Category Archives: War and the Military

The Protesters, The Veteran And The Flag—An Instant Ethics Train Wreck In Georgia

Mission accomplished... But what exactly was the mission?

Mission accomplished… But what exactly was the mission?

This the kind of story that makes Americans cynical. I’m more cynical from just reading it. Air Force veteran Michelle Manhart saw protesters  stomping on a flag in a demonstration at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, and took action. She briefly snatched the flag away, but police officers intervened, arrested her, handcuffed Manhart, returned the flag to the protesters so they could continue abusing it, and escorted the comely counter-protester away. The protestors, all African-Americans, proceeded to say some silly and offensive things (Can we stipulate that “You killed off our people. You enslaved our people…You put us in this white supremacist place” is silly and offensive? I think that’s fair… and a lot fairer than accusing Manhart of “killing off” African-Americans.) Neither the demonstrators nor the police pressed charges against Manhart, but she did receive a campus trespass warning that bars her from campus activities. Let us pause for a brief ethics audit, shall we?

1. The flag desecrating protest, as the Supreme Court has clearly ruled, was legal and protected, except to the extent that it incites others to violence, like a burning cross. In some settings, it might be so judged. Not on a college campus, unless the college is West Point.

2. Legal or not, it’s a disrespectful and irresponsible protest, not to mention dumber than a Justin Bieber Fan Club.

3. I think many veterans would react as Manhart did. My father would have. I might have on his behalf. A lot of non-veterans would as well, and I salute them. Remember Rick Monday?

4. The police were correct to intervene and arrest Manhart.

5. The protesters were correct not to press charges.

6. The university correctly ordered her to stay away.

Unfortunately, the story began to rot soon after it was first reported. Continue reading

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Filed under Education, Ethics Train Wrecks, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Marketing and Advertising, Race, Rights, War and the Military

Ethical Quote Of The Month: Sgt. Shane Ortega

Trans Military Service Member

“You have to exercise patience with people, but people are not going to understand the subject overnight.”

—-Sgt. Shane Ortega, helicopter crew chief in the Army’s 25th Infantry Division, speaking to the Washington Post about his legal battle with the U.S. military, which continues to classify him as a woman despite his transition to a man.

The reason we say that “hard cases make bad law” is that the toughest cases fall between the cracks in rules and regulations, and they all have cracks. The law seeks consistent precedents, so anomalous fact patterns threaten the integrity and efficiency of otherwise effective laws and rules that work well in the vast majority of situations. Yet those hard cases usually indicate flaws in policies, rules and laws, and sometimes point to the need for change.

Often, an organization, especially a bureaucratic one like the military, will deal with such disruptive cases by simply looking past the actual facts, and treating them “by the book.” Ortega represents a particularly glaring instance of this phenomenon, which in his case not only harms his career, but also makes the military appear rigid to the point of absurdity.

Yet, as his Ethical Quote of the Month indicates, he understands. Change is painful, and it takes time. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Quotes, Gender and Sex, Health and Medicine, Leadership, War and the Military, Workplace

Bergdahl Desertion Ethics

BoweSo Bowe Bergdahl is being tried as a deserter! Fancy that—and yet Susan Rice, the President’s National Security Advisor, told the nation, as the President was trying to pretend his decision to trade terrorists for the disturbed American POW wasn’t the cynical effort to overshadow the then raging VA scandal and to tamp down veteran groups’ rage that it was, that Bergdahl  “…served the United States with honor and distinction…”

Either Rice knew this wasn’t true—and if she were competent in her job, she would have to, wouldn’t she?—and was lying to the American public, or she didn’t know whether it was true or not, but asserted that it was true anyway, which is also lying to the American people. She is, as we already know, willing to do this—lie. And her punishment from the President, who promised transparency, for such a high profile and embarrassing lie? Nothing. What does this tell us? It tells us that Barack Obama doesn’t put a very high priority on being truthful with the public that elected him..

You know, I don’t object to making a prisoner trade to free an American soldier, even an awful one like Bergdahl, if that is the reason why it is done. I can accept it if our leaders level with the public, as in: “Sgt. Bergdahl is far from a model soldier, and may even be facing charges. But he is an American citizen, and we do not abandon our own. Even a flawed American soldier is more precious than five terrorists.” These leaders, however, don’t level, because they fear that if they did, the full disgrace of their incompetence would be known. Just as Obama doesn’t hold Rice accountable, the news media and the President’s party don’t hold him accountable for this putrid, contemptuous treatment of the American people, and Democrats allow incidents like this to rot their values from the inside out.

That’s the revolting culture that the charges against Bergdahl confirm, for those not completely rotted. Continue reading

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Iran Letter Ethics Q and A: Senate Heroes, Blame, Trust And Captain Queeg

Question:  Are the seven GOP Senators who did not sign the Iran letter Ethics Heroes?

Answer: I almost designated them as such, but that would have been a mistake. There are too many non-heroic and even unethical reasons Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Senate Foreign Relations Chairman might have chosen to refuse to go along with their colleagues. Based on the explanations I’ve read, that seems to be the case. Collins, for example, says that she didn’t think the letter would work. Wrong answer: the reason to reject the letter is because it’s a flat-out violation of legislative limits imposed on the Constitution. Similarly, Flake says that he didn’t think the letter was necessary, whatever that means. It is also likely that some of the seven felt they could have their cake and eat it too: they want the letter to undermine U.S. diplomacy, but don’t want to take the criticism that goes with signing it.

Question: Do I blame President Obama for the letter?

