I don’t know how I missed the fact that the armed services increasingly use fake buglers at military funerals, but I just learned about it the hard way.
Our neighbor, a navy veteran who died unexpectedly leaving his wife and small daughter, received a military burial in Quantico, Virginia. The uniformed bugler raised his instrument to his lips (out of my sight, but I saw him with his bugle on the way to the site), and the mournful sound of TAPS began, only to end abruptly halfway through the melody. There was an awful, awkward silence as the mourners wondered what happened and if the tune would be completed, and then the sailor put away his bugle into a case, and walked over to fold the flag on the coffin.
Because of budget cuts (which, of course, could have been applied elsewhere, for this is a choice) and a shortage of buglers, most military funerals employ non-musicians who hold a fake bugle with a chip and a speaker installed to give the illusion that TAPS is being performed.
In other words, it is a subterfuge and a lie.
I discussed what was wrong with such fake live performances in 2009, and again in 2013, when I beat this topic to death, even going on Bill O’Reilly’s show to talk about Beyoncé lip-synching at the Inauguration as the newscasters lied about it being a live performance. The key quote from both posts is this..,
“The performance was part of the swearing-in ceremony of President Barack Obama, and that meant that it could not, should not, must not be phony, faked, or a lie.”
Whether you think that similar fakery is more or less excusable when the nation says good-bye and thanks to a deceased veteran is a matter of priorities. Both are unethical, both represent creeping corruption and a betrayal of values. This was a Navy service; here’s the relevant provision of the Navy Ethics Compass:
I am accountable for my professional and personal behavior. I will be mindful of the privilege I have to serve my fellow Americans. I will:
Abide by an uncompromising code of integrity, taking full responsibility for my actions and keeping my word.
Conduct myself in the highest ethical manner in relationships with seniors, peers and subordinates.
Be honest and truthful in my dealings within and outside the Department of the Navy.
Make honest recommendations to my seniors and peers and seek honest recommendations from junior personnel.
Encourage new ideas and deliver bad news forthrightly.
Fulfill my legal and ethical responsibilities in my public and personal life.
As I read this, the practice of trying to fool the assembled at a Navy veteran’s funeral that he is receiving a live performance of TAPS rather than a fake one is a breach of integrity, does not embody the “highest ethical manner,” is neither honest nor truthful, does not meet the serviceman’s ethical responsibilities.
As for bad news, nobody told us, nor his widow, “I’m sorry, but we don’t have a real bugler, so this young man is going to pretend to play while he holds this disguised speaker up to his lips.”
If the military believes service in the armed forces in protection of the nation is only worth a cheap recording and a charade, it should be clear and transparent about it. The current practice is a violation of core military values, and a breach of honor, as well as an insult to the families of the deceased veterans.