My father told me he was certain that there were incidents like this during World War II, but that the military covered them up.
The Army Board for Correction of Military Records has changed the death record of African-American WWII Private Albert H. King to list him as having died “in the line of duty.” King, a 20-year-old black soldier with the Quartermaster Corps, was in fact murdered on March 23, 1941, by a white member of the military police, Sgt. Robert Lummus, who shot King five times as he walked on the main road at Fort Benning toward his barracks. King had tried to escape a mob of whites intent on beating him on a bus. Sergeant Lummus claimed self-defense and just 13 hours after shooting King, was found not guilty by a military court.
A thorough investigation had taken place, clearly.
Last year, when I noted this story in the December 23 warm-up, I was asked if there would be more on the topic. Here is more. It deserves it.
During World War II, U.S. Army Pvt. Eddie Slovik was tried for desertion. On this date in 1944 he was found guilty in his court martial and condemned to death by firing squad. It was the first such sentence against a U.S. Army soldier since the Civil War, and Slovik was the only soldier executed for desertion in World War II. In the intervening years between then and now, his death has become a point of ethical controversy, never resolved, and generally debated before the public from an emotional rather than an ethical, legal or even a military perspective.
I was first told the story of Eddie Slovik by my father, a decorated army veteran and officer during the war. A fervent admirer of General Eisenhower, he still disagreed with Ike’s much criticized decision to allow Slovik’s execution by firing squad to go forward. Dad was not supportive of the command principle of using a particularly blatant example of a crime to send a message to others considering similar conduct, and having had several Eddie Sloviks to contend with under his command, he did not like the resolution of the Slovik dilemma.
I argued the point with him many times over the years. “The question isn’t whether it was fair for Slovik to have been shot,” I told him. “It was. The question is whether many more deserters should have been shot as well.”
Private Eddie Slovik was a draftee, and not a good bet to be a good soldier. He had been classified 4-F because he had spend time in prison for a felony (grand theft auto), but was deemed draftable as the Allied war effort required quantity even more than quality as the conflict dragged on. He was trained to be a rifleman, though Slovik claimed that he hated guns.
In August of 1944, the Army shipped Slovik to France to fight with the 28th Infantry Division, which had suffered massive casualties. When he experienced being under heavy fire for the first time, Slovik concluded that he would not make it in combat. Though the current trend is to say that he and a friend “got lost,” it seems more likely that they were hiding before they turned themselves in to the Canadian military police. The Canadians returned the two to the Americans after about a month and a half.
Slovik asked the company commander if “getting lost” again would be considered desertion. Despite being warned that it would be, he went AWOL, then the next day turned himself in at a nearby field kitchen. He handed the cook this statement:
The remarkable 2008 documentary “The Rape of Europa” tells the story of the Nazi plundering of fine art across Europe. It is full of many accounts of heroism, none more impressive than that of Rose Villand, a meek-looking librarian out of central casting, who is as perfect and example of how ordinary people can rise to extraordinary levels of courage and innovation in times of crisis.
Rose Valland was born in Saint-Étienne-de-Saint-Geoirs, France on November 1, 1898. She earned two degrees in the arts from the École des Beaux-Arts in Lyon and also studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, then added degrees in art history from both the École du Louvre and the Sorbonne. Her academic credentials, however, did not immediately advance her career, as Valland began work at the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris as an unpaid volunteer.
In October 1940, during the Occupation of Paris, the Nazis commandeered the Jeu de Paume Museum and converted it into the headquarters of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, or ERR, the Nazi art looting organization created by frustrated artist Adolf Hitler. There The Nazis stored paintings and other works of art stolen from private French collectors and dealers, including thousands of works taken from Jewish-owned galleries. The museum’s collaborating curator, Andre Dézarrois, fell ill in the summer of 1941, and in a stroke of fate for civilization, Valland became the de facto director of the museum. Jacques Jaujard, Director of the French National Museums including the Louvre, gave Valland a daunting assignment: she was to use her post in the museum to spy on the Nazi art theft operation.
