A Vietnam-Era Marine on “Social Engineering” at the U.S. Naval Academy

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Midshipmen on Stribling Walk at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

U.S. Marines have never been shy when it comes to calling it how they see it. And in conversations with many current and no-longer serving Marines (they dislike being called “former”), it’s clear the corps is the service most opposed to having women deployed in close ground combat.

Retired Marine lieutenant colonel Bill Hemingway, a member of the U.S. Naval Academy’s class of 1958, heard Vice Admiral Michael Miller, the academy superintendent, speak last month in Annapolis. When Hemingway got back home to Oregon, he sat down and wrote Miller a letter. Excerpts:

There have been too many bad things happening in the military of late, and unfortunately, the Academy mirrors this. I am concerned about the message that the present over-emphasis on military social engineering sends to the public, and how the Naval Academy is perceived as the result. Many individuals and families find these policies inconsistent with their values, and consequently would not encourage their family or acquaintances to join today’s Brigade of Midshipmen.

The cult of diversity has undermined the proper focus on mission accomplishment. Most of us who have actually fought “in the trenches” in wartime don’t really care what race, creed or color our comrades-in-arms are. When we call for support in a “danger close” situation we simply want the best qualified decision-makers in place to be dropping the bombs, firing the missiles or lobbing artillery our way. I don’t see how relaxed admissions and retention standards for minorities (or anyone else) at the premier officer training university in the country, does anything to foster confidence that we will have that first team in place when faced with life and death situations.

Women are wonderful human beings, however, no matter what laws, executive orders or directives are passed, the sexes will never be “equal.” (No man is capable of birthing a child.) Let us not forget that there is a natural phenomenon between men and women that cannot be ignored. The introduction of women into close, intimate, stressful and dangerous situations for extended periods of time has a price. Not infrequently there are battlefield conditions that require extraordinary physical strength and exertion. It is an incontrovertible physiological fact that very few women measure up to their male counterparts in this important combat requirement. Women are as capable as men in performing many military support functions. It is in these non-combat areas where we should utilize their irrefutable capabilities.

Last but not least, the reality of an openly gay Naval Academy is mind-boggling. My friend, John Ripley, is probably rolling over in his grave. Again, there are many environments where gays can function effectively and with minimal impact on the social fabric around them. But, the military is not one of them. A submarine or battlefield is not IBM or Wal-Mart or the NBA. War-fighting is serious business. The military can ill-afford the extra burden and tensions of accommodating the openly gay lifestyle.

Trying to force these changes is already costing the military billions of extra dollars annually. Maintenance of good order and discipline is challenged. The impact on unit readiness is already being felt. As these social engineering efforts are more fully implemented, the concomitant costs will only escalate. Our politicians are either incredibly naïve, willing to buy votes at any cost, or are purposely taking actions to degrade the finest military force the world has ever seen. The ineffective resistance to these ill-conceived policies by our top military leadership has also been disappointing.

The naval service is not about looking sharp, shuffling papers or making people feel good. It is primarily about accomplishing the mission and winning wars. If we don’t get our national priorities straight and our military doesn’t get re-focused, our armed forces may score high in political correctness, but will continue to get their butts kicked in far off places. It is going to take courageous, intelligent and ethical leadership to right this ship.

Admiral, I realize you are saddled with the dictates of your superiors. We have all had to hold our tongues and say, “aye, aye sir.” However, there are times when the very integrity and future viability of the institution are threatened, that the situation merits reasoned, but firm push-back. I am taking the time to tell you how a lot of us alumni feel about what is going on in the military and at the Academy. It is getting increasingly difficult to enthusiastically support even a revered establishment we believe is implementing wrong policies. My hope is that, even if you don’t agree with everything I have said, at least it will provide some useful insight and pause for reflection.

Hemingway is 77, and hung up his Marine dress blues and sword nearly 35 years ago. Younger Marines – those still working, either in or out of uniform – are less likely than Hemingway to rock the boat. And there are some — mostly younger — Marines who believe whatever compromises are made to build a more inclusive fighting force ultimately will yield a better military.

But Hemingway, who launched and ran an electronics company after 20 years in the corps, isn’t one of them. “There are some facts that just can’t be altered [and] no decree from any clueless, self-serving politician can change that,” he says. “In the serious business of war fighting, people die when you don’t have the best making the decisions and leading the troops.”

Hemingway says he has garnered widespread support from academy alumni, but that he’s still waiting for a response from Admiral Miller.