- The Washington Times - Monday, July 23, 2001

Fifty-six years ago this week, the USS Indianapolis sank in the south Pacific. Having delivered the materials for the atomic bomb that would end World War II, the ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sank in 12 minutes. Through a series of Navy blunders, those not immediately killed would spend five days floating under hellish conditions that few could imagine. Injury, exposure, desperation, fatigue and hundreds of sharks relentlessly attacked the small groups of survivors, exacting a horrific toll. Of the 1,196 sailors on board only 316 survived the ordeal. Captain Charles Butler McVay would survive only to become a scapegoat in one of the greatest travesties of military justice. The only Navy captain ever court-martialed for hazarding his vessel, the tragedy would claim yet one more victim. In 1969, Captain McVay committed suicide.
Fast forward to 2001. Earlier this month, a female Marine officer at the U.S. Southern Command in Miami complained that a physical fitness run is demeaning. The response to her complaint is all too common and predictable. Pending an investigation, such training runs are, forthwith, cancelled. So rather than challenge our military forces to be all that they can be, we allow them to denigrate into much less. It appears that our military has lowered the bar enough to trip over it.
Demeaning? Please. Demeaning is surviving an incident such as the Indianapolis tragedy and then, as in the case of Captain McVay, having your country strip you of your dignity. Demeaning is to be in today's military and hear combat hardened veterans, who participated in the battle on the Korean peninsula or the Normandy invasion, tell us how far we have allowed our legacy to erode. It is hearing how John McCain or Jim Stockdale survived numerous beatings and interrogations at the hands of their Vietnamese captors and then realizing our threshold for pain will not tolerate a 30 minute run. Demeaning is allowing our standards to be dictated by the lowest common denominator and accepting mediocrity rather than aspiring to the time-tested, stoic qualities like those of the valiant crew of the Indianapolis.
Rather than look at this training run essentially a jog as demeaning, the officer in question should view it for what it is. It is an opportunity for her to fulfill the words of her oath wherein she freely pledged to faithfully discharge the duties of her office. It probably did not occur to her that there are many who openly and wholeheartedly accept military service as a challenge. The implication of acceding to her complaint is that if an assignment is too tough, well, quit. We are becoming less like the warriors of Homer's "The Iliad" and more like the buffoonish Homer Simpson.
Military service affords many an opportunity to accept hardship, persevere and become better. It often provides a respectable escape from inner-city poverty. As society's value system becomes more fragmented our military becomes a place where America increasingly hopes to inculcate our youth with a sense of morality. Consider that Prince Georges County Superintendent Iris Metts' proposes converting Forestville High School into one of the nation's first public military high schools. The rationale behind the proposal is that it would give students the academic structure necessary to move on to college.
As the Bush administration moves forward with its plan to rebuild and restructure the military, we should insist that the military aspire to more than necessary challenges of implementing new technologies and preparing for emerging threats. Congress should demand that our nation's historic values of courage under fire, rigorous peacetime training and old-fashioned grit that ensure success in a conflict and survival under stress do not vanish. That would be much more demeaning.

Christopher Gallagher is a visiting military fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.


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