A year ago at JSCOPE XIX, the question arose from the floor as to whether it might not be time for the military to update its moral and behavioral standards and stop making an actionable crime of such "everyday human failings"i as adultery. Little did we know then that 1997 would be, to echo Britain's Queen Elizabeth on the very public disclosure of infidelities within the Royal Family, an "annus horribilus" for the US military in the media. So saturated did our news media become last Spring with reports of sexual misconduct in the military that commentaries began to appear under headlines like "Eros. Schmeros. Enough."ii As I wrote this, the public was being treated daily to the details of no less than three separate cases, each turning on the seemingly immaterial issue of adultery: 1. the resignation of 1/LT. Kelly Flinn, from the Air Force in lieu of court martial on charges of fraternization with an enlisted man and adultery with the husband of an enlisted airman, lying about her affair, and disobeying direct orders to end the relationship; 2. the Article 32 hearing here at Ft. McNair to determine if there were sufficient evidence to court martial Sergeant Major of the Army Gene McKinney on charges of sexually harassing enlisted women soldiers and recruits under his command and at least one female officer, on one occasion while his wife of many years waited for him in a hotel room just down the hall; and 3. the passing over of L.G. Joseph Ralston for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff following disclosure that he too had had an adulterous affair more than a decade before, while separated from the woman who was then still his wife. And these, it was darkly hinted, are only the iceberg's tip. McKinney's lawyer threatened to hang out even more of the Army's "dirty laundry" for public inspection if his client were not allowed to retire with full benefits. Similarly, Flinn's supporters argued that she was scarcely the only adulterer in the Air Force, as though the mere commonness of an infraction of the UCMJ constituted good and sufficient moral reason to legitimate that behavior. Of these cases, the passing over of L.G. Ralston has the greatest potential consequences for the nation's defense, although it is axiomatic that no one, no matter how high in rank or great in reputation, is indispensable to the military. The charges against McKinney, which included rape and threatening to kill any of his victims who reported him, in addition to the incidental adultery these crimes would have necessarily entailed, were by far the most serious. But it is the case against Kelly Flinn, an open and shut case of violation of article 134 of the UCMJ, that has elicited a disproportionately heated debate in the public fora. LT. Flinn, a 1993 graduate of the highly selective U.S. Air Force Academy and most distinguished graduate of her pilot training class, shattered the seemingly unbreakable glass ceiling limiting women Air Force pilots to the less dangerous (and less promotable) non-combat assignments to become the nation's first female B-52 pilot. In this highly visible capacity, she was featured in the media as what she termed her Service's "show girl," given the coveted honor of flying the Secretary of the Air Force. Then, for reasons known only to herself and perhaps the clinical psychologist who evaluated her (the "show girl" and other comments suggest that she may have resented the demands of her public relations role), she self-destructed before the same public eye that had eagerly followed her meteoric rise. The seriousness of her case before the Air Force was compounded by the fact that she lied at first to cover her adultery with the husband of an enlisted woman stationed at her base in Minot ND, and her failure to obey direct orders to break off the affair given to her in counseling. She has since admitted her "mistakes," including additional instances of fraternization with an enlisted man also stationed at Minot. That she actually committed the infractions of which she would have stood accused in a court martial had she not been allowed to resign rather than face them is not in dispute. Her and her family's attempts to use the media to redirect public criticism to her "caddish" civilian boyfriend and an "unfair" military justice system could not substantively alter the fact that she herself had caused her own downfall by willfully flouting military regulations. Flinn's demonstrated lack of integrity and her disobedience left Secretary Widnall no choice but to deny her request for an honorable discharge (which would have allowed her to continue to fly for the Air National Guard) in lieu of court martial and a possible 9 1/2 year prison term. She left her Service with a general discharge, which, "...is given to someone whose 'service has been faithful,'... but when 'significant negative aspects of the member's conduct or performance of duty outweigh positive aspects of the member's military record,'"iii and a stigma on her military career (but with book, movie, and numerous job offers from the civilian sector. Her book has since been published to a fanfare of radio and television interviews). This minor Greek tragedy has provided something for choruses of every opinion to comment