We hold as axiomatic that a naval officer be a person of integrity, of moral character, and of honor. In the undersea world of the nuclear submarine, daily pressure focusses and illuminates character flaws like a magnifying lens. In this world, it is imperative that the ethics of the leader be beyond question. Theodore Rockwell illustrates the submariner’s unique perspective as he discusses recruiting submarine captains: ….. Calvert quickly adopted the submariner’s clear understanding that his life was very much dependent on … his shipmates … He was sure no other service forged such bonds … ”
But why? Why does the subject of ethics matter? After all, ….. no [leader] ever yet lacked legitimate reasons with which to color his want of good faith … “James Stock dale, Medal of Honor awardee, discusses integrity and ethics in his foreword to Ethics for the Junior Officer. He reminds us that the word “integrity” originated from the concept of unity, and that it is through unity, through comradeship, that battles are won and wars decided. Truly, integrity is the Navy’s business.
And as illustrated above, integrity is even more so the business of the submariner.
Knowing bow important ethics and a moral compass are, we must be concerned with the future of our Submarine Force officers. This concern comes from the moral decline of American society that has driven a complementary decay in the moral quality of officer accessions. A submarine force can only be as good as its men; its men can only be as good as the Navy’s officer corps; and that officer corps can only be as good as society.
I won’t try to explain why there bu been American cultural erosion since World War IT-there simply isn’t room to list the causes. Pundits, from George F. Will to Mike Royko, have blamed everything from Dr. Spock to Donahue. Books, like James Q. Wilson’s The Moral Sense, have been written on the topic. I won’t explain why this problem exists, but I will illustrate that it exists. And it exists painfully close to the Navy’s home.
In the put decade we’ve bad the Tail hook debacle-where members of the officer corps not only misbehaved, but u a group disguised their complicity, bringing further discredit on what are supposed to be America’s paladins.
The U.S. Naval Academy, where ….. American values are alive and well…… gave us two prominent scandals: the Electrical Engineering exam-cheating ring and, most recently, a group of midshipmen dealing LSD-a potent hallucinogen.
Examples of sexual harassment, misconduct, and poor moral judgement can be found from top to bottom in today’s Navy. There have been delays in recent flag officer promotions for exactly those reasons. Amorality in naval leadership bu made headlines in recent months. And submariners, a group virtually untouched by Tail-hook’s infamy, have been shamed by the actions of a few miscreants.
How can naval leaders expect subordinates to do the right thing when they themselves do not occupy the moral high ground? ” … Before continuing to pummel American youth for their lack of moral virtues-and by inference, extolling those of their elders-we might ponder the degree to which those elders (or seniors) are responsible … ”
The preceding is not meant to libel the Navy. A strong majority of officers set a fine moral example. Nevertheless. here are the facts:
- We necessarily have a very high ethical standard for naval officers.
- A small fraction of serving officers aren’t up to those standards.
- A larger fraction of potential officers don’t meet those standards.
How, then, do we solve this problem? Can we escape the garbage in, garbage out paradigm that condemns the naval service to the same moral mediocrity as American society? And if so, how do we do it?
We must start with officer training programs. A universal standard must be established, based on the Navy’s core values: Honor, Commitment, and Courage. Then we must train to those standards. Leadership and immorality must be shown to be incongruous. ROTC programs should adopt the Naval Academy’s Character Development Program, ” … a four year, integrated process in which basic American values and those of the Navy and Marine Corps are strengthened and reinforced … “. Future officers must understand the need for moral courage both in and out of uniform, and see that situational ethics is an oxymoron.
You can’t teach honor-that’s not what I advocate. But you can strengthen moral sense, through frank discussion, reading, and discourse. ROTC and OCS must shift the focus from their traditional drilling in pomp and circumstance to the strengthening and reinforcing of moral courage and the honor concept.
Officer accessions must act as a filter, removing dishonorable and unethical candidates before they enter the service. To this end, policy should facilitate removal of undesirables. We can no longer allow any exceptions to the code of honorable conduct. Those who fail to act ethically must no longer be merely counseled by upperclassmen-they must be eliminated as future officers. There is no room for second chances-this is the Navy’s future.
In a similar vein, commissioned officers cannot be allowed to act without honor. We must no longer give the appearance that politics dictates policy and punishment, and that the dishonorable are merely slapped on the wrist. We must send the message down the chain of command that naval officers are held to higher moral standards. This is stem stuff, but necessary-commissioned service truly is not a job; it is an exacting subordination of self to country, and it requires character.
Even more so, submarining requires character. No profession depends more on teamwork, cohesion, and integrity than that of the nuclear submariner. The responsibilities are uncountable-reactor safety, personnel safety, crew well-being-and the demands are myriad. Thus, the men selected must be culled from the finest in society. Honor and integrity must be inculcated in these men from the beginning of their naval training. If we improve the moral quality of officer accessions, we will improve the quality of the submarine officer corps. If we fall to take ameliorative steps toward the problem of ethical decline, we risk not only the future of the Submarine Force, but the future of the naval service.
USS NARWHAL (SSN 671) will hold a crew reunion in Virginia Beach, Virginia on 25-27 October 1996. Please contact:
P.O. Box 1175
Pascagoula, MS 39568-1175
(601) 769-5603 CW)
(334) 865-4402 (H)
USS PIPER (SS 409) will hold a reunion on the 30th anniversary of her decommissioning, 2~24 August 1997. Please contact:
Frank Whitly P.N.C.
U.S. Sub Vets, Inc.
87 Oak Street
Middleboro, MA 02346