A “Sweetheart” Deal on a Compromised Military

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

If the facts that Ted Nesi reports on WPRI are the entirety of the story, we’re at a bizarre and dangerous crossroads in our country:

A U.S. Army general’s nomination to receive a third star has been pulled after he reportedly referred to one of Congressman Jim Langevin’s staff members as “sweetheart.”

Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper, reported that Maj. Gen. Ryan Gonsalves’ promotion was withdrawn after an inspector general’s report determined he had likely used the term in reference to the unidentified female Langevin employee during an October 2016 meeting.

As is always necessary, let’s assess the situation objectively:  We have, here, the potential promotion of an executive tasked with preparing and guiding the country’s forces in the matter of war, with some indication that he might have been headed for command of all U.S. Army forces in Europe.

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War, as a reminder, is an armed conflict in which two sides in an otherwise irresolvable dispute kill each other’s people until one side concludes that the dispute is not worth the losses that it will suffer (or that it cannot win at all).  It is manifestly in a nation’s interest to have the most competent leadership possible when it comes to the military, as proven by their record of military service and acumen in the conduct of military affairs.

The question of whether General Gonsalves is such a leader (on which I have no evidence beyond the absence of other reported complaints against him in these articles) is not well determined through a he-said-she-said verbal controversy resulting from a single meeting with a testy political staffer, especially considering that we have not been provided any context at all indicating her behavior during the meeting.



  • Guest

    Justin I see no compromise of the military as you suggest im your title.
    Obviously you have never served your country in the military. When you join the military you fall under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UMCJ) which are different from regular standards civilian are held to.
    UMCJ requires all military to show and treat civilians with respect. Officers must act like gentlemen and ladies.
    Addressing a woman not his wife as “sweethart” is belittling her with implying secual undertones.
    The General crossed the line and should pay the price per UMCJ.

    • Justin Katz

      It just seems like a statement of low value of a general’s skills and military competence if mildly rude words in a contested exchange during a private meeting outweigh them. Or perhaps I should be comforted that top-notch generals are so plentiful that their careers can be derailed so easily without negative effects to the military.

      • Guest

        I spent 4 years in military service and another 40 years in civilian support rolls. There is always that line you do not cross being officer, enlisted or civilian. You must follow the UMCJ code of conduct to the letter.

        • Justin Katz

          I’ll admit that I have no experience with the UMCJ, so if you can direct me to the relevant language, I’d appreciate the guidance. I find it difficult to believe that the rules that would apply to this case are so explicit in both the proscribed behavior and the punishment that careers could be derailed by even so mild an exchange as this appears to have been. Part of my skepticism is the changing context of culture. Are we to believe that no general has ever called a woman “sweetheart”? Mightn’t the sensitivity of the younger generation be heightened to the point that an offended person would hold the gripe for a year and deploy it for vengeance in a way that was less likely in the past? If these are the case, mightn’t it be reasonable to adjust the availability of this social weapon for use against military personnel?

          But to return to my core point: Whatever the rules may be, what would be the tradeoff for allowing highly skilled and competent military officers the slight flexibility for one single frustrated lapse into mild rudeness? I ask because the tradeoff for NOT allowing that seems to me an unhealthy obstacle course placed before those who would defend their country.

          • Guest

            Justin, knowing only what I read from your post I would say the Army Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG) most likely changed the general with an Article 133 “Conduct Unbecoming an Officer” and gave him a plea deal to not drag him through court. No matter what, this is career ending for him.

          • Justin Katz

            So, how is that in the best interest of the nation, particularly as an alternative to having congressional staffers with some humility and thicker skin?

          • guest

            Again, a sliding scale of morality and/or because of real or perceived political views doesn’t excuse or justify behavior. You should understand that not everyone views their life through the political prism that you do.

            Where do you see that this occurred during a “contested exchange”?

          • Justin Katz

            I’m not claiming that a sliding scale excuses or justifies behavior. I’m putting forward two propositions:

            1. That Article 133 must have some flexibility. Although I couldn’t find an explicit definition of “conduct unbecoming,” the details and examples I did find seem almost all to be more extreme and troubling than a little bit of heat as military and civilian officials’ have a policy discussion.
            2. That if there is no such flexibility, the standard might not be in the best interest of the country, because an ability never to speak sarcastically is probably not as important in a military leader as an ability to prepare for and conduct war. Is it really wise that a successful and nationally helpful military career can be ended by saying (in a closed meeting) a single sentence like, “Listen, sweetheart, when I was your age, I was deployed oversees, and you should learn some lessons about how the military works before telling me what resources we need, because your party’s anti-military stance isn’t a good barometer”?

            I say the exchange is contested because the news article reports that some witnesses in the room insist that the general was polite and professional.

          • Justin Katz

            I’d add this on the “sliding scale”: The point isn’t that the military should have a sliding scale for proper behavior. Rather, these rules probably developed during a time when civilian authorities understood that they would look bad whining about any little show of disrespect. In that context, one could expect that there would be *some* filter prior to these matters coming to JAG. If that ceases to be the case, it might be time to reevaluate the rules, not because the morality is different, but because the standards under which the rules are being applied are different, and the key question when populating our armed forces probably isn’t who can best tiptoe around snowflakes.

          • Rhett Hardwick

            Justin, there is an old saying “Military justice is to justice what military music is to music”.

            Still, the UCMJ is for a different society. For instance, unless I am mistaken, adultery is still a crime under the UCMJ, although decriminalized in civilian society. But, if the husband is deployed to the “sandbox”, and the only men the wife knows are military, perhaps there is some sense.

