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
The last time we visited the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, things seemed ready to slip into relative calm. Yes, the captain has breached policy and navy protocol as well as the chain of commend, but he had received the necessary punishment that he had to know was coming. His gambit had worked, focusing sufficient media and public attention on ship’s plight to goad the Navy into acting with more compassion and dispatch, getting the Wuhan-infected sailors off the carrier and into treatment. The Acting Navy Secretary had made the proper, if unpopular call, and the President had backed him up. Yes, the mainstream media was stirring the pot and making it seem like the captain had been unfairly punished—didn’t the cheers of his crew prove that?—but the public is used to this dance by now: the “Whatever the President and His Appointees Do Is Wrong Waltz.” Here was how the Times, the national “paper of record,’ described Captain Crozier’s firing yesterday, for example:
“Mr. Modly’s response last Thursday was to fire Captain Crozier, accusing him of circumventing the Navy’s traditional chain of command by copying more than 20 people on the emailed letter.”
Fake news. The use of the word “accuse” falsely suggest that there was any doubt in the matter. Crozer did circumvent the Navy’s chain of command by copying more than 20 people on the emailed letter, ensuring that it would reach the public. This was a major breach of security and military procedure, a firing offense in every branch.
And of course it was deliberate.
But I digress. The inability of the Times and virtually every other news source should be an assumption by now. That’s a different Ethics Train Wreck. Continue reading
Captain Brett Crozier was the commander of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt which had been docked in Guam following a Wuhan virus outbreak among the crew of more than 4,000. With about a hundred members of his crew infected, he decided to take the extraordinary step of sending a letter to the Navy pleading for resources and to have the afflicted sailors quarantined from the rest. In the four-page letter sent via a “non-secure, unclassified” email that included at least “20 to 30” recipients in addition to the captain’s immediate chain of command, including some crew members.
Crozier wrote that only a small contingent of infected sailors had been off-boarded, with most of the crew remaining on board the carrier, where following official guidelines for 14-day quarantines and social distancing was physically impossible. He wrote
“Due to a warship’s inherent limitations of space, we are not doing this. The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating…Removing the majority of personnel from a deployed U.S. nuclear aircraft carrier and isolating them for two weeks may seem like an extraordinary measure. … This is a necessary risk…We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors….Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those Sailors entrusted to our care.”
Of course, the letter leaked to the press, and the situation became a news story and a subject of unwelcome controversy for the Navy. Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly initially told CNN in response to questions about the appeal,
“I know that our command organization has been aware of this for about 24 hours and we have been working actually the last seven days to move those sailors off the ship and get them into accommodations in Guam. The problem is that Guam doesn’t have enough beds right now and we’re having to talk to the government there to see if we can get some hotel space, create tent-type facilities.”
Although the letter had the desired result, with members of the crew gradually being removed from the carrier, the Captain had broken the cardinal military rule never to go outside the chain of command. Crozier had multiple conversations with the chief of staff to Modly before his letter was publicized in the San Francisco Chronicle. The Navy had told Crozier to “call us any time day or night,” and gave him Modly’s personal cell phone number to update the situation and raise further concerns.
Then the e-mail leaked. Crozier was dismissed as captain by the acting Navy Secretary for what Modly called “extremely poor judgment,” going outside the chain of command, and disseminating the memo over an unsecured system. President Trump backed his appointee’s unpopular decision. Continue reading
To kick off the Not-Too-Early-To-Play-Christmas-Music Season, here is a Comment of the Day that adds another chapter to the Ethics Alarms commentary on “White Christmas,” the Bing Crosby-Danny Kaye musical film that is one of the five or six most resilient of the Christmas classics. The initial ethics analysis is here.
The post that spawned the latest take was a rare guest essay by Ethics Alarms veteran texagg04.
Now comes new commenter SykesFive to provide insight into the pivotal character of General Waverly, played by Dean Jagger. Among other things, he argues that one reason the general was so beloved was that he was poor general, treating the lives of his men as more important than his mission.
Here is his Comment of the Day on tex’s post, “White Christmas” Ethics Addendum: Battlefield Incompetence, Insubordination And More In The Holiday Classic:
I have a somewhat different take on this. I sometimes think I am the only person who thinks so much about the Waverly character.
As the scene opens, Major General Waverly is being relieved for frankly the only reason American unit commanders were relieved during the war: he didn’t take the objectives. That is failure. It could be lack of aggression or poor coordination or anything else, but ultimately it is failure and the commanding officer will pay the price. He will be shuffled off to a rear area command, or maybe just left to bum around the theater, and be out of the Army by the end of 1945 because his record will be so tarnished. He will be lucky not to revert to his prewar rank.
