Ethics Quiz: The Dying Veterans Plea [Corrected]

I know my answer to this one right now, but I’m curious about everyone else, and willing to be convinced that I’m a hard-hearted meanie.

Call this one a “Good Disgraced Veteran” story, in the style of the recent spate of human interest tales designed to make us feel sorry that the law has to be enforced when those nice, noble illegal immigrants break it. In this variation, the object of sympathy is Needham Mayes, who was among the first black servicemen to be stationed at Fort Bragg following  the President Truman’s executive order desegregating the armed forces  seven years earlier. In July 1955, as a 21-year-old private, he walked into a club on the base for non-commissioned officers only.  He was quickly confronted by a sergeant; their altercation became violent, and the sergeant ended up shot and bleeding with his own gun. Mayes was arrested and led away in irons, then court-martialed. He left the Army with a dishonorable discharge.

Now in his eighties and ailing, Mayes wants his dishonorable discharge expunged so he can be buried in a national cemetery. [Notice of Correction: I erroneously wrote “Arlington National Cemetery” in the original version] His argument is that after being kicked out of the Army, he turned his life around and has been an admirable, even exemplary citizen.

In 1978, he earned a bachelor’s degree at Adelphi University, then a master’s degree. He became a social worker and therapist. He worked with organizations that fought drug abuse promoted mental health, and worked to  prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS. In 2009, when  Mayes was 75, he joined the NAACP’s Civic Engagement Committee, and began working  with young men in poor, black neighborhoods, visiting homes and jails, and also seeking out anyone who would listen at large community events. All who know him and his work acknowledge that he has changed lives for the better.

“I am a rehabilitated man,” Needham  wrote in 2017, in an appeal to have his dishonorable discharge converted to an honorable one, “and I hope to have the right to be buried in a national cemetery with my comrades-in-arms.” His request was denied. Now his lawyers are again mounting an effort to have his record cleansed, assisted by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Should Mayes’ dishonorable discharge be upgraded?

As I said above, I know my answer: no.

Stipulated: Needham Mayes has been a positive force in his community and a fine citizen; based on what I know, I have no difficulty concluding that he is an ethical, virtuous, admirable human being. Nothing he has done since his military discharge, however, alters in any way his conduct when he was in the military, or renders his court martial and discharge any less valid than they were in 1955.

What the Times, Gillibrand, Mayes’ supporters and Mayes himself are arguing for is akin to the Ted Kennedy fallacy, which goes like this: Yes, horny, drunken Ted may have contributed to the death of a young woman and participated in a cowardly cover-up, but he went on to be a hard-working and respected U.S. Senator, so all of that should be forgiven and forgotten. Wrong. Ethics and personal responsibility don’t work like that, and life shouldn’t.  Past misconduct isn’t erased by present good works. Its significance in assessing the character and personal achievements of an individual are certainly mitigated and even outweighed by what has come after, but the misconduct remains, and so should its just consequences.

The Times story adds irrelevant factors to its sympathy brief. Meyers is black; black soldiers were court martialed more frequently than white soldiers; he’s old and  dying; this is a dying man’s wish; and the man he shot back in 1955 says that he holds “absolutely no animosity toward Mr. Mayes,” and  is pleased to that he spent his life helping others. That’s all nice, but it changes nothing.

This is sentimental static designed to interfere with a clear analysis. Needham Mayes was discharged dishonorably after an incident that would have had the same consequences whether the soldier was black, white, or magenta.

Burial in national military cemeteries  is earned by a soldier’s service in the military, not by subsequent achievements in civilian life. My father (along with my mother) is buried in Arlington  National Cemetery because he served honorably and with distinction during World War II, not because he was wonderful husband and father. I’d love to know what my father would think about Meyers’ case: we once had an argument about whether a convicted murderer who was a decorated veteran should be buried at Arlington. My position was that if a veteran’s military record qualified him to be buried there, nothing he did subsequently short of treason should change that. My dad disagreed, and maybe he would disagree with me here as well.

Tell me what you think.

