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Note: Philip Meynard Flammer had a long career in the Air Force as an historian, most notably working in Saigon in 1968-69 documenting the Vietnam War. He was the author of several books and articles on military history. He eventually joined the faculty at Brigham Young University, and taught as a military historian there for many years before his retirement and death. Phil influenced an entire generation of LDS thinkers and practitioners in the field of national security, especially through his writings on the subject of military ethics. Unfortunately, this legacy has largely been lost to our faith community. By publishing this co-authored essay, written circa 1980, with permission of his co-author Karl Gretz, we hope to revive interest in Flammer's intellectual and spiritual legacy. Reminiscences about Phil by Bart Czirr and B. Kent Harrison, emeritus professors of physics at BYU, are provided at the end of this article.


When Adolph Eichmann stood before his accusers in Jerusalem, he readily admitted his participation in “crimes against humanity” but stoutly rejected all hints of personal responsibility.  Well within St. Augustine’s definition of “sin,” i.e., doing what he knew to be evil and which he could have chosen not to do, he excused himself on the ground that he was a good soldier.  Good soldiers, he argued, obey orders.  The blame, if any, rested with his superiors for, as he phrased it, “abusing my obedience.”      

Eichmann carefully avoided the word “loyalty” in making his defense.  This was a significant omission for “loyalty” was a catch-word with the Schutzstaffeln (SS).  Eichmann had fully subscribed to the SS standards and had carried with pride the ceremonial dagger with its ominous slogan “My Loyalty is My Honor” on one side of the blade and the phrase, “In heartfelt comradeship with Heinrich Himmler” on the other.  Moreover, he too had sworn the famed oath of personal loyalty to Adolph Hitler, an oath he never violated.        

Why then did Eichmann cling to the concept that “obedience” alone explained his behavior?  The obvious answer is that he recognized full well that obedience can be forced, however indirectly, whereas loyalty, which implies a more heartfelt acceptance of the bond between the leader and the led, cannot.  Indeed, it goes almost without saying that forced obedience can never be more than marginally effective in such crimes as mass genocide.  On the other hand, extreme violence against well-meaning and upright people, including fellow nationals, is not only possible under the umbrella of loyalty, it is relatively common.  Hitler understood this point well.  “Any violence that does not spring from a firm spiritual base,” he said, “will be wavering and uncertain.”  Eichmann knew this, but to admit it and still claim to be blameless was to introduce an absurdity comparable to Frederick William’s encounter with an old Jew who shrank from the Prussian king in terror.  The king liberally used the whip as he shouted, “Stop fearing me, you rascal.  Love me!  Love me!”   

There is compelling evidence that Eichmann, like virtually all the Nazi war criminals, had indeed been loyal to Hitler according to Hitler’s definition of the word.  When called to account, their difficulty stemmed not from having loyalties per se, but in surrendering the definition of those loyalties to Hitler and his primary henchmen.  In so doing, they allowed these ambitious and morally depraved individuals to make moral decisions which committed them to participation in reprehensible crimes.  When called to account later on, they claimed they never knew such crimes were going on—an outlandish claim—or, as did Eichmann, that superiors had abused their obedience.  But before the idea of accounting to conquerors ever entered their heads, they paraded their loyalty as a virtue independent from the crimes they committed in its name.  In this way, Hitler’s moral values became their own, and they could follow the demands of the madman, committing or consenting to murder on a scale that beggars the imagination.  And, even when drenched with the blood of their countrymen, they regarded themselves as loyal, that is, virtuous men.     

As a factor in the history of mankind, the critical difference between loyalty seen as a virtue in and of itself and loyalty inherently carrying with it moral obligations to such things as decency and truth, can hardly be overestimated.  On it rests much if not most of the pillage, rape, murder, and mayhem over the ages, for tyrants rarely shed blood with their own hands.  That must be left to underlings willing and able to do their bidding, preferably from a “firm spiritual base.”  So used, modern man, as seen in Hitler’s “Final Solution,” Stalin’s massive purges, and the Chinese “Cultural Revolution,” is not only as bloody as the hordes of Genghis Khan, he is much more efficient and, for a time, his evil works may pass as progress.     

