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Is military integrity a contradiction in terms? Part 2

Posted by John T. Reed on

  • continued from Part 1

    In a Time of War example

    Page 205 of the 2008 book In a Time of War contains an exchange where one non-West Point female officer tries to rationalize lying on official documents to one of the female ’02 grads.

    But another friend who had been drinking [in Afghanistan which violates U.S. military law] got off scot-free. She’d learned as an enlisted soldier before she was commissioned that telling the truth in the Army doesn’t pay, the friend explained to Tricia [the West Point grad]. “Sometimes you have to do what you have to do for your career.”

    “If you can live with yourself, that’s great,” Tricia said. She was unhappy about being put in this position to begin with and now she felt that her friend was asking her to endorse the deception. “I can’t live with lying,” Tricia said.

    Tricia, a West Point graduate of the class of ’02 and married to one of her West Point classmates who was a career officer switched to the JAG corps. JAGs are Army lawyers. In my observation, Army lawyers and doctors sometimes refused to lie and got away with it. But I never saw any other type of Army officer refuse to go along with the lying and not get retaliated against.


    Some readers may wonder why I remained in the military for any length of time after I discovered it was corrupt.

    1. West Point was not corrupt.
    2. I wanted to graduate from West Point.
    3. If you quit West Point after your sophomore year back then, you would immediately have to spend four years in the Army as an enlisted man, and if you quit after your junior year, you would immediately have to spend five years in the Army as an enlisted man. This was during the Vietnam war.
    4. After you graduated from West Point in that era, you had to spend five years in the Army as an officer before you were allowed out.
    5. I figured I would graduate, give the Army five years notice of my resignation, and simply refuse to comply with the OVUM and OPUM during my time in the military. I thought my superiors would be annoyed by my stance, but only mildly so, and that they would not dare do anything about it. Ha! Boy, was I wrong! But I was able to stick to my stance throughout my time as an Army officer.
    6. When I drove out the gate of my last army base on the day I was discharged, I literally rolled down the car window and yelled, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty I’m free at last!”

    Why the widespread dishonesty

    Whenever you write about dishonesty in an organization, members or former members of that organization say that there are bad apples in every barrel, but that most people in the organization are good.


    First, we are talking about uniformed services here. They all wear the same shoes, clothes, and have the same haircuts. On a more subtle level, the married officers who live on post in the same neighborhoods as their superiors conform in other ways like the civilian clothes they wear (like their superiors), the cars they drive (like their superiors), and the leisure time activities they engage in (like their superiors), and so on. They slavishly conform in every way that might matter and refusing to sign false documents is certainly a way that matters.

    No man can be more honest than his boss. If your boss is dishonest and you are honest you will very quickly be forced to rat him out. If you can’t be more honest than your boss, your boss cannot be more honest than his boss, and so forth. So the comprehensive way to state it is that no one can be more honest than anyone above them in the chain of command in their organization.

    So who is above you when you are an Army lieutenant? At the top of the chain of command are the President and the Congress—536 politicians. To quote Hollywood mogul David Geffen, “Everyone in politics lies.”

    Then you have generals. When I was a cadet and officer, the conventional wisdom in the Army was that becoming a general was all politics. Then you have the field-grade officers—majors and colonels. They are either hanging on for their pension or they are trying to be generals. They all work for guys who want to become generals or get an additional star. You don’t get to be a general by turning in an accurate motor vehicle status report that says 85% of your vehicles don’t work.

    Above the politicians are the American people. They want a strong defense, but they also want low taxes. To an extent, the two desires are incompatible. So instead of telling them that they don’t have enough money to fix the vehicles, the military just lies and says they are fixed when they are not.

    Actually, the military has enough money to fix the vehicles if they were not a government bureaucracy. If company commanders could get a budget and have the vehicles fixed by a local civilian mechanic, they would work just fine and be within budget. But as long as the military is a Situation Normal, All Fouled Up government bureaucracy with Soviet-style central planning that insists on doing everything in-house, they don’t have enough money.

    Politicians do not relate such unpleasant truths to the voters. So the military leaders tell the politicians what the voters want to hear—we fixed the vehicles just fine with the money and organization structure you gave us.


    While writing about behavioral finance for my real estate investment readers, I came across details on the concept of “groupthink,” a word invented by William H. Whyte, author of the classic book The Organization Man. The Wikipedia write-up on groupthink is scarily accurate with regard to the lack of integrity in the military. Here are some thoughts on what Wikipedia said.

    Members try to minimize conflict and achieve unanimity. To do that, they must reject critical thinking about, or objectively analyzing, ideas that conflict with current ways of doing things. They “avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of consensus thinking. ...motives...such as...a desire to avoid embarrassing or angering other members of the group [mainly superiors in the military]”

    William Whyte said in a 1952 Fortune article,

    What we are talking about is a rationalized conformity—an open, articulate philosophy which holds that group values are not only expedient but right and good as well.

    The late Irving Janis was a professor at Yale and the University of California and an expert on groupthink. He said it is,

    A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.

