Military Leaders Call for Moral Courage, Leadership

In the face of the “sexual assault” scandal in the US military, Department of Defense leaders fanned out across graduation ceremonies to call on new and graduating officers to live out moral courage.  From Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, speaking to the graduating class of 2013 at West Point [ellipses original]:

When you are faced with difficult decisions, you will always know that the right thing to do…is the right thing to do.  Do it.  Listen to yourself and be guided by what you believe is right.

Standing against the crowd and choosing the harder right instead of the easier wrong, as the Cadet Prayer prescribes, can be very lonely and frightening at times.  And it requires immense moral courage.

It is an interesting position to assert that every officer knows the right thing to do — meaning many in the current controversies have been knowingly choosing to do the “wrong thing.”  Of course, the “moral courage” to which Secretary Hagel refers presupposes a knowledge of right and wrong; normally, that is defined outside of “listening to yourself,” unless one includes a moral and religious upbringing in one’s character.

Secretary Hagel is right: Military members must do the right thing, even if it is the harder course.  President Obama made similar remarks at Annapolis:

“We need your honor…we need values now more than ever,” he urged them. “Even more than physical courage, we need your moral courage.”

But is the military really ready to take the harder course?

A culture of sexual permissiveness exists in the civilian society, and the military is often described as a reflection of the culture from which it is drawn.  There are UCMJ rules against some things permitted in civilian life, but they are often not prosecuted unless they are added as a secondary charge to a primary one, or rise to a level that affects “good order and discipline.”

Those caveats were apparently repeated by US Army LtCol Joseph Miley, a battalion commander who is accused of allowing an “open season” for sex at his remote base.  (The scandal there has apparently been ongoing for some time.) 

The “easy” course is to mimic civilian society, one which General Welsh accurately described as a “hook up” culture. One option — a harder right — would be to have a standard higher than the civilian culture.

If you’re not married to someone, keep your pants on.  Simple.  Clean.  Absolute.

If the military takes the “casual” out of casual sex, the culture would rapidly change.  It’s true that such a culture would mirror a moral lifestyle advocated by some religious faiths, but the military need not endorse religion — it merely needs to police behavior.  A culture in which sexual relations are confined to the marriage bed is one of “values” and “honor,” to quote the President.  A culture of honor in one area would carry over into others, just as a culture of dishonor does the same.  And as many sources have implied, leaders set the tone of the culture.

President Obama has already called on the DoD to consider all options in combatting the sexually inappropriate culture within the US military.  It would seem there’s at least one straightforward one.



  • Moral courage…too late to the fight. There can be no absolutes regarding male/female sexuality, unless we just have Priests serving in the Military. I don’t think leadership is taking this seriously with some of their comments, “If you’re not married to someone, keep your pants on. Simple. Clean. Absolute”…ridiculous and its just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo “appeasement” chatter. Guilty beyond a reasonable doubt (DNA, pictures) should equal 20 years w/o parole and 5-10 of those years hard labor. Send them to that wacko sheriff in Nevada and they can wear pink outfits and eat baloney sandwiches and drink water for that time too. Its a start anyway.

  • @watchtower
    Your comment is consistent with the general public feeling right now, but it may be based on inaccurate perceptions.

    The current “scandal” was generated by the “26,000 assaults” survey, but a female Marine Corps JAG who took the survey actually belittled it in the WSJ [and again in USA Today]. She said, for example, that the survey referenced not “assault” but “unwanted sexual contact,” which included attempted contact that doesn’t “comport with the legal definition of sexual assault.”

    Yes, sexual assault is wrong and should be punished. But we should probably make sure we’re actually talking about sexual assault. The JAG seems to believe we don’t have the data to say either way.