In all such instances where loyalty was—or is—a playing factor, the focus of that loyalty is on a leader or an institution (as with the Office of the Inquisition) that maintained: 1) loyalty per se is a virtue, provided the leader or the institution is the focus of that loyalty, 2) the excesses which “necessity” demands are in the best interests of the state or other institutions or organization, 3) the leaders are the ones to define not only the interests but also the means for achieving them.  Thus, Napoleon’s famous dictum that the interests of France could not be other than his own interest, has a virtuous ring until one remembers who was leading the parade.     

If, in the face of it, forced loyalty is a contradiction in terms, so too is loyalty treated as an abstract virtue, its value independent of what one is being loyal to.  If this is not so, then people like Hitler, Himmler, Idi Amin, and members of the Mafia can claim respectability on a par with men and women fully committed to the virtues of honor, truth, and decency.      

Still, throughout the ages loyalty has remained grievously ill-defined.  Why is this so?  It is difficult to escape the conclusion that too many people find that loyalty in false relationship can be manipulated to their advantage.  Clarity about the concept of loyalty is therefore one of the last things they want since, in the words of Hannah Arendt, “words can be relied on only when their purpose is to reveal and not to conceal.”  In the manipulation of loyalty, ambiguity if not outright concealment is essential.       

At this point, one might well ask why the false relationship can be so attractive to both the leaders and the led.  In the case of leaders, the answers come quickly and easily.  As for the underlings, there can be a variety of motives, some of them hidden from the underlings themselves.      

Hobbes was close to the truth when he wrote that the “perpetual and restless desire for power” is more or less the “general inclination of mankind.”  The attractions of power include not only greater ease and opportunity to acquire wealth and recognition, it also means greater freedom to break the rules, to satisfy even petty whims and desires.  And since, as the eminent historian Henry C. Lee once put it, “ascendancy must be demonstrated only when it is in doubt,” a powerful but insecure individual is most likely to abuse that power.  In this regard, there can be no better demonstration of power than the willingness to use it arbitrarily.        

As indicated earlier, tyrants rarely, if ever, bloody their own hands.  For this level of tyranny, they must rely on others, and not just the half-thinking executioners well down the ladder of authority.  It is much to their interest to have a “loyal elite,” members, as it were, of a special “inner ring” that can always be counted on.  King Saul of the Old Testament, for example, had his Doeg.  When Saul’s soldiers refused to kill the 85 priests who had sheltered David from the king’s wrath, Saul still had an option.  “Doeg,” he said, “you do it.”  And, we are told, “Doeg did it.”  Significantly, the soldiers do not intervene to prevent the atrocity, thus providing a clear example of the immense disparity between the refusal to participate in a great wrong and an attempt to prevent it.  In the first instance, the soldiers were opting for a higher loyalty born of their religious concepts.  That took some courage.  But to have prevented the action, an extraordinary level of moral courage was necessary, a level one rarely encounters because of the personal risks involved.  Saul’s soldiers no doubt understood that the king had other “Doegs” to deal with them if need be.        

It would be foolish to think that wither the “need” for or the use of such dark levels of loyalty are confined to the distant past.  The twentieth century has more than its share of examples which supports the view that Lord Acton’s statement about the corruption of power is still viable.  It also proves that even with the advances of civilization, man is not necessarily more moral than his distant ancestors.  It is true that while modern generals or politicians in a political democracy can never get away with the open abuses of power common wth dictators, they are often heavily committed to its hidden abuse.  President Lyndon Johnson obviously wanted this level of loyalty in select subordinates.  In response to a recommendation for a new staff member, Johnson asked, “Is he loyal?” “Well, he seems quite loyal,” the sponsor replied.  Johnson’s response: “I don’t want loyalty.  I want loyalty.  I want him to kiss my ass in Macy’s window at high noon and tell me it smells like roses.  I want his pecker in my pocket.”         

It goes almost without saying that along civilized peoples, ample underlings who will serve at these levels of loyalty are possibly only if their positions and loyalties carry some level of respectability.  To this end, no better concept exists than a cloudy definition of loyalty in which loyalty is paraded as a virtue in and of itself.    

Hannah Arendt’s celebrated book Eichmann in Jerusalem carries the ominous subtitle, A Report on the Banality of Evil.  And, in her epilogue she wrote: “The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.”      

