Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dereliction of Duty

“Duty, then, is the sublimest word in the English language. You should do your duty in all things. You can never do more. You should never wish to do less.” --General Robert E. Lee

“The most important thing I learned is that soldiers watch what their leaders do. You can give them classes and lecture them forever, but it is your personal example they will follow.” --General Colin L. Powell

Marine Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich has a deeper understanding of the concept of duty. Yesterday he agreed to plead guilty to negligent dereliction of duty in the 2005 killing of unarmed Iraqi civilians at Haditha.

Three Marines from Camp Lejeune have also been receiving a belated education in duty. Their case will be unfolding on the world stage.

It appears we might be hearing more about duty in the coming weeks. But why is it important (as General Lee is purported to have said) to “do your duty” in all things?

The short answer is that it speaks to character. If you do what you are supposed to do, regardless of whether someone is watching, you are responsible. You are dependable. You have integrity.

These are good traits. They create trust.

When people are derelict in their duty, they create suspicion. Rather than being “American Ambassadors,” our three Marines defiled the Corps. They have become our most recent example of “Ugly Americans.”

While dereliction of duty is a personal failing, our culture sometimes heralds it as a virtue. That is particularly true when “the cause is just.”

Colin Powell withheld information on the Valerie Plame disclosure from his Commander in Chief. His actions were criticized, but not seen as dereliction of duty.

A Senate aide is charged with leaking classified information. The aide (a former CIA officer) released the information to discredit the Bush administration. The New York Times published the story, setting aside any journalistic concern for duty.

A sense of moral virtue appears to absolve people from doing their duty.

It makes you wonder what General Lee would think.

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