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The Banality of Criminality: Complicity and Dishonor in the Age of Trump, the Example of Michael Flynn

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.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under crime, culture, ethics, History, Military, News and current events, Political Commentary

Accused and Threatened by a Christian Trump Cultist

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Saul Steinberg wrote:

“Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem.” 

Last night I watched what turned out to be an magnificent MLB All Star Game. I had a very good day going into it and anticipated it with the same glorious expectations that I have done since the 1970 All Star Game. For me the MLB All Star Game is an event with nearly religious significance. Baseball is a game that helps me connect spiritually with God as well as exhibits some of the best traits of what until now has defined the United States, as reflected in the words of Steinberg.

For me that was comforting and until last night Saul Steinberg’s words comforted me and allowed me to believe a myth about the inherent goodness of America. Despite our flaws, our mistakes, and yes, even many malevolent policies I still believed that we are basically good people. I don’t think that I believe that anymore, even as I still believe that most Americans want to be good people. We like to think that we are the good guys.

As the game went on I developed a terrible headache and I began to become incredibly depressed. I could feel myself slipping down like I haven’t for a few years. I got up this morning doing better but after a good Staff meeting at our base headquarters began to walk to my car and during that time I began to sink into the pit again. I pulled into my parking spot at the chapel and I was terrified until one of my Catholic parishioners came in to talk to me for a few minutes. She’s a sweet English lady and her kindness is always a blessing and today it made a big difference. My Chief came in to me with a laundry list of things that I needed to help with and then I found out that three young Chaplain Candidate Officers were coming to see me. That put me back in my element because over the past couple of years I have come to realize that the most important thing that I do is to mentor young men and women, especially Chaplains or those aspiring to be Chaplains. I didn’t tell them anything of what I am writing tonight, but I was able to give the, good advice and invite them to contact me any time even if I was no longer on active duty.

The game was a fantastic game but I didn’t enjoy it because I was too caught up in something that happened to me two weeks ago when I received the news that I was being investigated for the allegations of violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice made by a member of my Chapel, a retired Navy Officer.

The man accused me of the violation of Article 88 Contempt for an Official in this case the President of the United States, and of Article 133, Conduct Unbecoming an Officer for the content of my sermon. He accused me of “comparing the President to Adolf Hitler” and “the actions of those enforcing the laws of the nation as Nazis or Nazi Sympathizers.” He accused me of “engaging in political activism on the job.”

Because of his allegations to the command my Commanding Officer had to launch a preliminary investigation. If the allegations were found to be true I could have been charged and tried by Court Martial. My career of 37 years of Army and Navy service including two combat tours and multiple deployments and family separations could have been ended had I been charged or convicted of such an offense.

I wrote about that sermon last month and the allegations were scurrilous, unsubstantiated and purely of his own making. If there was any political motivation it was this retired officer’s allegations which were an attempt to silence legitimate Christian preaching on social justice issues. I found the complaint ironic because one of my predecessors preached against the end of the Defense of Marriage Act and the end of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. That Chaplain attacked the character of President Obama and pledged to disobey any orders to support marriage equality. But not one person in the congregation complained.

Yet when I criticized President Trump’s words in which he described immigrants and refugees as “animals”, called them an “infestation” and linked all of them to being violent murderers, rapists, and associated with the MS-13 criminal gang as being dehumanizing, against the teachings of the church and similar to the words that Hitler used to demonize and dehumanize the Jews, that was wrong. When I criticized the Attorney General for his misuse of Scripture to defend those polices in front of the Catholic Bishops and the complicity of the White House Press Secretary and Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church Dallas in defending those remarks I was a criminal in the mind of my accuser.

The fact that I was preaching within a prophetic Christian social justice tradition as Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Martin Luther King Jr. was irrelevant to my accuser. The fact that I could make legitimate historical comparisons, not only with Nazi Germany but American slavery, the Black Codes, Jim Crow, the extermination of Native American tribes, and the internment of Japanese Americans was irrelevant. It was the fact that I deviated from the Christian Trump Religious cult claims that brought about these scurrilous charges.

When I was called in for an interview by the investigating officer, who I know is a very fair, honest, and decent man I sensed that he was uncomfortable in having to question me as we have worked together over the past year. I told him that I could not submit to an interview and without an attorney present.

I left and immediately called Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, or MRFF. Mikey took my call immediately and connected me with one of his exceptional attorneys. That was on July 3rd and I spent Independence Day wondering if my military career was about to end. On July 5th I was asked by the Investigating Officer for names of other parishioners who had heard the sermon. I was able to give him a few names, all retired African American Chief Petty Officers or Army and Marine Corps Senior NCOs. He interviewed them and my attorney contacted him. The next morning I was called by the Investigating Officer and the Base Executive Officer to let me know that I had been exonerated and the investigation was over. Both seemed happy for me.

I was supported during the ordeal by the regional Chaplain who is much more conservative than me, and this was not a witch hunt by my command. They as well as my commanding officer are all men of integrity who respect and appreciate my work. If they had not been such men my life could have much more difficult. I was fortunate, but I know other officers who have not been so fortunate or had as solid and feared legal counsel as I received from MRFF. Some of them were convicted of crimes that they did not commit or as in the case of one officer was the victim of a witch hunt by his service chief after his command and civilian police officials had determined that there was no evidence that he had committed any crime. His service overruled them and had him tried by a jury and judge of their choice. I know this because I was called as a character witness. I was flown overseas and within two hours of landing I was thrust onto the witness stand without rest or so much time as to shower or shave. He was convicted anyway. However, during my testimony during the sentencing phase the next day which was not impeached or overruled I told the truth, that the only reason that the officer was on trial and been convicted was because he was gay and not because of the evidence. It was a travesty of justice and I am glad that it didn’t happen to me.

