Temperance and the Profession of Arms
James H. Toner
Air War College
14 Dec 98
This opinions expressed in this paper are those of the author alone. They neither carry nor imply the endorsement of the Department of Defense, the U.S. Air Force, Air University, or the Air War College.



Moderation is an ostentatious proof of our strength of character.
La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)
[The people] have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge—I mean of the characters and conduct of their rulers.
John Adams (1735-1826)


"Temperance," we are solemnly instructed, "is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion."1 One dictionary2 defines temperance as "moderation in action, thought, or feeling: restraint" and as "habitual moderation in the indulgence of the appetites or passions: self-control." One of the chief difficulties we encounter in discussing the word temperance is determining what it means, to whom, under what conditions. Thus the world was confronted recently by the appalling spectacle of the President of the United States questioning what the word is3 means. One is reminded of Lewis Carroll’s work Through the Looking Glass, in which we read: "‘When I use a word,’" Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, "‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less’" (ch. 6). Thus what is a temptation to me is of little moment to you; what is gluttony to you is merely gustatory satisfaction to me; what is lust to you is merely natural sexual desire to me. And who is to differentiate the one from the other?


Let us suppose a society in which lying—even under oath (perjury)—is either common or, in fact, the norm. But chaos would reign: There would be no way of telling truth from falsity, fact from fiction. The expectation of truth-telling enables a society to conduct, not only the affairs of state, but also the ordinary matters of everyday business and of personal interaction. This is not to say, of course, that lies do not occur or even that lying is not a frequent occurrence in politics and in personal affairs. But we may nonetheless confidently assert that lying is generally regarded as an exception to the norm of truth-telling, for even a gang of criminals must be able to count upon one another in the execution of an illegal scheme. The norm, the expectation, the standard of truth-telling, is fundamental to human organization.

In much the same way, as the philosopher Alasdair McIntyre has written, "It is a logically necessary condition for any group of beings to be recognized as a human society that they should possess a language…[with] shared rules."4 If, for example, someone says, "It is snowing," we have rather a common understanding of what that means. Now one may say "snowing" when I think a blizzard has begun; another might say "snowing" when you perceive only the fewest frozen flakes falling from the sky. But snowing conjures up a fairly uniform meteorological expectation. If one announced, "It is snowing" on a blistering hot July afternoon in Alabama, we would conclude that the person was joking or quite literally had no understanding of the word snowing.

So it is with many of the concepts associated with the virtue of temperance. The Sybarite or hedonist (those whose sole concern is their own sensual pleasure) can do many things, but being a reliable military officer is not among them. If one’s sole reference point for determining good from evil is one’s stomach or genitalia, we may be confident that such a person cannot well and wisely serve in the profession of arms. The profession of arms—like any human society—has certain arrangements and accommodations of language which help us quickly and reliably to sort out the virtuous and the vicious, the honorable and the shameful.

A spate of recent cases, well known to anyone who reads a daily newspaper, testifies to the problems which intemperance—in this case, the subordination of one’s reason to one’s genitalia—has caused. The most infamous example of this, of course, is the 1991 Tailhook Association meeting at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas, during which numerous women were sexually harassed, groped, and otherwise mistreated by drunken male officers. The scandal affected even the retirement of Admiral Frank Kelso, the chief of Naval Operations, when the Senate voted 54-43 to permit Kelso to retire with four stars instead of the three-star demanded by some who alleged that Kelso had witnessed misconduct at the hotel but had done nothing.5 At the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, at least fifty women soldiers filed official complaints of sexual abuse, implicating one officer and twenty noncommissioned officers. Five women subsequently said that military investigators tried to coerce statements from them. On 29 April 1997, Staff Sergeant Delmar Simpson was convicted of raping six women trainees under his command in 1995 and 1996. Abuses by other drill sergeants at the post were described as "rampant." The Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives ordered a review of sexual harassment prevention programs in all the services.6 These are only two tragic, and criminal, illustrations of what happens when reason yields to illicit passion. Other examples abound7--including the case study with which this paper concludes—and involve flag-rank officers such as Rear Admiral R. M. Mitchell Jr. (relieved for allegedly making repeated advances toward a female subordinate), Brigadier General Stephen Xenakis (removed from command of Army medical operations in the southwest after being accused of an "improper relationship" with a civilian nurse who was taking care of his ailing wife),8 Brigadier General Robert T. Newell (demoted to colonel after being accused of inappropriate contact with a female subordinate) to male guards at an Army post harassing a woman guard (with the Army settling by paying the woman $60,000), and a male Navy chief petty officer groping a female sailor (resulting in the male sailor’s being jailed, fined, demoted, and then discharged).9

There can be not the slightest doubt, however, that intemperance ruins careers, marriages, and lives and that its impact on national security itself is palpable.10 The soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine who is interested in his own illicit and selfish sexual gratification is a failed officer because he or she is, first, a failed human being. That does not necessarily mean, however, that such people are beyond military, let alone personal, redemption and rehabilitation.

