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Commentary By Bob McManus

Silencing an American Hero: The Shame of the Naval Academy

Public Safety, Culture National Security & Terrorism, Culture & Society

Jim Webb knows fighting, which is what the US Naval Academy is supposed to be about. But perhaps no longer.

Webb, a member of the Annapolis class of ’68, brought a Navy Cross, a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts home with him from Vietnam, among other decorations. That was just the beginning.

His Marine Corps career cut short by war wounds, Webb continued his service to America both as secretary of the Navy and as US senator from Virginia. And he authored 10 books — among them a riveting novel of combat in Southeast Asia and a history of the enduringly pugnacious Scots-Irish in America, “Born Fighting.”

Webb, himself Scots-Irish, has been a fighter all his life. But this week, he took a knee — understandably but regrettably surrendering to the know-nothingism that has been choking off reasoned political discourse on college campuses and elsewhere across the country for far too long.

Think of it as Jim Webb vs. the hecklers’ veto — and the hecklers won.

Webb was to have been honored Friday as a “distinguished graduate” by the Naval Academy Alumni Association, but withdrew Tuesday evening: “I am being told that my presence at the ceremony would likely mar the otherwise celebratory nature of that special day. As a consequence, I find it necessary to decline the award.”

Better he should have spit in somebody’s eye — but once an officer and a gentleman, always an officer and a gentleman, one supposes.

At issue was a paper he wrote in 1979 objecting to the admission of women to the nation’s military academies on the even-then-unfashionable, but still-not-unreasonable, grounds that assignment of women to frontline combat roles is at best disruptive, and at worst dangerous. Perhaps lethally so.

Webb could have been dead wrong about all of it, of course, even if 40 years of experience with gender integration strongly indicates otherwise. The Navy’s ongoing shipboard pregnancy epidemic and the difficulty most women have coping with traditional infantry-training standards suggests that the debate is far from settled.

Unless dissent can be beaten into the ground, of course — along with those who refuse to accept that political equity can trump basic biology without serious consequences.

Webb demurred early on, and it’s hard to imagine someone with greater personal standing to do so. Now he’s paying a price, if a small one — another plaque for the wall — and certainly he’ll survive.

But it’s not clear that such can be said with certainty about honorable military service in defense of fundamental principles. Not over the long haul.

If graduates of the Naval Academy are prepared to behave like Middlebury College undergrads over a 38-year-old theoretical text — over an idea! — what is there to be said of the individual military officer’s solemn pledge to preserve and protect the Constitution?

And if the Naval Academy itself acquiesces in a heckler’s veto — actively or inferentially — then what is to be said of the institution’s own commitment to the high standards it claims to demand of its students? Plenty — but nothing good.

More officers will take the oath seriously than not, of course. That the women-in-combat discussion has persisted for decades is testimony to the fact that principled officers continue to resist endangering young soldiers, sailors and Marines in pursuit of politically driven social goals.

And to be clear, women have served with honor and distinction for decades, sometimes with grievous personal consequences. The nation needs to recognize that without caveat or qualification.

But, again, what happened to Jim Webb is not about women in the military. It’s about whether the virus that has swept America’s campuses — political activism of the sort meant to disrupt and coerce — is now working its way into the armed forces. This would be no small thing.

Anyway, somebody needs to apologize to Jim Webb. If anyone ever earned the right to be wrong, it’s him. And the thing is, he may have been right.

Let the discussion continue.

This piece originally appeared in the New York Post


Bob McManus is a contributing editor of City Journal. He retired as editorial page editor of the New York Post in 2013 and has since worked as a freelance editor, columnist, and writer.

This piece originally appeared in New York Post