That being said I was fortunate that I have a command that has integrity and seeks the truth. The investigation proved that the charges of the retired officer we’re false and more related to his political allegiance than to any Christian teaching or tradition.

However the most disturbing part of this experience was how that it continues to effect me. The fact is that this retired officer couldn’t even follow the clear commands of Jesus or the Apostle Paul to deal with disagreements between brothers privately or within the Church. Never did any New Testament writer or any of the Ante-Nicene Fathers instruct Christians to turn in other Christians that disagrees with them to the State. What happened to me reminded me of the accounts of German Protestant and Catholic Priests who were turned in to the Gestapo by informants in the Church.

I think that is why I went into such a deep depression last night. The situation in our country has even taken away my ability to enjoy a baseball game and made me incredibly suspicious of the members of my chapel congregation.

Sadly, based on other comments on my Facebook page by some other officers I realize that one cannot reason with members of the Christian Trump Cult even using Scripture and the Christian tradition. Like the German Christians who followed Hitler to his Götterdämmerung they will follow Trump even as he shoots someone on 5th Avenue.

Maybe I will write about the All Star Game tomorrow, but if I don’t it will be first time in nine years on this blog that I haven’t. I think that is one of the worst things about my experience, living on such an edge and under such a real threat that I can no longer enjoy things that used give me such joy and peace.

If this is what it means to Make America Great Again I want nothing to do with it or those who pledge their allegiance to Trump over the Constitution or Christ.

I have more to say but will live it at this for the night.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, ethics, faith, History, holocaust, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion

“A Clear and Present Danger” The Problem of Sexual Assault and Harassment in the Military

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Over the past number of weeks the incessant number of stories regarding incidents of sexual assault and harassment by military members against other military members has reached levels that I have not seen in years. Since I have served in the military continuously in one capacity or another for almost 32 years I have seen this phenomena develop and reach a point that I did not think was possible, which endangers the morale and mission of the military and the trust of our society in our military institutions.

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When I first entered the military in 1981, enlisting in the California Army National Guard and in the Army ROTC program at UCLA had no idea what would transpire over my career and how I as a man would see the problem of sexual assault. I entered the military not a few years after the changeover from a military built on conscription to an all volunteer force and the integration of women into units, which while not “combat arms” units would certainly be in the fight should we ever go to war.

I guess that the first places that I saw what would now certainly be prohibited behaviors were in my National Guard unit, a Field Artillery Battalion in Southern California which though not authorized any females, had an administrative support section of females who worked for the personnel officer and Command Sergeant Major. When we went to the field they would accompany us and the stories of what went on with them and members of the leadership were infamous. When I attended my ROTC Advanced Pre-Commissioning Camp at Fort Lewis Washington we had three female cadets in my platoon. They lived in a separate barracks with other women but trained with us. They were subjected to some of the most despicable treatment that I had seen in my life. Their looks, motivations and morals were scrutinized in ways that the editors of the National Enquirer would be proud. They had senior instructors appear to give them unwanted favor and for that they ended up being derided by their fellow male cadets.

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Me early in my career as a Platoon Leader in Germany

After I was commissioned as a Medical Service Corps Officer in 1983 and assigned to a Medical Ambulance Company in Germany I saw the problem grow as more women were assigned to such field units because of the indiscriminate nature of the Army assignment system. My unit eventually had 63% of its assigned strength as females, about 85% of our medics were female. Our sister company was just that, they peaked at 73% female strength. While I was in the unit I served as a Platoon Leader, Company Executive Officer and eventually the Company Commander when our Company Commander, who actively spoke in racist and sexist terms referring to blacks as “the seed of Cain” and women as “unequal to men” using his religion as justification was relieved of command.

I was privileged to serve with some of the finest women soldiers that I have every served alongside while in that unit. My XO retired as a Lieutenant Colonel and my Platoon Sergeant retired as a First Sergeant. Both were hard chargers and as competent or more than most of the men that I served with but were often, usually behind their backs treated with distain for their competence and ability to serve in what until that point had been pretty much a “men’s club.”

While I was serving as a company commander I worked hard, I had only been an officer a little over two years, a very junior First Lieutenant when I took command following the relief of the previous commander. I found though that some things were not simply a matter of individuals but problems in the very institution that since I was a child had idolized.

One of those situations came out when I attempted to prosecute a Sergeant for forcing a very junior female soldier into a sex act in her barrack room after duty hours. His wife was 8 months pregnant and also a Sergeant but at the base medical clinic. He was caught by her and soon the barracks had every member of the chain of command as well as a copious amount of Military Police and CID agents swarming in it. The poor girl was found half undressed under her bed and had to be taken by my former platoon sergeant out of harm’s way after all was said and done while the Sergeant was being read his rights.  As the Company commander I had the primary responsibility to file charges. Since the man was a Sergeant and under I could not reduce him in rank using the Article 15 Non-Judicial Proceedings process and he was to leave the Army in a couple of months so a court martial would have only kept him in the unit longer. So I referred the case to the Group Commander, a full Colonel and decorated Vietnam veteran and aviator.

