USA — Chairman Calls for Military Self-examination

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10, 2011 — As the mil­i­tary enjoys tremen­dous sup­port from the Amer­i­can peo­ple, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today, now is the time to step back, assess the impact of 10 years of war and ensure the insti­tu­tion remains on course.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, open­ing a lead­er­ship con­fer­ence at the Nation­al Defense Uni­ver­si­ty at Fort McNair here, called for a proac­tive self-exam­i­na­tion –- insti­tu­tion­al­ly and as by indi­vid­ual lead­ers –- and appro­pri­ate course cor­rec­tions, as needed. 

The chair­man called today’s all-day con­fer­ence — titled “Mil­i­tary Pro­fes­sion­al­ism: Intro­spec­tion and Reflec­tion on Basic Tenets and the Way Ahead” — “an oppor­tu­ni­ty to begin a con­ver­sa­tion and debate about who we are, what we have become, and how that match­es up to who we should be.” 

“For some­thing like this, which is at the heart of who we are, we can’t do enough self-exam­i­na­tion,” he told the atten­dees, key lead­ers of the mil­i­tary edu­ca­tion and train­ing community. 

“This is not self-fla­gel­la­tion,” he added. “This is exam­i­na­tion to make sure we under­stand it and that we keep feed­ing it back to raise those who will lead, in the not-too-dis­tant future, our mil­i­tary and, in fact, our country.” 

Echo­ing a mes­sage Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates sent dur­ing a speech at Duke Uni­ver­si­ty in Sep­tem­ber, Mullen cit­ed a grow­ing chasm between the Amer­i­can peo­ple and the mil­i­tary that depends on their sup­port for its very survival. 

Gates not­ed dur­ing that speech that less than 1 per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion has shoul­dered the nation­al secu­ri­ty bur­den, and he expressed con­cern that Amer­i­cans are los­ing con­tact with those who make up its military. 

Today, Mullen said that although most Amer­i­cans have tremen­dous good­will toward their men and women in uni­form, by and large they have lit­tle true con­nec­tion to who they are or what they represent. 

That’s a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion for the mil­i­tary, which can’t sur­vive with­out pub­lic sup­port, Mullen said. 

“Our under­pin­ning, our author­i­ties, every­thing we are, every­thing we do comes from the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” he said. “And we can­not afford to be out of touch with them. … To the degree we are out of touch, I think is a very dan­ger­ous course.” 

The chair­man cit­ed changes in the Amer­i­can public’s per­cep­tion of the mil­i­tary dur­ing the span of his own career. 

Dur­ing the 1970s, he said, the pub­lic large­ly blamed the mil­i­tary for fail­ures in Viet­nam, result­ing in deep orga­ni­za­tion­al scars that remain today. Then, dur­ing the 1980s, per­son­al account­abil­i­ty began to erode with­in the mil­i­tary, the chair­man told the group. 

“We were much more focused on the image of who we were, the com­mu­ni­ca­tions of who we were, par­tic­u­lar­ly when things got tough,” Mullen said. “And I saw too many not stand up who should have stood up from an account­abil­i­ty stand­point. And it both­ered me to no end. … For me, account­abil­i­ty is at the heart of this.” 

In the 1990s, inci­dents such as the Tail­hook scan­dal — sex­u­al mis­con­duct by offi­cers dur­ing a 1991 pri­vate orga­ni­za­tion con­ven­tion — exposed ques­tions about insti­tu­tion­al respon­si­bil­i­ty, Mullen said, and the impor­tance of putting the good of the mil­i­tary insti­tu­tion over that of individuals. 

While declin­ing to speak about the recent fir­ing of the com­mand­ing offi­cer of the USS Enter­prise while an inves­ti­ga­tion con­tin­ues, Mullen said sit­u­a­tions like this under­score the need for self-assess­ment with­in the military. 

“We have to have a true com­pass eth­i­cal­ly. We have to have a true com­pass moral­ly. We have to have a true com­pass inside our pro­fes­sion,” he said. 

Mullen empha­sized that he has no rea­son to believe the mil­i­tary has devi­at­ed dra­mat­i­cal­ly from its “true com­pass,” but he urged lead­ers to act now to take stock of grad­ual changes with­in the organization. 

Just as lead­ers learn from their suc­cess­es, he told the group, they also must learn the impor­tant lessons of their fail­ures. He not­ed “dif­fi­cult times” dur­ing the past 10 years when they may have faced moral or eth­i­cal chal­lenges, or sit­u­a­tions in which lead­ers fell short. He also rec­og­nized instances when the mil­i­tary has failed to live up to its respon­si­bil­i­ty to remain apolitical. 

“There were things that were out­side who we are as a coun­try, who we are as a mil­i­tary,” he said. “The true mea­sure … is how you pick your­self up off the deck, dust your­self off, learn the lessons and move forward. 

“It goes to this account­abil­i­ty dis­cus­sion,” he added. “All of this is tied to: ‘Who are we? What is our pro­fes­sion? What are the prin­ci­ples we care most about?’ ” Mullen said. “And in every­thing we do, we have got to keep those prin­ci­ples front and cen­ter –- for our­selves and for those that come along.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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