Three officers whose careers suffered or ended because of indiscretions or, in one case, guilt by association include Air Force General Joseph Ralston, Army Major General John Longhouser, and Navy Commander Robert E. Stumpf. In 1993 Commander Stumpf was cleared of any wrongdoing in the Tailhook scandal. Approved by the Senate investigating committee for promotion to Captain, Stumpf was removed from the promotion list after the Navy mistakenly failed to send his Tailhook file to the armed services committee. The panel later reviewed Stumpf’s file and asked Navy Secretary John Dalton to strike Stumpf’s name, which Dalton did. A Navy selection board in March 1996 renominated Stumpf for Captain, and Dalton supported the promotion. On 8 November 1996, however, Stumpf, former leader of the Blue Angels, resigned.11 Longhouser, Commander of the Aberdeen Proving Ground, had had an affair in 1992 while separated from his wife; questioned about the affair, he resigned.12 Ralston, virtually assured of being the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, removed himself from consideration for that position after admitting that he had had an affair with a civilian woman at the CIA in 1984.13 At this writing, General Ralston continues to serve on active duty. Were Ralston, Longhouser, and Stumpf victims, or did their punishments fit their "crimes"?

On the basis of available evidence, one seems justified in concluding that Commander Stumpf had been unfairly tainted by the broad brush of Tailhook. While adultery is clearly wrong, one can argue that the punishment of Longhouser and Ralston was inconsistent with the offense. There is, in traditional Christian morality, a three-part formula for forgiveness and rehabilitation: confession to the appropriate person, contrition, and firm purpose of amendment. In the cases of Longhouser and Ralston, there is no evidence of which I am aware that they lied, disobeyed orders, or exhibited a pattern of infidelity reckless beyond measure. This is not to excuse the adultery. It is to say that where the national security or command integrity is not affected; where such instances are clearly family matters; and where the offense is limited to a single and short-term occurrence (and not habitual and seemingly endless adulterous assignations), we can perhaps believe that the truly repentant might be well instructed to "go and sin no more."

About drunkenness, there should be little debate. Recently, for example, a Marine corporal on Okinawa was arrested for drunken driving in a traffic accident during which he is alleged to have knocked a woman off her motor bike. The woman subsequently died because of injuries sustained in the accident. This episode occurred about three years after three American servicemen on that island gang-raped a twelve-year-old girl.14 Crimes of this sort make all the more vital the teaching of such values as these, taken from the "Little Blue Book" of U.S. Air Force "core values":


Those who allow their appetites to drive them to make sexual overtures to subordinates [and twelve-year-old girls] are unfit for military service. Likewise, the excessive consumption of alcohol casts doubt on an individual’s fitness, and when such persons are found to be drunk and disorderly, all doubts are removed.15


Although we must concede that there may be differences in degree when we discuss, say, gluttony, there are unlikely to be differences in kind. That is, overeating may simply be that—overeating; some may call overeating, not without good reason, gluttony. Others would call gluttony a pattern of overeating, resulting, predictably, is one’s being seriously overweight. It is entirely likely, however, that almost all of us would agree that when we observe the following, we know it is defective or wrong (or disgusting):


Watch a gluttonous man at his food. . . . Only occasionally does he look up at his companions with a glazed look. His mouth has only one function, as an orifice into which to push his food. Now and then he may grunt at what someone has said. Otherwise he stuffs. He is like a hog at its swill. . . . He crams, gorges, wolfs, and bolts. He might as well be alone. As with all the sins, Gluttony makes us solitary. We place ourselves apart, even at a table of sharing.16


There is likely to be difference of opinion, too, about how many instances of erotic craving constitutes lust. At what point does natural and normal sexual desire turn into disordered, frenetic, and insatiable sexual urge? We might disagree on the number of instances required for us to call a pattern of activity lust—once again, disagreement about degree. But I think we can reach consensus about what lust is—agreement about kind. Those who are governed by their gonads are filled with lust. Lust is defined by one source as the "disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure."17 Words, as always, are imperfect means of communication. What is "disordered"? What is "inordinate"? Although there would be strong dispute in today’s world about the exact nature of lust, there is little question that expressions of lust such as rape will be and must be universally condemned. That is, in essence, the principal point I want to make here: We may well disagree over the precise meanings of what is temperate or intemperate. But in the case of clear and extensive departures from the norm, we remain capable of saying, "This action is clearly contrary to restraint and to self-control; it is disordered and inordinate. It is wrong."

In a powerful essay which first appeared early in 1968, the philosopher Will Herberg asked, "What is the moral crisis of our time?" He answered: "Briefly, I should say that the moral crisis of our time consists primarily not in the widespread violation of accepted moral standards—again I ask, when has any age been free of that?--but in the repudiation of those very moral standards themselves."18 Peter Kreeft subsequently agreed, writing that "We have lost objective moral law for the first time in history. The philosophies of moral positivism (that morality is posited or made by man), moral relativism, and subjectivism have become for the first time not a heresy for rebels but the reigning orthodoxy of the intellectual establishment. University faculty and media personnel overwhelmingly reject belief in the notion of any universal and objective morality."19 If there is no standard for judging the temperate as against the intemperate, then temperance is a wholly meaningless concept.

Imagine a Hollywood in which no movie approvingly featured fornication (sexual intercourse between unmarried people); imagine a college campus in which drunkenness was publicly held up to scorn as an intemperate, disordered use of alcoholic beverage. Movies—even "family" movies—routinely feature fornication; it is practically de rigueur on many campuses to drink to excess after sporting events or during social activities. The sole purpose of many non-prescription drugs is to achieve a state of intoxication. But consider these two paragraphs, for example, from a religious text:


The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air.


The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except or strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense. Clandestine production of and trafficking in drugs are scandalous practices . . . gravely contrary to the moral law.20


Is that the "moral law" to which Professor Herberg was implicitly referring? Is there a standard, a norm, and expectation that certain types of conduct—or the use or abuse of certain goods or substances—maybe wrong, or even shameful?



