Wednesday, June 5, 2013

"An Unjustifiable Departure from My Orders"

Major General C. F. Smith
In November 1861, Brigadier General C. F. Smith issued General Orders No. 32 condemning the behavior of troops under  Brigadier General E. A. Paine during the march from Milburn to Paducah, KY.

The imputations are of the most discreditable, most disgraceful character to them as soldiers or citizens — that in returning, several regiments (the Ninth and Twelfth Illinois excepted) straggled home in parties without the semblance of military array — mere armed mob; and that the property of citizens was wantonly destroyed, and in some instances robbery by violence committed. Such conduct implies a discipline that he can scarcely credit, and he calls upon the brigade and other commanders to use their utmost endeavors to remedy such a state of things.
Today, we have another, more despicable case, of such disgraceful character in the sexual assaults on women in the military.   A Pentagon report says that reported sexual assaults rose to more than 3,374 in 2012.  But this is only a small fraction of the 26,000 estimated number of assaults.  These perpetrators have, in Smith's words, behaved in the "most discreditable, most disgraceful character as soldiers or citizens."

As Smith recognized in 1861, the fault lies with the commanding officers.  Senior military officers have overturned sexual assault convictions.  In other cases, the incidents have been swept under the rug to protect the unit, academy, and/or service.  Visions of the outrageous behavior of a general officer dramatized in The General's Daughter come to mind. The actions of these military personnel dishonor all who serve.

As occurred during the Civil War in regard to military tactics in face of changing technology, the military establishment must be dragged into the 21st century.  Women should be accorded a place of equal respect as they serve this country.  The male-dominated, archaic value system in the military must be overhauled.  Smith wanted to bring up charges against Paine.  Court-martial proceedings against some high ranking officers might gain the attention of the military. 

Congressional actions are focusing on removing the chain of command from deciding whether and how to proceed with the cases.  The military brass objects to this. They have had time to clean their respective houses, but have metaphorically sweep the dirt under the rug.  Something needs to be done, and based on past failures the military has invited intervention by outsiders.

This "conduct unbecoming" points to another serious problem which Smith also notes as "a discipline that he can scarcely credit." The lack of discipline and respect for codes of behavior is cause for concern. This lack of discipline and control can lead to events such as the murder of 25 Afghan citizens.

Secretary of Defense Hagel
"This scourge must be stamped out," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the graduating cadets and newly-minted second lieutenants during his commencement address at the US Military Academy at West Point. "We are all accountable and responsible for ensuring that this happens," Secretary Hagel said. "We cannot fail the Army or America. We cannot fail each other and we cannot fail the men and women that we lead."

A day earlier, President Obama had the same message for Navy ensigns and Marine Corps second lieutenants graduating at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis.

I hope that the Congress will take strong measures to remove this stain on the honor of the brave men and women who defend this country.

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