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/18/2019: “The Pussy-Grabber Plays,” And More

1. The Comment Of The Day That Wasn’t. An aspiring troll calling himself “Alan P Siegfried, PharmD” attempted to post a debut comment on “Prophesy Confirmed: SNL And Our Nation Of Assholes,” which concerned Saturday Night Live mocking the war wounds of then candidate, now Congressman Dan Crenshaw as part of a campaign of ad hominem attacks on Republican. I considered making the post a Comment of the Day, as I have in the past with especially amusing rants, but it’s not that funny. I am going to reproduce it here, though, first, to provide another example of the kind of approach that the Comment Policies explicitly warn against. You don’t get leave to comment here by insulting me or condescending to your host, much as I am in thrall to the wisdom of pharmacists. I don’t know how someone can think that it is ethical to enter a house and immediately to start vomiting on the furniture, but commenters who do think that aren’t going to be tolerated. I also thought the attempted comment would be instructive on the question of why the current imbalance between commenters on the Left and Right here or late. Recent progressives have been arriving sneering and spitting; new moderate and conservative oriented readers have been acceptably civil. Why is that, I wonder? Here is the post, and my comments follow intermittently:

How many adults did you see ‘roll with laughter?’

This is called “a bad start.” I wrote that the mockery of Crenshaw by snickering Pete Davidson had the SNL barking progressive seals roaring with laughter, which it did. The first line also was signature significance, apparently suggesting that the vicious disrespect of a wounded veteran was mitigated if the laughter was muted. “Ah!” I say, when a comment begins like this. “An idiot!”

Or is that conjecture from a big city gal who dine went and lost touch with reality??

Wait—I’m a “big city gal”? I don’t even identify as one. Continue reading

Armistice Day Ethics Warm-Up, 11/11/18: Pettiness, Tit-For-Tat, And Fake All-Stars

Good Morning!

Why Nora Bayes? Let me tell you a story…

I learned about Nora Bayes (1880-1928) while mounting a production of a “lost” musical, George S. Kauffman’s Hollywood satire “Hollywood Pinafore,” which was essentially a parody of Gilbert & Sullivan’s classic, “H.M.S. Pinafore.” Nora was mentioned in a laugh line in the script, so the 1941 show assumed that the audience knew who she was. I had never heard of her, so I did some research. She was a fascinating character, and a huge vaudeville and Broadway singing and comedy star, household name huge. “Over There” was one of her biggest hits; another was “Shine on Harvest Moon,” which she wrote with her second husband (she ultimately had five), Jack Norwith. He also wrote “Take Me Out To The Ball Game,” another Bayes standard. According to one online biography, Bayes Bayes “provided some flamboyant, indeed extreme, examples of the broad social changes happening in the United States in the early twentieth century, namely the questioning of traditional roles for women as well as the challenges to male political and economic power that marked the women’s movement of the time.”

I almost wrote about her in April. As regular readers here know, I believe it is the our duty to honor the memories, accomplishments and cultural influence of past figures in American history, because the more we remember, the more we learn, and the wiser and more ethical we are. Somehow Nora Bayes, famous as she one was, had been in an unmarked grave for 90 years.  On April 21, a group of Nora Bayes enthusiasts placed a granite headstone over her plot. The New York Times told the strange tale here.

Now I think of Nora Bayes every time I hear “Over There,” “Shine on Harvest Moon,” and “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” Maybe you will too.

1. Truth in labeling. Major League Baseball has sent a team to Japan to play a series of exhibition games against a Japanese All-Star team, reviving a long-time tradition that had been suspended for several years. As you may know, the U.S. was critical in introducing baseball to Japan, and sent several major stars there to help get the sport established. Playing in Japan is mostly a lark for the American players, but the games are taken very seriously by the Japanese. In the first two games, the MLB All-Stars have lost, greatly pleasing the locals.

I don’t begrudge the Japanese fans their David and Goliath fantasies, but calling the U.S. team “All-Stars” is misrepresentation. For example, one of the pitchers who got clobbered in the last game, a 9-6  contest that began with the Japanese team jumping out to a 9-0 lead, was a Red Sox pitcher named Brian Johnson. I like Johnson, a crafty swing-man who had some good moments last season, but he’s a lifetime 6-6 pitcher who was left off the Red Sox post-season roster, and will have to battle to stay in the majors next season. I know you can’t sell tickets if the U.S. team is called the “All the players we could talk into coming to Japan Team,” but that’s what it is.