In a recent book about shame, James Twitchell has pointed out how the erosion of language indicates a deterioration of morality in the United States. Thus "relief" becomes "welfare," which in turn becomes "entitlement." "Wrong" becomes "inappropriate." "Bad habits becomes "lifestyle choices," and "illegitimacy" turns into "nonmarital childbearing." "Promiscuous" becomes "sexually active" and "heinous killer" becomes "victim of an abusive family." Twitchell makes a point that is critically important: "Make shameful acts repeatedly public and they soon become shameless." Of the argument that calling an act shameful makes the accused person uncomfortable, Twitchell writes: "Of course it makes the individual feel bad. But it does so in the name of a higher social good. Shame is the basis of individual responsibility and the beginnings of social conscience. It is where decency comes from."22

Temperance is concerned with shame. There can be no temperance if there is no shame, for shame is concerned with how one feels after he recognizes that his actions have transgressed an established moral norm. For example, if there is no moral order—no Commandments, for example—there is no sin. If we can dispose of the idea of a moral order, then we can do what we please, so long as we do not wind up in jail because of our choices. (There is still the matter of public law to be dealt with.) As Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) had one of his characters in The Brothers Karamazov put it, if there were nothing immortal, then "everything would be lawful, even cannibalism" (I,2,6). In short, the ideas of shame and of sin are based squarely upon the idea of responsibility; abolish it and one simultaneously destroys the notion that we have a duty to something beyond our own pleasure.

If, as Charles Sykes has written, we are becoming a nation of "victims," then responsibility and shame, the moral order and sin, and the very idea of temperance are outmoded and rather silly. Writes Sykes:


As it becomes increasingly clear that misbehavior can be redefined as disease, growing numbers of the newly diseased have flocked to groups like Gamblers Anonymous, Pill Addicts Anonymous, S-Anon ("relatives and friends of sex addicts"), Nicotine Anonymous, Youth Emotions Anonymous, Unwed Parents Anonymous, Emotional Health Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous, Workaholics Anonymous, Dual Disorders Anonymous, Batterers Anonymous, Victims Anonymous, and Families of Sex Offenders Anonymous.23


Perhaps, if we truly are a nation of victims, then the ministrations of the clergy amount to no more than so much superstitious nonsense. It is past time, some might argue, to replace priest with psychiatrist, to substitute mental health clinics for ministers’ homilies. We do not have to deal with evil and sin but with psychiatric maladjustment and psychic infirmity. Thus we are barraged with terms such as


posttraumatic stress disorder, antisocial personality, identify crisis, libido, repressed, obsessive-compulsive, sadomasochistic, castration complex, acting out, introversion, phallic symbol, Oedipus complex, psychopathic deviate, seasonal affective disorder, penis envy, defense mechanism, inferiority complex, midlife crisis, authoritarian personality, sublimation, transference, death wish, projection, accident-prone, social maladjustment, transient situational disturbances, sleep disorders, the immature personality.24


On the shelves of practically any bookstore today, one can find a bevy of "New Age" writings utterly free of such notions as the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy, and the like. As one writer has told us, his students, working together, in one class—at a well-known Catholic university—were unable to list the Ten Commandments; no one had ever heard of the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy;25 and many of the students had never heard of the word abstinence or of the word chastity.26 Instead, we substitute psychiatric nostrums which comfort us with the knowledge that we are not responsible for our urges and appetites; that we are the victims of society; that we cannot help ourselves—and that we should feel no guilt for our transgressions (if there are any transgressions).

The well-known sociologist Alan Wolfe contends in a recent book that "[M]iddle-class Americans have never let God command them in way seriously in conflict with modern beliefs." He contents that today "middle-class Americans no longer believe that right and wrong provide unerring guidelines for informing them about how to lead their lives"27–a more devastating ethical indictment of our country I can scarcely imagine. "In the whole of philosophy," wrote Professor E. F. Schumacher, "there is no subject in greater disarray than ethics. Anyone asking the professors for the bread of guidance or how to conduct himself, will receive not even a stone but just a torrent of ‘opinion.’"28 If we have fully and finally entered a time when the only real guide we have toward the understanding of right and wrong is the appeasement of our appetites and the satiation of our urges, all that we can say of temperance is that it is so much drivel.

"A shame rule of thumb [writes Twitchell]: if you do it in private, if covering/uncovering it is important, or if the act is surrounded by a lexicon of expletives and euphemisms, you can guess that shame is near. When shame fails, disgust ensues."29 That captures a key to understanding temperance. If an action is one which decent people would deplore, it is no doubt intemperate. But of course that is a circular argument. It says little more, at its heart, than decency is temperance and temperance is decency. And whose notion of either decency or temperance is to prevail in this age in which everyone defines his own virtue? "There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative," wrote the late Allan Bloom.30 If all virtue depends upon private tastes and the personal pleasures and if there are no universal moral norms, standards, or criteria, then there is no "temperance."

The generation now in its fifties has spend almost all of their lives in or near the gutter. The profane has held sway over the sacred; the vicious known more than the virtuous; pornography triumphant over art and the ugly over the beautiful; selfishness reigning over selflessness; lies crowding out truths; cults driving out religion; mindless college courses crammed with lethargic "students" at the expense of the classical, liberal learning. But all that is good and decent and honorable and true cannot be vanquished, for it is the essence of genuine learning, which persists on some campuses today in much the same way that the monasteries preserved learning during the "Dark Ages." "[W]hatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."31 These are the things which comprise temperance, and their contemplation and execution are what liberal learning was once about—and must again be about. For temperance is about knowing and doing what is Right.