    Wikipedia goes on to say,

    Highly cohesive groups are much more likely to engage in groupthink. The closer they are, the less likely they are to raise questions [that] break the cohesion. cohesion will only lead to groupthink if one of the present:

    • insulation of the group, lack of tradition of impartial leadership, lack of norms requiring methodological procedures, homogeneity of members’ social background and ideology

    • high stress from external threats, recent failures, excessive difficulties on the decision-making task, moral dilemmas


    Social psychologist Clark McCauley’s three conditions for groupthink are:

    • directive leadership

    • homogeneity of members’ social background and ideology

    • isolation of the group from outside sources of information and analysis

    With regard to similarity of members background and ideology, see the discussion about that in my article about the consequences of not having a draft.

    Wikipedia also has eight symptoms of groupthink which are quite pertinent to the U.S. military.

    Now reconsider the notion that the people who lie in the military are merely the few “bad apples” who exist in every organization in light of the characteristics of groupthink. In fact, the military is not like, say, the student body of the incoming freshman class at Iowa State. Rather it is extremely cohesive and militantly so with uniforms, haircuts, salutes, calling officers “sir,” unit pride, etc. also, the career members of the military self-select such that the longer one has been in the military, the more they have bought into the groupthink there. Finally, the extreme power that superiors have over subordinates in the military would, all by itself, eliminate any differences between the career “apples.”

  • Military responsible, too

    The military leaders are also responsible to an extent. Roughly a majority of West Point graduates since the sixties have gotten out of the Army early rather than stayed for a career (at least 20 years). 44% got out in the most recent class to reach the first stay in or get-out point. West Pointers get out of the Army from the fifth anniversary of graduation to about the twelfth. After that, the present value of the generous retirement benefits generally causes the officer to stay in for the remaining eight years. I suspect they got out in large part for the same reasons I did. They were disgusted with the lack of integrity and boot licking required of U.S. military officers. They played the game to avoid trouble while they were in, then got out because they hated the game—or because their wives hated it.

    Non-West Point officers and enlisted did the same. Those who stayed in self-selected the stuff I describe above. To go back to the “good apples bad apples” metaphor, newcomers to the military probably include all kinds of “apples” in both enlisted and officer ranks—like society as a whole. But over time, the kinds of “apples” that do not feel comfortable with the military way of doing things get out of the military leaving only the sorts of “apples” that are comfortable with it. Among the lifers, there is only one kind of “apple” in the military—the kind that “plays the game.” Try being a different kind of “apple” there and see what happens to you.

    I have discussed it with career officers. Generally, their position is that yes the military is as I depict, but they think those problems are not that important and that they like the whole package—camaraderie, travel, more responsibility than they would get in civilian life, good benefits, and all that—and are willing to take the bad with the good. They also all claim they they did not ever have to sign a false document. I am extremely skeptical about that.

    The military is nothing if not uniform. And that uniformity extends to everything including integrity. It has to because when you combine lack of integrity at the top of an organization with extreme power by the entire chain of command over the lower ranking members and human nature, you get uniform conformity to all of that organization’s top-down group norms.

    And speaking as one who tried to resist the military group norm regarding signing false documents and attending “command performance” parties and all that, I can report to you that the organization will attack you like white blood cells attacking an infection in the blood stream if you dare deviate from those group norms.


    Although the politicians at the top are the cause of the lack of integrity in the military, they at least sort of admit their own lack of integrity. I believe when Congressman Jerry Ford became Vice President then President when Nixon resigned, he joked in his first speech to Congress about “pork” being a federal project being built in someone else’s district, whereas projects being built in your own district were “essential to the national interest.”

    That sort of two-faced nonsense is part and parcel of being a politician. It is also part and parcel of working for politicians—as military officers do. But the next time I hear a military officer joke about signing false documents or sucking up to his superiors will be the first time. Quite the contrary, military officers affect an indignant, holier-than-thou demeanor when the mere suggestion of dishonesty comes up. The security-deposit story I told above is quite typical.

    In other words, politicians are hypocrites. But career military officers are much bigger hypocrites. And in the case of West Point graduates, this is in spite of the excellent Cadet Prayer which says in pertinent part,

    ... suffer not our hatred of hypocrisy and pretence [sic] ever to diminish.

    I recall no hypocrisy or lack of integrity at West Point. (Actually, forcing us to go to chapel every Sunday at West Point was wrong—unconstitutional—as was the retaliation against those who tried to fight it—they instantly got so many demerits unrelated to not going to chapel that they were kicked out of West Point for conduct rather than for refusing to go to chapel so they could not litigate about the chapel requirement. West Point has since been forced to end the mandatory chapel requirement.) Not counting the chapel requirement, it was a great place in those regards.

    But they need to change the explanation in Bugle Notes as to why West Point has the Cadet Honor Code. It’s not because officers must have unquestioned integrity. For all intents and purposes, integrity is about as welcome as a skunk at a tea party in the military officer corps.

    The real reason for the Cadet Honor Code is it is the cadets’ last chance to be honest before they join the officer corps—at least until they get out of the military. In civilian life, there are opportunities to be self-employed, as I am, or to work for small, honest organizations.

    I love the ideals of West Point and the Army. West Point lived up to them in my experience. The Army did not even try. To them, honor is just so much public relations eyewash.

    Hypocrisy-induced suicides

    Because military officers put on such a big show of self-righteous indignation when the subject of their “honor” comes up, They set themselves up for far more extreme embarrassment when they are revealed to be hypocrites as well as liars.