2. Tit for Tat  may be funny, but it’s not ethical. Representative Dan Crenshaw, the veteran who was mocked last week on Saturday Night Live for his disfiguring war wound, appeared on the show last night to mock the appearance of his tormenter, Pete Davidson. Crenshaw was unusually poised for a pol on a comedy show, and the bit successfully got Davidson and SNL, which had been widely criticized for its nasty routine, off the hook. Clever. Successful. Funny. Still wrong, however. This represents an endorsement of Donald Trump ethics, as well as the endlessly repeated rationalization for the non-stop ad hominem attacks the President has inflicted on him daily by the news media and others. The President famously—infamously around here—has always said that if you attack him, he’ll attack you back harder. His haters argue, in turn, that their tactics are justified by his. This is how the culture got in the escalating spiral to Hell it is in. I don’t blame Crenshaw: if he hadn’t accepted the invitation to get funny revenge on Davidson, he would have looks like a petty jerk. Nonetheless, he has now officially become part of the problem, not just a victim of it.

3. Stop making me defend President Trump Dept.  You see, I am kicked around on Facebook for not just falling meekly into line and declaring that everything Donald Trump does is an outrage and proof that he should be impeached. I tell you, it’s tempting. The mass bullying campaign to herd everyone into the undemocratic effort to overthrow an elected President using relentless criticism and flagrant double standards has been effective in stifling others, and it also serves as a kind of mass cultural hypnosis. I don’t like defending Trump. He is doing serious damage to his office, as are his unhinged foes, who are apparently willing to destroy the nation, democracy, and the Constitution to “save” it from him. But I will not be intimidated out of pointing out the revolting pettiness, hypocrisy and unfairness of his critics. Two examples surfaced yesterday. Continue reading

Prophesy Confirmed: SNL And Our Nation Of Assholes

The most unforgivable part of Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” mockery of Congressional candidate Dan Crenshaw was ridiculing a decorated veteran because of the disfigurement he recieved serving his country, though that was bad enough. It was his dismissive reference to the fact that he lost his eye in “war or whatever.” Yeah, my father had his foot blown up in “war or whatever.” Whatever.

My prophesy that electing Donald Trump President would rapidly convert the United States into a “Nation of Assholes ” was accurate, and here’s the proof. In any civilized community since our nation—indeed, any nation, began, a six-year-old who mocked a veteran for his wounds would be punished and every adult who witnessed such ignorant disrespect, even from a child, would be embarrassed to see it.  Now, however, that same infantile, disrespectful insult is featured on national television, as alleged adults roar  with laughter.

Donald Trump mocked a disabled reporter on the way to the White House. He denigrated prisoners of war like John McCain, and recently called Stormy Daniels “horseface.” Of course, the civilized and respectable approach to discouraging such rude and vulgar behavior is to condemn it, and shun its practitioners. The Left and the resistance are now emulating it. They have used mockery of the President’s physical appearance for years, the purest and most inexcusable form of ad hominem attack. Now they are widening the target area, so a veteran who lost an eye in battle is considered fair game. (As an aside, how does someone  like Davidson have the gall to mock anyone’s appearance? The guy looks like a ventriloquist dummy come to life….)

But the same people who deride the President’s boorishness, viciousness and lack of ethics alarms are not justified in adopting his bad habits, and corrupting the culture. When they act like President Trump, they are subject to the same standards. Davidson’s ugly routine wasn’t a joke. This was “We all hate conservatives and Republicans, so isn’t it funny to mock how they look!” Sure it’s funny, if you’re ten. Continue reading

From The Ethics Alarms “Somebody’s Got To Point This Out, And It Might As Well Be Me” Files: Reserved Parking Space Inflation

I’m not going to complain about handicapped parking at retail stores and malls, even though the privilege is widely abused, and there are usually far too many spaces of the breed. I am pretty tired of watching someone with a handicapped sticker pull into such a space and walk jauntily into a store, but OK, I can see the social utility.