Temperance tells us that we have limitations and that, in learning the nature of those limitations, we have both divine and human guidance. The idea of temperance reaches to the ancient Greeks, who understood the idea of temperance as being "of sound mind." The Delphic Code instructed the Greeks to "Know thyself," to do or have "Nothing in excess," and to "Think mortal [not self-aggrandizing] thoughts." Temperate heroes of classical Greek drama observed the limits imposed by social and religious guides; catastrophe, however, awaited the man whose self-assertion led him to ignore those limits. Aeschylus (525-456 B.C.) and Sophocles (about 496-406 B.C.),32 for example, observed that defects in temperance led both to personal and political disaster. Euripides (about 480-406 B.C.) , as Helen North tells us, saw the basic meaning of temperance as "self-restraint" and "only now does it regularly have such connotations as chastity, sobriety, continence, in preference to the older implications—good sense, soundness of mind, sanity—although these are by no means forgotten."33

Plato (about 427-327 B.C.) saw Socrates (469-399 B.C.) as the embodiment of temperance (especially in the dialogue the Charmides), and discussed the four cardinal virtues in The Laws [I, 631C]. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) saw temperance as the Mean between excess and defect. Certain traditional Roman values—chastity or modesty, moderation, frugality or economy—resembled the Greek notion of temperance, and Cicero (106-43 B.C.) helped to transplant the Greek notion to Rome. Christianity similarly embraced temperance, rooting it in the ideas of purity, chastity, sobriety, and self-denial and in "the recognition of the example of Christ and His Blessed Mother as the supreme justification for the practice of temperance."34



There are those who might question that. Who says we should refrain from orgies of lust, drugs, drink, and the like? Who says that they are "indecent"? Church and biblical sources will be dismissed by some; the record of history about depravity leading to destruction will be dismissed by others; a few will contend, with the twisted logic of moral anarchy, that "anything goes" and that every man makes his own truth. As the philosopher E. L. Miller has written, "[F]rom a purely logical standpoint not everything can be argued or there would never be an end to the arguing. A long time ago Aristotle pointed out that every argument finally rests on something that cannot be proved, and that it is the mark of an uneducated person not to realize that. There must be . . . a last outpost or final court of appeal." Miller calls this foundationalism.35 There are some good and kind and decent and noble things we know.

As Professor Budziszewski of the University of Texas has written: Natural law "is written on the heart, for that makes it a standard for believers and unbelievers alike; not only is it right for all, but at some level it is known to all."36 There are very many ethical issues of great importance, for instance, that I am very happy to discuss and debate with friends, colleagues, and students. Among them, however, is not the issue of whether child pornography ought to be legal or permissible. That is not a conversation that I will have, for the very subject is so morally indefensible that it does not merit the dignity of discussion. Much the same may be said about rape. Is there someone who will defend the practice—except, of course, for the twisted souls who want to appear on daytime television shows to gain a fleeting moment of fame at any cost? Liberal education rightly calls upon us to have open minds; but liberal education never insists upon empty heads—or upon blighted souls. Merely because we do not know everything does not mean that we do not know some things. When one hears that "lust is good," "drugs are mind-expanding," "date-rape is acceptable here," or "truth is what you make it," we are listening to the mantra of a sickness of the soul.

One may reasonably argue, moreover, that widespread personal and political departure form temperance is among the chief causes for the ultimate failure of the Roman Republic. A nation which is rotting on the inside cannot long resist pressures exerted against it from the outside. By the same token, a person whose character is flawed by intemperance will not long be able to resist the temptations to which flesh is heir. Many problems in contemporary political and military affairs derive from personal defects in what is best understand as "temperance." When one drinks to excess, engages in gluttony, fornicates and commits adultery, his actions will almost certainly lead to undesired consequences. The excuse that "Everybody does it" is demonstrably untrue, for not everyone who fails morally cavalierly excuses himself. One aspect of leadership is always the setting of a decent, if not noble, example. And drunkenness, gluttony, and lust are, after all, indecent behavior; they disqualify people—or most certainly should—from positions of power, authority, and influence.


An officer who is intemperate will almost inevitably find himself in circumstances which will call into question his character. Is it true that one can may have a "character defect" but still be a good commander, a good leader, or a good professional person? Let us take the case of a surgeon who routinely commits adultery. What is the impact, if any, of his adulterous relationships upon his surgical or medical skills? In the same vein, suppose a military leader is similarly intemperate; does that suggest that his military judgment is somehow impaired? And is history not filled with examples of bad men who were good commanders? Actually, this question is rooted in an old philosophical debate about the unity of virtues.37 Does a defect in one virtue spill over into others? Or, is there a division between "private" virtue and "public" virtue?