    As I related in my article on whether military personnel deserve all the medals they wear or get all the medals they deserve, the top officer in the Navy committed suicide when it was revealed that he was wearing a hero medal that his personnel file showed no indication that he was entitled to wear. If a used-car salesman or military NCO got caught doing the exact same thing—that is claiming to have won that medal—he would probably just laugh it off when he got caught. But getting caught doing that when you have been so stiff-necked about your integrity for so long, as is common among officers, can lead to suicide. It probably ought to be standard procedure in the military to put a suicide watch on officers who get caught in breaches of integrity. In another article, I reported on Lt. Col. Westhusing, who appears to have committed suicide in Iraq because of integrity-related anxieties. Lt. Col. Marshall Gutierrez who committed suicide at age 41 in Kuwait appears to be yet another.

    The 10/20/07 Wall Street Journal carried a front-page article about him. It described him as a “straight arrow” with a “spotless record.” As described above, while his official record may have been spotless, it generally is impossible to reach his rank without going along with things that an honest man ought not go along with. I would not put any stock in a military officer of that rank or higher having a “spotless official record.” Indeed, the rank itself implies a “spotless record.” The Army would maintain that all its lt. col.s are “straight arrows with spotless records.” If you doubt that, ask them to name the ones who are not.

    According to the article, Gutierrez discovered that the Army was being grossly overcharged for food and such in Kuwait and blew the whistle. The contractor on whom he blew the whistle said Gutierrez solicited bribes. Army investigators agree with the contractor, who was convicted of fraud. The Army investigators drew the conclusion that Gutierrez was guilty after the Lt. Col. had a meeting with a Kuwaiti who was wearing a wire monitored by the investigators.

    Gutierrez, who was married to an American, got married to an 18-year old Kuwaiti woman shortly after his wife returned to the U.S. to care for a sick relative. Gutierrez was charged with bribery, mishandling secret information, accepting illegal gifts, bigamy, and illegal possession of weapons, alcohol, and pornography.

    I cannot tell from the Journal story whether Gutierrez was corrupt. There appears to be no doubt about the other charges. The Journal itself seems skeptical about the corruption charges. While signing false reports and such is pervasive in the military, I never saw any indication that taking bribes and crimes like that were. Although I would say the same about bigamy, which Gutierrez appears to have committed. (They have the Kuwaiti marriage certificate and so forth.)

    And human nature in general is such that relatively low paid individuals who make decisions about the awarding of large contracts are often offered, and sometimes take, bribes. When I managed apartment buildings, I was offered a couple of bribes by laundry concessionaires and such. One subcontractor there thanked me for not demanding bribes. “Why did you say that?” I asked. He said my predecessor in that job made him pay bribes and showed me the canceled checks made to cash but endorsed by my predecessor. I immediately reported all of these bribes offers and past bribes to my boss. Later, I heard that my successor was fired for taking bribes. My secretary in that job said that all the men in the office of the property manager she previously worked for took bribes.

    An email from a naval officer

    I got an email from a U.S. naval officer about these military pages. I asked him if he thought I got anything wrong. Here is his answer.

    Mr. Reed,

    Did you get anything wrong? I didn't find any glaring technical inaccuracies. Reasonable minds can differ on matters of opinion, though I agree with about 90% of your opinions on the military being process-focused and possessing a CYA mind set. My experience has been pretty much all Navy, with [brief periods] working with the Army...big eye-opener. I also [worked with] the Air Force and Marine Corps, and saw their respective service cultures. Definitely different than the Navy.

    As far as ethics go, my experiences differed from yours, so I wouldn't generalize what seem to be atrocious Army ethics to all the services. I spent...years on a nuclear submarine...and it seemed that there integrity meant something. I never, *ever*, saw pressure (on me or my seniors) to sign or falsify reports.

    In three years of commissioned service on surface ships, I was never pressured to lie or sign something that wasn't true. One of my fellow junior officers lied about an ammunition inventory, and got into a bit of trouble when the bullets...signed for came up missing, but no one pressured lie...was just too lazy to count them. Then...had the audacity to ask other JO's "don't you guys just sign? I mean nobody actually counts these, right?" (Response: "Um...yeah, we actually count. I'm not gonna screw around with ammo.")

    Is it b/c the Navy is more honest or ethical? I doubt it-- I'm no Navy apologist. Perhaps if our equipment was so messed up that telling the truth would get the CO fired, we'd be pressured to lie. In the years...on the ships I served, the equipment worked, so we never had to consider lying. I agree with you, however, that the military has no shortage of bootlickers who will sign, stamp, or say whatever they must to curry favor with their boss.

    I'll send more "informed, well-thought-out constructive criticism and suggestions" when I make more time for e-mail.

    [I removed the name on my own initiative]

    [Reed comments on the email: I assumed that the Navy, Air Force, and Marines were the same as the Army with regard to falsifying reports. The Marines got into trouble for falsifying the maintenance records for the Osprey helicopter program. Here is a paragraph about it from the Wikipedia entry on the Osprey

    Additionally, the V-22 squadron's former commander at New River, Lieutenant Colonel Odin Lieberman, reputedly instructed his unit that they needed to falsify maintenance records to make the plane appear more reliable. A crew member's recording included him stating that, "We need to lie or manipulate the data, or however you wanna call it"

    On 10/25/07, the Associated Press reported that the Navy announced it relieved Commander Michael Portman from being commander of the U.S.S. Hampton, a nuclear submarine. Why? His crew failed to do safety checks on the nuclear reactor for a month then falsified the records to make it look like they had done those safety checks.

