We have a lot of Michaels commenting here, and one of them, plain old Michael, I have had the honor and pleasure of knowing personally. In this fascinating Comment of the Day, he provides some fascinating details regarding Billy Mitchell’s trial, and some other perspective as well. The post immediately expanded by reading list.
Here is Michael’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Captain Crozier And The Ghost Of Billy Mitchell“:
As a cadet at the USAF Academy (class of 1969) I had Billy Mitchell among my pantheon of heroes. Nonetheless, my philosophy professor, Col Malcolm Wakin, had us debate the ethics of the Billy Mitchell trial. He was not trying to get us to “an answer” (although it seemed pretty clear that the members of the Court were biased, and our debate centered more on Mitchell’s actions); rather, to engage in debate. It was one of the reasons he was my favorite Academy professors. Always probing. Always promoting open debate. This is a rather long intro, but I wanted the background of my own “ethics awakening” known.
Wakin was a major when he started promoting the idea that military academies should include philosophy departments. Other officers denigrated the idea, but the USAF decided to establish an Academy philosophy department and selected Major Wakin as its first department head. At the time, that meant a “temporary” promotion directly to full colonel! Therefore, not long after being called “silly” by many other officers, he outranked them. He was department head for many years, eventually retiring as a Brig General and being sought by many companies and the US Olympic Committee to provide ethics advice. Continue reading →
Billy Mitchell, at the court martial he wanted…
Why I didn’t think to include the tale of General Billy Mitchell in the Ethics Alarms posts regarding Captain Brett Crozier, the former commander of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt who forfeited his job by going around the chain of command to protect his crew, I really don’t know. But it’s normal for people to forget about Mitchell, and I don’t understand that, either. He, like Crozier, was an unconventional Ethics Hero, and a crucial one. And he may well have saved the world.
Do you not know the story of William Lendrum Mitchell, born December 29, 1879, died February 19, 1936? You should. Every American should.
He grew up in Milwaukee., Wisconsin. At age 18 he enlisted as a private in the army, and by the age of 23 he had become the youngest captain in the U.S. Army. It was a pattern; being a prodigy and trailblazer in the military came naturally to Mitchell. In 1913, at the age of 32, he became the youngest officer ever assigned to the General Staff of the War Department in Washington. At a time when most in the military considered the airplane a novelty, “a risky contraption” of little or no value in combat, Mitchell immediately saw the potential of air power, and believed that planes represented the future of warfare.
The United States had only fifty-four air-worthy planes when it entered World War I in 1917, and only thirty-five air-worthy officers, including Mitchell, to lead them. Again he was a first, this time the first American officer to fly over enemy lines. He organized the first all-American Air Squadron; one of his recruits, Eddie V. Rickenbacker, became a legend as Mitchell moved his American air units to counter Manfried von Richthofen, the “Red-Baron.” When Germans planned to unleash a major ground offensive and the Allied commanders were desperate to learn where it was being mounted, Mitchell volunteered to fly low over the enemy’s lines, and his daring mission discovered thousands of Germans concentrating close to the Marne River. Armed with Mitchell’s intelligence, the Allies launched a surprise attack on the German flank and scored a major victory. Mitchell’s solo reconnaissance flight was hailed as one of the most important aerial exploits of the war. Continue reading →