This sobering reminder that even ordinary men are capable of enormous evil is they allow themselves to be manipulated by others, is reinforced by equally sobering reminders given in psychiatrist Erich Fromm’s book, Escape from Freedom.  Fromm focuses upon the compelling desire of many people to be free from the oppressive burdens of aloneness, fear, bewilderment and uncertainty.  The “cares of the world,” reflected in their apparent helplessness in the face of such adversities, approach the intolerable.  As a consequence, man has shown himself to be willing indeed to trade his personal freedoms for freedom from economic and social distress and, significantly, an end to moral decisions that demand moral behavior.  This is what Dostoevski had in mind when he described one of his principal characters in The Brothers Karamazov as having “no more pressing need than to find somebody to whom he could surrender, as quickly as possible, that gift of freedom which he, unfortunate creature, was born with.” 

It was in the spirit that the Reverend Jim Jones was able to gather and control his flock in British Guyana even to the point of determining the time and method of their mass suicide.  In a very real sense, their personal loyalty to God was defined and controlled by an ordinary mortal named Jim Jones.     

Since the psychological stability of insecure individuals feeling from fear, anxiety and uncertainty is much different from self-assured individuals directly facing the future, it is not surprising that so many of the former are quick to offer their freedom in exchange for mental and physical security.  The escapee tends to see only the horrors he is leaving behind and the promised awards that await him.  He feels he has found safe shelter even as the voids of his life are filled from the outside.  Thus, he may be quick to identify with a larger group and may even win recognition—another desperate need—for particularly slavish behavior.  Boxer, the hard-working horse in George Orwell’s The Animal Farm, it will be recalled, was something of a hero before he wore himself out and was sent off to the glue factory. 

But there is something more, a major flaw, as it were, in human nature that allows recognized authority to manipulate otherwise well-meaning people, provided those in authority assume full responsibility.  In an effort to quantify this flaw, Professor Stanley Milgram of Yale University conducted a series of experiments in which a student was seated in a chair wired for electric shock.  The “subject,” another student, faculty member, businessman, etc., was brought to a console marked with 30 gradations of shock ranging from 15 volts (mild shock) through 375-420 volts (DANGER: SEVERE SHOCK).  Two positions, representing, the extreme, were marked only with two large red X’s.     

The subject was told that the purpose of the experiment was to relate punishment with failure to meet learning standards, the idea being that the individual in the chair would receive shock for incorrect answers and hence would mobilize his mind and increase his recall.  What the subject did not know, of course, was that the “student” received no shock although he clearly manifested discomfort, pain and extreme distress as the occasion required.  The real test was to see how far the subjects would go in administering shock provided the “experimenter” with him at the console assumed full responsibility.   

Professor Milgram, his associates, and others—including some psychiatrists—speculated on the results before the experiment began.  The consensus was that “virtually all subjects will refuse to obey the experimenter,” with one to two percent, representing a “pathological fringe,” going the limit.  Actually, a stunning 65% did so, and the number remained consistently high even when the subject had to physically restrain the student to administer the shock.       

Since the “experimenter” not only assumed full responsibility but insisted that a hesitant subject would ruin the experiment by backing out, the subject could claim some virtue in assisting in something of “obvious” importance.  Since their obedience was not actually forced, they could pass the experience off as a difficult one requiring self-sacrifice and hence a dedicated loyalty to the experimenter and what he represented.  This is significant because every tyrant parades his atrocities as necessary and beneficial to the welfare of the state.  Again Hitler provides a dramatic example.  Although he was responsible for the death of millions, Hitler still used that shop-worn justification only hours before he killed himself.  In his last testament, he wrote approvingly of his “twelve years service” to the German people. 

Understandably, it is in times of greatest stress that man is most inclined to trade his personal freedoms for a level of servitude and security that approach serfdom.  The economic and social chaos that followed the break-up of the Roman Empire led to the mass peonage of the feudal era.  Similarly, the great upheaval of World War I and the intense uncertainties that followed it led to a modern form of servitude in Hitler’s Germany. 

It is significant that while the Nazi and the Soviet hierarchies detested each other in the 1930’s, both aimed at resolving the social and economic ambiguities of life through movements leading to intoxicating utopias of union and strength.  Both met the expected opposition with ruthless ferocity.  And for the “transformations” of their respective societies, the requisite ruthlessness could only come from a “firm spiritual foundation.”  “Loyalty,” therefore, was a catch-word for both tyrannies, and was well used to recruit and control the thousands who dutifully murdered even their fellow nationals on a grand scale.  Indeed, it is not too much to say that the control of masses through terror is simply not possible unless a concept of loyalty exists that is all the more perverted for resting on a “firm spiritual base.”       

