Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
Dwight D. Eisenhower noted:
“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”
It is becoming more clear every day that the wheels are coming off the Presidency of Donald Trump, and that as a man and as a person that he is losing any grip on reality and lives in a cloud-Cuckoo land of lies, untruths, and alternate facts. He has shown throughout his life and career that he has no integrity, especially while serving as President, which makes Eisenhower’s words relevant to our present crisis.
Likewise it is quite clear now, that the President has been implicated in what the founders of the country and the writers of our Constitution would understand to be high crimes and misdemeanors. The banality of his and his administration’s criminality is buttressed by the cult of personality that surrounds him. The latter would not be possible without the fifty year process of the moral and ethical disintegration of the Republican Party. Eisenhower wouldn’t recognize the GOP of today.
However, the President has not been indicated in Federal Court, nor charged with crimes and impeached by the House of Representatives yet, but the writing is on the wall. It is only a matter of time before Robert Mueller indicts the men closest to the President; his son Donald Jr., and son-in-Law Jared Kushner. The evidence is mounting of their premeditated attempt to collude with Russia for both political and financial gain. The revelations of the past week would be the beginning of the end for the President and his lawless administration if only the GOP members of the Senate would have the courage to do what Barry Goldwater did in 1974 to give Richard Nixon an ultimatum.
Over the past week we have seen countless GOP leaders excuse the blatant lies of the President, and ignore the complicity of him, his family, and his closest collaborators as “they didn’t happen”, “if they did happen they weren’t criminal”, ” they happened and they were against the law, but they are not really Crimes because it’s a bad law”, or “people do them all the time”, and “what about Hillary?” Of course none of these defenses call for personal responsibility or defense of the law and Constitution, it is all about holding onto power.
But even more troubling than the President and his conditorei of putrid family members, bankers, investors, shyster lawyers, and incredibly compromised and often incompetent individuals he has appointed to cabinet positions, are some of the former military men in the cabinet who served in the cabinet. The most notorious of these is the convicted felon and retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who after getting a gift in the form of sentencing accused the FBI of tricking him into lying. I won’t even go into Ryan Zinke, John Kelly, or Mike Pompeo.
Flynn’s film-flam act is maddening to me because as an officer he should have known better. He lied to investigators and he certainly knew that lying to them was wrong. I know this because I enlisted the same year that he was commissioned, and was just two years behind him when I was commissioned. We come out of the same post-Vietnam pipeline of Army officers. We both were commissioned from the ROTC program, albeit from different universities. But we knew the rules, our programs were similar in that Ethics was taught, and after Vietnam it was considered a big deal. I don’t know about Flynn, but I had to take a course on military law while in ROTC. We went through officer basic and officer advanced courses that contained a common core of classes, We served as platoon leaders, company executive officers, company commanders, as well as battalion and brigade staff officers.
As officers we both administered the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and both took sworn statements, administered Miranda Rights, conducted 15-6 investigations, Reports of Survey, and as commanders administered non-judicial punishment under Article 15. When doing that we served as prosecutor, judge, and jury over the soldiers charged with violating the UCMJ. There is no way that Flynn didn’t known that lying to an investigator wasn’t wrong. He lied and knew that it was wrong.
My career path veered from his when I returned to the National Guard to attend seminary full time to become a Chaplain. My senior positions have all been served as an Army or Navy Chaplain. Like him I served in combat, except I did so unarmed, far away from big battalions that could protect me.
But maybe I embraced an ethic that Flynn didn’t, let’s call it The Code. Let me explain.
My thirty-seven plus year military career began in the Army. I enlisted in the California Army National Guard when I entered the senior ROTC program at UCLA. Though I never attended West Point, Annapolis, or any of the other military academies, I always embraced the Cadet Code of the United States Military Academy at West Point. It states:
“A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”
Likewise I have always subscribed to and tried to uphold the motto of West Point, which General Douglas MacArthur put into such moving words in 1962:
“Duty, Honor, Country” — those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.
Unhappily, I possess neither that eloquence of diction, that poetry of imagination, nor that brilliance of metaphor to tell you all that they mean.
The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant phrase. Every pedant, every demagogue, every cynic, every hypocrite, every troublemaker, and, I am sorry to say, some others of an entirely different character, will try to downgrade them even to the extent of mockery and ridicule.
But these are some of the things they do. They build your basic character. They mold you for your future roles as the custodians of the nation’s defense. They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid.
