op-ed

Instead of firing Captain Honors, the Navy should give him a new command assignment

John Guardiano Freelance Writer
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When the late, great General George S. Patton slapped an ill soldier he mistakenly believed was malingering, General Eisenhower reprimanded him and relieved him of his command. But Eisenhower kept Patton on as General and later appointed him to command the Third Army.

Retaining Patton was one of Eisenhower’s wisest decisions. Patton, after all, would go on to lead the Third Army to some of its most impressive and storied victories — in Lorraine, France, and in Germany, during the Battle of the Bulge.

Patton’s battlefield exploits surprised no one. He was, after all, as the New York Times then reported, “audacious, unorthodox and inspiring. He led his troops to great victories in North Africa, Sicily and on the Western Front … Nazi generals admitted that of all [the] American field commanders, he [Patton] was the one they most feared.”

I believe that the Navy should follow Eisenhower’s example and, likewise, retain Captain Owen Honors for future command assignments.

Like Patton, Honors has been reprimanded, punished and relieved of his command. But like Patton, he appears to be an audacious, unorthodox and inspiring leader whom we can ill afford to lose.

First off, some much-needed context.

Honors’ satirical videos are several years old. And the Navy acknowledges, in a December 31 statement, that it knew about the videos four years ago. Yet, Honors wasn’t fired when the videos came to light. To the contrary: his career continued to progress. In fact, Honors was promoted to captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise last May.

This suggests that the Navy has “evolving standards of decency,” which Honors has respected and adhered to.

That is to say, when Honors made his satirical videos, they were a legitimate and acceptable part of Navy and military life. However, because of political correctness and Big Media complaints, that has ceased to be the case. Satirical videos are now taboo. Honors recognizes this and has acted accordingly.

Indeed, as the Navy explains in its Dec. 31 statement: “Production of videos, like the ones produced four to five years ago and now being written about in the Virginia-Pilot, ended immediately after being addressed by Navy leadership.”

So was Honors’ real crime to get caught by the media, and to become the victim of a media and special interest smear campaign? It sure sounds like it.

But does Honors’ involvement in some satirical videos — which clearly were intended to boost ship morale — really warrant the career equivalent of the death penalty? (Captain Honors has been relieved of his command, which typically means that, for all practical intents and purposes, his Navy career is over.)

I don’t think so; and I don’t think any fair-minded observer thinks so — especially since his videoed jocularity and lighthearted banter were neither unusual nor frowned upon in the Navy that Honors grew up in.

Honors, after all, was, by all accounts, a stellar commanding officer who inspired the trust, confidence and respect of subordinates and superiors alike.

In fact, almost immediately after this media-generated controversy erupted, a Facebook page was published in which thousands of sailors and officers rushed to their captain’s defense. (The “Support Captain Owen Honors — U.S.S. Enterprise” page now has more than 21,000 members.) Here are several illustrative comments:

“In my 21 years of military service, he was the best XO [executive officer] I’ve ever worked with, and to destroy him over a stupid video is not only a tragedy, but a great injustice.”

“I’ve served almost 11 years in the military, and we’ve done PLENTY of skits for comic relief that could be deemed inappropriate by outsiders. This skit by CPT Honors was nothing but funny! As a woman, I did not find anything offensive.”

“Captain Honors was one of the best officers I ever had the pleasure to serve under. Instead of yelling and decreasing morale, he used humor to get his point across. Guess what: IT WORKED. That deployment was one of that ships’ best [deployments] in her long service.”

“The Boatswains Mates are with you Sir, this is a completely ridiculous situation. All you were doing was trying to boost morale…It’s hard to find good officers who are willing to do whatever they can to help the crew as a whole.

“Morale is a word that civilians don’t even understand. You might understand the dictionary definition, but you have no idea what it means when a military member says: ‘The morale was bad.’ The captain did nothing but attempt to make his troops laugh, to give them something to look forward to at chow…

“Captain Honors, I wish I could have served under you; it would have been my honor. I salute you.”

Many current and retired military members have noted that earthy, locker-room humor is commonplace out in the field and at sea.

That’s true, but earthy, locker-room humor also is politically incorrect and in contradistinction to liberal, left-wing orthodoxy. And so, heretics like Honors must be burned at the stake, their careers ruined and they made an example of for all to see.

Is it a mere coincidence, after all, that shortly after Congress repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” this video surfaced in the media? Honors, you see, made “anti-gay slurs” and “homophobic remarks” — or so we have been lectured by the Big Media.

In fact, Honors made jocular and lighthearted banter about gay men and women. There clearly was no malice or animosity in his remarks; quite the contrary.

And if having an exhibiting a sense of humor are now firing offenses, then we’ll soon be purging the military of some of our best and most talented officers.

One thing that this sad controversy should lay to rest is the notion, propagated by many “deep thinking” liberal elites, that the military brass somehow threaten “civilian control of the military.” Balderdash!

The U.S. military could not be more responsive to congressional, media and public pressure than it now is! That, in fact, is why Honors has been fired: because of the controversy ginned up in the public square over his satirical videos.

But in our republican system of government, the American people and their elected representatives are the ultimate commanding officers. And if they wish to revisit the case of Honors, and to allow him to continue his Navy career with future command assignments, then it shall be done. I wouldn’t bet on it, but it’s certainly possible.

Honors has a legitimate defense, and it is this: That when he was instructed by his chain of command four years ago to stop producing his satirical videos, he did so. He abided by the Navy’s new — and clearly evolving — “standards of decency.”

For that reason, then, the decent thing to do would be to give Honors the opportunity to command again at sea. He has been punished; an example has been sent; and he has paid a price.

Patton, too, paid a price for violating public and media sensibilities. But his military and civilian superiors — and especially General Eisenhower — recognized that subjecting Patton to the career equivalent of the death penalty would be stupid and wrong.

Let’s hope that our leaders today are as wise as Ike was then.

John R. Guardiano is a writer and analyst in Arlington, Virginia. He writes and blogs for a variety of publications, including FrumForum, the American Spectator and The Daily Caller. Follow him at his personal blog, ResoluteCon.com, and on Twitter @JohnRGuardiano.