The Germans, as explained in “The Rape of Europa,” took scant notice of the “little mouse” of a woman who kept her head down, seldom spoke, and appeared to follow orders. They didn’t even realize that she spoke German, but under their noses she was acquiring crucial information from the conversations of drivers, guards, and packers relating to the looted art treasures…60,000 of them. Villand witnessed the frequent shopping trips of Nazi Reichsmarshal Hermann Goering as he made more than twenty separate visits to the Jeu de Paume to select works of art for Hitler’s planned Führermuseum in Linz, Austria, and his own personal collection. Possessing a remarkable memory for details, she recorded her discoveries regarding the movements, names of the victims, number of pieces and where they were going, names of the agents responsible for transfers, names of the carriers, brands of the boxes, numbers and dates of convoys,as well as the names of the artists and the dimensions of the pieces that passed before her. She relayed the information to Jaujard and the French Resistance while keeping her own meticulous records. She warned the Resistance of convoys containing important artworks so that they would be spared, all while knowing that she would be executed as a spy if her activities were discovered by the Nazis—and at least twice, they nearly caught her.
“On This Day She” is a book published this year dedicated to “the women whom [sic] time has forgotten; those who didn’t make it into the history books and those whom [sic] society failed to uphold as significant figures in their own right.” There is also a website following through on the premise of the book (and promoting it), from whence the misleading tweet above emanated. Though the book does admit to including women who engaged in “the bad” and who it deems unjustly ignored by history, the tweet above undercuts that admission. The hint is in the last sentence. Why was Morris killed by the French Resistance in 1944?
She was a Nazi, that’s why, and a traitor as well. Morris, a French citizen, sourced black-market petrol for the Nazis, ran a garage for the Luftwaffe, and drove for the Nazi and Vichy hierarchy. After Germany took over France, she worked to foil the operations of the Special Operations Executive, an English organization that aided the Resistance. Claims that she also engaged in spying activities and Nazi torture are disputed, but never mind: what she did do was sufficient to have her known as “The Hyena of the Gestapo” and sentenced to death in absentia. She was ultimately shot and killed—assassinated, to be technical— when her car was ambushed by the Resistance.
The Washington Redskins ownership finally was forced to capitulate in the decades long- battle to force a beloved and fanatically supported NFL team to ditch the name that fans were beloving on the dubious theory, rejected by most native Americans and people capable of critical thought, that despite all outside appearances having a team carrying a Native American name dishonors Indians rather than keeps their story up front and vital in American consciousness and culture. Because the decision was a sudden biproduct of the George Floyd Freakout, the D.C. team wasn’t prepared for a change, and had no names in reserve. (It apparently had a shot at the name “Warriors,” which alliterates at least, but was late moving on the copyright and trademarks, so that name has, as they say, left the wigwam.
Meanwhile, gag names are flying around like arrows at the Little Big Horn, so ending the mockery is urgent. We are hearing calls for the Washington Weasels, the Washington Swamp-Dwellers, the Washington Investigators, the Washington Slime, The Washington Bootlickers…even the retro “Washington Murderous Savages.” (I was an early advocate for “The Washington Concussions.”) However, one serious suggestion offered by the President of the Navajo Nation Jonathan Nez is brilliant: the Washington Code Talkers.
I second, with enthusiasm.
Few professional sports team have nicknames carrying any historical significance. Most are generic animals, birds, even reptiles. Some of the oldest names are meaningless, like “Red Sox.” Just a few refer to or referenced history: the now defunct Chicago Fire, the San Francisco 49’ers, the Philadelphia 76ers, and a few others. One great virtue of the Code Talkers, in addition to keeping the Native American connection to the D.C. team, is that it would compel the team’s fans to learn some history for a change. (I assume that the 2002 Nicholas Cage bomb, “Windtalkers,” did not have sufficient reach to educate most Americans.)
World War II continues to be the richest source of forgotten or obscure ethics heroes, and no figure fits that description better than American super-spy Virginia Hall.
Only in the last few years, as newly intense focus has been placed on women’s contributions to society and history, has Hall’s story come out of the shadows: three books about Hall have been published, and two movies are awaiting release, one to be streamed on Netflix. In Hall’s case, her anonymity was substantially her own doing. She had no interest in fame or accolades, and decisively rejected them. Hill left no memoirs, granted no interviews, and spoke rarely about her exploits, even to her family.