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The Colonel had been our senior instructor when I was at the Academy of Health Sciences and he was a man that I admired. However, when the case got to him he did less that I would have been authorized to do and in addition did not revoke the award of the Army Commendation Medal which the Sergeant was being given for the end of his service as he got ready to leave the Army. When I found out I stormed to the Colonel’s office and told him that he, the Colonel had embarrassed the entire Medical Group and my Company in particular because the case was the talk of the entire base. It could not easily be covered up. I was told by him “I have done what I have done.” He then turned his back on me and from that moment on I was treated with contempt by him and his closest staff members. I learned the hard way that honesty can get you in trouble.

My next assignment was as the Adjutant of the Academy of Health Sciences. I was a newly promoted Captain and worked closely with the Brigade Legal Officer who served as the prosecutor. While I was assigned there three major incidents come to mind all of which involved significant sexual assault, harassment or treatment of students or junior enlisted staff members.

One of those was an aggravated rape of a 18 year old female trainee who was raped by a male trainee over concertina wire in a dark area near her barracks when she was walking back from the trainee PX and Snack Bar on a Saturday Night. It was a brutal case and we sent the young soldier to a General Court Martial when he was convicted of assault, battery, rape and a number of other charges and sentenced to 40 years in Leavenworth prison.

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The second was the first trial of a soldier that was having unprotected sex with other soldiers while knowingly being HIV positive. He was a player, a good looking man who easily picked up young women. He worked as a personnel sergeant in one of the training battalions and used his looks, his rank and influence to have unprotected sex with a number of the young female clerks that worked in that personnel center without letting them know of his HIV status. He was found out when the Battalion Commander who was walking through the office overheard one of the females talking with another about her date with him and the sex. Since the commander had personally counseled the sergeant of his legal responsibilities being HIV positive, which included informing sexual partners and ensuring that any sex he had was “safe sex” the commander brought him up on charges. Eventually he was tried and convicted at General Court Martial and since he was beginning to show the outward symptoms of the opportunistic infections of fell blown AIDS was sentenced to 6 months confinement and a Dishonorable Discharge. One of the women that he had sex with, a junior soldier as well eventually tested HIV positive.

The last of the major events at the Academy was a Christmas break, sex for grades scandal that eventually encompassed 17 instructors who had a rather large orgy and party at one of the instructor’s off base home. The San Antonio Express News picked up the story and ran with of course and it made front page news. Unfortunately, most of what they reported, with the exception of the use of “whipped creme” at the orgy was contained in police and CID reports. The whipped creme was certainly an interesting twist and needless to say a good number of instructors were disciplined or their actions.

I left active duty in the fall of 1988 to return to the National Guard while attending seminary. While in the Guard I served in all male units that unlike my unit in California did not have its own assigned female administrative detachment and harem. However that doesn’t mean that I still didn’t see cases of sexual indiscretion, but most of what I saw happened happened outside of my command.

Since I go back a long time I do remember the effects of the Navy’s 1991 Tailhook scandal that eventually ended the careers of some 300 officers, including a number of admirals. I was promoted to the rank of Major in December 1995 and transferred to the Army Reserve and was mobilized in July 1996 to support the Bosnia intervention. About that time a major sexual assault and harassment scandal took place at the Army Training Center at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. It like Tailhook was all over the news and the Army tried to respond by getting tough on offenders and by sending teams around to emphasize what was right and what was wrong. One of these teams showed up at our base in Germany and about 60 chaplains were gathered together to get the training.

Now I was a mobilized reservist who had not only been a chaplain but had seen and or help prosecute these kinds of issues before as a Company Commander and Brigade Adjutant. I was somewhat jaded by what I had seen and during the lecture I raised my hand into the air and uttered something that many of my colleagues were thinking. One of our instructors, acknowledged my upraised hand so I asked the question. I said “Ms so and so, my name is Chaplain Dundas and unlike most of these gentlemen and women I am a mobilized reservist.” She she asked me what my comment was and I said “Ma’am, it seems to me if people would simply treat people as they would want to be treated or have their wives or daughters treated by others none of this training would be necessary.” You could hear the air being sucked out of the room as my active duty colleagues looked in shock to see who uttered such heresy. Even the instructor seemed stunned. I continued “It seems to me that if we took a hard line and punished the offenders severely and stopped treating this like it was a joke as an institution then we wouldn’t need to have this kind of collective training.” My comment was rapidly passed over and after the training a number of more senior chaplains came to me and thanked me for being honest. Not a few months later the Command Sergeant Major of the Army was relieved of his duties for alleged sexual harassment, yet another scandal.

In 2003 there was a major scandal at the Air Force Academy which very few people were ever punished for, despite a massive number of substantiated complaints of unwanted sexual harassment by female cadets. I have lost count of the number of commanders and other senior officers relieved of duties for inappropriate behaviors with junior subordinates many times of the sexual harassment or assault variety. Any casual reader of the Navy, Army, Air Force or Marine Corps Times can testify to how many of these instances happen and unfortunately they are but the tip of the iceberg I am afraid.