upon. Feminists have constructed a bizarre scenario around it, in which a misogynistic Air Force conspired to have its first woman B-52 pilot cashiered on charges it would never press against male pilots for her "real" crime of rising too high.iv So fixated on this notion are its proponents that no amount of evidence that men of all ranks and military occupational specialties are routinely punished as she was for equally or less egregious violations of military lawv seems able to dissuade them from it.vi Anyone opposed to what he may see as the leading wedge of an uncontrolled "feminization" of the military now has Flinn's less-than-shining example to cite as proof that women are too easily made fools of by men and/or their own ungovernable emotions to function effectively in combatvii. And advocates for homosexualsviii have seized upon issues of "fairness" raised in Flinn's defense to press their own claims to military service, currently denied them. While these are all pressing issues facing the military, they are at best peripheral to Flinn's case. There are some very real obstacles to women's advancement that remain to be overcome in the military, and, having battered my own head long and hard against their functional equivalents in Academia, I do not lightly discount them. But any woman breaking into a traditionally male occupation must realistically expect to encounter opposition from her field's incarnation of Angell's "old-line fly-boys." And it seems abundantly clear that those "who make policy decisions in the Air Force" (against whom Flinn's complaints are directed) had far more invested in her success than in her failure. It is also true that homosexuals are denied even the limited opportunities for a career in the military afforded to women, though both may reasonably claim full rights from — and obligations towards — this country by virtue of their citizenship. Homosexuality, however, is not at issue in Flinn's particular case, but rather the inappropriate direction of her heterosexuality. Neither Flinn's case nor those of women in the military and gays wishing to enter it is advanced by such facile crying of "discrimination," and the more serious of these issues can, I fear, only be trivialized by this practice. To give the voices of opposition to women in the military a fair hearing, after careful and honest evaluation it may even be found that the physical demands of some combat MOSes are beyond the capacity of most women, though surely not all. But once again, it is not Flinn's competence as a B-52 pilot that is in question but her ethical fitness as an officer. The issue front and center here is the proper disposition of a case of admitted ethical wrong-doing committed by a service member of whatever sex and sexual orientation. The one note on which all voices seem to harmonize is that Flinn's actions and the Air Force's reactions to them indicate a need for reform. But even in the military, opinion is divided between those to whom the only proper reform would be a whole-hearted rededication to strict military codes of conduct and those to whom reform demands a complete embracing of prevailing civilian morality.
CIVILIAN CONTROL AND THE SETTING OF MORAL STANDARDS FOR THE MILITARY
The question of what we in the civilian sector really want our military to be like ethically is not a rhetorical one, because of the fundamental guiding American principle of civilian control of the military. George Washington's solution to the problem of gaining the necessary support for a standing army capable of countering foreign threats to our corporate and individual freedoms while providing assurance to the taxpayers, who would pay for its support, that that same army would not itself become a threat, is an imperfect compromise. But whether one considers it a necessary precaution or an insulting albatross, the civilian citizenry of this country has reserved to itself the right through Congress to set lower (though not, I would argue, upper) limits on the behavior of its military personnel as a condition for their trust and support. The American people were and remain unwilling to support a military it cannot trust, and the surest (though perhaps not the most ethical) way to ensure trust is to control the institution whose power is feared. This relationship is not reciprocal; soldiers exist to serve the public, and not vice versa. And because its uniformed representatives are instantly identifiable to the country and the world as the wielders of its corporate might, our civilian sector demands an uprightness of military personnel in their personal life that it does not generally demand of itself. Even when out of uniform our servicemen do not legally revert to civilian status. Therefore, realistically, there can be no clear-cut demarcation between soldiers' professional and private lives such that the mere act of going off duty relieves them of their responsibility to behave in the manner prescribed for members of the military. The question that has been raised in the media debates over the Flinn case is whether a civilian population that is fiercely jealous of its own unwritten "right to privacy" may legitimately extend its control over the behavior of military personnel into soldiers' bedrooms.
