Ethos Education

Top Gun Maverick: Who decides whether technological advance is morally right?

Learning Objectives:

  • Understanding the role of warfare in technological advance.
  • Awareness of moral and ethical considerations in technological development.
  • Understand a Christian approach to questions of ethics and morality in conflict.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Analyse the role that conflict and war play in increasing technological advance.
  • Consider if all technological advance is good for society, and examine the moral aspects of invention.
  • Examine the importance of human character in moral decision-making by analysing a clip from Top Gun: Maverick.
  • Explore the idea that technology has both a moral and a practical application in conflict by hearing the story of the Norden bombsight via a Malcolm Gladwell TED talk.
  • Explore Bible passages to discover a Christian approach to war and conflict.
  • Determine what just cause might lead to war by responding to a quote from Max Lucado (Christian writer).
  • Synthesise learning by writing a military briefing note advising on the moral case for or against war against an enemy nation.

Supporting Values Education:

  • The value of individual liberty recognises the right of individuals to determine for themselves standards of moral right and wrong. This lesson encourages students to consider how Christian belief can lead different individuals to make different decisions about the appropriate behaviour in times of war.


Give students copies of the War: What Is It Good For? handout, explaining that many everyday objects that we take for granted were invented during times of war. In pairs, students must try to match the object with its original purpose. Some are fairly obvious, others less so. The correct answers are:

Digital camera Spy satellite technology created to capture high-resolution images of enemy installations.
Duct tape Water-resistant rubber-based adhesive on cloth designed to be strong enough to repair military equipment by sticking it back together.
Canned food A way of preserving foods such as corned beef and beans in a way that would be easily transportable to large numbers of troops.
Blood transfusions A means of saving lives by ensuring that battle casualties would be able to be given blood safely.
Sanitary towels Cloth pads to stop wounded soldiers from bleeding during operations.
Microwave ovens Radar technology producing electromagnetic waves on a tiny scale and causing vibration and heat.
Aviator sunglasses Sun protection developed for military pilots.
Wristwatches Means of synchronising military manoeuvres by making sure each soldier knew the exact time.
Penicillin Mould that was discovered to fight infection in wounds.
Computers An electronic device invented to help decipher messages sent by Nazi encryption machines.

Once the class has completed the task, invite students to discuss whether there were any surprises on the list. If there is time, you can talk further about how some of the objects came to be invented (e.g. the microwave was discovered when the bar of chocolate in the pocket of engineer, Percy Spencer, melted as he tested a magnetron vacuum tube).

There are more inventions listed at

Ask the class why they think that technological process often begins during wartime. The phrase ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ could be used to describe this phenomenon. What does it mean?

Is all invention beneficial to humanity? Ask for examples of inventions that have been destructive (e.g. nuclear bombs, any form of weaponry).

Explain that in today’s lesson, you are going to be considering the idea that technology and technological advancement is never neutral, and that human beings are responsible for how any form of technology is used.


Introduce the clip from Top Gun: Maverick (Paramount, 2022, certificate 12A). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain to the students that Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is a top US naval pilot but has a history of insubordination and arrogance. Now, as he gets older, he is still a serving pilot, but works for a team who are testing an aircraft against the capabilities of a drone (an unmanned aircraft). Ask students to pay attention to how Maverick responds to the admiral, and how the admiral feels about Maverick.

  • Start time: 00.04.06
  • End time: 00.13.06
  • Clip length: 9 minutes 0 seconds

To avoid two uses of the word ‘shit’, stop the clip at 00.11.20 (clip length: 7 minutes 14 seconds).

The clip begins with Maverick (Tom Cruise) closing his locker door and bumping his fist on a calendar where the phrase ‘Mach 9’ is circled in red. He grabs his keys and aviator shades and sets off on his motorbike across the desert to a restricted military area. When he arrives at the aircraft hanger he is told that the programme he is part of is to be scrapped because they haven’t achieved the test speed of Mach 10 (7826 mph). Maverick points out that they still have two months to reach this point. He is told that Admiral Cain ‘the Drone Ranger’ wants to divert the project’s budget to an unmanned programme, and that he is on his way to shut down the programme. Maverick declares that Cain isn’t here yet, and that if he wants Mach 10, they can give him Mach 10. We then see Maverick preparing to fly. He is told that he must keep to Mach 10 and not fly any faster. The plane is fired up and takes off just as Admiral Cain (Ed Harris) arrives at the base. We watch as the plane increases speed. The admiral arrives in the control centre and orders that the plane is brought down, but Maverick pretends that his line is breaking up, and the team plays along. The plane passes Mach 9, making Maverick the fastest man alive, then reaches high hypersonic mode. Warning lights begin to come on warning that the temperature of the plane is rising but Maverick pushes on and reaches Mach 10 [stop the clip here to avoid two uses of the word ‘shit’]. Maverick decides to fly on and increase the speed further. Eventually, at Mach10.4 communication is lost and the plane explodes. The film then cuts to a dusty and dishevelled Maverick walking into a busy diner carrying his helmet. He signals for a glass of water, and once he has drunk it, asks where he is. A small boy at the counter gapes open-mouthed at him and says, ‘Earth.’

