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How can tomorrow’s naval leaders be expected, in a crisis, instinctively to elevate duty, honor, and professionalism above their commitment to self if educators turn their backs on teaching duty in the classroom?
Not long ago at a Midwestern naval recruiting district, nearly 200 Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) candidates were asked, individually, why they wanted to pursue a Navy career. A
few of them were up front and said they only wanted the scholarship money. Some were being pressured by parents. Many wanted to collect on the advertised travel and adventure. One misguided soul said he wanted to join the Navy so that he could make a.lot of money. But a large percentage of these high school juniors earnestly and without hesitation expressed a desire to “serve their country.” At face value, this datum is encouraging; it seems to reflect the vaulting resurgence of patriotism in America. But
when these young men an meant ^ asked to explain what they' ^ the1”
“serving their country, m y froi”
were at a loss. They had com ^oUt tltf 11 years of public education tra£)iti^,n's appreciation that democra i -|jjng 10 depend on men and wome j^eir make unlimited sacrifices ■ jjsCuS
fense. They were unequipped . sel • commitment to any ldeasrheated; thf. These students had been jnto teachers were sending t
/ june *
Sa l.beif teachers opened their eyes to ^crifices made by millions of men men so that they may own cars,
tra^'VCn the nature °f modern officer
henc"1^’ 'S doubtful tbat f°ur years sio C6’ W^en theY receive their commis- stanH' w'd have a clearer underdo »8 0f duty or country. If a modem- niess”°rat'° ^e*son were to Hash the manSa“e’ “America expects that every do his duty,” it is likely he stares me* wdb 'e8'ons °f blank
v>" and women enter the armed ser- syS ln Ihe 1980s from an educational far K01 t*lat ^as failed- That failure goes ,jar(j C- ond the quantifiable slide in stan- of fe'Zed test scores, or the proliferation lege f1et*Ul^ composition courses for col- inah'lresb>men who cannot write, or the Tex'lt^’. °f 43% of the students of a tjnU)S ’'8h school to locate the Soviet sCh0n, 0n a world map. More disturbing, nlent° ,S have neglected the most funda- is : P'Har of formative education, that What Stld'n8 a sense of who we are and h‘We Hve for-
try *S Possible in many parts of the couneVen° 8raduate from high school, and sUre with no meaningful expo-
historv '^estern civilization or American every f ^'s's true despite the fact that the n aC6t°8 our social existence, from 0ur tl°Vcrnniental agency that picks up Il'ich t0 tbe laws and customs by the f We conduct commerce, is rooted in have democratic principles that
than2nnen carefuHy nurtured for more ho\y y | years. Students who understand libertie nera^e our historically exclusive priCe th are—and at wbat an exacting taine,j Were purchased and main- Usua| j,. are rare indeed. They are un ^ment*^ restaurant, participate in gov- ,hly,choosaend worship any god whom
haveare even more unusual if they educati ana^ed t0 dodge the ascendant the fasnlna' Philosophy of relativism— depencje‘0nable notion that there is no in- 6nt fight or wrong but rather that terests imPly 3 conflict of opposing intellect i|UCfl a Philosophy allows an in- hotyera y chic writer like Thomas Page^?.0 Publish this comment in a 20- °f the cUn,lc Monthly article on the roots and thf»°o *ct between the United States 6 Soviet Union:
botherC ^ndcd States and Russia are kincj ^eat Powers of the traditional . ' “®fh have expanded rapidly
• . u exPense of weak neighbors °th draw their power from huge
populations and economies; both are convinced that the destiny of the world is in their hands. . . . The question at the heart of the Cold War— the thing it is most clearly ‘about’—is which of these two armies will go home first.”1
In 10,000 words, Powers never acknowledges the enormous schism between the political systems of the “Great Powers.” It never occurs to him that the cradle of more freedom than the world has ever known might legitimately be defended against a regime that institutionalizes repression and genocide.
Two thousand years ago, Aristotle said, “If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.” The operative word is “share.” It confirms that democracy exists not just for the people but also by the people—by an educated citizenry that contributes to the practical success of the community.
