Military Cheating, or Cooperate and Graduate

In reaction to the “cheating scandals” being reported in the US Air Force and Navy, Dr. Martin Cook, Admiral Stockdale chair of professional military ethics at the US Naval War College, became the first to cite the well-known military culture of “cooperate and graduate.”

In Navy pilot school, for example, it’s well known that the “ambient culture” is “cooperate to graduate,” Cook says. “If we all share our answers and ‘cooperate to graduate,’ then that’s what most people are going to do. So you shouldn’t expect most individuals to deviate from that.”

Unfortunately, he leaves the impression that means cheating. “Cooperate and graduate” — at its core — is a reference to teamwork. That hasn’t stopped it from becoming a euphemism for cheating, however.

Cook does point out another aspect few seem to have considered. It is exceedingly unlikely the “culture of cheating” occurred because no one knew the answers and they would fail without assistance.

In other words, it wasn’t a question of getting an “F” on the test. It was the difference between a 99 and a 100.

If there is a culture of zero tolerance for wrong answers on the test, then that in turn will “drive normal human beings to make sure they don’t get any wrong answers,” Cook says, which could lead to cheating.

None of this is intended to be apologetic for cheating; it was and remains wrong to obtain help for a graded event that is supposed to be individual effort. While cultural issues may increase the temptations to compromise one’s integrity over an insignificant event, that only strengthens the need for one to have the moral courage to do the right thing regardless.

It does help, however, to portray with integrity this particular failure of integrity.