A View From The Playing Field

At its very essence, the argument promulgated by Baynes, above, is all about respect for the individual, specifically in respecting the individual’s competence to do his job; whereas virtual signaling, no matter how sophisticated, at its essence is all about the opposite.

April 25, 2020

A subscriber on GaryNorth.com got very excited about the firing of a U.S. Navy Captain resulting from said Captain’s conduct during the world-wide COVID-19 event.

The member chastised and denigrated the senior officer that fired the Captain, concluding of that the senior officer:

Sure sounds like a bureaucrat to me, and one who was promoted way beyond his Peter Principle level of competence.

A manager and not a leader. The world has too many of these. They are useful in their place but should never be the one in ultimate charge. The US Navy is in trouble.

I think he wants the permanent job so he gambled and told the crew of the Theodore Roosevelt carrier in person that their ex-commander does stupid things. It did not go over well. They did not cheer for him, like they did for their Captain. It is difficult for me to conceive of a worse potential leader. I do not think he is very good for morale when Navy personnel are being put on the front lines to fight Covid-19 and the Navy does not know how to deal with Covid-19 infected sailors.

https://www.garynorth.com/members/forum/openthread.cfm?forum=1&ThreadID=278800 (Subscription required for access.)

Notwithstanding the cliches, and the member’s grasping of “cheer[ing]” for validation of his point, the member appears not to understand the fundamentals of command, and the subtle destruction wrought by virtual-signaling by commanders.

In an effort to shed light on the underlying fundamental command issues, I posited the following response:

The Response

A very long time ago in an artistic piece set within the motif of adventure of empire, the antagonist of the piece stated: “We serve others best when we serve ourselves.”

This is the basis of all “employment,” regardless of service uniform: “jungles,” BDUs, dress blues, three-piece business suit, “business casual,” scrubs, et cetera.

The boys and girls on the Roosevelt are in a service they chose doing a job they chose; which is to “…go in harm’s way;” on-call, as required. “On call, as required” results from, as COL Jessep so succinctly put it in another artistic piece: “…you want me on that wall — you need me on that wall.”

And yet still another artist added via Michael Garibaldi: “It’s not his decision. He doesn’t see the big picture…and because your superior has the moral authority to say ‘you may not come back!'” (Emphasis added.)

As such, all of the Roosevelts wherever they may be are not social media platforms for present celebrities to virtual signal; or, as I believe the problem may be with the present celebrity, believe the extant narratives. That is, in the presence of so much noise and confusion, he failed to “remember who you are,” as still yet another artist so aptly put it.

Nonetheless, although the good Captain’s compassion is always to be valued, pity is suspect.

Forum members might consider the firing of any captain (note the small “c”) within the context of the following opinion.

“The reason why soldiers often preferred to be ruled with a heavy hand rather than in a more liberal fashion is that a strictly imposed discipline is not condescending. Strict obedience is a challenge which sets a man on his mettle. To allow a soldier to disobey orders is really to insult him. A good man, in any walk of life, knows what he can do, and what he should do. If he fails, he expects the just reward of failure—punishment, disgrace, ruin or whatever it may be. If for some reason he avoids his just reward, he knows perfectly well that it is due to the luck, or the pity on the part of someone else. Neither luck nor pity are things he wants, because they simply add to his own sense of failure. The old saying that an ounce of spite is worth a pound of pity has a lot of truth in it, and harsh, even spiteful discipline, has usually been more acceptable to soldiers than tolerance—though not likely to be admitted. Perhaps the root of the matter is that tolerance of poor performance implies that any person’s efforts are unimportant. A man in authority who lets his subordinates get away with poor performance implies in doing so that they, and their actions, are of no consequence.

At the head of a military formation where discipline is strict there must be a strict commanding officer—a martinet. Both Bliss and Carter-Campbell could be described as martinets, and both were effective Commanding Officers in their own ways. Why should Bliss, in particular, have had such success, when in many respects a rather stupid man? Usually in the First World War a strict, old-fashioned Commanding Officer achieved much better results than a more liberal man of greater intelligence who tended to be too understanding of his subordinates’ weaknesses. Although there is a temptation to say that this is a sad reflection on human nature, it needs to be looked at carefully.

Everyone in the military formation knows how things ought to be done. Even the stupidest soldier learns very quickly the difference between what is correct and efficient and what is incorrect and slipshod. This applies of course to other organizations as well as military ones. For most men life is a constant struggle between doing what they know they ought to do, and the temptation to get out of making the effort to do it. When they find a superior who insists on them doing things properly, and takes actions if they do not, they are happy. Also, they are not faced with the problem of making decisions for themselves. Harshness and strict insistence on matters of discipline are for this reason preferred to tolerance. Tolerance is not only disliked by the soldier for its implication in his efforts do not matter much, but also because it is to some extent and abnegation of duty by his superior. In allowing a man to do less than his best without taking action the officer or N.C.O. throws onto the man a decision which is properly his own. Beyond this, he gives the man that let-out from doing his best which he is already struggling against. The man feels cheated and insecure.”

Morale – A Study of Men and Courage. By John Baynes. Avery Publishing Group Inc. Garden City Park, New York. 1988. Pages 186-7.

One might consider the above from the perspective of “the good order and discipline” of [pick a context].

Personally, I have found the above to be true in every context: school, employment, military, and personal relationships, whether the sun was shining or steel was falling. As hard as it was as a superior [pick a context], I knew in my heart as a subordinate that there is no other way, regardless of my service uniform of the day.

For your consideration…

*** End of Response ***

The Issue From “The Playing Field”

At its very essence, the argument promulgated by Baynes, above, is all about respect for the individual, specifically in respecting the individual’s competence to do his job; whereas virtual signaling, no matter how sophisticated, at its essence is all about the opposite.

People “in uniform” tend to intuitively understand this, particularly those of the lower ranks; that is, those from “the masses” understand and recognize the disrespect inherent in coddling. They may or may not like a particular action, but they know when they are being disrespected, not only by an immediate commander, but by the entire chain of command, all the way back to the paying customer.

It is now apparent that the U.S. Navy Captain will be re-instated to his original command, presumably as a result of the political backlash of his firing. Although this action may be cheered by spectators in the bleachers, those on the playing field will have to live with the consequences of the plays being called by those spectators, and second guessing by those spectators, essentially disrespecting the players’ competence to determine how best to run the ball.

Spectators being spectators, one may reasonably expect they will cheer or boo based on entertainment value per event, irrespective of the mission of those on the playing field.

What remains to be seen is the effect on the morale of those on the playing field.