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Lt. Col Jeffrey Krusinski, the chief of the Air ForceSexual Assault Prevention and Response program

Just in the past month the program director of the Air Force Sexual Assault and Prevention program, a Lieutenant Colonel was arrested for drunkenly accosting a women in a parking lot, the director of the Army program at Fort Campbell Kentucky, also a Lieutenant Colonel was charged with violating a protective order put in place by his estranged wife and a Sergeant First Class, the director of a unit Sexual Assault and Prevention program at Fort Hood Texas was charged with running a prostitution ring using of course, junior female soldiers. Brigadier General Jeffery Sinclair, the former Deputy Division Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division is being prosecuted for is accused of having an illicit affair and engaging in wrongful sexual conduct with several women who were under his command.

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General David Petreus and his “biographer mistress” Paula Broadwell

These instances of course do not take into account of the scandal involving former Iraq and Afghanistan Commander and former CIA Director General David Petreus and his relationship with his biographer an Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel. To make matters worse some General Officers who are the convening authorities for Courts Martial offenses have given clemency or set aside punishments of senior officers convicted by General Court Martial proceedings of sexual assault or harassment crimes.

I could go on and on and on but will not because frankly it is nauseating and is bringing so much discredit to the services that it cannot be joked about. Almost all of these cases involved some form of undo command influence or other criminal behavior. Although the crimes sometimes are committed by male homosexuals or lesbians, the vast majority are heterosexual and often involve high ranking career service men and women who are married heterosexuals both male and female.

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When I look at this situation and ask myself what is going on I have to agree that it is a massive problem. You don’t get so many instances involving so many individuals of high rank without it being something systemic in the military culture. While we can point to the fact that the military is composed of people of the broader society we are a very small segment of that society and percentage wise very few people even qualify to enlist in the military. We are very selective as to who we take in and who we keep. Yet we still have these problems at every level of the chain of command in every branch of the Armed Forces. These are magnified in the eyes of the broader society because of our oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and because we are entrusted by the larger society of representing the best of what the country stands for and which we are supposed to defend. Our mission, especially in a military where men and women serve together in combat, often enduring the same hardships and separations that previous generations of military personnel did not have to face becomes compromised when men or women abuse their rank, privilege and office to take advantage of other men or women, heterosexual or homosexual in the conduct of those duties. It compromises the chain of command, it compromises the mission and it destroys the trust needed to be mission ready. We cannot use the excuse that it happens in the civilian world so we shouldn’t be surprised by it in the military.

All the services have implemented training designed to get this problem under control. However, it will not change until people in the military decide that such acts are not just senseless, tasteless or offensive but often an violent assault on another person. I was reading an article in the Military Law Review today written about the Tailhook scandal. The author wrote something very profound with which I completely agree:

“The heart of the problem in redressing sexual harassment in the armed forces has not been Congress’s failure to expand the traditional coverage of the UCMJ so that it directly criminalizes specific forms of hostile environment conduct such as sexist remarks, tasteless jokes, and other offensive gestures. Instead, the problem has been the military leadership’s failure to recognize that in many cases, like those arising in Tailhook, sexual mistreatment actually constitutes a serious assaultive crime that must be prosecuted accordingly. Arresting “Tailhook: The Prosecution ofSexual Harassment in the Military. Lieutenant Commander J. Richard Chema MILITARY LAW REVIEW Volume 140 Spring 1993 p.63

The fact is that the law is established, training is conducted at all levels and this still happens far to often. What it demonstrates to me is that like my first attempt to deal with a sexual assault as a Company Commander in 1986 that the military culture itself is to blame. Despite our best attempts there are many who figure that boys will be boys and girls will be girls and it is not a big deal. Well maybe not, until rape, murder occurs, or a baby is born out of wedlock, or a young man or woman commits suicide because of the trauma and shame that they endure from a senior NCO or officer that has great influence over their career and life.

I know that we can do better because I know a lot of good men and women, officers and senior enlisted that are committed to changing the culture. That being said it takes the commitment of everyone to do this right. Since it doesn’t look like we in the military are capable of handling this ourselves it is that members of Congress will change the UCMJ and maybe take these cases out of the hands of military commanders. That could well be the case. You can only give excuses so many times over so many decades as to why you don’t do better as an institution before those that have the civilian oversight decide that you are incapable of change. We just may have reached that point in our military justice system.

Folks, this might be interesting as a lawyer or ethicist, but it is not going to be something that we in the military will enjoy.

Someone did a You Tube video using footage from the German language film Downfall where Hitler takes his commanders to task in the last days of the war. The subtitles have been changed to deal with the recent sexual assault scandals. It is very pointed satire and maybe, just maybe we in the military should take it seriously.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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To Tell the Whole Truth…

“Do you (swear) (affirm) that the evidence you shall give in the case now in hearing shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (,so help you God)? United States Manual for Courts-Martial II-82 (f)

I will be a character witness at a Courts-Martial this week. I will be traveling extensively out of country. The accused is an officer that I have served with. I cannot image that he has done what he is alleged to have done. I was asked and called to be a witness for the defense and this is a strange situation for me because prior to this I have in almost every case been somehow involved in the prosecution of crimes than as a character witness for the accused.

When I was a young Army Officer I served as a Company Commander and Adjutant for commands at the Battalion, Group and Brigade level. My best friends were the prosecutors and for the most part I held defense attorneys, military and civilian alike to be impediments to justice. That was 26 years ago and I have grown up.

