|By Leon A. Edney Admiral USN ( Retired) 1 December 1998|
|Mr. Chairman, I appear before your
distinguished Committee today to participate in a panel discussion addressing
leadership and ethics as they relate to the current issues before this
committee and the nation. In view of my particular experience as a career
military officer serving this nation's defense needs for over 37 years,
I will focus my remarks on the importance of ethics and integrity in the
military leadership of this great Country of ours. For the past two years,
I have been the full time occupant of the Distinguished Leadership Chair
at the United States Naval Academy. This Chair is endowed by the private
donation of one the Academy's alumni and therefore my remuneration is not
paid for with government or tax payers dollars. I spend my time teaching
ethics three days a week, leadership two days a week and participate in
a Brigade wide Integrity Development Program once a month. This is an indicator
of the relevance and importance placed on these subjects by those charged
with developing the ethical based leadership required by our officer corps.
While I provide this information as background, I appear before you today
and make this statement as a concerned individual citizen and retired military
officer; not as a representative of any organization with which I am currently
We live in a society that more and more is transmitting a confused message on the subject of ethics and integrity, which makes one wonder if we are losing our way. In our last Presidential election, both candidates emphasized family values, one wanted two parents to be the center of the family responsibilities. The other felt it takes a village of caring people to raise our children; it seems to me both were right. When we look in the window of the American society to see how we are doing, the picture is not too comforting. Approximately 1 out of 4 babies born today is illegitimate and 25% of all children are being raised by a single parent. Even in the declining base of our more traditional two parent families, both parents routinely work full time jobs. It often appears we are more interested in raising wealth than our children. Consequently, TV viewing is up 60% among our children and scanning the Internet not reading the classics is a close second. Those interested in leadership and ethics development must ask this question. What ethical messages are our children getting from many afternoon TV talk shows as well as the prime time violence and comic titillation on TV in the evening. Now this same material is easily available on the Internet: Recent survey's indicate 70% of college students admit cheating at least once. You can buy books on How to Cheat and Succeed in most off campus book stores. The suicide rate among teens is up 11% in the last 5 years. Crime and drugs remain dominant factors in our cities. More interesting is the fact, 50% of our crime involves employees stealing from employers. These are values and lessons of life that are getting transmitted to our youth. It is often a message that subtly implies, so what if it is wrong, every one is doing it. This is the background from which our entry level enlisted and officers are coming from.
Faced with this reality, the armed forces have concluded, all personnel must be inculcated repeatedly with the requirement and expectation that military leadership must evolve from a foundation of trust and confidence. The ethics and integrity of our military leadership must be much higher than the society at large and even the elected officials that serve that society. Success in combat, which is our business, depends on trust and confidence in our leaders and each other. Ethics and integrity are the basic elements of Trust and Confidence in our military leadership, both from above and more importantly from below.
While the requirements for successful military leadership are clear, it is also clear we do not always meet these standards. At the end of the Gulf War, just 7 years ago, our military and its leaders stood at the pinnacle of professional performance and public esteem following the dramatic successes in the Gulf War. We led everyone's list of those for whom the public had trust and confidence. Since then we have had Tailhook as a watershed event. There have been serious sexual harassment and ethical behavior charges in all the services, many involving very senior leadership that have resulted in more than a dozen flag officers being removed from office for violations of integrity and ethics.
The issue of chemical weapons exposure in the Gulf War raises questions concerning straight talk if not the integrity of the leadership with regards to our troops and the public. Leadership within the Army has been tarnished by Skin Head racial incidents at Fort Bragg, the revelations at Aberdeen and the alleged abuses of the former Sergeant Major of the Army. The tragic shoot down of friendly helos in Northern Iraq as well as several Navy and Marine air accidents also raised questions of confidence and integrity in the military training process. The Naval Academy had the EE Cheating Scandal in 1993 - 1994 plus a few highly publicized incidents of drug use and car thefts by members of the Brigade. The Marine Corps had cheating on exams at their Officers Basic School, the publicized tradition of blood pinning and the recent relief of a commander in the field for apparently advocating the destruction of any films documenting routine failures in flight discipline.
Unfortunately, I could list more examples but the message is our house does not look in order on the issue of ethics and integrity, no matter where you look from the White House to the house next door. Whenever these disconnects between our standards of behavior and our actions occur the solution is not to lower our standards. Rather we must maintain the standards and improve our performance while holding those who fail accountable.
In the military profession, a breach of your integrity, ethics or honor is always accompanied by a leadership failure. The bottom line for our military leadership requirements is that integrity and ethics cannot be taken for granted or treated lightly at any level of training or interaction. All our personnel must be inculcated repeatedly with the requirement that military leadership must evolve from a foundation of trust and confidence in our ethics and core values of honor, courage and commitment to do what is right. Today we are asking our people, What is right? Why do what is right? The moralist answer is because it is the right thing to do. Our answer is because the trust and confidence required of our profession demands it. Doing what is right based on the whole truth must be natural and automatic for the American military officer. We need to clearly identify our core values and repeatedly reenforce them among all members of the armed forces so that they become second nature.