She was born into a wealthy and privileged Baltimore clan that assumed its daughter would follow the well-trod path of a debutante and eventually the wife of an appropriate young man from her own class. But Virginia was different, “capricious and cantankerous” in her own words. She liked guns and adventure. She once went to school wearing a bracelet made of live snakes, just to shake up her teachers and class mates.
Hall attended Radcliffe and Barnard, then went abroad to study in Paris. She wanted to be a diplomat or even an ambassador, but received no support from the State Department. There were only six women among the 1,500 U.S. diplomats at the time, so she settled for a clerical job at a U.S. consulate in Turkey. While hunting birds in her spare time, she accidentally shot herself in the foot, and gangrene set in. Her left leg was amputated below the knee. Hall named the wooden leg that became her constant companion thereafter “Cuthbert.”
In 1937, she again applied to the Department of State to enter the diplomatic corps , this time being turned down because of a rule against hiring people with disabilities as diplomats, an especially odd restriction for a nation led by a disabled President. She quit her job as a consular clerk two years later, and at 34, joined the war effort before America did, becoming an ambulance driver in France in 1940. When France was invaded by the German army, Hall fled to Great Britain. By purest chance she came in contact with a representative of British intelligence. Hill offered her services to the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), which trained her in weapons, communications, security, and resistance activities.
So it was that an American woman with a wooden leg became one of the first British spies sent into Nazi-occupied France in 1941, posing as a reporter for the New York Post.
Primarily working out of Lyon, Hall organized agent networks and recruited French men and women to run safe houses, all while evading the Gestapo, which called her “The Limping Lady.” She became a master of disguise, often changing her appearance several times in a day and managing to become invisible despite the impediment of “Cuthbert.” She even had her nice, straight, American teeth ground down so she could pass as an elderly peasant woman, which was a favorite false identity. Continue reading →
A quote in an obituary for long-time NASA chief James Beggs, who died this week at the age of 94, shocked me into realizing once again how alien basic ethics have become to our leaders in business, government, politics…hell, just about anywhere. And once again, I’m wondering what good I’m doing, and why I bother.
Beggs had overseen more than 20 successful space shuttle launches, but he was on administrative leave due to an investigation of his conduct when the Challenger launched and exploded in 1986. As we have discussed on Ethics Alarms, a landmark example of failed ethics and decision-making caused the temporary leadership of NASA to ignore dire warnings from two engineers and send the shuttle and its precious human cargo up in dangerously cold weather. Indeed Beggs called NASA from his exile that fateful day to express his concern about icing. He resigned from NASA in 1986, about a month after the Challenger disaster.
Beggs was reluctant to criticize his former agency’s culpability in the accident, but he was adamant that “they shouldn’t have launched.” “Whether I would have done anything different at the time, I’ve thought about that,” he said. “I think I would have, but that’s pure conjecture.”
Remarkable. How often does a critic of a past decision have the intrinsic fairness and integrity to say that? The Wuhan virus landscape has been polluted by extravagant and unjust second-guessing from the start, as everyone from politicians to pundits to plumbers are just certain that they would have known how to handle an unprecedented situation with significant unknown factors and substantial risk. They would have reached a different, quicker,better approach than the individual who actually had to make the call.
It’s a disgusting spectacle, and an unethical one. The “right” decision can always be made to seem obvious after the fact; critics cannot possibly know what their state of mind would have been at the actual time the decision had to be made by someone else. Beggs’ acknowledgement of that, in a situation where he could have credibly second-guessed his colleagues without equivocation, demonstrates the character of a decent and ethical professional determined to do and say the right thing even when opportunities are present for personal gain.
1. More on my mask photo ethics conflict...I wrote about this in a comment on the post last night about Rep. Lee, but I’m still obsessing about it because I still don’t know what the ethical course is. When I saw that photo of Rep. Lee wearing her mask with her nose exposed (this makes her a nose-breathing idiot rather than a mouth-breathing idiot; it was also upside down), I was going to post it with two other photos showing elected officials doing the same thing. At literally the last second, an ethics alarm sounded. The other two officials, a city mayor and a member of Congress known to be, shall we say, an unlikely “Jeopardy!” contestant, were both black. In the case of Lee, who is the chair of a task force on the national response to the epidemic,the validity of pointing out the visual evidence that she’s an epic boob (we knew that, but still) is unassailable, perhaps even by the race-baiting standards of the Congresswoman herself, who repeatedly attributed any criticism of Barack Obama to racism.
