Sunday, February 15, 2015

Boorda, Clinton and Williams: The Decline of Honor and the Rise of Rascals

The Nation’s Capitol, and the Nation’s military services, were rocked by word that Admiral Jeremy Boorda had taken a gun from his home, stood in his front yard, and ended his life.  It was 1996.  Boorda had heard that Newsweek magazine was following a lead that that would accuse him of wearing two service medals reflecting Vietnam era service to which he had no proper claim. Although Boorda served in the Navy and was stationed within the Vietnam area on ship, his ribbons included the “V” for Valor a designation typically reserved for awards in the theater of combat. Boorda stopped wearing the “V” on his ribbons when a military historical group began seeking information on his Vietnam era service via requests made under the Freedom of Information Act. 

Conspiracy theorists will chasten me for not understanding how this was a murder and an act done to hide deeper, darker secrets.  I beg their indulgence, because the point here depends upon the accepted narrative.

Boorda’s raft of military ribbons and medals reflected the rise of an enlisted man to the highest rank in the United States Navy.  His, by available information, was a career of dedication and service to the Navy, and to the Nation. That a man would suffer under such pain of feared humiliation for the Navy, for his family, and for himself, that he would end his own life may be odd to some.

If you grew up -- as did I, my siblings and many friends -- in a military family, it makes perfect sense. 

These were more than just words.  These were ideals very familiar to us.  We saw, then, our fathers doing their duty. By their service, both they and we sacrificed for our country.  By distinguished service, they honored themselves and the Nation they served. 

We also experienced the pain of seeing failings in these principles. 

Our dad, who retired as a Colonel, spent his last duty years as the Senior Courts Martial Judge for the Navy’s Piedmont District.  Never one to bring his war stories to the dinner table, by the time he served in that post, I was old enough to have awareness of the more notorious cases being over which he presided. Murders, assaults, drug dealing, the occasional “conduct not becoming an officer and gentleman” (my recollection is that charge arose when one officer conducted an affair with the wife of another officer while that second officer was deployed).

We had also, of course, followed the news coverage of the My Lai massacre’s aftermath, including the prosecution of Lt. Calley. So we had our understanding of duty, honor and country given full relief both by their exhibition and by their omission in the lives of the military men and women among whom we lived, by whom we were raised.




I think it likely that the high personal toll of those ideals weighed heavily on Admiral Boorda’s mind. I regret that the toll was so high. I acknowledge, however, his determination that the threatened exposure of an alleged false claim of entitlement to certain military honors could only be soundly answered by the act of suicide. Of course, he was wrong in that. Suicide was not the only answer, nor was it an answer at all. The Nation, one that then was prepared to tolerate a President using an intern for oral gratification in the Oval Office, would have embraced him forgivingly given an appropriate acknowledgment, resignation, and removing himself from the National stage.

As it turns out, we have a rather high tolerance for high jinx from persons of position, prominence and wealth. To prove the point, simply contrast Admiral Boorda’s wrong – wearing Vietnam era service ribbons to which he was not entitled – with the bold, and bald-faced, lies of Hillary Clinton and Brian Williams.

Brian Williams now seemingly pays the price for having enhanced his resume. Williamshad claimed that, during coverage of the war in Iraq, he was aboard a helicopterthat was forced to make an emergency landing after it was hit by enemy fire.

Williams' tale of danger enhanced an acknowledged danger that no one would have reasonably disputed. Iraqi forces might well have fired on US Military aircraft. There was no need to add the embellishment, or to misreport the fact of his near presence to such danger. Still, without any seeming necessity, he did just that.

His fall came suddenly, when one who knew the pertinent facts stepped forward and contradicted Williams’ established claim. NBC’s news division has suspended Williams without pay for six months. Wags and pundits predict that Williams will not return to his former position.

Then there is the curious case of Hillary Clinton.

On several occasions, Hillary Clinton embellished her telling of the tale of avisit she and daughter Chelsea made to Bosnia back in 1996. As the storygrew wings of imagination, Hillary recounted how she and Chelsea were forced to run from the plane that just landed bringing them to Tuzla, Bosnia,to ground cover.  This mad dash was, Hillary claimed, made necessary by the presence and actions of a nearby Bosnia sniperwho firing on them.

The story had a ring of plausibility to it.  After all, Bosnia, Serbia, we all sort of remember, was deeply involved in some crazy violence and fighting.  Who would doubt the specifics of such an instance when it was so well matched to the generally understood fact that life in these countries, during a time of significant national turmoil, was quite dangerous? Unfortunately for Hillary, witnesses, including the entirely objective witness of the camera, showed that hers was a tale of danger as entirely cut from whole cloth as any Nancy Drew mystery. Ultimately, she was compelled by obvious and overwhelming fact to walk the story back from the precipice of patent prevarication.

Unlike Williams, Clinton’s deliberate lie on a topic where a lie was completely disconnected from any claim of necessity did not result in swift dispatch from the public scene. No. The former First Lady and United States Senator became the Secretary of State under Barack Obama. Imagine the sniggering up the sleeves as foreign ministers underwent prep with their aides for meetings with Secretary Clinton. Just cogitate on what it meant to have this Nation’s international interests guarded by a reputed liar. How unreliable could any assurance she made be thought to be by those invited to place their trust, their nations’ futures, on so shaky a ground as Clinton’s veracity and memory.

So Admiral Boorda, in a terribly sad act, committed suicide as a way, as he understood it, to preserve the honor of military service. Brian Williams tendered a weak apology for his misremembering of the details of an incident due to the “fog of war.”  Hillary Clinton walked back the danger laden details of a trip to a war ravaged Nation.

In the end, our losses from the lies and dishonesty are disproportionate. Admiral Boorda need not have committed suicide, and could have remained a strong reminder of the equality of opportunity that military service in the United States provides, having risen from enlisted typist to Admiral. He could have continued to provide a resource of understanding about our Naval service, its organization and operations.  Instead, he died on his front lawn at the Navy Yard, and left only the sad legacy of a suicide.

Neither Clinton nor Williams appear so moved by notions of duty, honor and country that anyone appears concerned that a suicide watch would be necessary now, for Williams, or back in 2008, for Clinton. Clinton’s glide path to power appears undisturbed by her open exposure as a liar.  What becomes next of the meteoric Williams’ career will be revealed by time.

Our loss of Boorda is just that, a loss to the Nation. Our despatch of Williams into the Hall of Television Shame seems like no loss at all. That we might even have the opportunity to vote against Hillary Clinton despite her lies about Bosnia, when no need to lie existed, says much about how little honor, duty and country seem to matter any more.