Whenever one reflects on the need for ethics within the military profession, as executed by those who have the privilege of leading the American Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine and Coast Guardsman in the duty of defending our national security interests, I believe it is necessary to reflect on the roots of our nation. For it is there where the higher calling of this nation, some call it a moral purpose that we serve today, began. Some current day thinking would have us believe that those who espouse a bridge to the past have no vision. I submit if the vision of the present is missing the values that this nation was founded on, we should strengthen that bridge to the past for it is built on the lives of those who fought and gave the ultimate sacrifice for those principles and beliefs
While there are many effective styles of leadership, two essential ingredients of successful military leadership are integrity and ethics. Rank and high positions do not confer privileges; they entail unavoidable responsibilities and accountability. Young Americans in our military place their leadership on a pedestal of trust and confidence when we earn it. They have the right to expect unfailing professional performance and integrity from each level of leadership. Military leaders at all levels, need to consistently display that match between words and deeds, between rules and compliance, between institutional values and behavior. The catch is this match must take place 24 hours a day, there is no duty and then off time where you can let your hair down and not represent these core values. There can be no compromise on this issue in a profession where the ultimate you can demand of a subordinate is that they lay their life on the line in the execution of your orders.
When all is said and done, military leadership must have a moral base, a set of ethical values, to keep us true to the high ideals of our fore bearers who provided us the cherished inheritance of freedom. The integrity of an officer's word, signature, commitment to truth, discerning what is right and acting to correct what is wrong; must be natural, involved and rise to the forefront of any decision or issue. Leadership by example must come from the top, it must be consistently of the highest standards and it must be visible for all to see. Do as I say and not as I do just won't hack it! This country is firmly entrenched in the principle of civilian leadership of our military in the authority of the President. Therefore, those who hold that leadership position, to be credible, must meet the same standards.
America and her Armed Forces have always stood on the side of right and human decency. You do not throw these core values away in the process of defending them. You also do not lower the bar of ethical standards and integrity when individuals fail to live up to them. We must continue to remove those who fall short and seek those who meet and exceed the requirements. Dual standards and less accountability at the top will undermine the trust and confidence so essential to good order and discipline as well as mission success. The fact is, core values for military leaders and their civilian Commander in Chief remain in effect no matter where they are or what you are doing 24 hours a day. When observed by anyone, they must reflect the institution's core values of respect for decency, human dignity, morality and doing what is right, in or out of uniform, on or off duty.
I believe that ethical men and women have a conscience that warns you when you are about to cross the line from right to wrong. The true test of integrity for the ethical leader is doing what is right when no one is watching. He or she knows and that is all that is required to do what is right. Unfortunately those few senior military and civilian officials that bring shame on themselves, their families and their country by ethical indiscretions were probably doing the same thing as more junior officials. It was not news worthy then, but it was just as wrong. If in these cases the leader chooses to lie or otherwise avoid his / her responsibilities, the continuation of that military leadership is adverse to morale, good order and discipline and eventually combat effectiveness. As has been said on many occasions: "Habit is the daily battleground of character."
I agree with Stephen Crater's three requirements for ethical action on issues of integrity.
First, discern what is right and what is wrong based on all the facts and the truth. This takes pro-active involvement not selective avoidance.There are any number of courses of action available and the best one will depend on the circumstances at the time. What is never acceptable, is the toleration of observed wrong actions or the acceptance of an environment that allows wrong actions to occur. To allow this is a fundamental breakdown in the integrity of the leadership responsibilities and trust placed in the acceptance of one's oath of office. Above all else, military leadership is a commitment to seek out responsibility, to understand and accept accountability, to care, to get involved, to motivate, to get the job done right the first time through our people. Mistakes will happen and can be corrected, usually with a positive learning curve. The cover up of mistakes and responsibility by lying or obfuscation cannot be tolerated. The leadership of our Armed Forces must be based on principle not litigious double talk. Thus the leadership traits of our military as well the civilian leadership of the military must demonstrate above all else, a commitment to integrity and ethics on a daily basis. This must be most visible at the top, if we as a nation are to meet our constitutional responsibilities to "Provide for the Common Defense " now burdened with the mantle of world leadership.
In closing, I offer the following summary observations: On Ethics and Military Leadership:
* We must learn from our past mistakes, but we must get on with the business at hand and focus on the future not our wake. We have a cadre of young leadership in our armed services that makes me confident for the future.Thank you for the privilege of addressing this Committee on these important issues.