In instituting his Thousand Year Reich, Hitler did not expect much opposition from the German people, an indication of his understanding of the nature of the German people and their willingness to opt for security over freedom.  He did worry, however, about the officer corps, a traditional elite and cohesive group that might well resent a former corporal holding supreme power.  This was true of the senior officers and particularly the members of the General Staff.  He brought them to heel, however, not only through the oath of loyalty mentioned earlier, but also by compromising their honor.  He skillfully maneuvered them into several situations in which they either had to display conspicuous moral courage or betray their own moral weakness and let Hitler have his way.       

How well this worked is evident in General Beck’s total isolation after he called for his fellow generals to stop the plunge towards general war by resigning en masse.  It is also evident in General Rundstedt’s reply at Nuremberg when asked why he did not support the July 1944 plot on Hitler’s life and thus end the plunge to national ruin.  His reply: “I am a soldier, not a traitor.”

If Rundstedt’s example—which is not an isolated one—betrayed an ill-conceived and disastrous concept of loyalty, it also revealed the shallow moral fibre of “tradition bound” senior officers who prided themselves on their “loyalty” and discipline.  Hitler henceforth counted them as cowards and, with moderate exceptions, despised them for their cowardice.         

But in this they were not alone, for Theodor Fontans was quite correct when he wrote that, “true [moral] heroism, unlike military heroism, is always greeted with insults and contempt.”  Thus, just as those who treat loyalty as a virtue in and of itself are actually betraying their own weakness and self-interest, so too those who cannot stand the nearness of real moral courage betray a grave unwillingness or perhaps inability to see themselves as they really are.      

It is by no means insignificant that while many of the older people of Hitler’s Germany might well have had quiet reservations about what was going on, the younger generations proved much more willing to accept the mental and spiritual servitude of Nazism with enthusiasm and pride.  Given the utopia Hitler had in mind and all the pageantry that went with its introduction and growth, it is perhaps understandable that men joining the vigorous and elite SS would listen to Himmler with growing satisfaction as he spoke of the vital role they would play in the difficult task that lay ahead, i.e., the liquidation of the Jews.  At the Wansee Conference in October 1942, Himmler spoke of the hardness and dedication that would be required while carefully dressing the future endeavors with a mantle of idealism centered on the altar of loyalty.  “One principle must be absolute for the SS man,” Himmler told the group.  “We must be honest, decent, loyal and comradely to members of our own race and to no one else.”     

That emphasis on decency “to member of our own race and to no one else,” would have bothered his listeners had they been men with depth of character, for the SS had already participated in crimes against the German people, including the partial liquidation of the paramilitary Sturm Abteilung (SA, or “Brown Shirts”) who were also Nazi to the core.  But in accepting Hitler’s definition of what constituted honesty, decency, and even race, they dutifully helped write some of the bloodiest pages in all of human history.  In so doing, they stained their fatherland as few modern nations have ever been stained.  And, in the end, they found their leaders’ concept of loyalty was disastrously selfish and narrow.  Himmler himself, for example, betrayed Hitler in the final days of the Third Reich and tried to escape the fate he knew awaited him by fleeing in disguise.  Some of this SS elite, having taken his emphasis on loyalty seriously, sang songs about loyalty, and then killed themselves.         

For all that, it is well to remember that not everyone who falls in with such movements or is slavishly obedient to an individual or organization does so in recoil from a frightening future or as a response to a utopian lure.  One does not have to probe deeply into groups or organizations to find individuals who, out of selfishness and ambition, are more than willing to fall on their knees before they are asked to.  The initial effort may be only for preferential treatment, but all too often it is a hint of spiraling ambition that leads, hopefully, to personal power, wealth and/or prestige.  A servile attitude and a willingness to do whatever is necessary is the hallmark of these individuals who are as conspicuous as they are diligent.  Generally speaking, such individuals tend to “bottle up” their moral scruples for a time, along with any tendencies to exercise moral options.  They naively assume that the bottle can be “uncorked” as soon as they reach the plateau they have in mind.  Of course, it rarely works out that way.  Ambition is almost always open-ended and moral scruples put in storage tend to evaporate.  For centuries men of ambition who slavishly latched onto individuals who had power or the promise of power were known as “courtiers.”  The word still has meaning.      