    The Navy and Air Force are staffed by humans and are subordinate to the same Congress and President as the Army. So if the Navy and Air Force are in the habit of being more honest than the Army and Marines, I applaud them and apologize for saying otherwise. But I am skeptical.

    Falsifying nuclear submarine tests

    Here is an item from my local daily newspaper on 3/9/08:

    Eleven officers and sailors from a San Diego-based Navy submarine have been disciplined for falsifying tests on a nuclear reactor and cheating on officer advancement exams.

    They falsified weekly tests on the chemical content of the water used to cool the sub’s nuclear reactor as far back as 11/06 and maybe earlier than that. The commanding officer and chief engineer of the sub were relieved of their commands. Why not court martialed? I expect because such behavior is widespread in the Navy and the people who decided not to court martial them did so because they have unclean hands themselves.

    One possible explanation for less corruption in the Navy, in the unlikely event that is the case, may be that the Army parks their trucks for decades at a time as far as I saw when I was in. When you never drive them, you can lie about whether you can drive them and get away with it. The Navy and the Air Force seem to have to actually operate their vessels and aircraft and they do so in conditions where people could die if they were not up to snuff. People have died in Ospreys and in nuclear submarine failures.

    At Pearl Harbor, I saw a photo of a WW II submarine that had to rig sails to get back to Pearl Harbor. Why? The skipper forgot to fill the fuel tanks before he left and ran out of diesel—during a war! The Army had a zillion trucks that needed sails for various reasons when I was in. But no one ever made them drive them so no one knew.

    I thought the Army’s habit of lying whenever they felt like it was an inevitable result of human nature combined with bureaucracy, although I saw some resistance to the lying by Army doctors and lawyers. See my article on the lack of moral courage in the U.S. military officer corps and the rare examples of moral courage—all by non-service academy officers. If the email I got is accurate, it would appear that the Army has created its own unique-among-the-services lower level of integrity.

    I note that the Army is the biggest service. In most of our wars, it is the most important of the services.

    I also am chagrined to note that the Army is the service of my alma mater West Point. West Point, at least when I was there in 1964 to 1968, had the most robust cadet honor code. For example, a Naval Academy midshipmen who stayed in my room at West Point on an exchange visit bragged about how they were allowed to lie while we were a bunch of Boy Scouts. Then he suddenly caught himself and asked, “Your honor code doesn’t require you to report us for honor violations does it?” “No.” He was quite relieved. If I understand correctly, the Naval Academy had an honor code then, and probably still does. It just did not appear to be as strictly enforced.

    But if the above email is accurate, the robustness of the West Point Cadet Honor Code seems to have no effect after graduation while the absence of a strict one at the other academies nevertheless seems not to prevent a better result in terms of graduate behavior. Go figure.

    Another email from a person familiar with the Navy said a great deal of the repairs and replacements performed on Navy and Marine aircraft would not have been necessary if those services had performed prescribed preventive maintenance. That is an outrage and a hazard to the pilots, crews, and passengers. According to that person, the Navy and Marines are every bit as screwed up as the service I served in: the Army.

    Moral Charge of the Light Brigade

    In the 1980s, after the most serious Honor Code scandal in its history, West Point brought the highly respected Andrew J. Goodpaster out of retirement to be its superintendent. He was a West Point graduate and, if I recall correctly, a four-star general. I believe he had to take a temporary demotion to three-star general to take the job.

    He was brought in to restore the Cadet Honor Code. I read an article he wrote about the need to reinstate the Honor Code in the Corps of Cadets (student body). It was the usual “the Army needs honest officers so the cadets needed to be greatly strengthened in that department.”

    I sent him a letter telling him some of my experience in the Army and saying his plan for the cadets was fine as far as it went, but that if he did not make the Army officer corps more accepting of officers with integrity, he was merely sending his new, honest West Point graduates on a “moral Charge of the Light Brigade.”

    I later met him at the Presidio of San Francisco Officers Club at a pre-game pep rally before an Army-Stanford football game. When I mentioned the letter, he remembered it and thanked me for the line “moral Charge of the Light Brigade” which he said he had since been using when he spoke to officers groups.

    Glad to hear it, but I have not seen any evidence that the Army has changed in that regard. Take the Pat Tillman incident for example. Considering the first line of every “counseling” session I got—“Lieutenant Reed, You can’t change the Army”—I’m not surprised.

    I cannot vouch for whether Goodpaster restored the Honor Code at West Point, but if he did, the President needed to send him or another man of similar capability to do the same with the Army as a whole. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

    Honor Code experiments in the book Predictably Irrational

    The 2008 book Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely contains accounts of interesting experiments on when people behave dishonestly. One finding was that people are more honest if you ask them to recall the Ten Commandments just before you test their honesty. That is just asking them to recall them, not supplying them with the actual Ten Commandments. Also, they found that honor codes in the workplace do reduce dishonesty.

    It is noteworthy that we had a simple honor code at West Point that everyone knew verbatim and had been trained in repeatedly throughout the four years there. In the military officer corps, in stark contrast, although it claims that honesty is essential, there is no military honor code. (There is a Code of Conduct that we had to memorize, but that only pertains to your behavior when you are a prisoner of war and does not cover integrity.) If you ask ten military officers what the military honor code is you would get ten different answers including shrugs. That is telling and is one of the reasons why cadets are honest and military officers are not.