My growth began when I was still a Company Commander and the Criminal Investigation division (CID) of our local Provost Martial office came to see me. I was even then known as a tough but fair commander. I took over a company that at the time had the highest drug positive rate in Europe. The previous company commander had let many legal issues languish including many at best were spurious.  When I took command I dealt with those that I felt could meet the muster of a General Court Martial and dismissed the rest.  I remembered well the words of my instructor in military justice that “if you don’t think you can make the charges stick in a General Court-Martial don’t even try to bluff your way through an Article 15 proceeding.”

Thus anytime that I had to deal with potential criminal offenses against the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) I was careful to look at all the evidence before even filing charges.  That was my policy as a company commander and my advice to my commanding officers as an Adjutant.

When the CID investigators came to my office on that cold December day in 1986 they told me of their beliefs that there was cigarette smuggling ring being ran by certain soldiers of my unit and that to “investigate” that they wanted to place an agent undercover posing as a soldier in my unit.  I asked them if they had any evidence that led them to believe that there was even “probable cause” for their allegation and they said that there was none but that they wanted to “see what evidence that they could uncover.” I guess that they figured that a young First Lieutenant and company commander that had successfully prosecuted over 30 non-judicial punishment cases, put a good number of soldiers out of the Army and sent several soldiers to courts-martial would be eager to help them out.  However I felt that something was not quite right in this. The CID agents left my office and never came back.  I guess that they found someone else to do their bidding.  Regardless if they had any evidence I would have asked them for it and prosecuted the accused with gusto. However I have no tolerance for those that would try to use me for a fishing expedition and in turn destroy the moral of a unit that was recovering from a terrible time.

I asked them again what evidence they had for me to even think of letting them into my unit pretending to be soldiers.  I was not stupid. I knew that my Soldier-Medics would smell a rat three blocks away and that if I allowed these “investigators” into my unit without an absolutely concrete case that I would destroy the moral of my unit which had just recovered from the previous relief of command of my predecessor. They could produce nothing other than their “suspicions” and I told them to leave my unit and not come back unless they had real evidence.  I never heard from them again.

That was my revelation that sometimes law enforcement officials can be overzealous in their pursuit of justice.  I don’t believe in letting people get away with crimes. Likewise I won’t go to bat for someone that I believe is guilty of a crime, especially if I am under oath. All I know is that if I was the commander in this case that I would have had a hard time even to charge the officer much less take the case to courts-martial. Perhaps the prosecution has more evidence than I know about, but even so as I was told so long ago, “if you don’t think that it will hold up in a General Court Martial don’t even try to bluff your way through an Article 15 proceeding.”

This week I will testify about the character of a military officer who I believe to be above reproach. Based on my knowledge of the case cannot believe that he is guilty or even why charges have been made in this case.  In a couple of days I will be asked to testify under oath and I will do so with the utmost of integrity. Thus I can testify truthfully about the character and integrity of a comrade in arms. I do pray that this officer will be acquitted of all charges and that my testimony will help him.

Back before December 1986 I might have given a pass to the prosecutors and told the officer to find someone else to testify on his behalf. However after that and after a lot more of life where I have seen prosecutors run amok I will not stand by and silently let a comrade be convicted of something of that I do not believe him capable of doing. I am testifying regarding the character of a man and to that end I will testify what I know to be “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

This is a heavy burden but I must tell the truth regarding what I know. Please pray for me and those concerned, especially the accused as well as anyone that is an alleged victim in this case.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Thoughts on Ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell…a Moderate View

No, we’re not homosexual, but we are willing to learn…Yeah, would they send us someplace special?

Note:  I’m not feeling well tonight with my Kidney stone keeping up a steady mid grade pain in my Kidney.  Thus I am modifying something that I wrote nearly a year ago concerning the subject of gays serving in the military. This is not a political or social screed, I have tried to remain dispassionate in this essay realizing that people of goodwill but with differing moral, ethical or religious values can have differing opinions.  Since ultimately the decision to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t “ will be recommended by the military and will have to be passed into law by Congress. As an officer it will be my duty whatever decision is reached to support that decision.

I have written an essay agreeing with Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates when they announced the decision to begin the process of repealing the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law on homosexuals serving in the military. I followed that with piece which attacked the lies and distortions being marketed by former Chaplain, defrocked priest and convicted criminal Gordon “Chaps” Klingenschmitt in an unsolicited bulk e-mail sent through the Washington Times Media Group. In neither article did I advocate an immediate change in the law and stated that I believed that the Military should make the recommendations on how the change should be made, and not politicians or special interest groups of any variety.

This post is simply how I have seen military culture evolving over the 27 plus years of my career. These patently are simply my observations and have both a bit of seriousness as well as humor.  I am most definitely a dyed in the wool heterosexual, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I think that someone without a political axe to grind on either the gay rights or anti-gay rights movement who is in the military have to have a say.  I know that I could be wading into Vietnam here but here I go….

When I enlisted in August of 1981, gays were not allowed to serve in the military.  It was even on the recruiting form. Applicants were asked under the penalty of making a false official statement “Are you a homosexual?”  Who can forget the scene in Stripes where Bill Murray and Harold Ramis are asked by the Army recruiter “Are either of you homosexual?” Their reply was a hoot.  They looked at each other and Bill Murray replied “you mean like flaming or…” The recruiter then said “It’s a standard question we have to ask.” Harold Ramis then quipped “We’re not homosexual, but we’re willing to learn” and Bill Murray adding “Would they send us to someplace special?”  The recruiter then ends the exchange “I guess that’s a no on both.”  It was a hilarious scene as we all had to answer the question back in those days.

