The Navy’s former top civilian has rocked the service in a military journal article by accusing officials of sinking the storied naval air branch into a sea of political correctness.
Former Navy Secretary John Lehman, himself a former carrier-based aviator, wrote that the swagger and daring of yesterday’s culture has given way to a focus on integrating women and, this year, gays.
Pilots constantly worry about anonymous complaints about salty language, while squadron commanders are awash in bureaucratic requirements for reports and statistics, he added.
“Those attributes of naval aviators — willingness to take intelligent calculated risk, self-confidence, even a certain swagger — that are invaluable in wartime are the very ones that make them particularly vulnerable in today’s zero-tolerance Navy,” said Mr. Lehman, who led the Navy in the Reagan administration.
“The political correctness thought police, like Inspector Javert in ‘Les Miserables,’ are out to get them and are relentless.”
Navy pilots have complained privately for years that a post-Tailhook Convention push to clean up conduct by aviators went too far.
The 1991 Las Vegas convention has stood as a black mark for the Navy because some naval aviators engaged in lewd escapades and excessive drinking.
An ensuing Pentagon investigation ballooned into one of the government’s most extensive probes, as scores of officers were targeted and had their careers shortened. Feminists used the scandal to demand a change in Navy culture.
Now, Mr. Lehman, a New York investor who served as a bombardier navigator in A-6 Intruders, has aired in public what active-duty pilots dare not say.
His lengthy article adorns the home page of the magazine Proceedings, a forum for active-duty and retired personnel on naval issues. Proceedings is published by the U.S. Naval Institute, an independent association located at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.
“Once standards of common sense were ignored in favor of political correctness, there were no limits to the spread of its domination,” Mr. Lehman wrote.
“Not only have alcohol infractions anonymously reported on the hot line become career-enders, but suspicions of sexual harassment, homophobia, telling of risque jokes, and speech likely to offend favored groups all find their way into fitness reports.
“And if actual hot-line investigations are then launched, that is usually the end of a career, regardless of the outcome. There is now zero tolerance for any missteps in these areas.”
The Lehman broadside coincides with the celebrations this year at military bases across the country of the 100th anniversary of naval aviation.
That celebration, too, got caught up this year in charges of political correctness. The foundation in charge of anniversary events posted a history online that emphasized women and minority advancement in naval air.