    Col. David Hackworth’s book About Face

    I read David Hackworth’s 875-page book About Face and found therein many instances where he makes comments similar to mine or relates incidents similar to those I relate. Here are some of them.

    In the introduction, journalist and Hackworth friend Ward Just says,

    …Hackworth’s disgust and pessimism grew with each tour. He found the Army lying to itself and to everyone else. The Pentagon seemed to be treating the war as the occasion for career management of its officers, every lieutenant colonel entitled to a battalion, every colonel to a brigade, and never mind the officer’s qualifications. Meanwhile, the war was being lost, buried in an avalanche of bogus statistics and false promises of progress.

    Hackworth gave his pessimistic after-action report to senior American commanders and was told to sit down and shut up. Defeatists were not welcome. The truth was unspeakable.

    Hackworth disclosed the bankruptcy of American training and tactics and the incapacity of the Vietnamese Army, identified the lies and some of the liars who kept it afloat, and all but declared the [Vietnam] war a lost cause, unwinnable. This was the simple truth, but in the pusillanimous atmosphere of 1971, Hackworth was seen as insubordinate and treacherous.

    Some have tried to say that Hackworth and I are out of date. I’m sure we are in some respects, but the basic problem appears unchanged. The military is still a government bureaucracy run by careerists. Although Hackworth is deceased and I have been out of the Army for 38 years, the media bring a weekly drumbeat of stories that reveal that the military is still conducting the same business as usual as it did during the Vietnam war. No doubt some of the deck chairs have been rearranged, but the military “ship sails on” as before.

    One thing Hackworth reported that I had not previously known was that the Army was relatively honest until the Korean war and that a particular new policy changed the group norm from honest to dishonest. That policy required officers to fill out a KCL (Korean Certificate of Loss) in which they had to account for missing equipment—in a combat zone no less! Essentially, the requirement was unrealistic. The officers had a choice between lying and getting into trouble so they lied. That’s no excuse. But according to Hackworth, it was the event that turned the U.S. Army officer corps into a pack of liars in general. He puts it this way on page 253,

    Not only did this mean an enormous amount of paperwork at the company level (the last thing we needed as we attempted to fight a war), but it also made liars of us all.

    I did not get into the Army until about 15 years later. However, the Army that I saw was fully engaged in signing false documents on a routine, daily basis. It was described to be as the way the Army was. Well, if Hackworth is to be believed, it was the way the Army was only since the early 1950s KCL policy was instituted. That is a mildly interesting theory of the genesis of the dishonest group norm. If true, it is a sad commentary on how easy it was to corrupt the entire officer corps.

    More importantly, no officer or civilian overseer since then has been interested in expending his own political capital to correct it. Apparently, daily dishonesty is not seen as a high priority problem.

    I also recommend readers interested in this topic read the chapters in my Succeeding book on:



    Self employment

    Working for other people

    Making an honest living

    Conflict and conflict avoidance

    I said in the article above that lying in the officers corps is routine, daily, and engaged in or presided over by about 99% of all officers if they are in for 20 or more years. I expect many readers think that could not possibly be true. One type of evidence I cite is the Army and other services periodically do anonymous surveys. They always support by accusations.
    Here is another such study sent to me by a reader. The title is “Lying in the military is common, Army War College study says.” That’s the Army War College, not “disgruntled lieutenant.” I added the link to the bottom of my web article. Here’s the link:
    And here are some choice quotes from it.

    untruthfulness is “surprisingly common in the U.S. military even though members of the profession are loath to admit it.”

    Those who are loathe to admit need to refrain from talking to me about it. Eventually, I may get pissed off enough to go investigative reporter on one of them. The only thing worse than a liar is a lying hypocrite.

    …many Army officers have become “ethically numb” They interviewed scores of officers, from captains to colonels, at several bases on the East Coast, many of whom bristled initially at the notion they colored the truth, the report said.

    “When pressed for specifics on how they managed, officers tended to dodge the issue with statements such as, ‘You gotta make priorities, we met the intent, or we got creative,’ ” the report said. “Eventually words and phrases such as ‘hand waving, fudging, massaging, or checking the box’ would surface to sugarcoat the hard reality that, in order to satisfy compliance with the surfeit of directed requirements from above, officers resort to evasion and deception.” “In other words, in the routine performance of their duties as leaders and commanders, U.S. Army officers lie,” the paper concludes.

    Yeah. They have been producing reports that said this since before I entered the Army. I researched some of them when I was defending myself from being discharged early for “defective attitude.” And I have been seeing them pop up in the media ever since I got out of the Army in 1972. I mention many of them in my web article. They do the reports, but they never fix the problem. The stated purpose and concerns about the findings are themselves more lies. The U.S. government, including the military that spends so much time bragging about their honor, is addicted to lying.

    Here is the CNN article on that report:

    I have since gotten the free 35-page report and read it.…/display.cfm…

    It was written by Leonard Wong and Stephen J. Gerras. It’s tone is generally “tsk tsk” about the sad state of affairs integrity-wise in the U.S. Army officer Corps. How do Wong and Gerras get away with writing such a scandalous report? They are TENURED professors at the Army War College.