Courtiers and “loyal” no-questions-asked obedience from any source will always be welcome among tyrants for, as indicated earlier, their real power rests on their ability to use others to do their bidding.  This is particularly true in the “hero cult” system which marked the rule of both Hitler and Stalin.  Unfortunately, this too has been a recurring theme throughout the ages.  Some two thousand years ago, for example, the sensible Cincinnatus of Rome warned against “reverencing” temporal rulers:

Worthiness resides in no man and let the nation beware which discovers itself regarding its temporal ruler as a divinity, fawning upon him, delighting in his comings and goings, reverencing him, listening to his words as though they rolled down from thunder, ostracizing those who differ from him, raising up their voices like trumpets hailing all that he does and deluding themselves that he is superior to those who have elevated him by vote or in the name of emergency.

History certified Cincinnatus’ advice, mostly by the results of mankind ignoring it.  It was Hitler as the infallible “Fuehrer” and Stalin as the all-wise “Great Helmsman” that allowed them to preside over the destruction of a significant portion of the world’s population with, as often happens, some of the heaviest casualties coming in their own countries.         

This unhappy trait of exercising what has been called “unrighteous dominion” is not limited to powerful and tyrannical individuals.  Groups and organizations, and particularly those which are overly concerned for image, are almost always aggressively “bad” when faced with the exposure of any error that might shame them or otherwise tarnish their self-woven mantle of respectability.  Initially, the errors may be logical, inevitable, understandable and, up to a point, digestible.  But if the individual, group or organization interprets “corporate loyalty” as requiring its members to shield the entity from exposure, distorted loyalty has found root.  As we know from the infamous Dreyfus Affair, My Lai 4, and Watergate, all too often leaders and organizations regard the exposure of error as worse than the initial error itself.        

This is true even if the exposure is clearly in the public interest and supposedly is required and protected by law.  Thus, the “whistle blowers,” as they are sometimes called, are almost invariably degraded, maligned and slandered, and this openly enough within the organization to discourage anyone else who might have a residue of moral courage from using it.  In its way, this is a form of terror, undercover, yet quietly conspicuous in order to act as a deterrent.  Significantly, in such cases the word “disloyalty” is not normally used.  An informed public may too easily realize that the whistle blower was actually opting for a higher loyalty in the best interests of the people and nation.  If the public is aroused, as with the issue between the US Air Force and Ernest Fitzgerald [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._Ernest_Fitzgerald --ed.], the power elite may call in old debts from among other power elites and so stage-manage the affair that only extended and significant public pressure will force them to simple justice.  “Not a team player,” is the customary phrase used to discredit individuals in such cases, thus evoking images of willful isolation and insubordination, and that not out of principle, but as a basic character flaw.  If paraded in this light, it often requires no further justification.        

That this is inherently a dishonest and insidious methods of control is evident in the failure of its practitioners to use the word “disobedience” as well as “disloyal.”  Again, such a word might raise an unwanted question, i.e., “disobedient to what?”         

Meanwhile, the “whistle blower” is isolated and badly maligned largely by fellow workers easily knowing and doing what is expected of them.  They too have a prominent part in offering up the “sacrifice” that both certifies and solidifies the abuse of power, for it is yet another example of the powerful preying upon individuals more honest and upright than they are, as well as upon those with little or no moral courage.  Moreover, while the consequences of this level of moral weakness is readily apparent to those willing to look squarely at the matter, a strange and little-known fact exists, i.e., that relatively few individuals committed to decency and truth and operating in unison, are usually able to bring down a house of cards built and manipulated on a foundation of distorted loyalty.       

The unexpected resistance the Nazis encountered when they attempted to rid Denmark of the Jews, for example, is a stunning example of what collective morality can do.  Some non-Jews not only protested the Nazi efforts, the also said that they too would wear the yellow Star of David.  The German plan was forthwith thrown into confusion.  Even when the Nazis rushed in some of their more hardened and ruthless practitioners, the latter simply could not function.  The collapse of their resolve proved all too clearly that their brutal system depended not so much on their own strength but on the usually reliable assumption that moral weakness is almost always exhibited as moral blindness.

