Thursday, November 19, 2009

Deference Rather Than Political Correctness Contributed to the Ft. Hood Shootings

Many people are claiming that the Army failed to prevent the shootings at Ft. Hood by Major Hasan because they were being politically correct.  One such person is Sarah Palin who recently made such a claim on Sean Hannity's TV show.  Palin said, "profiling in the context of saving innocent American lives, I'm all for it."  This is the same excuse that Dick Cheney uses to justify the use of torture.

Like Sarah Palin, these people blame Liberals for forcing our society to be politically correct to the extent that government and business is handicapped by it.  Sarah Palin said that the Army failed to properly deal with Major Hasan because it would not risk being accused of profiling.  "I say, profile away," Palin said. Such political correctness, she continued, "could be our downfall."

A fear of political incorrectness is not why the Army did not discharge Major Hasan for being unfit.  If the military was concerned about political correctness they would not have discharged more than 13,000 personnel in 16 years for violating "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

I think the single biggest reason that the Army did not prevent the Ft. Hood shootings is that they willfully neglected to respond to the abundant evidence that Major Hasan was a risk to the safety of other military personnel.  A contributing factor to their neglect is that military officers are reluctant to punish other officers.

I witnessed this when I was in the Navy.  In fact, one of my ship's captains was unfit in many ways.  One such way affected me personally.  As a seaman apprentice I was assigned to take navigational readings whenever the ship was exiting or entering a harbor.  When I was promoted I was given a new assignment, however, the captain was not satisfied with my replacement's performance during foul weather and ordered me to perform the task whenever the weather was bad.  Eventually, the captain made the assignment permanent, however, this was not a reason to find the captain unfit but this is only the beginning of the story.

After having performed this task dozens of times during a period of more than 2 years without incident, the captain flew into a rage near the end of one such detail and had me removed from the bridge.  After the incident the captain said nothing to me or my supervisor to explain what I had done wrong.  On the very next and all future occasions of performing this duty, the captain threw me off the bridge just before the detail would have ended.  The captain never mentioned these events afterward and nobody ever asked him for an explanation.

After six months of being thrown of the bridge, the ship's executive officer - the second in command - called me to his cabin shortly before a detail was to begin.  He told me that he did not know why the captain was acting this way and he said that protocol prevented him from asking the captain for an explanation.  He then instructed me that the navigator would thereafter relieve me just before the time when the captain typically threw me off the bridge.  The executive officer assured me that the captain would not require me to return to the bridge only to throw me off.  He was right.  For the next several months until my honorable discharge, I slipped off the bridge just before the captain would throw me off.

Years later, the officer who had been my captain was tried at court-martial for forcing one of his male stewards to have sex with him.  The court-martial found him non-guilty.  However, at a ship's crew reunion almost 40 years after my discharge, one of the officers who had served with me, told me that all the officers knew that the captain was abusing one of his stewards.

In the 1950's Humphrey Bogart played Captain Queeg in the movie The Caine Mutiny.  Officers under Queeg relieved him of his command because they were convinced that he put the ship and its crew at risk.  When those officers were court-martialed for mutiny, questioning by the naval lawyer for the defense caused Captain Queeg to reveal just how mentally unfit he was and the officers were found not guilty.  However, after the trial, the defense attorney told them that he was ashamed of having destroyed Queeg's career and that they should have, out of respect for Queeg, made the effort needed to avoid the mutiny that destroyed Queeg.

That's the attitude that allowed my ship's captain to serve for decades when everybody knew he was unfit and I think that the same attitude was a factor in the Army's neglect regarding Major Hasan.

The Department of Defense is going to thoroughly investigate the Ft. Hood incident.  They will identify causes and might assign blame but the attitude that an officer, as a gentlemen, is owed deference at any cost, will not be raised as an issue.

1 comment:

Kansas Bob said...

Enjoyed the read Joe and especially the retelling of your interactions with your captain. IMO, after serving three years in the Army, abuse and misuse of power is somewhat common in the military.

Your post reminded me of the movie "A Few Good Men".. Nicholson's character was a sad one because he was willing to let his soldiers take the rap for something that he ordered.

I do hope that the DOD takes this incident as an opportunity to change procedures that give deference to an officer.