MILITARY STANDARDS OF MORALITY AND THE CONCEPTION OF "WHAT'S RIGHT"
This situation seems especially unfair in light of the divide between acceptable civilian and military personal behavior that has been steadily widening since the 1960s.ix With specific regard to adultery, the fact is that a significant percentage of all American males polled admit to having cheated on their wivesx. Better than one half of all American marriages contracted today are expected to end in divorce, many on grounds of infidelity. So little stigma attaches to adultery nowadays that in many states courts no longer rule in favor of an injured party but instead grant non-judgmental "no-fault" divorces. Why then should a transgression that is generally considered a commonplace triviality in civilian society take on the stature of Greek tragedy when committed by military personnel? The difference lies precisely in the cultural divide identified by Malham Wakinxi between a military that accepts an ethos that is "fundamentally anti-individualistic" as a condition of what is expected to be a life of selfless service, and the "liberal civilian society" it serves, which increasingly "stresses the importance and rights of the individual." Classically, a tragedy occurs when the overweening pride of a highly-placed or otherwise honored person leads him to flout his society's thémis, or conception of "what's right," for purposes of his own, precipitating his moral downfall. It is difficult to imagine how such a scenario could be played out in a society that has become so hyper-sensitive to "intolerance" that we find it more comfortable to make excuses for rather than censure almost any behavior, except for casting judgment on an offending personxii and blowing cigarette smoke in his face. The result is that, as columnist Cal Thomasxiii observed, "...no one sins anymore. If anyone does anything 'bad' (a relative term), it is because they are 'dysfunctional,' or because their parents refused them the dog they wanted as a child." The result has been not that we have become kinder, more understanding, and more ethical towards each other, but rather, deeply and reflexively cynical, suspicious, and consequently disrespectful of those we need to be able to trust, from the public school teachers in whose care we leave our children to high elected officials and the military in whose hands we place our country, our freedoms, and our lives. "Virtually every other institution in America," Thomas, like Judge Bork and other, mostly conservative, thinkers argue, "has been damaged by members of the self-indulgent baby boom generation, from marriage to the presidency, even [such American cultural icons as] Disney. The military has been the final holdout," Thomas concludes, and asks with chilling effect "If the military goes down, what will be left?" That is a very good question, and like all really good questions, there are unseen currents of connotation running under its surface denotation. Deep down at the heart of this one is the timeless moral warning: "Be careful what you wish for; you might get it." Americans currently hold two diametrically opposed notions of what it wants its military to be like. It demands a military that is faithfully responsible to it, and with the next breath it clamors for an end to regulations meant to ensure the faithful responsibility without which it could not tolerate a standing army to exist. What the American public would get if it were granted its wish to reform its military in its own civilian image would be touchy, self-interested, mistrustful, unreliable, powerful, and — our worst military bugbear finally come to life — unresponsive and unresponsible to civilian control. But the clearer and more present danger may be, as Manuel Davenport suggests,xiv that we will lose control of the military, not by failing to maintain high standards for them, but by failing to set equally high standards for ourselves. One has only to overhear our cadets discussing the latest revelations of lies and subterfuges by elected officials, school administrators, and coaches to learn that we are in fact losing their respect. We will not regain it by lowering our standards for them to match our own. For though we may function well enough in civilian life with our current standards, an army is, in the words of Jonathan Shayxv, "a moral construction... defined by shared expectations and values," even when the society it serves is not. "Some of these," Shay writes, "are embodied in formal regulations, defined authority, written orders, ranks, incentives, punishments, and formal task and occupational definitions. Others circulate as traditions, archetypal stories of things to be emulated or shunned, and accepted truth about what is praise-worthy and what is culpable. All together, these form a moral world that most of the participants most of the time regard as legitimate, 'natural,' and personally binding.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FAITHFULNESS
