The fail­ings of Capt. Hon­ors

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

Re­gard­ing Bruce Flem­ing’s Jan. 9 Out­look com­men­tary, “The crude videos the Navy needed”:

Mr. Flem­ing’s ad­mi­ra­tion and af­fec­tion for the men and women he en­coun­ters at the Naval Academy is ob­vi­ous, and per­haps this is why he missed the point of why Capt. Owen Hon­ors de­served to lose his po­si­tion.

The point is lead­er­ship. When he was ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the USS En­ter­prise, Capt. Hon­ors had a duty to lead and rep­re­sent ev­ery­one on that ship— which is, asMr. Flem­ing pointed out, close quar­ters in­deed and a place where the ob­jects of re­marks such as those de­scribed can never re­ally es­cape them. When an of­fi­cer uses deroga­tory terms for any­one un­der his com­mand, on video no less, he an­nounces that this be­hav­ior is not only ac­cept­able but, hey, it’s a way to have good time, too.

Mr. Flem­ing’s no­tion that the ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer con­sid­ered this some sort of teach­able moment, and that the guys would merely chuckle and move on, strikes me as naive at best.

It wasn’t the pro­fan­ity, mas­tur­ba­tion, sex jokes or any of that non­sense that made this episode re­gret­table. It was that this of­fi­cer failed to meet a stan­dard of be­hav­ior that would show the crew and his nation that he could be trusted to lead, re­spect and pro­tect all of them. The video in­spires many things, but trust is not one of them.

The Navy made the right de­ci­sion.

El­iz­a­beth Jenk­ins, Gaithers­burg

Bruce Flem­ing omit­ted a very im­por­tant fact of Capt. OwenHonors’s be­hav­ior.

Mr. Flem­ing wrote that Capt. Hon­ors was aware of con­cerns about the videos but that no­body ob­jected di­rectly to him.

This alone should have been the fore­most rea­son for oust­ing Capt. Hon­ors. In­stead of be­ing a great com­mu­ni­ca­tor, the cap­tain was out of touch. And by re­fer­ring to ob­jec­tions as “gut­lessly” re­ported, he madeit clear that— con­trary toMr. Flem­ing’s con­clu­sions— he did not want to dis­cuss real prob­lems.

Mes­sages from a cap­tain should not be sub­ject to in­ter­pre­ta­tion: Was it satire? Which be­hav­ior is dis­al­lowed? For the sake of be­ing one of the boys, Capt. Hon­ors sent a mixed mes­sage, mis­treated a crit­i­cal topic and shut the door to di­a­logue.

Bruce Jones, St. Michaels, Md.

Bruce Flem­ing’s de­fense of Capt. Owen Hon­ors’s videos was about as of­fen­sive to me as the video it­self surely was to at least some of the men and women un­der the cap­tain’s com­mand.

He is cer­tainly cor­rect on one point, though: The most of­fen­sive as­pect of the whole shame­ful pro­duc­tion was the use of what he so del­i­cately termed a “slur” for gay peo­ple. The fact that the term wasn’t ac­tu­ally aimed at a gay per­son hardly mit­i­gates the of­fense, asMr. Flem­ing seems to think it should. One rather doubts, for ex­am­ple, that he would have risen so quickly to Capt. Hon­ors’s de­fense had the cap­tain been video­taped hurl­ing the “n-word” at a white sol­dier for some per­ceived fail­ure.

Capt. Hon­ors’s at­tack cer­tainly did not en­cour­age peo­ple to talk about “ their strug­gles with life at sea.” Rather, it fos­tered a poi­sonous at­mos­phere in which gay men and women who are also de­fend­ing their coun­try are forced to live in dread not of the en­emy but of the of­fi­cers upon whose lead­er­ship their lives de­pend. Some lead­er­ship.

Fred­er­ick Tay­lor, Washington

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