When education fails, it produces a body politic that goes forth into the newsrooms, the classrooms, the legislative chambers, and the military with little sense of the tenuous thread of history that accounts for this current experiment in human freedom. In May 1984, an essay reflecting on the 40th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy appeared in Time. “[Tjhere were things [then] that seemed worth dying for without question. Today the questions seem to overshadow the commitment. The morals of sacrifice, so clear then, are more confusing now.”2 In those words, Lance Morrow pins down the essence of President Jimmy Carter’s “malaise,” that is, the distorted and ultimately destructive values inherent in what Vice Admiral James Stockdale calls gamesmanship. “[GJamesmen were relaxed, objective, open-minded, detached, cerebral swingers. Such emotional baggage as commitment or conscience they deemed inefficient and unnecessary.”3
In the current pop argot, we might call them “yuppies.” Their ethic posits selfactualization and personal satisfaction as the highest good. They raise self above citizenship, and their legacy has been a society churned up by conflict over a Southeast Asian war—pursued by selfserving political careerists on one hand and resisted by self-serving professional dissidents on the other. Theirs is a society whose courts are clogged by litigants seeking to assign their responsibilities to someone else, a society hamstrung by a failure to take its stand in the world because it might erode profit at the margin—
in short, a society for which “the questions overshadow the commitments.”
Enter prospective military officers. They knock at the door with neither a historical identity nor an ethic of obligation. Will their professional training correct for the deficiencies of their civilian education? Probably not, if the military’s ad campaign is any indication. First, viewers are introduced to a calling that demands sacrifice in the cause of sustaining the democratic tradition—with the
phrase, “It’s not just a job.” The following words might well tell them that it is a way of life, a consuming profession that will take them away from home for months at a time in the name of duty, an opportunity to mold character, a chance to take charge of one small piece of the national destiny.
But, instead, the ads tell them it is “an adventure.” It is the chance to fly fast airplanes and see colorful ports. It is a contractual bargain between Uncle Sam and upwardly mobile gamesmen by which, in exchange for a few genial “Good morning, first sergeant!”-years, the taxpayer will train them to be all that they can be. They are being invited to join not a service but a corporation, one that struggles gamely to compete for talent in the same commercial terms as Xerox, General Mills, and Exxon.
Yet no wife of a Xerox, General Mills, or Exxon man sends her husband off to work knowing that he may die a violent death in the line of his work. For them, there is no creed which says, “I am a General Motors executive. I serve the company that makes the Cutlass Supreme. I am prepared to give my life in its defense.” For them, there is no corporate account whose loss will result in the annihilation of a way of life. Richard Gabriel writes, “This confusion of roles and objectives has led many members of the military to pattern their own values and behavior after those of the larger society, and even after specific business enterprises within it.”4 This has created a heavily career-oriented officer corps, in which traditional principles of leadership struggle against the infectious pressure for individuals to make themselves look good. The result, concludes Gabriel, “has been disastrous.”
The simple, though not widely acknowledged, obligations of being a military officer are twofold: one, to fight and possibly die and, two, to lead men. No individual should pin on his gold bars and accept responsibility for the lives of enlisted men until he has embraced that ethic, for human beings need a touchstone, a mooring, a clear understanding of what is expected of them and why.
gs 1 June 1986
fomia, but which should at
officer training pipelines.
111v.i naming, pipw*»* ^
To say to oneself, “I amJnt oniy that
Leaders must be able to communicate those expectations to those who follow them. By demanding the loyalty of their subordinates, leaders incur the obligation to invest that loyalty wisely. In return for the extraordinary demands they place on their people, they must provide a credible assurance that their team’s effort and sacrifice are contributing in some meaningful way to a worthwhile goal. People will not feel satisfaction and their loyalty will not bear interest if they feel they have exhausted themselves in the advancement of a bureaucratic whimsy or the career of some yuppie gamesman in the upper ranks.
Unfortunately, officer training—faced by a rising tide of gamesmanship—only tentatively addresses the enormous moral issues of duty and obligation. Varying degrees of rote discipline take the place of hard-headed ethical indoctrination. During this writer’s four years of ROTC training only once did an instructor—a Navy lieutenant who had commanded a river boat in action in Vietnam—bluntly suggest to us indulged undergraduate midshipmen that at some point in our prospective careers we might be called upon to sacrifice our lives. Beyond that one rude glimpse at the reality of our profession, our formal training to be officers was largely confined to ship systems, navigation, small group “management,” and a nod to Karl von Clausewitz and Alfred Thayer Mahan.
Faced with a social ethic that is so contrary to military values, officer training programs—ROTC, Officer Candidate Schools, and the service academies— must recognize two priorities. First, exposure to the character of Western civilization must be fundamental to the training of military leaders. It is impossible to accept the duty of sacrifice if leaders neither understand nor appreciate that for which they are expected to make such sacrifice. The society that prospective officers will swear to support and defend is defined by its history and philosophy. So, too, are individual leaders, whose sense of identity is crucial to their moral judgment.
In Athens during the fourth and fifth centuries B.C., the Greek philosopher Plato wrote:
“And is not blindness precisely the condition of men who are entirely cut off from knowledge of any reality, and have in their soul no clear pattern of perfect truth, which they might study in every detail and constantly refer to . . . before they proceed to embody notions of justice, honor, and goodness in earthly institutions or, in their character of Guardians, to preserve such institutions as already exist?”5
The clear pattern of truth in Plato’s day included, as it does now, the political tradition of human freedom.