"The moral power of an army is so great," Shay writes, "that it can motivate men to get up out of a trench and step into enemy machine-gun fire. When a leader destroys the legitimacy of the army's moral order by betraying 'what's right,' he inflicts manifold injuries on his men." Such a betrayal may consist in (but is by no means limited to) such things as the issuing of illegal orders, the leading of troops in violation of the Law of War, inequitable apportionment of the dangers of combat, the bestowing of undeserved rewards or the appropriation of unearned recognition, and otherwise "high-handed" behavior towards one's subordinates. In the remainder of this paper, I will argue that, far from being an unjustly punished private indiscretion that had no bearing on her military performance, Kelly Flinn's adultery constituted just such a betrayal of the military ethos, which the Air Force could not ignore and remain a moral construction. As Shayxvi cogently put it, "If a trainer [or any commander, for that matter] uses power to coerce a private gain, be it sexual, financial, or careerist, the whole body of trainees [or troops]... is injured. There are no private wrongs in the abuse of military authority." Those who contend, rather disingenuously, I think, that "LT Flinn's irregular love life [had nothing] to do with her capabilities as a pilot"xvii conveniently overlook the real issue in her case, which is that it has everything to do with her capabilities as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. A civilian pilot may need only good eyesight and "monkey skills," though even a private civilian pilot with no military or corporate affiliation is still subject to FAA health and safety regulations that demand a modicum of integrity in the form of his compliance in the interest of public safety. But a military pilot is first and foremost an officer and a leader to others, even under the most dangerous and morally fraught circumstances that can obtain in this world — combat. If, at the risk of being labeled politically incorrect, one calls a "spade" an "entrenching tool," and replaces the morally unweighted term "adultery" favored in the press with its more descriptive synonym "infidelity," it immediately becomes obvious why Flinn's involvement with the husband of an enlisted airman stationed on her base was a betrayal of her Service's conception of "what's right."xviii Put plainly, LT. Flinn behaved with an unforgivable lack of faith towards an enlisted person, to whom she owed selfless leadership. This is no small matter. We in the civilian sector may not feel unduly threatened by having political leaders of questionable trustworthiness in high office (so long as the economy remains strong and we retain our right to seek their impeachment, or at least vote them out in the next election). But being able to trust his officers is a matter of life and death to an enlisted man in combat.xix Although the specifics of an army's thémis may vary across cultures and through time, in carrying on an affair with the husband of an enlisted woman stationed on her base, Flinn essentially committed the same classic offense against her Service's conception of "what's right" as King Agamemnon committed against Achilles and, thereby, the entire Greek Army before Troy — she pulled rank in order to wrongfully appropriate the legitimate sexual partner of a lower ranking servicewoman.xx The measure of her abuse of power against Airman Gayla Zigo lies precisely in the width of the unbridgeable gap in rank between an enlisted airman and "an officer and academy graduate...with special status as the first female B-52 pilot" she was required to salute, obey, and address with the honorific "Ma'm." How, indeed, as Airman Zigo asked her First Sergeant, could she compete on such an uneven playing field?xxi It is this same unbridgable distance between the mess deck and the wardroom that makes any acts of fraternization, even such mutually consensual and seemingly "victimless" ones as Flinn engaged in with Senior Airman Colin Thompson, smell of favoritism and the abuse of power. The excuse offered on Flinn's behalf by Roger Angell xxii that "...officers have always had the best of it [in the appropriation of sexual prizes]: the higher the rank, by ancient military law, the prettier the girl. G.I.s, for the most part, were left sucking the mop," invests a monstrous privilege in rank it would no doubt appall him to see invoked as justification for Sergeant Major McKinney's sexual abuse of female enlisted trainees.xxiii Attempts to cast herself as the victim of a caddish boyfriend, whose "crime was to fall for the wrong guy"xxiv only casts additional doubt on Flinn's fitness for service as a military officer. Judgment is not a nicety in an officer; where lives are at stake, it is a sine qua non, as anyone who ever received anything other than top grades for judgment on an Officer Evaluation soon discovered when his name failed to show up on the selection list for promotion to the next higher rank. Neither was her affair with Marc Zigo an isolated lapse in judgment; there was at least one additional unrelated incident of fraternization with an enlisted man, an act which could not have done more to undermine her authority with the remaining enlisteds on her base. And when confronted with her infractions, she showed further lack of judgment in disobeying direct orders to stop them, lying about her intentions to obey those orders, and turning her case into a media circus intended to pressure her Service into retaining her.
