I grew up in an era when teachers were in control of the classroom and if you got into trouble you could expect a lot worse when you went home — where parents were in control. Children, and adults alike, respected authority and those in authority respected this trust and seldom abused it. There was no television and we entertained ourselves by reading books that were not inundated with four-letter smut. “Damn” was the most serious four-letter word ever uttered in a movie when I was a teenager. Going to church and trying to practice what was preached was typical activity in most communities.
So, in what century did I grow up, you ask?
Admittedly, I am older than most who will read this - having served in the Navy through WWII, Korea and Vietnam, and having witnessed many changes taking place in the military, the government, and the American people. Change is inevitable, but I wonder at what point did our national morality start to change, and why?
Some say it began with permissive education back in the 50s. Others blame the beatniks, hippies, flower children, the Vietnam war, our materialistic society, etc., etc. I don't know, but for whatever reasons, it has manifested itself in epic proportions. A maze of moral and ethical problems permeate our society today, from the White House, Congress, Supreme Court on down to state and local governments, corporations, educational systems, and, yes, even our religious institutions.
Young people are products of their home life, school life, what they see on TV — and, especially, what they see parents, community leaders, and public officials do. Given today's standards of morality, are we really surprised that such noble institutions as our military academies have sexual harassment and cheating scandals, limited though they may be in number, despite the efforts of those in charge to instill a sense of honor and excellence?
Are we really shocked at the bawdy incidents of the Tailhook fiasco, when we see and condone rampant sex in movies and on TV? Was Secretary of the Navy Dalton wrong for expecting the top brass (who were aware of such misbehavior and did nothing about it) to shoulder some of the responsibility for it? It seems a miscarriage of justice that almost everyone involved came away with little more than a slap on the wrist while the Navy got another black eye!
What can we do to improve the situation? Maybe some of our bright, practical and principled young military people leaving the services will become educators, law enforcement officials, community leaders, or run for political office to give the pendulum a push in the other direction.
Maybe some of the individuals who think their one vote makes no difference will start voting their conscience instead of their party. Maybe more of our military and civilian leaders will begin leading by example.
If we cannot solve this problem of ethics and morality, how can we expect to alleviate problems of crime, violence, sexual misconduct, fraud, and all of the other problems that plague our society?