Exclusively military traditions of conduct, uniform, and ceremony take on particular significance when placed in historical context. The celebrated elan of the Marine Corps stems at least in part from the internalization by each individual member of a furiously proud tradition of war fighting and sacrifice. It is part and parcel of every Marine’s self-image, from the Commandant to the rifleman, with the result that obvious mutual respect flows up and down the chain of command.
Study of the historical and philosophical underpinnings of leadership need not displace technical expertise. An officer might possess a breathtaking knowledge of thermodynamics, or be a foremost authority on sound propagation in water; and, in fact, such technical skill is obviously useful in certain narrow fields in the military organization. But for the combat leader—whether a frigate’s damage control assistant or a squadron’s airframes branch officer or an infantry platoon commander—it is absolutely critical to understand why and for what men will fight and die.
This does not suggest that the weapons officer at his combat information center console tracking an inbound raid of hostile Badgers, or the A-6 pilot facing surface-to-air missiles over the Bekaa Valley is going to be calculating his options in terms of the rise of Jeffersonian federalism or John Locke’s theories of social responsibility. However, the strength of his commitment—his sense of moral duty which dictates whether he flinches or persists—will be shaped in important ways by his confidence in the values and precedents of his society. In turn, his men, though perhaps not sophisticated students of social philosophy, will perceive that moral certitude and respond to it. Part of the Army’s failure in Vietnam, reflected in the alarming number of combat refusals, drug users, and even “fraggings,” was a result of the failed confidence in the commitment and wil- lingness-to-sacrifice of the swarms of managerial, self-serving officers in safe, behind-the-lines command posts.6
A second priority of officer training programs must be the explicit articulation of duty obligations. The Code of Conduct, a logical starting point, should be driven home so firmly that it becomes an integral part of the psychology of young officers. The Code is anathema to the me-generation dictates of gamesmanship
and is not, on one reading, going 0 ^ press young candidates encumbere the individualist values in v0§ue, Code should be taught and stLidie reference to what Admiral Stockda <6 ^
“ultimate situations,” modern, ' cal, and literary case studies of m ' . s
als placed in agonizing moral ,cluan Jard where reliance on a systematic s aa| of behavior is essential not only to ^ integrity and group cohesion but to physical survival. . s 0f
The well-documented experien
American prisoners of war in ,^ie are a relevant focus for such a stu y Navy’s SERE school relies heaV1 y, s0„s Vietnam drama, and inevitably its ^ go well beyond the mechanics o ,,(0 vival, evasion, resistance, and ®SC^1jjjtary address the fundamentals o cruCj.
duty, loyalty, and leadership in t 0IlS ble of armed conflict. They aref 0ffi- that should not be reserved for a ^ jn cers during one uncomfortab e ^ajj. Brunswick, Maine, or San D,e§ ’hp aC[.
dressed, in some format, by e|'er^n shipman, cadet, and Candida e
die for this cause,” requires 110 (0 sur-
such a cause transcend the ins i (antly vive at any cost, but more 1 P ^ that that the cause be clearly unders r-eCt the soul have a “clear pattern ,.puty truth.” J. Glenn Gray explain >tvalu®’ is, for the professional, the big js
and courage in performance o nQt be a shining ideal. Death rnu j,0n°r
shunned if the interests of duty niay require it, however unpleasant uy
be.”7 , physica*
Yet, in a society where P atid pleasures of life are so a u ^ selfwhere the prevailing ethic ca sjblybe
gratification, what duty cou P ^ fh:lt
worth the unpleasantness o military
is the crucial question; tor c0mpre'
leader, even in peacetime, m rative
hend and embrace the m°ra resSjonady for which he is legally and pro d the obliged to risk both his own n lives of those under his com^^^^,
'Thomas Powers, “What Is It A ou Monthly, January 1984, p. 35- ,, 28
“June 6, 1944,
984, p. 10. N .-Moral1
VAdm. James B. Stockdale, USIN, g6 hip,” Proceedings. September (”g2
Richard A. Gabriel, To Serve 1982). f ^ tort, Connecticut: Greenwood Vrnialogues °fF W. H. D. Rouse (Trans.), Great ■
New York: Signet, 1956), P- ge. Cr'sV
Richard A. Gabriel and Pau ■ 1978)’F/n
Command (New York: Hill an Deflections 0"
J. Glenn Gray, The Warriors. Rejl |959), p. 1 tattle (New York: Harper and Ko .