Objectively, however, when accompanied by two other photos of African-American political figures making fools of themselves, would not the array appear to be a racist “dog whistle”? I don’t need to be tarred as a racist—I already have lost considerable income because I dare to oppose the anti-Trump mobs—and this would invite that result. Moreover, as I also commented last night, conservative sites were stinking with racist comments about the Lee photo. (“If you let blacks vote, you get blacks in power over you. This applies to every other non-American race and culture too,” wrote one commenter on Instapundit.) Thus the Second Niggardly Principle seemed to be triggered:
“When an individual or group can accomplish its legitimate objectives without engaging in speech or conduct that will offend individuals whose basis for the supposed offense is emotional, mistaken or ignorant, but is not malicious and is based on well-established impulses of human nature, it is unethical to intentionally engage in such speech or conduct.”
In the narrow context of my post, I’m confident that this is the right call. In a larger context, however, the Third Niggardly Principle seems to apply:
“When, however, suppressing speech and conduct based on an individual’s or a group’s sincere claim that such speech or conduct is offensive, however understandable and reasonable this claim may be, creates or threatens to create a powerful precedent that will undermine freedom of speech, expression or political opinion elsewhere, calls to suppress the speech or conduct must be opposed and rejected.”
Indeed Ethics Alarms has made a recent Third Niggardly Principle stand, refusing to accept the widespread ban on any designation of the virus that references its origins and the Chinese government’s role in turning it into a pandemic. I have done this even though the Chinese connection has led some thugs to attack Asian-Americans. I believe the principle that facts and words must not be suppressed because some may misconstrue them or react irrationally is a crucial one, and a principle that the totalitarian Left is working hard to deconstruct.
So in light of all the factors, what was, or is, the ethical way to handle this conflict?
2. Speaking of polls, here’s where the last one sits. Polling is still open, and you can vote as many times as you want, for different candidates. The poll asks you to choose which Democratic Presidential candidates would endorse withholding online classes from all public school students because poor students didn’t have WiFi access:
Israeli special agent, Otto Skorzeny. No, I’m not kidding.
There are few better examples of how extreme versions of “the ends justifies the means” can be adopted as an ethical course than the strange, and oddly under-publicized, story of Otto Skorzeny.
Do you know the tale? I didn’t, until today. This is a good day to consider it, being the anniversary of the date Hitler’s minions invaded Czechoslovakia.
Skorzeny was born in Vienna in June 1908. He joined Austria’s branch of the Nazi Party in 1931 when he was 23. He worshipped Hitler. When the Nazi army invaded Poland in 1939, Skorzeny left his construction firm and volunteered for the SS Panzer division that served as Hitler’s personal bodyguard force. He took part in battles in Russia and Poland, and was probably involved in exterminating Jews.
In 1944, Skorzeny handpicked 150 soldiers in a plan to foil the Allies after they landed in Normandy on D-Day. Dressing his men in captured U.S. uniforms, he procured captured American tanks for to use in attacking and confusing Allied troops from behind their own lines. This mission more than anything else earned Skorzeny two years of interrogation, imprisonment and trial after the war ended. Somehow, despite being one of Hitler’s favorite SS officers, he still managed to be acquitted in his war crime trial in 1947. The Führer had even awarded Skorzeny the army’s most prestigious medal, the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, for leading the rescue operation that rescued Benito Mussolini from his captors.
After Skorzeny’s acquittal, newspapers called him one of the most dangerous Nazi criminals still unpunished. Typically brazen, he capitalized on the notoriety by publishing his memoirs, including the 1957 book “Skorzeny’s Special Missions: The Autobiography of Hitler’s Commando Ace.”
Skorzeny did not reveal in his books how he escaped from the American military authorities who held him for a year after his acquittal, perhaps saving him from more charges and another trial before the Nuremberg tribunals. The escape was rumored to have been assisted by the CIA’s predecessor agency, the OSS, which he assisted in some special operations after the war. Continue reading →
This masterful epic by Comment of the Day auteur Steve-O-From-NJ needs no introduction, so I’m just going to say, here is Steve-O-From-NJ’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 3/23/2020: Examining The—OH NO! I TOUCHED MY FACE!!”