The Navy has just relieved Capt. Owen Honors, skipper of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, of his command. His offense? When he was XO (executive officer) of the ship, he made some comedic videos intended for the entertainment of the crew, and now those videos have surfaced, leading to complaints that they were raunchy and offensive.
Having viewed one of the videos in question, I found it pretty mild by the standards of typical TV and movie fare circa 2011; certainly there is nothing in it remotely as offensive as in The Hangover, one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. On the other hand, Honors isn’t a Hollywood comedian; he is a senior Navy officer who is supposed to set a standard of decorum and behavior well above that found in the civilian world. He failed in that task and is now paying the price.
His real mistake was to miss decades’ worth of signals that the worst sin any officer can commit is to do anything even tangentially wrong related to sex. Ever since the Tailhook scandal in 1991, it has been obvious that sex-related offenses would be judged far more harshly than other screw-ups. Honors seems to have not gotten the message, which calls his judgment into question. On the other hand, the military’s judgment is open to question, too, when it is far easier to relieve an officer of his command for a sexual imbroglio of even the mildest sort than it is for losing a battle or even a war.
Obviously, it’s important to police the military workplace against sexual harassment, but I can’t help think that we’ve elevated this issue above somewhat more important considerations — such as winning wars.