Plain and simple if a person lied about being homosexual and was later discovered he was in deep dung, even an accusation of being gay could result in being charged under the UCMJ or at the very least investigated.  Soldiers could be taken to Article 15 proceedings (Captain’s Mast in the Navy, Office Hours in the Marines) or possibly even a court-martial. Depending on the charges one could receive a punitive discharge, such a Bad Conduct Discharge, or administrative discharge under a General, General under Other than Honorable, or Other than Honorable conditions.

Back in my days as a company XO and company commander in the 1980s I had a number of soldiers; male and female who I knew that were gay.  I had grown up in California, had gay friends and even when someone was hiding it I pretty much knew.  If I was homophobic I could have made accusations, began investigations and made these soldiers lives hell.  At that point in time there were a good amount of people in the military who would have done just that.  These soldiers were exemplary in the way that they conducted themselves at work.  They were professional, knowledgeable and I never once had to take any of them to article 15 proceedings for any reason. They never refused missions, they were exceptionally responsible, and good leaders.  As far as their personal lives they were discreet. I am sure that if they stayed in the military that they probably maintained that balance.  I don’t know what happened to them later on, but they were great.   I took over company command as a very junior 1st Lieutenant. The unit had the highest drug abuse rate in Europe with more disciplinary problems than you could shake a stick at. I wasn’t about to go after soldiers who were not giving me problems, I had far more pressing matters on my plate.  I guess you could say that I was exercising the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy 7-8 years before it became policy.  My philosophy then as is is now, is that if someone is willing to serve honorably and endure the hardships and dangers of the lives of military professionals then they should be able to regardless of the way that they are wired.  My issue then and now applies to both homosexuals and heterosexuals who are predatory or push themselves sexually on other soldiers causing problems with good order and discipline and unit cohesion. I have to say had far more problems with my heterosexual soldiers in this regard than my homosexual soldiers. My homosexual soldiers were discreet in their personal lives and very professional, some of my heterosexuals were neither discreet nor professional in thier sexual lives and relationships.

When I served as a personnel officer at the Academy of Health Sciences I became “CINC AIDS.”  I was the most junior of the Medical Personnel Officers, serving as the Training Brigade Adjutant.  It was at this time that we began having soldiers test positive for HIV and develop AIDS.  I worked with representatives of the Army Surgeon General’s Office to develop personnel procedures for HIV positive soldiers.  These policies gave them the opportunity to serve honorably and at the same time ensured that they did  not endanger others through their sexual conduct.  Since I was the junior guy I got to deal with all the cases of officers who had been diagnosed with HIV.  No one else wanted anything to do with them. While the world around me raged with apocalyptic screeds of those convinced that this was God’s judgment on homosexual; those who prophesied how this virus would become a pandemic infecting people willy-nilly through casual contact, I dealt with real people.  These officers wore the same uniform as me and had been pronounced with a death sentence.  Some I knew were gay, but some were straight.  When an officer came to my office that was not on our brigade staff and the door closed, there was a good chance that the visitor had just received the news that they had an infection that would cause a process that would kill them.  They had received a death sentence.  I was a Christian and knew that I was going to be going to seminary after this assignment.  I could not see how Jesus could reject these folks.  While assigned there we had the first trial of a soldier who was intentionally attempting to spread the HIV virus among his coworkers.  He was a heterosexual and was a sexual predator.  He was taken to courts-martial and convicted.  As he was now in the latter stages of the disease process and battling the opportunistic infections which actually kill you he was sentenced to 6 months in Leavenworth.  I doubt that he lived that long. The experience of dealing with these officers taught me the torment that many homosexuals go through.  Following my time in the Army while in seminary and after it I worked in a variety of social service organizations and hospitals and I knew worked alongside many gays without a problem.

When President Clinton enacted the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy I was in the Army National Guard.  When the policy was announced there was public outcry from Veteran’s organizations but even more so from conservative religious groups.  I had no problem with the policy as I think that everyone should be somewhat discreet in their sexual habits, especially in the military. Regardless of sexual orientation it is always important for military members to conduct themselves in professional manner, and not only in sexual matters.  It is always a matter of good order and discipline.   While the policy made no one happy, gay activists did not think it went far enough and anti-gay forces hated it, I think it was a wise policy.  The President may have erred in the way that he announced it, but I think it was still the right thing to do at the time.

Since then our society as a whole has changed in its view and treatment of homosexuals.  There is a lot more acceptance of them now and many more people are openly gay.  I think that those who hid that aspect of their lives in earlier times now feel safe enough to come out.  Yes there are those who vehemently oppose any form of equal treatment for homosexuals, but there is a lot more acceptance than in the past. Various polls show that a sizable majority of Americans support changing the policy while polls of military personnel have seen the opposition to ending the policy drop significantly since 2002 even though most of these polls indicate a fair amount of opposition to the policy but even those who oppose a change by and large have determined that they would make their peace with the decision. I believe that this is due to the change in societal views of homosexuals as well as the fact that military professionals, especially officers and career NCOs tend to tend to be more dispassionate and pragmatic than they are given credit.