Answer: A friend who is such a knee-jerking Obama enabler and excuser that it’s a miracle he can walk posted yesterday’s  Thirteen Ethics Observations On The GOP’s Letter To Iran on his Facebook page, and one of his knee-jerking friends wrote, “Typical: blame Obama.” I did not and do not blame Obama for the fact that the Republican Senators engaged in a foolish, dangerous and bright-line violation of the separation of powers, and anyone who could read the post otherwise is so deranged by bias that their faculties are impaired…or they just aren’t very bright.

I did write, and it is true, that the President shares significant responsibility for the poisonous and dysfunctional relations with the Congress that led to this fiasco. He is at the top of the government; it’s ultimately his job to make the government and the system work. Obama and his enablers reject accountability at every turn, but the unavoidable facts are that he is in charge, he took the job voluntarily, and whatever doesn’t work, including the government itself, is on his record. He never made a good faith, sincere, dedicated effort to work with the Republicans in Congress; he never worked to develop the negotiation, compromise, horse-trading, cajoling, quid pro quo skills that successful, competent Presidents have used to deal with the same levels of political opposition that he has found impossible to cope with. He took no steps to build trust in Congress, and engaged in serial conduct that was guaranteed to destroy trust, and has.

Finally, his illegal immigration executive order (the illegal accurately modifies both “immigration” and “order”) and his unilateral alterations to his own, incompetent and sloppy, health care law showed exactly the same contempt for constitutional limits as the Senate letter.

Obama is not to blame for the letter. He is absolutely and ultimately accountable for the conditions that prompted the letter and the decision to send it.

Question: Is there an ethical justification for sending the letter? Continue reading

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The Petraeus Deal and Justice In America

broadwell

I’m in a rush to get ready for a law firm seminar, so I’m going to mostly let Ken White at Popehat do my work for me, as he is very qualified to do in this case. In his comments on the David Petraeus plea deal, Ken quite appropriately raises questions of why such serious crimes as the acclaimed general and former CIA head engaged in do not warrant prison time, and he answers thusly: Petraeus is rich, famous and has powerful friends.

Ken obvious believes those aren’t good reasons, and I agree with him. Nor are the other rationalizations that the general has suffered enough, that he isn’t really a criminal, that the nation owes him, or that he is a valuable resource for the nation that we are better served by not storing behind bars.

I believe that Petraeus has less excuse for his conduct than the typical defendant, and that as a celebrity, war hero and tole model, his defiance of the law is more serious, and more deserving of punishment, than the majority of non-violent criminals who go to jail. Indeed, Petraeus had styled himself as a moral exemplar. I read yesterday—I don’t have time to find the link—that Edward Snowden’s lawyers sent a cheeky message to prosecutors that Snowden would be happy to accept a similar deal to Petraeus’s.  Exactly.

These incidents do terrible damage to the public’s trust in the justice system’s fairness, and they should. Plea deals like this, bought with lawyer fees, bias and influence, are unequivocally wrong.

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Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Law & Law Enforcement, Literature, War and the Military

SNL’s ISIS Recruitment Commercial

There is supposedly a big social media controversy over this gag SNL ad, starring Dakota Johnson, that simultaneously parodied an Army recruitment promo and satirized the disturbing trend of brainless teens running off to join that terrorist organization that has nothing to do with Islam.

It’s not a controversy when one side is ignorant, censorious, politically correctness- addled, humorless and wrong and the other side isn’t.

The ad is brilliant black comedy and satire, one of SNL’s all-time best. Those who object to it don’t get black humor and satire, which makes their objections as irrelevant as someone allergic to shellfish saying that Legal Seafoods stinks. Nobody’s making them eat there, and they don’t have to watch Saturday Night Live or think it’s funny either. But I don’t care about their opinion, which is uninformed and useless to anyone who understands and appreciates the issues.

Here’s what was good and funny—and ethical– about the parody:

1. It caught the saccharine tone of its model exactly.

2. Its ending was a surprise.

3. It ridiculed ISIS, which deserves ridicule. President Obama claims that the way to withhold respect for the group is to lie about it being a group of Islamic extremists. This is much better, ethical, and doesn’t mislead anyone.

4. Making fun of evil is a time-honored activity, healthy, useful, and effective. I don’t recall anyone saying that Spike Jones was treading on sacred ground with this song:

or that The Three Stooges were trivializing the death camps with this…

5. The satire even cuts two ways. You know, that sweet young girl is also being sent off to kill people when she’s joining the military in the real ad. Like all great satire, this one is subversive and layered. Continue reading

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Three Strikes And You’re Untrustworthy: Why VA Secretary Robert McDonald Must Be Fired

McDonald

I was going to post this story as an Ethics Quiz when I first saw it yesterday at the Huffington Post.  The most recent head of the troubled Veteran’s Affairs Dept., Robert McDonald, falsely claimed in a videotaped comment that he served in the Army’s elite special forces. In fact, his military service of five years was in fact spent almost entirely with the 82nd Airborne Division during the late 1970s. The quiz question was going to be whether this alone required his dismissal.

My conclusion: assuming that he only did something like this only once, and it was not a Sen. Richard Blumenthal or a Brian Williams situation involving repeated self-glorifying falsehoods, I would have been willing to let this pass were he not in the position he is in: Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Veterans are justly sensitive on the topic of stolen valor and imaginary service. The last individual to hold McDonald’s job was asleep on the job and betrayed his constituency: they should not be asked to trust a successor who lies about his military service, even once. I understand that this is a tough verdict, and why others could reasonably argue that one casual remark to cheer a homeless veteran should not be a career catastrophe. In fact, as I write that, I’m thinking that I could be persuaded to adopt that position as well.

However, that is not all there is to this situation. For McDonald had already shown a tendency to play fast and loose with facts, perhaps influenced by his boss, who is similarly inclined, and the Vice -President, of course, when he isn’t harassing women. Continue reading

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