Archive for the ‘Morality’ Category

Toxic Leadership and the Rape/Murder of Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi

February 2, 2011 13 comments

I just received my paperback copy of Blackhearts: One Platoon’s Descent into Madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death by Jim Frederick.  I made it through the first couple of chapters last night, but what I read was so compelling I had to post it this morning.

This book chronicles the Iraq experience of one platoon of the 1-502nd Infantry Battalion of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division.  You may recall that four members of this unit left their post on March 12, 2006, barged into a local Iraqi house, raped their 14-year-old daughter, then executed the entire family.  Sick stuff.  Read more…


The “Phantom Menace Syndrome”, or, How US Navy Capt. Owen Honors Learned About Filmmaking

January 6, 2011 Leave a comment

The big story of the week is the relief from command of Navy Captain Owen Honors for videos which he evidently wrote, produced, directed, and starred in from 2006-2007 while serving as the Executive Officer of the USS Enterprise.  Apparently, Captain Honors did not heed the lessons to be learned from either George Lucas or Kevin Costner – when you try to do too much yourself in showbiz, it always comes back to haunt you.

This episode is bound to conjure up painful organizational memories for the US Navy of the Tailhook Scandal, and set off a similar debate about professionalism in the US military.  Already there is an article in Christian Science Monitor in which the headline asks the question, “Do lewd videos point to deeper problem for military?”  The article answers its own question, in a manner of speaking.  The article quotes  Kaye Whitley, director of the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, as stating, “It’s a leadership issue.”  Well, Kaye, in reality its a bit deeper than that. 

It is a cultural issue, which is a reflection of leadership.  According to CS Monitor, senior leaders in the Navy knew about these videos long before they became public, yet are only now taking action.  It’s a leadership issue alright.  But its not Captain Honors’ leadership issue (for him it is a professionalism/ethical issue).  No, it is a leadership issue for all the leaders who knew about this, yet were perfectly happy to promote Honors up the chain because he got results.  That is, until it became public.  Now, those same leaders are perfectly happy to flame Honors for his actions, but only because now they are embarrassing the Navy.

You can’t tell me this is the first time Honors did this, either.  Certainly there have been other incidents, which Honors’ leaders were happy to overlook, most likely because Honors was a result-getter.  Regardless of all the talk in the military about integrity, professionalism, etc., results-getters and mission-accomplishers get away with a lot because senior leaders are willing to overlook “little” incidents like this – that is, until they become big incidents.  The sin isn’t doing something unprofessional – the sin is only getting caught.

Its a leadership issue alright.  Every single leader who looked the other way and allowed Honors to come up through the ranks unimpeded is to blame.  Yet, mark my words – aside from the officer who was the Captain of the Enterprise at the time the videos were shown – NO OTHER SENIOR LEADER WILL BE PUNISHED.  Sadly, that is the way these things work. 

Categories: Culture, Morality, Organization

The Question of Legitimacy

January 2, 2010 Leave a comment

An article on strategic legitimacy by retired Marine LTC Robert J. Weimann was posted yesterday on Small Wars Journal.  It addresses the issue of legitimacy, which is included as a new Principle of War in the new JP 3-0.  The author offers the following abbreviated excerpt of the definition of legitimacy:

…Legitimacy … The purpose of legitimacy is to develop and maintain the will necessary to attain the national strategic end state…Legitimacy is based on the legality, morality, and rightness of the actions undertaken. Legitimacy is frequently a decisive element. Interested audiences may include the foreign nations, civil populations in the operational area, and the participating forces.

Here is the big problem with legitimacy; it is a subjective judgement.  It is the domain of the population, not the military or government.  Legitimacy is clearly something we need to be attuned to, however, I think we still don’t get it.  We tend to confuse legitimacy with justification, but these two terms are not interchangeable.  A justifiable action is not necessarily a legitimate one.  Justification is largely a legal issue, whereas legitimacy is a moral issue.

The new definition of legitimacy as a Principle of War uses the terms legality, morality, and rightness – legality is clearly incorrect.  This dynamic was at play during the run up to Iraq.  The administrations push to war was an exercise in building justification, culminating in Colin Powell’s briefing and the UN.

Justification does not equal legitimacy.  Of the two, legitimacy is the most important.  But as long as we think of it as a justification/legal principle, we are doomed to fail.