There have been famous military leaders who were gay including Frederick the Great who was forced to marry but kind of liked other guys better.  Lord Kitchner and Sir Hector Archibald MacDonald, both distinguished officers were homosexual, MacDonald committed suicide when notified that he would be courts-martialed for his homosexuality.   There were constant rumors when I was in the Army about senior leaders who were suspected of being gay.   While a majority of military members polled opposed the Clinton administration change of policy, it seems to have worked.  There still are objections by gay rights activists that the policy is too restrictive and opponents who desire for it to be repealed, but in large part there is no problem.  Other countries the British, Canadians and Israelis and a number of other European nations all allow homosexuals to serve in the military. Contrary to claims that the policy would destroy the military there is nothing to support that.  In fact the US Military has been more heavily engaged on multiple fronts since the policy went into place and done well despite being undermanned and often over-committed.

The Rand Corporation had a study of how allowing gays to serve would impact the military suggested the following was of ensuring that such a change would not endanger good order and discipline or unit cohesion, the two most critical aspects of any change.  They suggested:

  • A requirement that all members of the military services conduct themselves in ways that enhance good order and discipline. Such conduct includes showing respect and tolerance for others. While heterosexuals would be asked to tolerate the presence of known homosexuals, all personnel, including acknowledged homosexuals, must understand that the military environment is no place to advertise one’s sexual orientation.
  • A clear statement that inappropriate conduct could destroy order and discipline, and that individuals should not engage in such conduct.
  • A list of categories of inappropriate conduct, including personal harassment (physical or verbal conduct toward others, based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or physical features), abuse of authority, displays of affection, and explicit discussions of sexual practices, experience, or desires.
  • Application of these standards by leaders at every level of the chain of command, in a way that ensures that unit performance is maintained.

It has been over 15 years since the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy went into effect.  I have noted that while some military members still vehemently oppose gays serving in the military, that quite a few, officer and enlisted, especially those under the age of 30 are much more tolerant than were those of my era.  A while back I was talking with a couple of military doctors and a hospital corpsman, all of us committed heterosexuals, not that there’s anything wrong with that the other day and the subject came up in a humorous way when discussing ways to get out of the military.  The corpsman noted that saying you were gay was one way, and I said, at least for now it was.

As we talked we all agreed that anyone willing to serve in the military at this point of time should be able to so long as they meet the professional standards of the services.  This is no gravy train.  Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen are constantly deployed and putting themselves in harm’s way.  If a gay wants to commit his or her life to the service of this country, who am I to object?

From a practical and somewhat humorous standpoint we have to acknowledge a number of things about gays, especially gay men.  Many are very well educated successful professionals.  Most seem to have a far better sense of taste and style than most of us on the heterosexual team and quite a few are very physically fit and health conscious. Anyone who has ever served in the military knows that we are not known for the greatest living conditions, food or ascetics.  Military housing, both barracks and family quarters tend to be rather boring, and often substandard.  There is not a lot of imagination in most military dining facilities and the ascetics and design of many of our buildings and bases leaves a lot to be desired. Can you imagine if we let these guys serve?  Our bases would probably look a lot better and well kept.  Our living quarters would be nicer and more ascetically pleasing. The food would definitely go up in quality and we would get some highly qualified folks in the service, especially in some of the more scientific and medical specialties.  As a married heterosexual and “a uniter not a divider” I see all of this as a win-win situation.  Who could be against that? I would have loved to drive onto bases where buildings and landscaping were done well, where you didn’t feel like you were driving onto a prison.  I’d love to work in buildings where there was some sense of style and artistry, where when you walked in you didn’t think you had walked onto the set of a WWII movie.  I would love a nice selection of food that was both healthy and tasty.

Will this happen anytime soon? I don’t know.  At the present time DOD is studying how the change might be implemented including the possible ramifications of the decision on the force.  That study will take time and I suspect that at some point the President and Congress will address the issue and if it is changed I expect little practical change in the military.  We will keep deploying and doing our job, some people will be upset and some won’t, but I think there has been enough societal change over the last 27 years to allow this to happen relatively smoothly.  Will some people be unhappy? Most certainly. Will crusades be mounted against it by some?  Most definitely and one is already being waged by Gordon Klingenschmitt who went on record calling Admiral Mullen a liar and others will also oppose any change.  However I think that this opposition will come more from the outside and less so from the military which is busy fighting wars and protecting the country.  If “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed I expect that the military will survive and continue to do well.  I think that most will make their peace with any change and those who desire to serve their country, even those who oppose repealing the law will still elect to serve I the military.

Those are my thoughts and as I said at the beginning I remained as dispassionate as I can while still stating what I believe. After all, in the end this is all well above my pay grade.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Uncomfortable Legacy of Colonel General Ludwig Beck

“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.” Ludwig Beck

Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-C13564,_Ludwig_BeckLudwig Beck  Bundesarchiv Foto

This is one of those uncomfortable posts to write partially because I know that some people will take it completely wrong or ascribe meaning to it that I do not intend. I by training am a military historian, probably better at that than I am theology.  One thing that fascinates me in the study of military history is the actions of men in the face of evil and the meetings of such people at the intersections of where military and government policy intersect.  It is a timeless theme. The bulk of my study until the past few years was the German Army, particularly that of the Weimar Republic and the Wehrmacht to include policies, leaders, political attitudes and behavior in war and peace. Thus it makes sense for me to look at Colonel General Ludwig Beck who held the post of Chief of the German General Staff during the early part of the Nazi era.