Some philosophers hold that there is indeed such a distinction and argue that it is well that there is. For how can anyone be expected to be excellent at everything? The good teacher may be only a modest success as a parent and even worse as a shade-tree mechanic or home carpenter. The man who is a great golfer may not be a good driver of cars or may not be talented at bridge or chess. The good college lecturer may make up terrible exams or be inept at personally counseling students. Philosopher Thomas Nagel, regretting what he terms a "condition of total publicity," argues that one can be noble in public life even as he is weak or cruel in private life. Some point out that leaders with scrupulous characters may be the enemies of effective politics, which often requires seemingly unprincipled action. But Garry Wills insists that a "leader’s inner life is a crucible in which he creates a will for public use." And journalist Miriam Horn asserts that "A politics steeped in the personal is reduced to gossip, but severed entirely from the personal, it becomes nothing but meaningless poses."38

We are not discussing skills, either personal or professional; rather we are concerned with character itself. There is a clear difference between not being comfortable or particularly competent with, say, academic counseling (in which case the professor may work hard to improve his skill or refer students to better counselors) and attempting to seduce students when they seek academic advice. If one has no wisdom or courage, one is unlikely to be able to resist the temptations of too much liquor, of too much food, or of illicit sex. If one has no sense of justice or truthfulness, one is unlikely to deal with such sins, make restitution, and have a firm purpose of amendment. Instead, we may expect self-rationalization, lies, and continued duplicities. I think it is possible, perhaps even probable, that the doctor with the defective character may well perform a brilliant surgical operation today—or tomorrow, or perhaps even next month or next year. But over the course of time, his moral cancer will metastasize; the corruption will spread. Unless the doctor takes his own moral medicine, his prospects for improvement are slim. That his character corrosion will sooner or later spill over into his professional practice is almost certain. Philosopher Tom Morris once put it this way: A man in conversation with Morris said that there was, on the one hand, private virtue and, on the other, public virtue, arguing that "I wear one hat at the office and another at home." To which Morris responded, "Yes, but you wear them both on the same head." Says Morris: "One of the great dangers we face in the modern world is an inappropriate compartmentalization of our lives. We can draw a distinction between the public and the private, between what is professional and what is personal, but I’ve come to believe that the most fundamental virtues and principles are the same."39

By the same token, the military officer who is a liar or a cheat or a thief may well be a strategic genius. I argue, however, that these are exceptions to the rule. What we continually do is what we essentially are; correlatively, what we essentially are will express itself in what we continually do. The officer who is a personal degenerate either is, or will soon become, a professional degenerate. This point was made many years ago by the late Hans J. Morgenthau, the noted professor of international politics, who was shocked to learn the reaction of students at Columbia University when one of their professors (Charles Van Doren) was fired for participating in a national TV quiz show scam. Professor Van Doren had received answers to the questions he was being asked but put on a charade, pretending to agonize over the question and sometimes answering it correctly with only seconds remaining until his time ran out. Discovered, Van Doren excused himself by contending that he had been involved in an entertainment enterprise; Columbia saw the matter differently and terminated his contract. Van Doren’s students were outraged and wrote a bitter letter of complaint about his having been fired. Morgenthau responded to the students by telling them that a teacher represents truth all the time, not just during an hour-long class.

The arguments of the good teacher and of teaching not being concerned with substantive truth go together. You [Columbia students] assume . . . that the teacher is a kind of intellectual mechanic who fills your head with conventionally approved and required knowledge, as a filling-station attendant fills a tank with gas. You don’t care what the teacher does from 10 a.m. to 9 a.m. as long as he gives you from 9 to 10 a.m. the knowledge he has been paid to transmit. You recognize no relation between a teacher’s general attitude toward the truth and his way of transmitting knowledge, because you do not recognize an organic relation between transmitted knowledge and an objective, immutable truth.


Morgenthau continued:


The teacher . . . is not only the recorder and transmitter of what goes by the name of knowledge in a particular time and place, but he is also and foremost the guardian and augmentor of a permanent treasure. This is not a part-time job to be performed during certain hours without relation to what goes on before and after. . . . [T]his is a profession which requires the dedication and ethos of the whole man. Of such a man, it must be expected that he be truthful not only between 9 and 10 a.m. when he teaches, but always.40


G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) once suggested that tolerance is the virtue of those who believe in nothing. To many, there is little to choose between being tolerant and being indifferent. It is, in fact, our responsibility to judge. But William Bennett contends that judgment is a word that is "out of favor these days." Still, he says, "it remains a cornerstone of democratic self-government. It is what enables us to hold ourselves, and our leaders, to high standards. It is how we distinguish between right and wrong, noble and base, honor and dishonor." With regard to the erosion of the standards we need to pass wise judgment, he warns us that "If we do not confront the soft relativism that is now described as a virtue, we will find ourselves morally and intellectually disarmed."41 We must not excuse the inexcusable, pardon the unpardonable, or accept the unacceptable in the name of tolerance.42 For "[t]rue tolerance is not the act of tolerating; it is the art of knowing when and how to tolerate. It is not forbearance from judgment, but the fruit of judgment," writes J. Budziszewski.43

With regard to temperance, there are certain practical standards which may be applied in particular cases. Is one driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol? There is a blood-alcohol test which gives us an answer. Is one so given to gustatory pleasure that he is seriously overweight? There are certain weight and measurement standards employed by the insurance industry and by the armed forces that give us an answer. Is one so consumed by sexual urges and appetites that he cannot act within national customary codes of conduct? All of these things are subject to challenge. Perhaps some actually can drive without impairment even after having several drinks. Perhaps being "overweight" is a matter only of subjective and prejudiced opinion. Perhaps marital fidelity is anachronous and inconsistent with progressive values. Are there truly trans-historical or meta-cultural standards? Of course, disagreement exists on that question, but for the profession of arms at least the answer is clear.44 There is an ultimate criterion by which to judge private tastes and personal actions: combat readiness and combat effectiveness. The profession of arms exists to deter and, if necessary, to wage and win wars. Actions of service members which detract from that imperative are intolerable. Drunkenness, gluttony, adultery, and similar sins—I won’t shy away from the term—substantially depreciate and decrease combat readiness. Thus, their prosecution is not a matter of a commander’s "religious agenda," but of his legal responsibility to ensure that his command is ready for combat or for combat support operations.