Ask students to describe the relationship between Maverick and Admiral Cain. Which character would students want to spend time with?

Divide the class into two groups (or any even number), and assign each group a character (Maverick or Cain). Ask them to make a list of as many words as they can think of to describe the characters.

Listen to the answers from both groups then invite the class to suggest any other words that have occurred to them. As they call them out, write the words on the board where everyone can see them.

By the end you will have two lists, hopefully including words like:

Heroic, Brave, Stubborn, Bold, Courageous, Insubordinate, Reckless, Arrogant, Old, Lonely, Determined, Maverick (Maverick).

Important, Powerful, Stubborn, Calculating, Determined, Harsh, Unyielding, Ambitious, Arrogant, Old (Admiral Cain).

Invite the class to look at the words and choose which character they think they would find more trustworthy. Which character do they think is the better person?

Explain that ‘morality’ is a word that describes the principles or rules human beings use to describe the difference between what is right and what is wrong. A morally good person is one who makes decisions that are right, and a morally bad person is one who makes decisions that are wrong or harmful.

Ask the class to vote on who between Maverick and Admiral Cain they think is the better judge of right and wrong. Make the point that it is highly unlikely that any human being is ever completely good or completely bad.

If you have time, show Malcolm Gladwell’s TED talk ‘The strange tale of the Norden bombsight’ ( (15 minutes). If you don’t have time to watch the full talk, tell the story yourself:

Carl Norden was a Dutch-American engineer who invented a complicated bombsight – the Norden Mark 15 – in 1940. This was an incredibly intricate piece of military equipment that enabled pilots to drop bombs with pinpoint accuracy, thus theoretically reducing the risk of innocent people being injured or killed in bombing raids. A vast amount of money was spent developing his invention, but when it came to be used in the Second World War it proved to be ineffective as it required very specific weather and altitude conditions and it was very difficult to operate. It also broke down often and proved inaccurate in the field of battle. People are brilliant at inventing gadgets and improving technology. In times of war, under pressure, people become even more inventive. However, no matter how inventive human beings are, they cannot change the basic fact that accuracy cannot match the complexity of any situation.

‘The issue isn’t the accuracy of the bombs you have, it’s how you use the bombs you have, and more importantly, whether you ought to use bombs at all.’ (Gladwell)

The fact that Maverick could fly the plane at Mach 10 speed did not mean that he should do so – in fact he ended up crashing the plane.

Technology enables human beings to achieve remarkable outcomes, but not all technological advance leads to good moral outcomes. Carl Norden’s Christian faith meant that he wanted his invention to limit harm and suffering, but in the end he failed to achieve this, as his invention was part of the military hardware used to drop a nuclear bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing hundreds of thousands of people.

Give students copies of the Moral War handout. The correct matches are:

Bible verse Statements
Ecclesiastes 3:8 Sometimes it’s right to go to war, sometimes it’s not.
Isaiah 2:4 God will judge nations and people, and then there won’t be any more war.
Psalm 82:2-4 Sometimes it’s right to go to war in order to defend the weak and save them from wickedness.
Matthew 5:44 God wants people to love their enemies.
Matthew 5:39 God wants people to make peace where possible.
Matthew 22:39 Love other people as much as you love yourself.
Exodus 20:13 It’s wrong to murder another human being.
Romans 12:18 Try to live at peace with people as far as you can.
2 Timothy 2:4 Soldiers are focussed on the task at hand.
1 Peter 2:14 God sometimes puts people into positions of power so that they will defeat evil.


Remind students of the different characteristics they identified in Maverick and Admiral Cain. Both characters were ambitious for their own aims – for Maverick that meant going faster than any other pilot, even if the plane was destroyed, for Admiral Cain it meant getting funding for his drone project even though there might be better solutions. Now tell students that they have been appointed to role of moral advisor to the Armed Forces. Their first task in the job is to decide whether it is morally acceptable to declare war on another country. They have only a handful of facts at their disposal, and they must include a quote from the Bible in their answer.

The facts are:

  • The enemy country has invaded another country without warning.
  • The enemy country is more powerful than the invaded country.
  • The invaded country has appealed for international help.
  • The only weapons that your armed forces have available have a history of missing their targets causing ‘collateral damage’ (risk to civilians).

Write a paragraph of advice to the other officers, stating what you believe is the right action under the circumstances, and using your knowledge of the Bible to back up what you write.


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