflicts the enemy lives amongst the people making it incredibly difficult to discern them easily. The enemy already has and will inevitably continue to increasingly push soldiers’ limits, proving their knowledge of the inner-workings of our military, a fact that we too often underestimate.
It is my belief that the creation of an award for or using current awards for “courageous restraint” is entirely unnecessary and, moreover, that it will ultimately prove to be detrimental to our troops.
I see no harm in commanders unofficially recognizing soldiers within their command for restraining themselves from using brute force as a first course of action. I believe, in fact, that this would help boost morale. However, solidifying these incentives within the official award system counters many of the ethos necessary for soldiers to have in order to effectively fight armed combatants.
One way to address the issue of using lethal versus non-lethal force is revising the rules of engagement (ROE) when the situation on the ground changes. It has been enormously effective in addressing soldiers’ actions and responses to non-combatants in the combat zone.
I know from personal experience that changes to the ROE are quickly disseminated to all units to ensure immediate compliance. Any changes that have been made recently and changes that still need to be made to the ROE should be taught and re-taught to all soldiers, emphasizing its importance as well as incorporating much more of these ‘restraint’ scenarios, where soldiers are faced with decisions between lethal and non-lethal force, into training.
While I would not argue that American lives are more important than any other, I would argue that it is our duty to do whatever we can to protect the American soldiers who are voluntarily putting themselves in harms way. Incentivizing them to not protect themselves is not the answer.