In fact, by law, commanders not only must be good examples of "virtue, honor, patriotism, and subordination," they are required to be "vigilant" in monitoring the conduct of their subordinates and to "suppress all dissolute and immoral practices."45

Writes James Kitfield:


From their first day at a service academy, for instance, cadets are still indoctrinated in the traditional military values of duty, honor and integrity. They sign honor pledges—"I will not lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate those who do"—and accept a moral code that harks back to the Old Testament, condemning adultery, homosexual behavior, drunkenness and other "conduct unbecoming an officer" as grounds for dismissal.46


Groups of greedy, self-indulgent, and pleasure-seeking service members will not only fail to be good people; they will fail to be successful warriors. The intemperate person is ipso facto the failed soldier.

None of this means that we human beings will not make mistakes or that we will be free from sin. In sadness but in honest self-judgment, we must all admit in the privacy of our hearts and souls that we have failed in too many ways to be what we should. The decent person, however, has the integrity—the temperance—to recognize his errors, to make up for them as best he can, and to try never to repeat them. Good people do not expect never to make mistakes; but good people expect always to learn from their mistakes. Remorse, restitution, and re-commitment are the hallmarks of the decent man. If it is at all true that we are what we habitually do and that we habitually do what we are—and Aristotle told us essentially that well more than 2,000 years ago—the surgeon or officer who is viscerally corrupt in one major area of his personal life can be expected soon to be so in his professional life. Were it to be otherwise, service academies, ROTC, and Officer Candidate School could easily dispense with teaching lessons in "character."

In his book The Virtues, philosopher Peter Geach has argued that temperance is "a humdrum, common-sense matter."47 And so it should be; but it isn’t. Moral theologian Romanus Cessario tells us that "Authentic virtue exists only when the human person possesses a certain interior conformity of both the cognitive and the appetitive powers to the purposes or goals of a virtuous life." In simpler language, when one is ruled by one’s urges and desires, there is no prospect for virtue. St. Augustine (354-430) wrote that prudence is love choosing wisely between the helpful and the harmful.48 Intemperance, then, may be considered as a destructive and excessive form of self-love; intemperance, at its heart, is self-indulgence. Intemperance is essentially egotism unchained. When one is intemperate, he is saying, either implicitly or explicitly, that there is one standard that governs my conduct: my stomach or my genitalia; all that matters to me is that I satisfy my urges and appetites. Everything may be excused in the name of my personal cupidity or of my private craving. I am a law unto myself. I recognize no authority outside my own experience, beyond my own skin. Such people may well be effective comedians or efficient consumers in a materialistic society. But there is in such people precious little sense of responsibility, an insignificant amount of integrity, and only a starved or starving sense of what piety, duty, or honor are all about. Who among us wants such a person as his doctor, or his teacher—let alone as his commander? There is something of the intemperate in all of us. But if we believe that professionals care more about more than their own selfish pleasures than about their obligations, we rightly will have little or no faith in what they say or do. We can be professional only to the extent that we establish temperance in our private and in our public lives.


A Case Study

Air Force First Lieutenant Kelly Flinn had graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy and had gone on to graduate at the top of her class from B-52 flight training; she subsequently appeared in promotional videos for the Air Force. In 1996, she had been chosen to fly with the Secretary of the Air Force, Dr. Sheila Widnall, in a B-52 demonstration flight. In June 1996, however, Flinn violated military regulations (and, some would hold, spiritual ones) by fornicating with an enlisted man. The next month she began an affair Marc Zigo, a civilian soccer coach at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota; Zigo was married to an Air Force enlisted woman. The affair continued until January 1997. During an investigation of the affair—termed "a witch hunt" by Flinn—she lied to Air Force examiners about her affair with Zigo, whom she subsequent labeled "a real con artist." Ordered to stay away from Zigo, Flinn disobeyed the order, subsequently saying she was afraid of Zigo, who was then living with her. (General Ronald Fogleman, the Air Force Chief of Staff, contended, however, that after Flinn’s commander ordered her to stay away from Zigo, "[s]he didn’t stop seeing her boyfriend—he moved in with her."49 By May 1997, the Flinn case was making national headlines. Democratic Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa contended that in prosecuting Flinn, "the Air Force is looking ridiculous." Republican Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi said, "Get real. I’ll tell you, the Pentagon is not in touch with reality on this so-called question of fraternization." Flinn appeared on 60 Minutes, and a number of editorials leaped to her defense. On 22 May 1997, for example, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a three-panel cartoon showing Flinn in her uniform wearing the letter "A" and asking, "What does the scarlet letter ‘A’ stand for?" In a second panel is a grizzled, unkempt Air Force general officer answering, "Adultery." In the third panel is a woman, said to represent the "rest of the world," answering, "Air Farce."