    Now let me tell you who else they are. Wong graduated from West Point in 1980 rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and retried from the active-duty army after 20 years and immediately became a War College staffer. While in the Army, he got a PhD in business Administration from Texas Tech. Gerras graduated from West Point in 1982, rose to the rank of colonel and retired after 25 years and immediately became a War College staffer. He has a PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Penn State.

    As I have related in my many articles about the military (, after graduating from West Point in 1968, I became an officer and was among a handful of my class who never got promoted to captain. The others got promoted on the second anniversary of our graduation.

    How did we NOT get promoted to captain? It’s actually quite difficult. As far as I know the only way to do it is to refuse to go along with common Army practices on principal. In my case, I refused to go along with O.P.U.M. ( and O.V.U.M. ( My other classmates who did not make captain generally refused to serve in Vietnam. The only lieutenant I ever heard of who did not make captain on merit was Lt. William Calley who presided over the My Lai Massacre.

    To put it in Army shorthand, my classmates and I who did not get promoted to captain refused to “play the game.” OPUM and OVUM are the two main aspects of “playing the game.” Civilians call it going along to get along. OPUM is actions that are Officially Prohibited but Unofficially Mandatory, most notably, signing false reports. I refused to sign them on two particular occasions in the months leading up to my due date for becoming a captain.

    So if refusing the play the game, including signing false reports, prevents you from making captain, what does it mean that Wong made lieutenant colonel (two ranks above captain) and that Gerras made colonel (three ranks above captain)?

    They played the freaking game! For 20 years in Wong’s case and 25 years in Gerras’s. Does that mean the two authors of the report on lying in the Army officer corps are themselves guilty of what they tsk tsk about in the report? Almost certainly. I only refrain from saying yes for the technical reason that I was not standing next to them every minute of their careers, or any minute, so I do not have first-hand knowledge that they signed false documents. But as I have said, and they themselves said in their report, signing false documents is a routine, daily activity in a great many Army officer jobs. And even if you somehow avoiding signing them—usually done by lieutenants and captains—you could not avoid being the superior of those signing them if you were a line unit company or battalion or brigade commander. Again, quoting their own report, the whole chain of command above the lieutenants and captains signing the false documents knows what’s going on with regard to the accuracy of those documents.

    Do Wong and Gerras admit they, too lied, in their report? No. Neither do they deny it. But the tone is two guys above it all condemning what a terrible place the Army has become. Ha! It was exactly the same when they were active-duty army officers and before. Should they have admitted they saw this and participated in it when they were on active duty? Yes. The impression they leave is that others are misbehaving, but they are allowed to cast the first stone because they are without sin. On the contrary, they almost certainly are hurling the stones in the report from two glass houses.

    Am I saying that all officers in the U.S. military whose rank exceeds lieutenant lied in violation of the law while on active duty? I will choose my words very carefully. You would have to have a rather rare, almost unique, career path to make lieutenant colonel without either having signed false documents or suborned signing false documents. It is quite possible to become a captain without having been asked to sign false documents—e.g., go to two years of grad school right after West Point. It would be harder to make major without signing or suborning signing of false documents. As far as lieutenant colonel or higher, I would say about 99% of them signed false documents, suborned signing false documents, or both. Let me end this with a list of some currently prominent persons who reached those ranks or higher

    Ltc. Ralph Peters, Ltc. Oliver North, Col. David Hunt, Gen. Jack Keane, Lt.Gen. Thomas McInerney, Gen. Wesley Clark, Ltc. Anthony Shaffer, Major Gen. Bob Scales, Gen. Petraeus, Gen. McChrystal, General Dempsey.

    Have any of them complained about what I just said? Not a peep.

    You say you like those generals? You need to read my web article “The 30-year, marathon, single-elimination, suck-up tournament or How America chooses its generals.” It’s at

    I could go on but you get the point. Do I have solid evidence that any of these guys lied? North admitted it and was convicted of perjury (later overturned on the technicality of too much pretrial publicity). Otherwise, I need to refer you to my writings on the incidence of lying in the military as well as the 35-page report by Wong and Gerras. If you read their report, and put two and two together, THEY are saying words to the effect of what I am saying: 99% of those above the rank of major must have lied or suborned lying to reach those ranks.

    And this is no subtle matter. One night in Vietnam at supper, the battalion commander informed me I was the new battalion motor officer starting the next morning. I went to the motor pool and first thing was handed a false daily report to sign. I refused.

    The motor sergeant left the room, apparently to go see the battalion commander. The phone rang, it was the battalion commander telling me I was relieved of motor officer and telling me I was being thrown out of the unit. I was sent to an more forward artillery unit where the battalion commander apparently was directed to torment me. He was also the first guy who stopped me from being promoted to captain.

    Time and again, he sent me or took me to Fire Base Wade, our most dangerous battery location 5 km from the Fish Hook part of the Cambodian border, then made me hitch hike back to the battalion headquarters, where the platoon of which I was platoon leader was located. It always took me three days to get back, then he would take me out the next day to make me do it all over again.

    Wong and Gerras do not name names. It’s all anonymous. All the various reports of lying in the military are, and there are many of them. Those repors come out more often than locusts swarm—about every four or five years there’s a new one. All say the same thing. Lying is endemic and it never gets better in spite of the “recommendations” of all the reports.

    When I was preparing my defense during the administrative hearing that threw me out of the army for “Defective attitude,” I went to West Point to research a report that had been written there about what the army needed to do to prepare for the decade of the 1960s (when I was a cadet). Fix the lying was one of the recommendations. My JAG lawyer read pertinent parts of the report into the record at my “trial.”