But now that virtue-signaling is the current fad—had I ever found the time to complete last year’s Ethics Alarms Awards, that would have received the “worst trend” prize—establishments are searching for new ways to suck up while dividing us. I have seen “expectant mother” spaces. I just returned from a crowded Harris Teeter parking lot where there were two conspicuously empty “Reserved for Veterans” spaces. (This made me want to dig up my old Ouija board and ask my veteran father in the Great Beyond what he thinks about such a privilege.) Away from the parking games, many automakers now offer rebates or discounts to recent college grads. Continue reading

An Especially Ugly Ethics Quiz: Cam Betrayed

This story is too disturbing to describe, so I’m going to just give you the link.  Briefly, it involves a couple, she a veteran, he a soldier, killing their therapy dog, laughing as they did it, and filming the event. They were arrested on charges of animal cruelty. Read the story, here, and then consider the Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day, which is…

What is the fair, proportionate, and reasonable punishment for this conduct?

Continue reading

From The “You Keep Using That Word…I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means” Files: A Cheap Shot From The Heroes

Many conservatives are cheering this open letter from 14 Medal of Honor recipients to Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.):

Dear Sen. Richard Blumenthal,

You recently called upon your Senate colleagues to subject Judge Neil Gorsuch’s record to “extreme vetting,” questioning both his qualification and biography. The Senate certainly has the right and obligation to closely review any nominee for the United States Supreme Court. Conversely, it is our right as Americans and veterans to scrutinize your hypocrisy in doing so.

We are veterans of the Vietnam War. We fought alongside our brothers in arms, many of whom died or were gravely injured there. We saw the treatment meted out on us and our fellow military personnel upon our return, yet we never questioned our commitment to our nation’s freedom. But perhaps more relevant to this discussion is that we know you were not there with us.

The fact you repeatedly and consistently claimed to have served in Vietnam is a gross case of stolen valor in our opinion. You obtained at least five military deferments between 1965 and 1970, at least two of which were seemingly political favors to you so that you could avoid joining us in a war zone. Here are just a few examples where it appears that you have chosen to buttress your political resume by shamefully inflating your record of military service:

In 2003, you apparently stated, “When we returned [from Vietnam], we saw nothing like this [a public outpouring of support for deployed military personnel].”

In 2008, the New York Times reported you said, “We have learned something important since the days I served in Vietnam …”

At a Vietnam War memorial in 2008, it is reported you stated, “I served during the Vietnam era … I remember the taunts, the insults, sometimes even the physical abuse.”

We recognize that military service of any kind is valuable to the protection of our nation’s freedom. There is no shame in engaging in “Toys for Tots” campaigns, recycling efforts, or assisting in the improvement or construction of various facilities, which appears to be a fair description of the bulk of your duties during the Vietnam War.

What is offensive to those who fought in a most brutal conflict, some of us who were captured and tortured by our enemy, is any comparison of those most brutal experiences to the ones of people like you who never even sniffed the air in Vietnam.

The letter’s description of the Senator’s lies before being elected a U.S. Senator is accurate. The fact that he did not withdraw from consideration when those lies were exposed, that the Democratic Party allowed him to stand for election anyway, and worst of all, that Connecticut voters debased their state and the U.S. Senate by electing him demonstrated the creeping progressive ethics rot among liberals that has only worsened since.

However, Blumenthal was not engaging in hypocrisy by calling for extreme the judge’s vetting. It would have been hypocrisy if he proclaimed that no public official who has inflated his biography or faked credentials is worthy of public office. That’s not what he said, however. Indeed, if there is anyone qualified to testify to the importance of vetting the qualifications of apparently qualified nominees, it’s Sen. Blumenthal.

No, the letter is an ad hominem attack, and the ethics breach has been committed by its signatories. If they have an objection to his call for “extreme vetting, ” they should rebut it on the merits. Instead, they attacked the individual rather than his argument. That is the essence of ad hominem. Their attack was “to the man” rather than to his position.

The two terms for unethical conduct most often used inaccurately to sustain accusations are, ironically, hypocrisy and ad hominem attacks. You don’t often see both misused in the same matter, though.

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Pointer: Washington Examiner