"Something that one is required to do by either moral or legal obligation." - Dictionary.com
"An action or a task required by a person's position or occupation" - Dictionary.com
"Duty is never simple, never easy and rarely obvious" - Jean Dutourd
"The first duty of a Soldier or good citizen is to attend to the safety and interest of his country." - Thomas J. 'Stonewall' Jackson
The Army speaks of duty in almost hallowed terms. There is a reverential sense that 'doing your duty' brings with it a comforting warmth knowing that one has performed their required tasks and done so in support of a larger cause.
However, Duty happens in both large and small ways. And, most certainly, is not the sole purview of those of us in the military. In all walks of life, from the single parent who continuously strives to provide a better life for their children, to the hospice worker who eases the suffering of the aged, ill or infirmed, to the teachers who dedicate themselves to educating future generations, everyday people fulfill their duty. We all do. We are spouses, children, parents, community members. We have obligations to fulfill in those various roles. Most are not really contractual either. Most stem from the personal associations we have and our expectations of ourselves and others.
In many ways though the military has co-opted the word and made it their own. When people speak of servicemembers you often here how "So and so always did his/her duty." We seem to have given it a new depth of meaning that applies only to a profession where someone is, or could be, placed in mortal danger on a routine basis. You hear it applied to policemen and firefighters this way as well.
My point is that Duty happens everywhere, everyday and in every manner. It's the little things that matter. It's what happens when someone moves beyond their legal contractual binds and does something 'because it is right'.
I found Dutourd's quote above to be very interesting. "Duty is never simple, never easy, and rarely obvious." Doing your duty is never simple. It requires the constant balancing of priorities, people, and roles. I am a husband and a father. There are times when I have failed in my duties as both of those in order to attend to the requirements of my profession. Times I have failed my profession in order to attend to my duties as a member of a family. And now we find ourselves in a place where many leaders seem unable to balance these various requirements and are struggling to find a middle ground. The 'duty' to prepare for the next deployment vs the 'duty' to dedicate as much time as possible to my family. Both require 100% of my energy, my devotion, and my abilities. But, I am always forced to choose. One more hour spent in training may be the difference in whether one of my Soldiers lives or dies. One more hour checking and rechecking a unit's preparedness may have a great impact on the outcome of my little portion of the war. But, at what cost? Am I expected to sacrifice my family? To lose those thing that ultimately provide me my greatest joy and comfort? How can I balance both? How can I do my duty?
I remember a time about 3 years or so after I was married when I was coming into my reenlistment window. My wife said she 'hated the Army' and that she wanted me to get out. I remember telling her that she would go before the Army. That the Army was my home and that I was good at it and that I enjoyed it and that it provided me those things that I needed to have a sense of purpose and belonging. Now, 12 years later I see that argument as wholly unfair. I have duties and obligations to my family as well as the Army. And each must constantly be balanced out. Thankfully, she is still with me, still loves me, and still 'hates the Army.' It's one of the things that keeps the balance. It's what makes fulfilling your duty "never easy."
Duty has another component to it that is what I think sets it apart from other virtuous behavior. Morality. The moral obligation to do what must be done, to correct universal wrongs, to espouse the 'better angels of our nature.' When required behavior moves beyond mere legal requirements.
This is the one that gets hard. The moral courage of a student standing in front of a tank in Tiennenman Square, the reporting of the crimes committed by my Soldiers by another member of their platoon. The requirement to question the purpose of an order that makes no sense. These are the harder parts of doing one's duty. These are the incidents and experiences that we need to look at and study.
I have mentioned in the past the 'loyal opposition'. It is probably in thinking about the word duty that the idea of the loyal opposition becomes most clear to me. I love the Army. It is no longer my simple duty to go to work and perform a task working for the Army. The Army, and all that it requires have become a part of the marrow of my being. However, I count myself among that group called the 'loyal opposition'. Due to experience, observation, and thought, I can no longer blindly follow anyone. I have a duty to pass along my views and interpretations of issues, concerns, needs etc to my subordinates, peers, and superiors. None of them may agree with me, and ultimately they may choose not to accept my viewpoint, but that does not mean that I do not have an obligation to stand up and express myself. In fact, my love for the institution is such that it demands that I do. I view it as my duty to the organization.
FM 7-22.7, "The Non-Commissioned Officers Guide" says the following about Duty:
"Take responsibility and do what's right, no matter how tough it is, even when no one is watching. "
We are in a period of change in the Army and with many confusing and differing viewpoints as to the correct balance and direction we need to move, it may be more critical now than ever in our recent history that we support the idea of the loyal opposition and foster the ideas of both personal responsibility and the toughness required to live up to it. In my opinion that is something we do not do very well, and probably haven't for the last 30 years or so. This has created the blind obedience view of duty. As General Patton once said, "If everyone is thinking alike, then someone isn't thinking."
Duty requires thought, contemplation, and dedication. Regardless of profession, taking a hard critical look at yourself, your organization, and it's purpose - and being able to take the hard steps required to admit when you've gotten it wrong and then take corrective action, may be the absolute achievement of the highest sense of both the legal and moral requirements of doing your duty.
In light of this, consider the following. The Army has recently finished the first part of a critical review of our actions in Afghanistan. You can find a draft of it here :
It is 412 pages long and was commissioned by the Army itself. The understanding that taking a hard look at what you have done, why it was done and the results those actions generated is absolutely critical to the health of the organization. Although many will disagree with parts of the findings, the Army leaders who commissioned it must be given credit for fulfilling their duty to the Army and the nation.