Any false concept of loyalty, be it military or corporate, becomes desperately serious when the effort to cover error is raised to the level of principle.  This was profoundly conspicuous in the infamous Dreyfus Affair when the French government announced that all further efforts to prove Dreyfus’ innocence would be regarded as treason.  But it was also evident in Watergate, My Lai 4 and a multitude of other conspiratorial cover-ups, all of which damaged the lustre of those involved in the conspiracy infinitely more than the harshest critics could have done from the outside.  Once again, the usually reliable ploy is the same as that used by the Nazis throughout Europe, that is, relying on what appears to be their own strength when, through intimidation, they actually rely on the moral weakness of those who could effectively oppose them if they had more depth of character.        

The problem of misused and abused loyalty will never go away.  The motivations for its deliberate distortion are too self-serving to be neglected by those willing and able to use it.  Still, the concept deserves a hard look if only because those who misuse it are more than a little anxious to keep it from the light.  Also, to a degree, to be forewarned is to be forearmed.  (Would we not have been better children had we understood the tendency and consequences of particular children being singled out for senseless persecution?)  Finally, we do well to remind ourselves that loyalty is a two-edged sword.  In the words of Sir Basil H. Liddell Hart:

Loyalty is a noble quality, so long as it does not blind and does not exclude the higher loyalty to truth and decency.  But the word is much abused, for ‘loyalty’ analyzed, is too often a polite word for what would be more accurately described as a ‘conspiracy for mutual inefficiency.’  In this sense, it is essentially selfish—like a servile loyalty, demeaning to both master and servant.  They are in false relationship to each other, and the loyalty which is then so much prized can be traced, if we probe deep enough, to an ultimate selfishness on either side.  ‘Loyalty’ is not a quality we can isolate: so far as it is real, and of intrinsic value, it is implicit in the possession of other virtues.

For those to whom personal integrity and depth of character are not important, loyalty will always be an attractive method of exploitation.  However, there are options open to those who reject their exploitation in the name of “loyalty.”  One is to preempt the dilemma early on, letting the would-be exploiter know either explicitly or implicitly that he or she is not open to such manipulation.  History provides numerous instances of this preemption by secure individuals with depth of character.  General George C. Marshall is an eminent example.  Unexploitable, he did not exploit, even when he had the power to strike back at men like Douglas MacArthur who disliked him, resented his integrity, and earlier hindered his advancement.  Another instance, centuries past, involves a missionary in a hostile land who impressed a difficult and troublesome king with his dedication and courage.  Because of the circumstances leading to their acquaintance, the kind would have accepted the missionary as a man with magical if not divine powers.  The missionary, however, insisted that he was an ordinary man and stunned the king by offering to be his servant, albeit with one important condition.  “Whatever you ask of me that is right,” he said, “that will I do.”     

In accepting this condition, the king, who had killed servants who displeased him, kept the option to kill the missionary/servant if he wanted to, but he forfeited any chance of having the missionary do his “dirty work” for him.  For his part, the new servant now had the option to instruct the king on reasons why, in certain circumstances, he would not obey.      

However deep Eichmann may have buried his moral scruples while assisting in the mass destruction of the Jews, he tried to resurrect them quickly enough when called to account.  His emphasis on outside “abuse” of this “obedience” and being a “good [obedient] soldier” betrays the fact that he knew the deeds themselves to be morally wrong (evil).  Today, he might opt for the term “situational ethics,” but since he had the option of avoiding the situation itself, that too would flaw his attempt to excuse basically immoral (evil) behavior.        

Few people would doubt the values and positive benefits of loyalty married to “basic” virtues of decency and truth over the servile loyalty of an Eichmann killing Jews or an Air Force officer, a Department of Defense office worker, or even the President of the United States casting hypocritical stones at Ernest Fitzgerald.  The parallel is a proper one for in many ways, these two paths to dishonor are identical, particularly in the early stages.      

The sensible approach, of course, is to avoid such paths altogether, preferably preempting the dilemma by keeping “loyalty” in proper perspective.  If one’s personal perspective is in doubt, however, an honest answer to a simple question could serve as a viable self-evaluation.  The question is this: “Does the loyalty that is expected of me preserve or enhance my dedication to decency and truth; or does it suppress or weaken my moral courage in doing what I know to be right?     