    Who wrote that report in the late 1950s? COLONEL, later GENERAL, Julian J. Ewell, my corps commander in Vietnam when I refused to sign the false reports and when I was hitch hiking from Firebase Wade to Phu Loi again and again.

    These guys all ought to have on their epitaph: “He played the game.”


    Mr. Reed,

    One of my fellow officers here in Iraq introduced me to your website. After reading your article “Is Military Integrity a Contradiction in Terms,” I couldn’t stop laughing. Not because it wasn’t true, but because it was all too true. Your counseling dialogue blew me away. Other than the prayer portion, I have had the exact same dialogue with many of my superiors. I am amazed that “military integrity” continues to be a misnomer to this day.

    First of all, I am not the troublemaker type. I have a [graduate degree] from an institution that is ranked at the top for…ethics. Maybe that is why I am able to see the truth behind your articles—more so than an average soldier who has been brainwashed from the point of enlistment. I am currently in Iraq and work as [redacted] officer. I have already been berated by colonels and a general for protecting my team from being complicit in questionable activities that would never fly in the private sector.

    Yes, I am a late-comer to the military. After 9/11, I was determined to serve my country at an appropriate time. I joined… years ago and am currently wrapping up my …deployment. While I have met many great soldiers, I have been extremely disappointed in military leadership values (or lack thereof). I am physically burned out from trying to be the best, just to be marginalized every time I take a moral stance on an issue.

    In short, I appreciate the fact somebody out there understands what I am going through. Thank you for being the voice of reason for those of us who lack the freedom to speak out while in uniform.



    Here is a comment about a superior from a West Point grad in Iraq

    Falsifying documents, made up serial numbers, turning a blind eye to racism and favoritism, lies upon lies upon lies,

    I appreciate informed, well-thought-out constructive criticism and suggestions. If there are any errors or omissions in my facts or logic, please tell me about them. If you are correct, I will fix the item in question. If you wish, I will give you credit. Where appropriate, I will apologize for the error. To date, I have been surprised at how few such corrections I have had to make.

    On 1/3/10, I watched a C-Span 3 discussion of war correspondents in Vietnam and Iraq. I was shocked at how the panel, people like Dan Rather who is definitely a corporate guy, casually referred to the U.S. military as the “lying machine.” Rather said the NCOs lieutenants, and captains would not lie to you, but the higher ranking officers (lifers) would. They also related story after story about how the Five O’Clock Follies was nothing but barefaced lies. I am sure there are some eager to dismiss my criticism of the Army as just disgruntlement. Dismiss Rather and Halberstam and all the other journalists, too. We all tell a consistent story. The U.S. military, on the other hand, do no such thing.

    Here is a link to a very candid and knowledgeable YouTube animation about how officers get promoted in the real world of the U.S. military.

    John T. Reed

    Link to information about John T. Reed’s Succeeding book which, in part, relates lessons learned about succeeding in life from being in the military

    John T. Reed Publishing home page - John T. Reed military home page

    • Here is a Facebook post I put up on 3/4/15

      David Petraeus, West Point Class of 1974, former CentCom and Afghanistan head general, and CIA Director, pleaded guilty to giving super secret documents to his mistress and biographer Paula Broadwell (nee Kranz), West Point Class of 1995. This is a felony.

      Both Petraeus and Broadwell were married to their then and present spouses when they had their extramarital affair.

      The affair became public when Broadwell sent anonymous—she thought—threatening emails to Jill Kelley, a married woman who served as the “unofficial hostess” of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, FL. The emails warned Kelley to stop hitting on Petraeus. CentCom HQ is located at MacDill.

      Kelley denied she was hitting on Petraeus to the media. But another part of the fall out from all this was that four-star Marine General John Allen, Annapolis Class of 1976 was nominated to become head of NATO. He withdrew from that nomination after the FBI investigation, in response to the Broadwell threats, revealed that Allen had also sent “inappropriate” emails to Kelley.

      The FBI looking into the threatening email figured out that Broadwell sent it, then began to took at her other emails finding the sexually explicit ones from the CIA director. Each had used some lame web site that supposedly prevent tracking identities of the senders—this while Petraeus was the head secret communications guy on the planet earth.

      Whet the FBI discovered Petraeus’ affair with Broadwell, they asked him if he had given any secret information to her. He then signed a false document saying he had not and that he no longer had any classified documents in his possession, custody, or control—another felony. Five months later, FBI agents raided his home and found eight “black books” of ultra high secret information in an unlocked drawer.

      I recently wrote about a new Army War College study saying Army officers routinely signed false documents. I also said I did not make captain because of refusing to sign false documents in part and that anyone above the rank of major almost certainly signed false documents or suborned the signing of them by subordinates or both. If the Army War College report did not convince you, I submit General Petraeus, whom we now know, actually DID betray us. Petraeus had been West Point’s biggest star graduate from the late 2000s until his resignation as CIA director in November 2012.

      Who has been their new biggest star? I guess Bob McDonald who got out of the Army as a captain but then switched to another bureaucracy—Procter & Gamble—where he rose to CEO, then got fired and became head of the VA, replacing Ken Shinseki, West Point class of 1965, who had just been fired. (I’m class of 1968—a freshman when Shinseki was a senior) McDonald also recently made the news for admitting he lied about having served in special ops.

