Military Character Deficits
So now we have John Walsh. Another flag officer who steps on his crank and then pretends he was ill at the time. Maybe it’s a David Patraeus thing, a kind of self-love, a lust for advancement and the values lost in the heat of that pursuit. Just as the former CIA director gave sexual harassment a boost with Paula Broadwell, the former Montana Adjutant General, now Senator, Walsh is giving Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) a bad name, throwing true combat fatigue victims under the bus in the process. PTSD is already the dubious “medical” default setting for any soldier or veteran who behaves badly.
Walsh has very partially (and incoherently) backed away from his blaming of PTSD:
In an interview Friday with KMMS Radio in Bozeman, Walsh clarified comments he made Wednesday to The Associated Press claiming his “head was not in a place very conducive to a classroom and an academic environment” at the time he wrote his thesis because he was being treated for PTSD.
“One thing … I would really like to clear up is that I am in no way -- no way -- tying what I did to any type of PTSD,” Walsh told KMMS. “It had nothing to do with the mistake that I made. People are trying to say I may have said that. … That is not in any way what I meant or said.”
Modern abuse of a combat vitae dates to John Kerry and Vietnam. Kerry parlayed three months in a combat zone to a chest full of medals and service ribbons duplicates of which he promptly threw on the White House lawn in a fit of feigned political pique.
Playing both sides of the street, war hero/anti-war hero, Kerry used his Navy service as a stepping stone in Massachusetts’ politics. It worked, it still works for Kerry. Lieutenant Kerry, and allies like Jane Fonda, made allegations about American atrocities that were unsupported by evidence. The Secretary of State is still reviled by many veterans for good reasons. Kerry was no Audie Murphy.
Walsh is a disturbing echo of the Kerry military ethos of the 1970s.
Alas, the real problem here isn’t personal integrity so much as national security institutions at risk. Kerry and Walsh raise questions about the standards in the Army, Navy, and Air Force, the erosion of national military values like “duty, honor, and country.”
With Kerry, where was the US Navy brass when he collected all those decorations, including three purple hearts for trivial injuries? Kerry never lost a day of duty for his “wounds.” Even by Vietnam standards, Kerry’s fruit salad orgy still amazes contemporaries.
Upon coming home, Kerry morphed into a very different, and very politicized naval officer; often half in and half out of uniform, often wearing/not wearing military decorations at anti-war protest rallies. Where was the admiralty then and subsequently when his Swift Boat shipmates challenged Kerry’s Vietnam resume during that pyrrhic presidential bid?
Now we have General Walsh in another political campaign. Put aside the banal stupidity of plagiarism in an era where any high school sophomore can screen a paper for fraud. Put aside also, for the moment, the question of why a US Army colonel can’t write an original 14 page “thesis” (sic). Put aside also the questions of how this guy got to be a state adjutant, a lieutenant governor, and an appointed US senator.
Instead, ask how did this fellow ever got a military commission, let alone a flag officer slot? He was promoted from colonel to general after cheating at the Army War College (AWC)! Speaking of the AWC, how is an institution credentialed to grant graduate degrees not able to screen for resume hustlers and plagiarists? And how is a fourteen-page cribbed essay a “thesis” in any post-graduate program? On the academic credibility scale, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, now joins the ranks of dot.com degree factories.
The Air Force has not escaped the depression in military values. Ninety-two missile launch officers were implicated in a recent cheating scandal associated with procedural competence. Subsequent inquiries suggest that cheating on proficiency tests has been part of the “culture” at all three ICBM bases for years. The USAF men and women with their fingers on the nuclear button can’t be trusted? Good grief, what’s next?
So here we are once again, with the Walsh fiasco, left to wonder about the integrity of Department of Defense leadership and institutions. And predictably, all of the usual suspects are out on soapboxes defending the indefensible. Excuses suggest that Walsh is a stress victim or he was just distracted, or just guilty of trivial neglect. Even the Clinton defense has been deployed again; Walsh’s behavior is likened to small or private matters, not something that could taint his public professional judgment.
Senator John Walsh’s defenders are probably correct in their calculations. Character flaws like cheating or plagiarism do not matter. After all, one of two major American political parties is behind Walsh “100 percent.” Keep in mind that Walsh didn’t fudge the truth as a junior officer, he cheated as a colonel. Cheating doesn’t matter in the officer corps because apparently character doesn’t matter either. Among politicians, character seldom matters; and now flag officers have lowered that bar too. Prudens Futuri indeed!
G murphy Donovan is a Vietnam veteran who writes about the politics of national security.