A couple of thoughts...
1. Martial arts is a collection of athleticism, unified with a purpose - effective combat. Look at a similar group, say baseball, and you will find a collection of athleticism unified with a purpose - winning a baseball game. You could argue that baseball teaches ethics (sportsmanship, self-discipline, etc.), yet most people would not specifically argue that baseball is an ethical pursuit. Aikido has chosen to make a point of arguing its ethical position.
Agreed. Ethics and philosophy are now defining features of Aikido to other martial artists and the public.
Defining our ethics is more of the trick. For example, some will say Aikido tries to not hurt their attackers - truthfully, safer techniques and safe, mutually beneficial practice was a goal of Kano Jigoro while O Sensei called Aikido a potentially lethal art.
2. Decisions have value. Every decision we make has a value and a consequence. The concept of perception management deals specifically in altering the perceived value of the decision. The idea the resonated with our earlier aikido generations was the potential injury they could inflict was significant and therefore their actions should be weighed accordingly. This idea generally resonates across most martial arts.
The warrior as an acceptible part of society. Part of the model for police officers and soldiers, and the foundation for society and law.
A common thread that runs through several of these issues is a generation(s) of students who don't understand the "real" value of what they are doing and therefore can't share it with juniors. So in many ways we are susceptible to perception management because we don't understand the value of what we are doing.
Is this only a knowledge deficit? Do we simply need to learn more?
...Aikido has worked so hard to elevate the perception if its position as an ethically-driven martial art that it almost can't support the weight of its own claims. This warps our training and I think that is not necessarily a good thing.
The claims are so varied and vast, and highly individual. They are not anchored in any one religious system nor uniform throughout the entire art - and maybe not even uniform in a single dojo. I do not think all of the widely varying ethics stances are all connected back to the Founder.
When a dojo talks about ethics driven training, and then only offers a class of Kotegaeshi and Ikkyo - is the art itself responsible for not supporting the weight of the claims?