      So who is now the graduate for West Point to point to as evidence of the great moral education they give there? I nominate Mike Krzyzewski (pronounced Sheh Shev Ski—really!) or Coach K (West Point Class of 1969). He is the extremely successful head coach of the Duke basketball team.

      Did he sign false documents when he was an army officer? I doubt it. He stayed in the minimum five years. Wikipedia says he coached an Army (not West Point) basketball team for three of those years. I believe he also was a graduate assistant coach at West Point right after graduation.

      The head coach during Coach K’s playing career at West Point and when he was a grad assistant there was Bobby Knight—arguably the most successful NCAA basketball coach in history. After Coach K got out of the Army in 1974, he became an assistant to Knight at Indiana. Coach K was head coach at West Point for five years then went to Duke.

      Coach K recently broke the all-time wins record for NCAA coaches. Knight is now third in that category. I said recently that a West Point graduate who stayed in for more than five years would have to have a “rare, almost unique” Army career to avoid signing false documents. Coach K did not stay in more than the minimum five, and his five years in the Army were, indeed, unique.

      Coach K atttributes his success to being a West Point graduate. Ha! If that were true, there would be a whole lot of other West Point grads successes in coaching. There used to be, like Bob Neyland, Bill Yeoman, and Red Blaik. But that was back when there were only a few hundred guys in each graduating class.

      I think that maybe, just maybe, playing for and coaching under Bobby Knight had more to do with Coach K’s success. I’ll agree to letting him give credit to West Point for teaching him to behave better than Knight did.

      Over the years, West Point has put lots of its living graduates on the cover of their alumni magazine, including maybe a majority of whom have turned out to be liars—liars who signed their false documents while wearing a ring that had the words “Duty Honor Country” engraved on it. Maybe they should stick to just putting grads who got out after five years on the cover—although that would not have saved them from McDonald.

      Actually, I think maybe they have stopped putting famous grads who are still alive on the cover the of the West Point alumni magazine. I don’t remember any recently. Is it possible that the great West Point Association of Graduates has had to adopt a policy of not putting famous living grads on the cover of their alumni magazine anymore because so many of them subsequently embarrassed the Academy with scandals? That would be a story.

      Here’s an email I Receieved from a Navy NCO:


      Just finished reading your "Is Military Integrity a Contradiction of Terms" where a naval officer wrote that he had never had to file and sign a false record. Good for him.

      I had just the opposite experience on one occasion where I was ordered to sign an aircraft maintenance report saying that my work center had completed a required inspection on an aircraft so it could fly off of the ship to its home base.

      My work center was under a tremendous pressure to sign this report listing the corrective action as completed even though they had not completed it. I, as the work center Chief listed the steps we had completed and the steps that had not been completed as required by the maintenance instruction.

      When I dropped the signed report off and after the higher ups read it you could hear a pin drop. I told them I would not charge the report and if they didn't like it they could have the maintenance officer (O-4) or XO or CO (both O5s) sign it off. I don't know who signed it, but the aircraft flew off of the ship. All I could think of was the aircraft going into the water and then the powers to be coming back on me, my E6 work center supervisor, and the QA inspector (E5).

      Anyway, when we all got back to home base I was transferred out of aircraft maintenance to checking heads and beds (bathrooms and barracks) which was OK by me as I didn't want to be in the aircraft maintenance department anymore anyway after this situation. At that point I knew I could kiss E-8 away. I was not a team player in their eyes. Fine by me. I could sleep at night and was not in jail and neither were my sailors.

      So, the Navy is and was not immune to signing false documents.

      USN Retired

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    • In my last “line” Unit I was an M1A1HC Tank Platoon Leader. The right front fuel blivet on my wingman’s tank burst one day, spilling hundreds of gallons of fuel all over the motor pool. I immediately put an “X” on my deadline report per the TM. My CO (USMA ‘90) freaked out – did I know what would happen if the LTC (USMA ’79) found out that I had deadlined the tank? I explained to him that the tank was deadlined, not only because that’s what the manual said, but because it represented numerous hazards to all concerned for a 68-ton vehicle to be running 45 MPH through the field spitting fuel everywhere. There was NO WAY to fix the vehicle. It required putting the tank on a train and sending it to Tank and Automotive Command (TACOM) where they would cut through the top-secret armor to remove and replace the blivet.

      The LTC found out and went ballistic on me because I as a 25-year-old 1LT with no specialized TACOM tools had, evidently, breached the armor on the most powerful land combat system in the world to purposely get at and destroy that blivet in a self-centered attempt to sabotage the Battalion’s operational readiness.

      Needless to say, the CO told me to never deadline that tank, because it was, in fact, ready to go to war.

      I told him I would not. For some reason, he did not push the point. Anyway, every week I would deadline the tank, and as soon as I did so, this Captain would circle my “X” and initial next to it, removing it from the deadline report. This continued until I was promoted to Captain a few months later and “ejected” from the Platoon to work at Division HQ.

      Anyone who says that the military expects and demands integrity is a flat-out liar.

      PS: that tank was never fixed. When the unit transitioned to M1A2s, they signed it over to whomever was “taking back” the A1s and let them figure it out. By that time, all involved had transitioned out of the Unit anyway and there was nobody remaining to take the blame.

      Jeff on

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