On 21 May 1997, Representatives Nancy Johnson (R, Conn.) and Nita Lowey (D, N.Y.) called upon the Air Force to review policies on fraternization and adultery. Johnson contended that the charges against Flinn stemmed "directly from the lack of clear, contemporary policy addressing sexuality in a way that respects the personal lives of professional soldiers." Grilled on the Flinn case before Congress, General Ronald Fogleman said that the issue was "about an officer entrusted to fly nuclear weapons who disobeyed an order, who lied." On 22 May, Secretary of the Air Force Widnall refused to grant Flinn an honorable discharge; Flinn accepted a general discharge.50

Whether, as part of her undergraduate education, Kelly Flinn ever read Plato’s dialogue Phaedrus, we cannot be sure. Had she read, learned, and applied it, however, perhaps she would not have come to the end she did. In that Platonic work, one meets the idea of the charioteer (reason) guiding two horses, one of spirited nature ("an executive faculty somewhat resembling the will"51 and loving "honour [sic] with temperance and modesty")52 and one of appetitive nature (desire for physical and financial gratifications). As Father Copleston explains: "[W]hile the good horse is easily driven according to the directions of the charioteer, the bad horse is unruly and tends to obey the voice of sensual passion, so that it must be restrained by the whip."53 Lieutenant Flinn, by all accounts an accomplished pilot of a B-52 "chariot," was unable to restrain the horse which led her, against good reason, to a sorry end.54



1. Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York: Doubleday Image, 1995), No. 1809.


2.. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary.


3. Newsweek, 28 September 1998, p. 42.


4. Alasdair MacIntyre, A Short History of Ethics (New York: Touchstone, 1966), pp. 77, 96.


5. Facts on File, Vol. 54, No. 2787 (28 April 1994): 301.

6. Based upon Facts on File, Vol. 56, No. 2926 (31 Dec. 1996): 977; Vol. 57, No. 2936 (13 March 1997): 163; and Vol. 57, No. 2943 (1 May 1997): 301. On 20 March 1997, Army Captain Derrick Robertson was sentenced to four months in prison after pleading guilty to having consensual sex with a private; the most serious charges against him (rape and indecent assault) had been dropped as part of an agreement. Facts on File, Vol. 57, No. 2938 (27 March 1997): 213.


7. Such as the case of Sergeant Major of the Army Gene McKiney who, on 13 March 1998, was acquitted of eighteen charges, ranging from adultery to indecent assault, but convicted of obstruction of justice. "Many legal experts said that McKinney’s March 13 acquittal on sexual misconduct charges illustrated the particularly difficult burden of proof faced by prosecutors in a court-martial. Under military law, sexual misconduct was a criminal rather than a civil offense, requiring proof beyond a reasonable doubt. However, experts said, such cases rarely produced the type of physical evidence necessary to fully demonstrate that misconduct had occurred. Many observers noted that the McKinney trial had come down to one person’s word against another." Facts on File, Vol. 58, No. 2989 (19 March 1998): 169-170.


8. Facts on File, Vol. 57, No. 2949 (12 June 1997): 410.


9. Facts on File, Vol 56, No. 2926 (31 December 1996): 977.


10. See Rodney Barker, Dancing With the Devil—Sex, Espionage, and the U.S. Marines: The Clayton Lonetree Story (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996).


11. Facts on File, Vol. 56, No. 2926 (31 Dec 1996): 978.


12. Time, 4 May 1998; Facts on File, Vol. 57, No. 2949 (12 June 1997): 409-410.


13. Time, ibid.


14. Steven Butler, "Outrage on Okinawa," U.S. News & World Report, 26 October 1998, p. 42.


15. "United States Air Force Core Values," 1 January 1997, I(2).


16. Henry Fairlie, The Seven Deadly Sins Today (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995), p. 155.


17. Fairlie, Ibid.


18. Will Herberg, "What Is the Moral Crisis of Our Time?" Intercollegiate Review, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Fall 1986)


19. Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue (San Francisco, Ignatius, 1986), p. 25. Kreeft writes that "If you confess at a fashionable cocktail party that you personally love to play with porcupines, or plan to sell CIA secrets to the communists, or that you are considering becoming a Palestinian terrorist, you will find a buzzing, fascinated crowd around you, eager to listen. But if you confess that Jesus is God, that he died to save us from sin, or that there really are a Heaven and a Hell, you will very soon be talking to empty air, with a distinct chill in it" (p. 30).


20. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 2290 and 2291. Emphasis in original.


22. James B. Twitchell, For Shame (New York: St. Martin’s, 1997), pp.14-15.


23. Charles J. Sykes, A Nation of Victims (New York: St. Martin’s, 1992), p. 9.


24. Sykes, pp. 39-40.


25. Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, comfort the sick, visit those in prison, bury the dead.


26. William Kilpatrick, Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong (New York: Touchstone, 1992), pp. 118-119.


27. Alan Wolfe, One Nation After All (New York Viking, 1998), pp.298, 300.


28. E. F. Schumacher, A Guide for the Perplexed (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), p. 132.


29. Twitchell, p. 30.


30. Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), p. 25.


31. Philippians 4:8.


32. I understand that it is common today not to use "Before Christ" but to prefer, instead, "B.C.E." (meaning "Before the Common Era"). I also understand that "B.C." is regarded by some as exclusively "Christian," thus working (say some) an emotional and intellectual hardship upon those not of the Christian faith. This is an argument that it is so transparently stupid that only intellectuals could make it, believe it, or subscribe to it. I will use "B.C."


33. Helen F. North, "Temperance," in Vol. IV of the Dictionary of the History of Ideas, ed. by Phillip O. Wiener (New York: Scribner, 1973), p.367.


34. Ibid., pp. 368-370. The quotation is on p. 371.


35. Ed. L. Miller, Questions That Matter, 2d shorter ed. (Boston: McGraw-Hill), 1998, p. 12.


36. J. Budziszewski, Written on the Heart (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), p. 11.


37. See, for example, Budziszewski, Written on the Heart, pp. 31-33.


38. Miriam Horn, "Shifting Lines of Privacy," U.S. News & World Report, 26 October 1998, pp. 57-58.


39. Tom Morris, If Aristotle Ran General Motors (New York: Henry Holt, 1997), p. 120.


40. Hans J. Morgenthau, "Epistle to the Columbians on the Meaning of Morality," The New Republic, 21 December 1959, p. 9.