Waverly’s age suggests he was a company-grade officer during WWI and may or may not have seen combat during that conflict’s closing weeks, then spent decades idling in the interwar army. Apart from whatever happened in 1918, Waverly has no more combat experience than anyone else in the division. He is not an experienced commander by any measure. He had the right credentials–a few articles in service journals, no serious problems on his posts, and of course a West Point Ring–but had never really been tested as a field-grade officer. Again this is a common profile.This is a very common profile for WWII US Army division commanders.
So in 1940, let’s say Colonel Waverly seemed like a likely candidate for command of an infantry division in the expanding army. He did well enough with some trial commands–all during stateside training and expansion–and was promoted to one and then two stars. He seemed competent enough when the 151st Division was formed and went through let’s say nearly two years of intensive training in Texas or California or wherever. And so the division was sent to Europe in let’s say August 1944, then spent a couple months languishing in Normandy or the Pas de Calais region, during which time Waverly was a friendly presence at other officers’ headquarters as well as around his division. Bear in mind that at this point, and really for the whole war after the breakout from Normandy, the limit on American frontline strength was providing fuel and artillery shells. There were more men and tanks than could be sustained at the front. Continue reading
A Special Guest Post by Texagg04
Ethics Alarms commenters who are honored with the annual “Commenter of the Year” title in the yearly Ethics Alarms awards have the option of joining the elite ranks of guest bloggers here. Texagg04 got the honor a couple years ago but never exercised his option. His recently posted, meticulously-researched and fascinating multi-comment addition to my 2012 post about the holiday film “White Christmas” seemed too extensive for a mere Comment of the Day, and I asked tex to edit it into a single post. He agreed, and what follows is the result. I recommend seeing the film (it’s on Netflix) either before of after reading his analysis. The 2015 update to the 2012 Ethics alarms “White Christmas” post is here.
As the kids were watching “White Christmas” and I walked by, in passing, I noticed something amiss about the “military” feel of the opening scenes that seemed off ethically. So I copied and pasted the first website that claimed to be a script of White Christmas. I’m not sure what it was…if it was a working copy or a first draft, but it has significant differences from the actual filmed scenes. So, I’m forced to modify some of my assessment from the original three posts.
All the dialogue is transcribed *directly* from the listening to the movie, so I think I’m pretty close to word for word. The scene descriptions and action statements are modified versions of the script I got from the original website (which can be found here).
Before I go into commentary, I’ll insert the entire dialogue for perusal and familiarity. There are numbers to reference particular dialogue in my analysis at the end. Here are the opening scenes—General Waverly is played by Dean Jagger; Captain Bob Wallace is Bing Crosby, and Private Phil Davis is Danny Kaye:
Dan Quinn’s not a soldier any more because he disobeyed orders…and stopped a man from raping a kid in Afghanistan. War is hell.
An ethics conflict occurs when two unquestionable ethical values demand opposite results in the same situation.
An impossible ethics conflict is when the typical priorities of duty require the worst outcome.
This is an impossible ethics conflict.
Interviews and court records reveal that the American military command has ordered American soldiers and Marines not to intervene in Afghanistan when they observe Afghan military commanders and soldiers raping boys, even when the abuse occurs on military bases. The local practice is called bacha bazi, (“boy play”). The policy aims at avoiding conflict and maintaining good relations with the Afghan police and militia units that the United States has trained to fight the Taliban. It also embodies the theory that the U.S. should not impose its cultural values on other nations. Pederasty is widely accepted in Afghanistan, and being surrounded by young teenagers, a.k.a. male rape victims, is mark of social status for powerful men.
Imagine how bad the Taliban must be if these are “the good guys.”
Asked via e-mail about this American military policy by the New York Times, the American command spokesman in Afghanistan, Col. Brian Tribus, replied, “Generally, allegations of child sexual abuse by Afghan military or police personnel would be a matter of domestic Afghan criminal law…there would be no express requirement that U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan report it,” with the exception of when rape is being used as a weapon of war.
Well, we certainly can’t have that. The response ducks the ethical issues entirely. Continue reading
Ignore, for the time being, the fact that several other high-ranking Obama officials richly deserve to be fired for egregious failings of honesty and competence. Gen. McChrystal, the commander in charge of U.S. combat in Afghanistan, has followed in the unfortunate footsteps of General Douglas McArthur, who openly criticized President Harry Truman and lost his command as a result. McChrystal has to go too. Continue reading