In these troubling times, I recall that June evening in 1959 when the busses dropped us off at the plaza in front of Bancroft Hall, and soon afterwards we raised hands and recited the Oath of a Midshipman. We promised we would "...defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."
Today I find these words in my "Reef Points," the Plebe's bible we carried with us every waking minute. Looking back, I wonder what motivated us. For the most part we were the sons of America's leading families. We were salmon swimming upstream toward some notion of our heritage. To most of us, I imagine, "patriotism" was merely a password.
Yet as the months dragged on, the real thing took hold. I remember the pride I felt one October evening during our senior year when President Kennedy came on television and stared down Khrushchev. Responding to the Soviet leader's lie about the absence of offensive missiles in Cuba, Kennedy said, "That statement was false." Later, as gunnery officer aboard the USS Arlington, I recall the weeks of training men on the guns, honing their accuracy against incoming enemy airplanes. Should the ship come under attack, we would defend it. I still believed in the literal truth of the phrase "Department of Defense."
It was our furious devotion to duty I recall most vividly. Even if Vietnam later proved to be an act of folly, at least on our level there seemed a ennobling sense of sacrifice. Often when our ships returned home we remained aboard, sleeping at our work stations, as it were, forsaking our personal lives such as families, luxuries to us. We accepted this sacrifice under the proposition that a fighting ship never sleeps. Today, even if history reminds us that one should never burn a village in order to save it, back then we thought we knew more about the world than the historians knew. We saw ourselves as fighting an honorable war, as did honorable men fight their wars.
Now, decades later, we've matured. We are now the historians, the elders of this nation. I ask, can anyone among us justify what has been happening in recent weeks and months? I speak of our unilateral invasion of the Third World country Iraq. Some may have felt the need to vindicate our earlier military failures. Or perhaps they were fooled into believing that America had a true interest in democratizing the Middle East.
But seen in a historic light, not since our invasion of the Philippines, Hawaiian Islands, and Puerto Rico over one hundred years ago, has our country acted with such brazen thuggery. Some among us may have interpreted the Iraqi War as falling under the guidelines of the Oath, to defend the nation against foreign enemies. But we knew who our enemies were, the ones who bombed New York, and they were not from Iraq.
To those federal officials who claimed we were doing it for the sake of ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, as did Secretary of State Powell assert before the United Nations, later admitting on Meet the Press that his claims had been "deliberately misleading," in the wake of these and other lies, only a few among us showed the gumption to say such statements were false.
Now appears the final chapter in this sordid escapade. The torture of prisoners. Our prisoners. Tortured by American soldiers who, under any definition including the Geneva Conventions, were committing war crimes. The photos show human beings treated like laboratory animals. They are worthy of exhibits on Nazism.
German people knew nothing about the atrocities. Not so today's bystanders. Americans for the most part appear to be accepting what happened at Abu Ghraib. How many among us assembled in the plaza that first evening, we who were born in the early years of WW2 and who grew up with the stories of the Nazi atrocities, would imagine that one day in America such things might occur?
Many of you who commanded ships, squadrons, and infantry battalions know the harsh reality of being in charge. The title "commanding officer" can be removed by so much as an ill timed sneeze. As goes the ship, so goes the captain.
And yet following the revelations of the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, the top appointed member of the armed forces, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was publicly commended. "You're doing a superb job," president Bush said.
Ultimately, it is not our leaders or even the terrorists who invite the deepest of concern about the security of our nation. It is a cowed citizenry. We service academy graduates are the ones who were handed the riches of this, the richest of nations. We should be eager to champion the cause of freedom: freedom to breathe and love, to protect the weak, and above all the freedom to speak the truth.
I urge every one of you to speak out now. Not in the cause of partisanship, for arguably this proposal I'm asking you to make, if carried out, could enhance the president's chances for reelection. But it could restore some sense of dignity.
I invite all of us to write a letter to the president. Address it to George W. Bush, President, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20500.
In your letter say: "Dear Mr. President. As a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, in the name of our nation, sir, I respectfully request that you accept the resignation of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. Under Secretary Rumsfeld's leadership, the U.S. military with its atrocities at Abu Ghraib has stained America's name throughout time. The military's honor and the nation's honor requires that Rumsfeld immediately step down." Send a copy to your U.S. representative and senators.
Do it now, while we still retain our self respect and the respect of our nation.
Best to you all,
George W. Grider, Jr., Class of '63
George Grider (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer in Memphis and a member of Veterans for Peace.