THE IMPORTANCE OF TRUTHFULNESS
Flinn's apologists seem as unfazed by her disobedience and lying as they are by her lack of faith and judgment. The same people who demand unconditional faithfulness to the moral principles embodied in the Law of War from its military personnel in combat seem inexplicably willing to overlook a bald-faced lie when told by its first woman B-52 pilot to save not her or her troops' skins, but a relatively insignificant thing like her job. Air Force Chief of Staff, GEN. Ronald Fogelman's concernsxxv that her demonstrated lack of integrity in relatively unthreatening peacetime circumstances on the ground casts serious doubt on her future reliability in combat in the air, is dismissed by them as a "slippery slope" argument. But slippery slope arguments are not intrinsically false. And in the case of combat, there really is a very steep moral slope made slippery with the blood of one's comrades in arms and the sweat of mortal fear. It is because so many of us here know this to be true from personal experience that we are so intensely concerned with the character development of our untested young officers and cadets. No one is born with an instinct to tell the truth when it could mean the end of cherished career dreams or to behave according to the Laws of Land and Aerial Warfare under fire. This is why from the moment they report to our Academies and ROTC programs we place our cadets under what many civilians consider unreasonably strict codes of conduct in the Aristotelian (and Christian, and Taoist) expectation that if they are accustomed to behaving honorably throughout their training and peacetime service they will, by the time they are put to the acid test, have become the honorable practitioners of the military arts we require them to be.xxvi
Two years ago, I stood before you and argued for the retention of the most stringent and resented of the provisions of the cadet honor codes, the non-toleration clause, as a means of preparing cadets to make the kinds of scrupulous and painfully difficult moral decisions they will be called upon to make in combat. Some of you like B.G. Wakin and COL. Hartle have argued for expanding the required curricula in ethics; others like COL. Zink and MAJ. Tower and CDR. Kelly have designed those curricula; most of the rest of us have taught them. So it is like a wave of cold salt water breaking over our collective bow when one of those students takes our courses, reads the texts, participates in the discussions, writes the papers, and is commissioned without evidently developing the strong sense of personal honor they were intended to instill. It raises the question of whether it is even possible to instill a sense of honor in students past the impressionable age of childhood, and suggests that we may do better to concentrate on recruiting from the shrinking cohort of young people whose parents have conscientiously endeavored to raise the kind of young people who are morally fit for military service. But Flinn's own statements that she "knew what she did was wrong" but expected no one to find out, or if they did, according to the psychologist who evaluated her, "she hadn't thought the Air Force would treat her that way," tell of a certain amount of hubris among our young Academy graduates. Rather than missing the point of what we have endeavored to teach them, some seem not to believe that that point ought to be aimed at them. To Jonathan Shay's discerning observation (footnote 16), that "Lectures on leadership will be ridiculed as 'leadersleep' and on ethics as 'snoozics' when the actual conduct of trainers' bosses doesn't match the verbal content of lectures," I would add that a demoralizing cynicism will also result if our students are shown that the "real world" consequences for lack of integrity do not square with what they have been led to expect from their Services' conception of what's right. To show them anything else - that, despite what is clearly stated in the U.C.M.J., it is permissible to lie, cheat, and abuse an officer's power over subordinates so long as it is for a "personal matter" like the "love" of a civilian - sends a message of staggering cynicism that undermines all trust among servicemen for their leaders. Those who have striven to serve honorably will understandably be offended, both for their Service's sake and personally, by the retention of an officer whose service has been less than honorable. To compound this effect, in a time of ruthless downsizing, when "career fear" is epidemic in our military services , the retention of officers who are lacking in integrity does untold damage to the morale of those awaiting the next cut without even the cold comfort that those cuts will at least be scrupulously made according to their Services' thmis. Pressure from the press notwithstanding, attempting to close the dicrepancy between our 'walk' and our 'talk' by adjusting our 'walk' to a moral limp (and I say this this because in civilian society as in the military, adultery constitutes a breaking of faith that simply cannot be recast as a moral good) is not the answer to the problems posed by the discharge of Kelly Flinn. Flinn's insistence that regulations governing the moral behavior of military personnel with which she did not wish to comply should be changed is an old, old recipe for tragedy. And it is a tragedy for us to have lost a promising sister-in-arms like LT. Flinn. But though she can no longer effectively lead in an Air Force that has "lost confidence in [her] ability to command due to inappropriate personal conduct", her tragedy may yet serve, as tragedy is meant to do, as the powerful and evidently much needed object lesson we seem not to have been supplying to our cadets in our lectures.
