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Military Honor

What does the cheating scandal at the U.S. Naval Academy say about military honor? Last week, Navy investigators reported that 81 midshipmen had obtained a copy of a 1992 engineering exam before exam day and that many of them then lied during an internal investigation, some to protect classmates. Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage, who chaired a review of the academy’s honor code, blames the widespread cheating on the Navy’s emphasis on skills like technical proficiency over character development. A 1967 Annapolis graduate, Armitage notes that one point of honor is still pounded into all midshipmen from Day 1: “Never bilge (endanger) a shipmate.” That credo cuts two ways, says James Q. Wilson, author of The Moral Sense. It explains why some midshipmen betrayed their personal honor by lying to protect their classmates; but, says Wilson, those same people will never let their buddies down during times of war. He adds, “I wouldn’t worry that this indicates a decaying moral fabric of the next generation of military officers.”

U.S. News & World Report, February 7, 1994, p. 12

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