My posting has been sporadic due to Christmas break (and I took more days than normal, gotta use up that leave balance!) but also because I'm working on a book, ideally part of a series on leadership. I'm on the ethics section, and wanted to share a small part of what I've written so far:
Our moral compass is built slowly over time. You accumulate experiences, training and guidance that tells you what is right and wrong. Drastic changes are rare and easy to spot.
Your moral compass is more likely to suffer death by a thousand cuts than a sudden brittle fracture. Worse, you are heavily influenced by those around you. If your command climate permits questionable ethics, you'll be more likely to make poor ethical decisions.
Germany was a perfect example of this. I recommend reading Erik Larson's book "In The Garden of Beasts." The book shows the perspective of Germany from the American ambassador, who watched it slowly decay over the reign of Hitler as Chancellor. His daughter and wife noticed that although the German's were nice people, slowly over time they became increasingly harsh towards the Jews. One quote is particularly telling:
“Coordination' occurred with astonishing speed, even in sectors of life not directly targeted by specific laws, as Germans willingly placed themselves under the sway of Nazi rule, a phenomenon that became known as Selbtsgleichschaltung, or 'self-coordination.' Change came to Germany so quickly and across such a wide front that German citizens who left the country for business or travel returned to find everything around them altered, as if they were characters in a horror movie who come back to find that people who once were their friends, clients, patients, and customers have become different in ways hard to discern.”
Remember that these people started off just like you and me. Hitler's desire to exterminate the Jews eventually crept into most of his soldiers, no matter what their upbringing. Or, in more blunt terms, you can't be a diamond in the mud, because at some point you become just another mud covered diamond.
This isn't a defense of Germany's actions. We can guard ourselves from ethical problems. It starts with properly identifying the problem. You won't face ethical dilemmas on some big scale, instead, it will be a small ethical decisions on a day to day basis that you need to be constantly getting right in order to maintain your moral compass.