1 Roger Angell, Sins Like Flinn's, The New Yorker, June 2, 1997.
ii Maureen Dowd, Eros, Schmeros. Enough. Bangor Daily News, June 12, 1977.
iii Nancy Gibbs, Wings of Desire, Time , June 2, 1997.iv In an especially obtuse example of this feminist conspiracy thinking, Roger Angell (Ibid.) wrote that "L'affaire Flinn remains so mystifying — so contrary to common sense in its obdurate, step-by-step path toward absurdity and injustice — that we must allow some deeper speculations to surface. Lieutenant Flinn, who is trim and blond and strikingly feminine in appearance, is the first woman ever to pilot the B-52 — a huge aircraft...capable of carrying a nuclear payload equal in destructive power to all the bombs dropped by all sides in all the wars of the century. For more than thirty-five years, the big plane has been the mainstay of our airborne nuclear deterrence, the pride of the legendary Strategic Air Command, and the pre-eminent (and gleamingly phallic) symbol of male power on the wing. Flying the B-52, whose purpose is the destruction of entire cities from a godlike height, is macho Valhalla, and the arrival of a fully trained and qualified woman on the flight deck must have been cause for consternation somewhere in the collective unconscious of the old-line flyboys who make policy decisions in the Air Force. To put it another way, one must wonder whether Lieutenant Flinn would have been brought low in this fashion if her military specialty had been nutritionist, communications officer, systems analyst, or even transport pilot."
5 It is illuminating that Flinn's indiscretions came to light partly as a result of finger pointing by 1/LT. Brian Mudery, in hopes of mitigating charges against him of sexual misconduct and assault. Later, charges were preferred against another Air Force LT. by the name of Kite, for concealing his relationship with an unmarried enlisted woman who subsequently separated from the military in order to marry him; he was given the same option of RILO and a general discharge as Flinn. At higher rank, there is the case of L.G. Ralston, as well as L.G. Thomas Griffith whom, ironically, Ralston had earlier had stripped of his command for the same infraction (adultery with a civilian woman) to which he himself has now admitted (Associated Press, Adultery Clouds General's Bid, Bangor Daily News, June 7, 1997). The year I was a military history fellow at West Point, a member of the graduating class was forced to resign his commission when it was discovered that he had married his pregnant girlfriend several months short of graduation. We could all quote examples ad infinitum, but the fact is that the effective ending of one's military career for conduct such as Flinn admittedly engaged in is hardly cruel and unusual punishment meted out selectively to hard-charging female JOs.
viVid. the Aug. 3 segment of Firing Line on MPBN in which veteran political talk show host, skilled debater, and no mean intellectual bully himself, William F. Buckley utterly failed to get his guest, Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York, even to consider any other possible reasons besides an institution-wide prejudice against women for Flinn's general discharge. vii In addition to legitimate concerns, such as those about the vulnerability of female prisoners of war to sexual attack, which surfaced during the Gulf War.
viii Most notably, openly gay Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts.ix That is, as Patrick Moynihan (quoted in Robert Bork's Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline, Regan Books, New York, 1996) put it, civilian society has progressively "defined deviancy down." This process is driven by a parameter sociologists call the "Durkheim Constant," which sets an upper limit to "the amount of deviancy any community can afford to recognize." Therefore, "as behavior worsens, the community adjusts its standards so that conduct once thought reprehensible is no longer deemed so," until, as Cole Porter so succinctly put it, "anything goes."
x Robert Michael, et al., in Sex in America, Little Brown, New York, 1994, puts that number derived from the North data at around 25%, which is considerably lower than in other studies.
xi Malham Wakin, The Ethics of Leadership, In: Wakin, Ed., War, Morality, and the Military Profession, Westview Press, Boulder, CO, 1979.xii Mary Midgley, Can't We Make Moral Judgements? St. Martin's Press, New York, 1993 deconstructs the relativistic thinking underlying this fear of judging.xiii Cal Thomas, Flinn Properly Grounded, Bangor Daily News, May 28, 1997.xiv Personal communication.xv Jonathan Shay, Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character, Touchstone, New York, 1995.