41. William Bennett, The Death of Outrage (New York: The Free Press, 1998), pp. 9, 121.


42. A word is in order here about the command not to judge lest we be judged (Mt. 7:1, Lk 6:37). Utterly to condemn someone, with no spirit of charity, is clearly contrary to the counsels of Christianity. But forgiveness of the person does not mean that we accept or condone vile or sinful practices. The idea that "forgiveness should render a person incapable of moral criticism collapses under the sheer weight of biblical evidence," writes Bennett. "The attempt to use God’s forgiveness as a pretext to excuse moral wrong is a dangerous (and old) heresy known as antinomianism—literally ‘against the law.’ Essentially it rejects the moral law as a relevant part of Christian experience. The thought that God’s grace, given to us through Christ’s death at Golgotha, would justify licentiousness has long been considered contemptible by saints and scholars through the ages." Ibid., pp. 116-118.


43. J. Budziszewski, True Tolerance (New Brunswick: Transaction, 1992), p. 7. This is a fascinating, if inchoate and incondite, work. The same may be true of the evangelical work by Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler, The New Tolerance (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1998). While oversimplifying issues and overlooking even sources which would buttress their own argument, they offer evidence that "The Bible makes it clear that all values, beliefs, lifestyles, and truth claims are not equal" (p. 20), that truth and morality are not mere cultural creations (p. 63), and that there are ways to resist the "new tolerance" (which they see as multiculturalism, political correctness, and postmodernism [pp. 208, 38]). A far better and much more scholarly argument can be found in The Splendor of Truth, Pope John Paul’s encyclical: "In the end, only a morality which acknowledges certain norms as valid, always and for everyone, with no exception, can guarantee the ethical foundation of social coexistence, both on the national and international levels [p. 119]." (Boston: St. Paul, n.d.). For a criticism of that encyclical, see Peter Hebblethwaite’s column in the National Catholic Reporter, 7 October 1994, p. 18. The Pope’s newest encyclical, Faith and Reason, appearing in October 1998, continues the arguments advanced by the Pope in his earlier encyclicals and should be of interest to philosophers, theologians, and political scientists (and to those, such as McDowell and Hostetler, who decry—correctly, in my view—an absence of absolutes in education and in modern life).


44. As it is clear, as well, for Christians: "From the Christian point of view, all cultures . . . in our fallen world are . . . imperfect and . . . subject to moral criticism. The repeated imperative of the New Testament is to conform oneself to Christ, not to the world as it is. Christianity does not believe one can find moral truth by looking to and living by the norms of any existing human culture. Rather, Christian standards and norms point toward one ideal . . . human community: the kingdom of God." Germain Grisez and Russell Shaw, Fulfillment in Christ (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991), p. 43.


45. Air Force Times, 8 December 1997, p. 7.


46. James Kitfield, "Crisis in Conscience," Government Executive, October 1995, p. 16.


47. He continues: "Unlike prudence and justice, temperance is not an attribute of God; it cannot even be ascribed to the holy angels, for it can belong only to animals with bodily needs and appetites" in The Virtues (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), p. 131. I am grateful to my son, Christopher H. Toner, for calling this book to my attention.


48. Romanus Cessario, O.P., The Moral Virtues and Theological Ethics (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991), p. 78.


49. Newsweek, 24 November 1997, p. 60.


50. The above account is based upon Facts on File, Vol. 57, No. 2947 (29 May 1997): 374-375; Kelly Flinn, "Sex, Lies, and Me," Newsweek, 24 November 1997; and the Washington Post, 29 April 1997, p. D-1.


51. Frank Thilly, revised by Ledger Wood, A History of Philosophy, 3rd ed. (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1957), p. 86.


52. Quoted in Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Vol. I: Greece and Rome (New York: Doubleday Image, 1993, p. 210.


53. Copleston, Ibid.


54. Did Kelly Flinn deserve the punishment she received? Could she have been militarily "rehabilitated"? I think I owe the reader my views, which are based only upon readings and conversations with people who know both Flinn and people in her chain of command. The differences between, say, Ralston and Flinn are so obvious, I think, as not to require comment. (The notion that Ralston, a general, was "let off the hook" while Flinn, a junior officer, was "persecuted" is absurd.) Flinn’s conduct indicated a pattern: sexual fraternization with an enlisted man followed by an adulterous relationship with a man of little account married to an Air Force enlisted woman. Flinn refused a direct order; Flinn lied; Flinn’s subsequent actions and statements indicate, at least in my judgment, a young person confused about the very values and virtues she was supposed to model as an Air Force officer. I believe that the Air Force treated Flinn fairly and justly. Whether she might be allowed, after the passage of a few years, to join the Air Force Reserve and thus once again to fly the planes she knew in the service she says she loves is matter well beyond my legal knowledge. Such, however, may be a possibility, for Kelly Flinn was not an evil person, a traitor, or a coward; while ready, apparently, to serve well as a pilot, she simply was not ready for the responsibilities of service as an officer. The nation "expects a living portrayal of the highest standards of moral and ethical behavior. The expectation is neither fair nor unfair; it is a simple fact of the profession. The future of the services and the well-being of its people depend on the public perception and fact of the honor, virtue and trustworthiness of the officer corps." The Armed Forces Officer (DoD GEN-36A), published by the American Forces Information Service, 1988.