Sunday, December 20, 2020

Retired Navy SEAL Veterans for Responsible Leadership

....Dan Barkhuff spent part of his plebe year at the U.S. Naval Academy learning the history of the Code of Conduct. “It’s something we all had drummed into our heads,” he told me recently. Barkhuff, a member of the class of 2001, had entered the Academy the way that all military members begin their service, by swearing an oath to the Constitution and vowing to protect it from enemies “foreign and domestic.” Plebes also internalized the Academy’s Honor Concept, which begins, “Midshipmen are persons of integrity: They stand for that which is right.”

During Plebe Summer—seven gruelling weeks of drills and instruction that precede the first academic year—Barkhuff and his classmates were drilled in P.O.W. case studies, particularly from the Vietnam War, the first major conflict since the creation of the Code of Conduct. They learned about James Stockdale, the Navy fighter pilot who became the highest-ranking naval officer in captivity. During his seven and a half years as a prisoner, Stockdale famously resisted. To avoid being co-opted for propaganda, he beat himself severely in the face, with a stool. Stockdale, having studied philosophy, believed that physical torture was nothing compared to what he cited Epictetus, a former slave, as calling the “greater harm” of “destroying the trustworthy, self-respecting, well-behaved man within you.”

The plebes learned about the tap code that Stockdale and the other P.O.W.s had used to secretly communicate. On the second or third day of Plebe Summer, the midshipmen were bused from the Naval Academy campus, in Annapolis, Maryland, to Washington, D.C., to tour the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Barkhuff told me, “The message is clear: ‘This is what you are here to prevent; this is what you are now sworn to prevent.’ ”
When Trump took office, Barkhuff decided to give him a chance, hoping that the President “would rise to the level of the office.” But, Barkhuff told me, Trump was “worse than I thought he would be—and I thought he was going to be terrible.” Barkhuff often expressed his dismay on Facebook, where his posts were seen only by his relatives and Navy pals. When he discovered that other veterans shared his concerns, he created a page—Veterans for Responsible Leadership—where like-minded members could vent.

Service members are trained to remain apolitical when in uniform, but veterans are free to espouse their views. The V.F.R.L. members chatted online about diversity in the military (“transgender people should obviously be allowed to serve”), athletes kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice (kneeling “is NOT disrespectful to our troops”), and the President’s divisiveness (“Trump wins only by creating controversy and firing up people. . . . It’s dictatorship 101”). Most of the members were Navy vets, yet V.F.R.L. hoped to recruit from all branches and ranks. Glenn Schatz, one of the V.F.R.L. leaders and a former nuclear-submarine officer, told me that the Trump Administration’s assault on established norms called veterans back to service. “Once you’re out of uniform it’s your obligation to speak up when you see the Constitution being violated,” he said. read more here

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