The question is a critical one, for who can doubt that if the word “loyalty” is to have meaning beyond a mere parochial use, the tie between one’s loyalty and the quality of what one is being loyal to is inescapable.


I first met Philip Flammer when I saw that he was giving an honors seminar (at BYU) on C. S. Lewis. Being a Lewis fan myself, I went to the seminar. Phil not only welcomed me, he invited me to sit with him to help teach the seminar. He was totally unthreatened by having a co-teacher. There were about 20 students and we all sat in a circle and discussed works like the Chronicles of Narnia. That seminar turned out to be one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life at BYU. Phil had such insight into Lewis' writings, but also such deep understanding for spiritual things and for other people. Ever afterward he was my friend. If we encountered each other (on campus, or once in the Provo Temple) he was always deeply, genuinely glad to see me. It was a delight to see him.

One time he gave me copies of four articles he had written about loyalty, particularly in the military. I found them fascinating. They express an uncommon view, that one should be careful with one's loyalty or allegiance. Loyalty to an individual or organization should not lead one into error. He had a strong sense of right and was not afraid to say it.

Over the course of our acquaintance we did not have many encounters. Yet when I met him I was struck by what an extraordinary individual he was. When I was told he had Alzheimer's disease I was heartbroken. My immediate reaction was, "Oh, what a loss!" I remember him as one of the best men, one of the most compassionate, intelligent, honest, understanding, loving, and spiritual men I have ever known.

B. Kent Harrison
Professor emeritus, Physics and Astronomy, Brigham Young University

Phil Flammer and I met when I was teaching a class in the political science department at BYU on the subject of Nuclear Strategy, about 1986(?). We were asked to team teach an Honors class the next semester, so we did. Our frienship grew from there, and I quickly came to realize whom I was dealing with. For some reason he gave me an informal copy of the paper on loyalty and I considered it to define the subject. I have used it in my thinking since that time.

Bart Czirr
Adjunct professor, Physics and Astronomy, Brigham Young University

Full Citation for this Article: Flammer, Philip M. and Karl F. Gretz (2012) "A Hard Look at Loyalty," SquareTwo, Vol. 5 No. 1 (Spring), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleFlammerLoyalty.html, [give access date].

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COMMENTS: 1 Comment

1) Thomas F. Rogers

How fine of you to call Phil Flammer's ethical crusade to your readers' attention.  We first got to know him and Mildred as graduate students at Yale.  He was also my associate director of Honors with Reba Keele, you may recall, and he and I taught one of the Honors Freshman Colloquia together--at the inception, sadly, of his struggle with Alzheimers.  A most noble colleague and friend.  He must have passed away after I retired and we were out of the country. 

His central motto was always that, institutionally, one should be loyal to principle over persons.  Phil liked to cite George C. Marshall, who might have just as easily been our president as Eisenhower, Marshall's underling in World War II, to the effect that "You can accomplish almost anything in this world if you don't mind who gets the credit" (paraphrase).  Phil personified that sentiment.  Himself a pilot in that action, he helped write the multi-volume history of the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam, with, I'm sure, sufficient disapproval of our napalm bombings.  Yale's first Ph.D. graduate in military history, he served on the faculty of the U.S. Air Force Academy until, after exposing 'good old boy' corruption there, he was dismissed.  That's how we got him at BYU.  I believe he grew up in Tremonton. 

I should add that Phil also authored a novel, The Wager, whose subject and setting reflect his special interest in World War II and Nazi Germany.  Inspired by a vivid dream Phil had about the war's finale, he was compelled, he told me, to depict a quarrelsome dispute among a group of German soldiers hiding from the encroaching Red Army in a bombed out cellar.  Unintentionally, they end up harboring an infamous Nazi executioner with a price on his head, which places them in even greater jeopardy.  Phil deftly portrays his characters' different personalities--swaggering arrogance, cowardice, gullibility, etc.  Because they are so at odds and cannot agree on how to save themselves, his 'survivors' doom themselves to be found out and exterminated.  Phil's novel so impressed me that I asked for permission to render it in play form.  It's psychologically nuanced, treating the ethical issues that were, in this and various other contexts, Phil's real 'meat', and highly dramatic.  The novel still awaits publication and my script a production.