Ludwig Beck is one of those characters in military history that makes professional military officers uncomfortable.  Beck is not the perfect example of righteousness nor was he always correct in things that he supported.  As an artillery regiment commander he defended the rights of soldiers and officers to be Nazi Party members though he himself was not one.  He, like many military officers was a conservative military officer by nature and became Chief of Staff of the Wehrmacht in 1935 two years after Hitler’s ascension to power.  Taking office Beck was troubled by some Nazi policies but not by the need for Germany to expand to areas that it had once controlled, he opposed the plan to attack Czechoslovakia not because of any love for the Czech state which he desired to be eliminated, but rather it being a war that Germany could not win. He resigned from his position a Chief of Staff in 1938 when he could not persuade the rest of the General Staff to resign in protest over Hitler’s plan which he felt would be disastrous for Germany.  Had the western powers led by Neville Chamberlain not caved at Munich it is likely that the Germans would have suffered badly against the Czech army and fortifications and with the entry of France into the war would have suffered a defeat that would have ended the Hitler regime.  In fact German officers who saw the extent of Czech preparations on the frontier following the Munich deal were greatly relieved that they did not have to fight their way into the Czech state.

After his resignation Beck played a key role in the resistance movement. He was involved in the planning for a number of attempts on Hitler’s life. Yet it was his leadership in the July 20th 1944 attempt on the life of Hitler that ensured his place in history.  With Colonel Klaus Von Stauffenberg and others in the General Staff at the Front and in Germany he acted to avert further destruction in Europe and the certain destruction of Germany.  The plot, Operation Valkyrie was marred by poor execution and failed to kill Hitler of seize power but for a few hours. The planners had left too much to chance and once Hitler had restored communications the coup attempted ended swiftly.  Had the attempt succeeded Beck was in line to become either the leader of Germany or the Head of the Army.  Instead while being interrogated after his capture he took his own life depriving Nazi leaders of the ability to put him up for a public trial at which he would have been humiliated and then executed.  The Kasserne in Sonthofen where the Bundeswehr MP School and Staff School as well as NATO and EU military schools are located is named for him.  It is there, ironically a former Adolf Hitler School that his memory and sacrifice is honored by the nation which emerged from the rubble of World War Two.  He is honored in a small museum and with a plaque recognizing his sacrifice.

492Ludwig Beck Kasserne Sonthofen

The reason that General Beck makes many of us in uniform uncomfortable (and I do include myself) is that he recognized that senior officers, especially those in high command who help set and execute policy cannot isolate themselves in the purely military aspects of the operations.  Instead he believed that officers have a higher duty to the constitution and people and not just the military mission that they have been assigned.  When he realized that he could not stop Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia he resigned and worked in the obscurity of a small and often divided resistance movement against Hitler.  The bulk of the German high command, including many officers idolized in the United States did not recognize the higher duty. Many of these men were consummate professionals who did not support the evil of the Nazi regime and who conducted themselves honorably. Yet they effectively abetted its crimes by not opposing actions of their government that were against international law and morality as well as dangerous from purely a pragmatic military standpoint.

The problem is that military officers in any nation, including ours can face situations such as Beck faced.  A military’s character is demonstrated in how leaders deal with such situations.  Beck recognized the situation early, the bulk of his fellow officers did not recognize a problem until Germany was embroiled in a war that it could no longer win.  Even then most could not mount an opposition to Hitler because they did not want to be considered to be mutineers and violate their oath.  The potential to abet evil when military professionals bury their heads by planning and executing purely military aspects of a campaign is great.  If they ignore questionable policy or even policies that they know that have been judged by the international community to be illegal or immoral, such as torture of prisoners or waging wars of aggression against countries that have not attacked their nation they become complicit in their nations crimes.  This was the case with German Officers who may not have committed any personal crime and even tried to mitigate the evils of the Nazi regime were morally complicit in that evil.

In the United States the military shows its fidelity by remembering our oath to the Constitution and being faithful to it and the people that we serve.  As officers we represent all Americans and not just those of our political party, religious faith or social or economic interests, nor any political leader, faction or interest group within the nation. The Constitution, our military regulations, traditions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice are the standard by which we operate and by which we conduct ourselves and tools that protect us when policies or actions taken by the government or people within it violate those codes or international law.  The UCMJ makes it clear those officers who take part in, plan or a complicit in illegal actions in war are committing crimes.

When a nation become involved in wars which are non-traditional, revolutionary wars or insurgencies that barriers to professional conduct can be broken down. The Mai Lai massacre committed by 2LT William Calley’s platoon with the certain knowledge and maybe even approval of individuals in the chain of command is one example as were the uncontrolled chaos of prisoner abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib.

Times are difficult and we do not know what the future brings.  Stress in societies caused by economic conditions, natural disasters, lawlessness on the streets and divided and ineffective governments sometimes remove the moral restraints of the society and even affect the military.  One sees this in Weimar Germany as well as the 4th Republic in France which had to deal with post World War II economic difficulties, exacerbated by recriminations of political opponents for actions the others did during the war while France was occupied by Germany as well as the wars in Indo-China and Algeria which further divided the nation and the military.

It is in stressful and uncertain times that officers have to be men and women of principle who always uphold the highest traditions of their military as well as be the voice of conscience when governments, political parties, special interests or leaders begin to violate international norms in the conduct of war. Beck was not a perfect officer. He supported some of Hitler’s policies until after his resignation but like much of the resistance believed that the Nazi regime could only end up destroying Germany.  It is important to remember that like Ludwig Beck that officers do not need to sacrifice their honor to be faithful to their oath.

Peace, Steve+

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