They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for action; not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm, but to have compassion on those who fall; to master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; to reach into the future, yet never neglect the past; to be serious, yet never take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength.
They give you a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life, a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, an appetite for adventure over love of ease.
They create in your heart the sense of wonder, the unfailing hope of what next, and the joy and inspiration of life. They teach you in this way to be an officer and a gentleman…”
The code may sound old fashioned, a bit puritanical, or even pharisaical to some, including many current and former officers. I actually had a friend, a retired Army Chaplain who retired at a grade higher than I will ever hold told me that in my criticism of the President and his high ranking supporters that he saw “my inner Pharisee” come out. I told him that it wasn’t my “inner Pharisee, but my inner Army company Commander.” I subscribe to a code of honor that far too many people across the political spectrum despise and ridicule, especially those of the Christian Right who defend the President as if he is the Messiah. Sometimes I feel like Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men, except I wouldn’t order the code red.
The concept of honor may be a punch line to many people but for me it has been a way of life. That honor includes telling the truth, even as an officer to commanders and those that outrank me. Doing this has cost me dearly many times in my career in both the Army and Navy. I cannot shut up an be silent when I see superiors lying, cheating, and tolerating those who do. To enforce such ideas on junior personnel is expected, but to speak those words in a prophetic voice to those in power is dangerous, but I have often lived dangerously, and truthfully I have been lucky. Only once has someone tried to have me tried by Court Martial, and that was a retired officer last year who made a written complain to my commanding officer for a sermon that I preached, but I digress…
The reality is that throughout my life I have tried to live up to the Cadet Code, and the motto of Duty, Honor, Country my whole life and for doing somI have often been treated as an anachronism, out of step with the world, even at times from senior military officers.
I could tell you stories, but only over a beer in a bar about those instances, without any recording devices at hand. That being said, if I ever ran into the people that I am talking about, I would confront them in person and give them a chance to defend their actions. I would then walk away, satisfied that my honor was still intact.
But what bothers me now mor than anything is watching men and women who I once respected, defend the indefensible, excuse the inexcusable, and accuse the already acquitted for actions of the President and those around him who if he had been a Democrat they would have already voted to impeach. But my standard has been consistent regardless of who the President is and what his party affiliation. I wanted to see Bill Clinton impeached, I couldn’t support John Edwards because of he cheated on his wife when she had cancer, and as much as I liked and admired him, I thought it was right that former Senator Al Franken resigned, as much as I liked and respected him as a Senator. I have no respect for Newt Gingrich in part for having an affair, and divorcing his wife while she was fighting cancer. Likewise,as much as I like him as a person, I still believe that George W. Bush was a War Criminal for invading Iraq.
The office of the President, the Constitution, and our system of government mean much more to me than my party affiliation. Frankly, that has always been the case for me.
I spent the vast majority of my adult life as a Republican for God’s sakes, but after returning from Iraq, and seeing the claims of the Bush Administration for the war, which I had believed, turn out to be lies on the order of the crimes that we prosecuted at Nuremberg, just couldn’t remain in the party.
When I see people who I know and consider to be friends throw ethics, morality, and faith under the bus to defend the indefensible acts of this President I do get worried, and all of us should be because it is happening all the time.
I was raised to believe that military officers are to hold to a higher moral code than politicians, lawyers, businessmen, or even priests or preachers; I was an officer long before I was ordained. For me it all goes back to the West Point Cadet Code.
So when I see Michael Flynn attack the FBI for “tricking him to lie” after he was cut a huge deal for his testimony, I have to wonder where he was in the classes about military ethics. But then maybe his Professor of Military Science hadn’t been assigned to the Task Force that investigated the My Lai Massacre, or whose primary history professor at California State University Northridge, Dr. Helmut Haeussler, who served as an interpreter at the Nuremberg Trials. I know what happens when military officers sacrifice their integrity to serve leaders that have none, or in wars where they abandon all the principles that they were supposed to uphold.
But then, just maybe in the words of my friend, mentor, and former superior, maybe I am a Pharisee because I value honor over political expediency, or what helps me the most right now.
So for today I will leave you with the words of General Ludwig Beck who lost his life during the abortive attempt to kill Hitler on July 20th 1944:
“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.”
That is what I consider to the moral failure of the officers cannot see anything wrong in the actions of this President and his administration; they place their party and ideology over the Constitution, the law, and the people. They not only tolerate, but they defend those who lie, cheat, and steal to gain political power.
For me it always comes back to that code of honor.