xvi Jonathan Shay, "It Starts With Us": Military Service as Living Moral Community, Lecture delivered at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, May 1997)xvii Roger Angell, Ibid.xviii I invite those of you who have the honor to be Marines to consider just why the words Semper Fidelis have such powerful meaning for you. xix So "total and terrifying" is the dependence of enlisted troops on their officers in combat, Shay (Ibid. ) points out, that, in desperation, soldiers throughout history have resorted to "fragging" officers who had proven themselved to be reckless, incompetent, foolish, or otherwise insufficiently trustworthy with their survival. xx Flinn's actions were particularly egregious because of the element of abuse of power. But I will argue that even when adultery occurs between two people with no connection whatsoever to the military, ethical wrong is still done by the breaking of a solemn oath to another person taken before God and society. Neither is the unmarried party let off the hook by virtue of not having sworn that oath him-or-herself, since it is administered with a strong injunction to all outside parties not to interfere in the union being contracted. Even when a civil marriage is contracted without any religious commitment, that marriage still represents a social contract that must be respected by members of that society. In either case, adultery is hardly a harmless private matter between consenting adults, but frequently has very serious negative material and emotional consequences for the conveniently "disappeared" spouses and innocent children of the violated marriages; adulterers may justify their actions as acts of love, but they work some real moral wrongs on others. Moreover, I wonder if by our currently fashionable reluctance to condemn such wrongs we may not be denying both justice and comfort to victims who more fairly deserve these goods from us than their victimizers do, and whether the denial of these goods is in itself unethical. Shakespeare may have made his Portia a skillful orator, but a poor servant of law. The "quality of mercy" must be "strained" in favor of victimized innocents if there is to be any justice at all. Moreover, in a downsizing military, where "career fear" is pandemic (see any recent issue of the Coast Guard Commandant's Bulletin), "mercy" shown in retaining an unfit officer like Flinn must necessarily constitute injustice done to all those whose service has been more faithful. Especially in such times as these, fairness in retention and promotion is absolutely essential to morale.
xxi Letter from Airman Zigo to her First Sergeant, quoted in Gibbs, Ibid. xxii Ibid.xxiii Several of my women colleagues, whose thoughts on Angell's article I solicited, wondered if a peculiar form of reverse sexism might not be operating in Flinn's case. Specifically, they questioned how much Angell's and other powerful older civilian men like Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's impulse on "reading about Lieutenant Flinn's plight ... to rush to her side against the harrumphing, finger-wagging Colonel Grundys" had to do with her "trim, blond, and strikingly feminine appearance", especially in view of the glaring lack of similar support extended to the shorter, darker, more ethnic-looking (and honorably behaved) Airman Zigo.
xxiv Letter to Secretary Widnall, quoted in Gibbs, Ibid.xxv "This is an issue about an officer, entrusted to fly nuclear weapons, who lied. That's what it's about." Statement before a Senate committee, quoted in Gibbs, Ibid.xxvi Wakin, Ibid.
xxvii Davida Kellogg, The Importance of the Non-Toleration Clause and Codes of Conduct in the Education of U.S. Military Cadets, JSCOPE 18, 1996.xxviii In the course of interviewing applicants for one of the Academies, I have encountered parents who urged their sons to lie on their applications about having asthma, parents who would place their own child's life at risk if he were ever caught in a fire aboard ship for the price of a free education. As a mother myself (and a recruiter, and an instructor of cadets), I cannot help but feel that LT. Flinn would have been better served by parents who did not support her in the notion that she had done nothing to warrant her less-than-honorable discharge, and had instead urged her to take her lumps like a grown woman, reflect on them, and resolve to behave more honorably in the civilian life ahead of her.
xxix Ralston, quoted in Gibbs, Ibid.xxx Vid. the letters section of any recent issue of the CG Commandant's Bulletin, for example.xxxi GEN. Ralston's comment (now bitterly ironic in view of Ralston's own admissions of marital infidelity) on why he had stripped L.G. Griffith of command of the 12th Air force after Griffith reported having committed adultery, quoted in A.P. article, Adultery Clouds General's Bid , Bangor Daily News, June 7, 1997. Perhaps the worst damage done to Flinn's ability to lead she did herself by taking her case to the media where it became the butt of jokes on late night television. Ity is interesting to note that many of these jokes, like the cartoons from the New Yorker and the Bangor Daily News which I have collected, are not specific to women.