and the Student Senate
People do not usually think of competence
as a matter of ethics, but it is. Taking on the responsibility to do a job
without acquiring the knowledge and skill necessary to do it is profoundly
unethical, and professions such as medicine, law, financial management,
education and business recognize this. But competence, and its related value,
diligence, are ethical imperatives for all of us, and not just in our jobs.
One has a duty to be a competent parent, a competent student, and a competent
citizen. One has a duty to be a competent voter: if you won't take the time
to learn enough about the issues and where candidates stand on them to cast
an informed vote, then your contribution to the democratic process can only
be negative. And one has a duty to know what one is talking about before
denigrating those who have been competent, responsible and ethical.
The Student Senate of the University of Washington botched this duty
spectacularly when it recently considered the following proposed resolution:
Be it resolved ... that we consider Col. Gregory Boyington, United
States Marine Corps, to be a prime example of the excellence that this
university represents and strives to impart upon its students, and,
That we desire for a memorial for Col. Boyington be commenced by the
University of Washington by 11 January 2008, the twentieth anniversary
of his death, which will be publicly displayed, so that all who come
here in future years will know that the University of Washington produced
one of this country's bravest men, and that we as a community hold this
fact in the highest esteem.
Col. Gregory Boyington, as anyone with access to Google can find out
in about 30 seconds, was a World War II hero, a flying ace, the leader
of the famed "Black Sheep Squadron," and a prisoner of war who endured
months of torture at a Japanese prison camp. Still, the student senate
rejected the resolution with a combination of ignorance, bigotry, arrogance
and naiveté that should make any parent of a student there wonder
exactly what their tuition payments are purchasing.
- Student Senator Jill Edwards, said that she "didn't believe a member
of the Marine Corps was an example of the sort of person UW wanted to
Here is one of many descriptions of the official values of the U.S.
Marine Corps, as described in the book "Warrior Culture of the U.S.
Marines" by Marion Sturkey:
Honor requires each Marine to exemplify the ultimate standard in ethical
and moral conduct. Honor is many things; honor requires many things.
A U.S. Marine must never lie, never cheat, never steal, but that is
not enough. Much more is required. Each Marine must cling
to an uncompromising code of personal integrity, accountable for his
actions and holding others accountable for theirs. And, above
all, honor mandates that a Marine never sully the reputation of his
Simply stated, courage is honor in action -- and more. Courage
is moral strength, the will to heed the inner voice of conscience, the
will to do what is right regardless of the conduct of others.
It is mental discipline, an adherence to a higher standard. Courage
means willingness to take a stand for what is right in spite of adverse
consequences. This courage, throughout the history of the Corps,
has sustained Marines during the chaos, perils, and hardships of combat.
And each day, it enables each Marine to look in the mirror -- and smile.
dedication to Corps and Country. Gung-ho Marine teamwork.
All for one ,one for all. By whatever name or cliché, commitment
is a combination of (1) selfless determination and (2) a relentless
dedication to excellence. Marines never give up, never give in,
never willingly accept second best. Excellence is always the goal.
And, when their active duty days are over, Marines remain reserve Marines,
retired Marines, or Marine veterans. There is no such thing as
an ex-Marine or former-Marine. Once a Marine, always a Marine.
Commitment never dies.
Hmmm. I wonder which of these values student senator Edwards rejects.
If there are any that she rejects, it is her ethical compass and not
that of Marines that is unworthy of endorsement by the University. Meanwhile,
her flippant and ignorant comment impugns the character of, among others,
astronaut and former Senator John Glenn, F. Lee Bailey, U.S.
Senator Conrad Burns, best-selling author James Webb,
actor Gene Hackman, Congressman John Murtha, children's
television icon Bob Keeshan ("Captain Kangaroo"), UN
weapons inspector Scott Ritter, John Phillip Sousa, golfer
Lee Trevino, baseball great Ted Williams, Drew
Carey, Montel Williams, M*A*S*H star and progressive advocate
Mike Farrell, and the Everly Brothers.
Gee, Jill, what a disgraceful bunch!
- Student Senator Karl Smith suggested that the resolution honoring
Boyington be stripped of any mention of "destroying 26 enemy aircraft."
In this way, he suggested, Colonel Boyington's "service" could be acknowledged,
but "not his killing of others." Thus did a student safely pursuing
his studies in a free country imply misconduct and shame in the service
of U.S. soldiers called upon to put their lives at risk to resist the
advances and atrocities of two totalitarian empires determined to conquer
the world by force and genocide.
- Ashley Miller, yet another senator, declared
that "too many monuments at UW already commemorate rich white men."
There is great bigotry, unfairness and disrespect inherent in this fatuous
statement, for if a person's achievements warrant recognition, his or
her race, gender or economic background should be irrelevant. But the
statement was also spectacularly and inexcusably incompetent, for Colonel
Boyington was not only not rich, he wasn't white either! Boyington was
a Sioux Indian, and any student who bothered to look up one of the many
photos of him available on the web would have had good reason to suspect
that he was a Native American. Ms. Miller was probably thinking of actor
Robert Conrad, who portrayed Boyington in a popular TV series. Perhaps
she also thinks that Leonardo DiCaprio is Howard Hughes, and John Travolta
is Bill Clinton.
This would all be laughable, if it wasn't so offensive and commonplace.
Opinions unmoored to any consideration, information, research or analysis
are the sludge of today's public discourse, and those who want to wallow
in it are welcome to do so. But when individuals have a duty they are
bound to perform, such as evaluating a proposal to honor Medal of Honor
recipient who fought and suffered for freedom, they must to do it competently.
Instead, the University of Washington student government relied on bumper
sticker ideology, careless assumptions and misinformation, violating ethical
principles of competence, diligence, care and fairness. The students were
disrespectful to the memory of man who, whether he deserves to be memorialized
at his alma mater or not, absolutely earned the right to have
his life's accomplishments known and understood by those who presumed
to judge them.
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