NEW YORK -- Whether it's firing a rifle from 100 feet away or directing a bombing raid from a mile in the air, the military objective is the same: Kill the enemy.
Troops get instruction in deadly skills from the first time they put on a uniform.
But there's another lesson they're taught, one that's rooted in philosophy and values like honor and courage. Call it the morality of war: how to kill, but not murder.
At a time when a flurry of criminal allegations have been raised against US troops -- charges or investigations in five separate cases alleging they gunned down unarmed Iraqis or detainees -- military personnel and their instructors insist ethics training is both vital and vibrant.
This is how it breaks down for Tim Coderre, a sniper with the National Guard who spent more than five months in a frontline operation in Iraq amid heavy fighting: ``I'm not a warmonger. But I understand my job. . . . My job is to be ferocious in combat, to be a killer. I'm sorry, but that's war."
Coderre was a Marine for eight years before returning to civilian life in North Carolina. He joined the Guard after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and went to Iraq in 2004. ``I don't apologize," he said. ``I'm very proud of the number of confirmed kills I had."
Killing from a distance, he shot only those who he judged were enemy insurgents. The rules of war -- no targeting civilians, no killing prisoners -- were ingrained, he said, despite his revulsion for the insurgents and their tactics, such as decapitating prisoners.
``I could never do that to them," he said. ``I hate insurgents, but I could never do that to them."
At West Point, moral training is at the heart of the enterprise, said retired Army Colonel Don Snider, a professor of political science.
Classes teach philosophy, logic, and the history of war, emphasizing the right conduct and the unacceptable, like My Lai in Vietnam, where American troops killed about 300 villagers, or the French experience in Algeria, where commanders turned to torture to fight rebels.
``Normally, the right [choice] is harder than the wrong, or there is no clear right and wrong. In many cases, soldiers are choosing between two wrongs, because both have morally ambiguous outcomes," he said. An example: A unit takes fire from a village, with no target in sight. Should the troops fire back, with the likelihood of civilian casualties? Retreat?
Each choice has moral consequences, he said.
Among the latest accusations, the charge that a group of soldiers raped an Iraqi woman and killed her and her family would -- if proved true -- clearly fall outside the bounds of military and civilian law.
At the US Naval Academy, a class called ``The Code of the Warrior" examines warrior cultures, looking at the ancient Greeks, the Vikings, American Indian tribes, the Japanese samurai, and others.
Shannon French, an associate professor of philosophy, aims to distill the essence of warrior values and the reasons they matter .
``It's so vital. Those rules are there to keep them from becoming monsters," French said.