Men Without Chests

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel gave the commencement speech at the US Naval Academy Friday, May 23rd, 2014.  I don’t know Hagel well and don’t really have any bones to pick with him but I found his call to the Academy graduates interesting.

The US military, in high and low ranks, has continued to make headlines over the last several

Sec. of Defense Chuck Hagel
Sec. of Defense Chuck Hagel

years over charges of sexual harassment and cover ups of the same. President Obama in signing the defense appropriation bill last December renewed his call to see sexual assault in the military dramatically reduced, as he should.  And who wouldn’t be supportive of the most minimal levels of respect and protection for those serving in our national defense, especially within their own ranks.

It’s not that the President and the Secretary of Defense have called for an end to sexual assault in the military I find ironic, it’s rather the larger setting in which these calls are being made.

Secretary of Defense Hagel at the Naval Academy:

At times, you’ll be pressured to succeed at any cost. When that happens, it sometimes clouds the internal compass that we each have that helps us distinguish right from wrong.

Some people regularly check that compass. Some do not. And those who do not, often find themselves drifting into, and resulting in, ethical, moral, or professional lapses that stain our force’s honor, damage our institution’s credibility, and harm our nation’s security….

For example, you will all be counted on to lead in helping eliminate sexual harassment and sexual assault of your sisters and brothers in uniform. (1.)

Hagel references “the internal compass that we each have” to distinguish right from wrong.   Hagel recognizes that there are such things as right and wrong, and that a person’s own internal “compass” is adequate to tell him or her what that is in a given situation.  And the internal compass of right and wrong Hagel hopes will be applied to the issue of sexual harassment in the military.

Now, I agree with Secretary Hagel on these points, I just find it ironic that he hopes the Compassinternal compass will work in the arena of sexual harassment when it clearly is not assumed to be effective in other areas of the military or in our politics or our civics.

Hagel’s “internal compass” has historically been called Natural Law.  The online Merriam Webster dictionary defines natural law thus:  a system of right or justice common to all humankind and derived from nature rather than from the rules of society… (2) .

Humanity’s corporate internal compass has pointed generally in the same direction on multiple issues over ages, at least in the Western Judeo-Christian milieu, which are the foundation of this nation’s morality.  Natural Law, the consensus of what was right and wrong understood through nature, has historically held the following —

  • that marriage was between one man and one woman
  • that women were both the weaker and more refined of the sexes and were thus deserving of special protections and the helpful service of their male counterparts
  • that work was both necessary for personal and family sustenance and morally ennobling
  • that personal, civic, and national boundaries were appropriate means of protection for those within their borders

Each one of these common elements of historic Natural Law  are rejected by the current Administration in it’s public assertions and policies.  (To be fair, the Administration sometimes appears to be the band, and sometimes the band leader in the culture’s parade march in celebration of this new morality.)  Why then does Hagel as an Administration spokesman appeal to that which is found wanting in almost every other area of life?   If the historic compass was wrong on marriage, and the unique place and value of women, and the necessity of personal responsibility and work, and the need to protect geo-political borders, why would it be invoked regarding sexual assault and thought to be effective?  If Natural Law is to be rejected, if our historic morality in these other areas  is now antiquated, on what grounds may it, or should it, be invoked against personal assault?  Hagel’s appeal to the morality of a common, internal compass is rendered meaningless since no common compass is now recognized.

And this is the conundrum facing this nation and every town and city in this land.  On what do we base our public morality?  What means of consensus can be found when our historic moral moorings have been left behind in the wake of our new “morality”?

The new moralities being brought to bear in the military and into our national and state laws are not based on Natural Law and they do not represent the historic morality or understanding of societies throughout history.  The new morality and its compass have no inherent true North and no consistent guiding star to which Hagel may appeal.

Secretary of Defense Hagel has an uphill battle in reducing sexual harassment in the military because the military, as the nation, has rejected the means by which such an appeal is meaningful.

“We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”    CS Lewis in The Abolition of Man

Friends, we now live in the age of men without chests and women without honour and yet still seem surprised by traitors in our midst— why?



3. Audio Recording, “Men With Chests” by the author


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