          • Guest

            Justin, I read both the Stars & Stripes and Ted Nesi articles. You in your write up did not indicate this goes back to a 2016 meeting attended by many people. A formal complaint was made to the Army and the Army Investigator General (IG) interviewed all people that were in attendance finding sufficient evidence of misconduct by the general enough to forward to Army JAG for prosecution under articles of UMCJ.
            Military must show respect to civilians especially military officers who are held to an even higher standard of conduct. It was determined the general made unwarranted comments to the young lady and politically motivated statement during the meeting on front of everyone that crossed the UMCJ line. He got off lightly as it could have gone to court and more severe punishment.

          • Justin Katz

            To be clear: Part of the process of blogging is to link to the sources so that readers can follow them to get all of the relevant information. That way every blog post doesn’t have to summarize every detail of every article. I had no intention of tilting the story by not quoting the whole article but instead linking to it.

            That said, it seems to me that you’ve only restated things. From a meeting of 10 people, different testimony was given. The IG did his or her review, and here we are. That doesn’t change the basic question of whether the offense, as described, is a wise over-riding criterion for deciding who leads our military.

          • Guest

            Justin, you can’t apply civilian logic, morals or standards to military codes of conduct especially officer grades which are held at very high standards of conduct under the UMCJ which has been around as long as the U.S.A. has had military forces because it breaks down moral of the troops and
            waters down the chain of command. When you are in the military there are guidebooks and standards written for each individual to follow basically
            instructing how you talk, act, eat, when you eat, sleep, walk, religion and when you attend services, run, sing, clean yourself, hygiene, haircuts, grooming your hair, tattoos, body jewelry, what you wear, cleaning your clothing, ironing your clothing as everything is monitored and controlled. For officers they go through the same but are held at a higher level of standards than enlisted grades. Trying to apply your civilian logic to military rule of order will not work. The general crossed the line and he must pay the price. If you closely read the articles you would have noticed it was noted during the IG investigation the general and some of his supporters had selective memory loss which indicates possible obstruction of justice. When talking to an IG you better remember all the facts and have your ducks all lined up because they
            have a knack for ferreting out all the information. There is an old saying in the navy; “Lose lips sink ships”.

          • Justin Katz

            I sense that we’re right back to our central disagreement. I’m applying civilian logic in precisely the way in which it applies to military codes of conduct in a democratic society. My opinion, insofar as it can affect public policy and civilian governance, affects how our country operates, including in its protection.

            In a coarser time, it would have been laughable to the democratic public to suggest that a military leader’s calling a pretentious young woman (as she would have been seen at the time) “sweetheart” in a dismissive sense was “conduct unbecoming.” I’m glad that we don’t live in such times, but I do believe that my fellow citizens have gone too far in another direction. It is not laughable to suggest that military leaders should have honor and that condescending to a young political staffer (no matter how much she might deserve it) is less than chivalric, but I’m inclined to suggest that it is unwise to make that an overriding criterion for determining who will conduct war for our country. This is a point you’ve declined to address.

          • Guest

            Justin, the military is NOT a democratic society as it can be considered a totalitarian society. It is top down control and you work within the established higher up rules, standards and conduct. No matter what your rank, there is always someone of higher rank calling the shots. If you are called upon to make an outright known suicide charge into battle you say thank you for giving me the privilege to die for my country and tell my family I love them; then you charge off into battle to die. That is what you sign up to do in the military. The government invests millions to train, feed, clothe, house,
            transport and pays you a monthly wage however you must be ready to follow the rules and orders without question and if you are called upon to die you die with a smile on your face but you have to follow the rules without democratic society based questions. One for all; all for one! Never leave anyone behind!

            I’ve accomplished command-wide pre-IG inspections to find all the ghosts hidden in the closets before a real IG inspection for base
            commander’s change of command and promotion to Washington, DC and they are costly and not pretty as a DoD civilian and also worked a number of times with Washington, DC Army JAG. When you are talking officer star general level there
            is a lot of attention to detail when the law as applied under the UMCJ. The removal of the impending promotion star, loss of command and career ending
            status for the officer star general was not a light matter as there are most likely ghosts in the general’s closets that added to the IG recommendation to forward to JAG for prosecution. I have worked for and with Air Force, Army,
            Navy, Marines, DoD and volunteered serving two years of active combat service in Vietnam.

          • Justin Katz

            But the society that rules over the U.S. military is a democracy and may decide how it wants its military force to govern itself.

          • guest

            ” I’m glad that we don’t live in such times, but I do believe that my fellow citizens have gone too far in another direction”…what, by being held accountable? Sorry, Justin but you are all over the map on this one. It’s not a political issue, let it go.

          • Guest

            Rett Hardwick, adultery is still on the law books in Rhode Island requiring jail time at the ACI by married partner that committed the act

          • Rhett Hardwick

            I thought adultery was gone as a crime everywhere. Heard of a prosecution lately? Today, getting “3 hots and a cot” seems unlikely. Used to be that if you were the unmarried boyfriend, you could be held for “criminal conversation”.

            More to the point, people not familiar with it may not be aware of the “politics” near the top of the military pyramid. They are extreme and always have been, see who Gen. Pershing’s girlfriend was. Gen. McArthur’s mother barraged the military with letters (and connections) seeking his advancement. I wouldn’t dismiss a little politics being afoot.

          • Guest

            That is why at the top in military you don’t openly talk politics with rank and file as you can get burnt badly.

          • Mike Byrn

            Guest, Can you please cite the UCMJ article that the “Military must show respect to civilians especially military officers who are held to an even higher standard of conduct.”?

  • peter hewett

    It seems to me that the only snowflakes involved in this matter, other than “Guest” are the Military Inspector General and he/she/they who decided the “sweetheart” comment warranted withholding the general’s third star and essentially ending what ostensibly was a sterling career. The country and our military simply cannot afford to continue this sort of politically correct nonsense.

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