Equal and fairhanded punishment must be based on the individual’s record and an understanding of punishment’s purpose. Poor use of punishment is typified by the commander who was afraid to punish anyone and by his indecision punished everyone; the lieutenant who suffered such a bad conscience from his weak handling of a grave infraction that he threw the book at the next offender, thereby spoiling a good man and gaining the ill will of the company; the old-timer who smarted under excessive punishment for a trivial offense, broke under it, got into much worse trouble and became a felon; the fool who handled every case alike, instead of recognizing individual differences in human character; and the idiot who views giving punishment as validation of his position and rank. An officer can avoid becoming a part of the long and sorry list by following the “Golden Rule” policy toward subordinates.
If obedience is a moral quality, punishment should be employed as a moral act. The prime purpose of the act is to nourish and foster obedience. Unlike the Roman Praetorian officers who taught the legionnaires to wear their breastplates by the simple expedient of killing the first one who forgot to wear his, it is now necessary to think over, to compare and to weigh punishment’s probable effects on the person being judged and on the system. The question is: “What good will be achieved?” If the answer is “none,” punishment is not in order.
-The Armed Forces Officer, pgs. 53-54 (22 July 1975)