Conversely, lack of moral courage during war can be costly. For example, General Harold K. Johnson, Lyndon Johnson's Army Chief of Staff, seriously contemplated resigning over the conduct of the war in Vietnam and the White House's micromanagement and interference, but at the last minute, he changed his mind. It is difficult to guess what effect his resignation might have had on the course of the war, but the general later would reflect on the decision, saying, "I am now going to my grave with that lapse in moral courage."
A peacetime military organization that becomes morally hollow and compromised creates difficulties that are just as serious. As Admiral Arleigh Burke said, "A man who doesn't have the courage to stand up for what he believes to be right in his own friendly councils will not stand up on the battlefield for what he deems to be right. In other words, a man will not fight for principle unless he fights for principles in all arenas, friendly as well as unfriendly."
Moral character in peacetime also can have more immediate effects. The 1949 "Revolt of the Admirals" is an example of strong moral character and a willingness to sacrifice careers—including the career of the Chief of Naval Operations—for a greater good. Admiral Denfield and the other flag officers risked everything to oppose a decision they could not abide—the cancellation of the carrier United States and related realignment of the roles and missions of the Navy—and saved naval aviation and our carrier program. Imagine the impact on our national security if they had lacked the courage to stand up for what they believed.
Sadly, it appears that a growing portion of our service is unwilling to stand up for what is right, to defend the Navy, its traditions, and the warrior culture. The pages of Proceedings have seen increasingly frequent reference to the growing perception that "flag officers are mostly concerned with politically correct solutions rather than morally correct solutions." In his speech at the Naval Institute's 1996 Annapolis Seminar, former Secretary of the Navy James Webb voiced this yearning for our Navy's leaders to stand up and defend our service. "What admiral," he asked, "has had the courage to risk his own career by putting his stars on the table and defending the integrity of the process and of his people?" For that matter, where are the captains, commanders, and lieutenants willing to put their careers on the line for what they believe?
There still are officers of integrity and moral courage in our Navy, but in the current environment, taking a stand means the end of many of their careers (witness Admiral Stan Arthur's departure) and the Navy's further loss of officers of moral courage, which sets a chilling example for those who remain.
The requirement to exhibit moral courage and the strength of one's convictions—whether in war or peacetime—is an inviolable duty of everyone who wears the uniform of our Navy. We should expect that every service member—from admiral to seaman—will stand up and defend our institutions, culture, values, and tradition, regardless of the personal or professional consequences. If we are not willing to make a stand, we may soon find ourselves a morally hollow service.
Lieutenant Watanabe is a reserve naval intelligence officer currently assigned as an intelligence evaluator at the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center.