Sexual Assault: No Medals for Moral Courage!

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Randy O. Claxton
  • 374th Medical Operations Squadron
The Army's core values are honor, integrity, duty, loyalty, selfless service, personal courage and respect. The Air Force has similar core values which includes integrity, service before self and excellence. The Navy and Marine Corps core values are equally similar with honor, courage, and commitment. However, there is a core value rarely mentioned by any of the services and that is moral courage.

According to Dr. Vicki Lachman's 2007 article, "Moral courage: A Virtue in Need of Development", she explains that "moral courage is the individual's capacity to overcome fear and stand up for his or her core values. It is the willingness to speak out and do that which is right in the face of forces that would lead a person to act in some other way. It puts principles into action." Moral courage for me has always been a significant barometer for how I was going to be perceived as a member of the Armed Forces and as an officer. As a healthcare professional I was adamant that I would always stand firm in my core values that would honor my patients, my profession, and myself. Moral courage was among those core values.

So why do some military professionals have such a difficult time with moral courage as it relates to sexual assault? Why do they sit idle and allow bad things to happen to our fellow Airman? Why do they assume that "everything's going to be alright" when they see someone being harassed or potentially assaulted? Could it be because WE lack moral courage?

Gen. George Patton said "moral courage is the most valuable and usually the most absent characteristic in men." I would like to think that is not the case in our military today. We have been at war now for 14 years with many stories of physical courage and yet we continue to falter in the area of moral courage. As sexual assault and harassment cases now blanket the news, the military is being closely scrutinized on how we are and will continue to respond to sexual assault cases. I often ask, why is it that a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine can distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their own life beyond the call of duty, yet we will not throw ourselves in harm's way to help protect and help those victimized by unwanted sexual contact, harassment, or assault?

Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up her seat for a white man. This act of moral courage might not sound like much to us today, but at the time, thousands of blacks were beaten or even killed for such actions. Ms Parks decided to take action under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, and the birth of the civil rights movement began. Moral courage prevailed!

In 1968, the My Lie Massacre in Vietnam led several members of Lt. Calleys platoon to describe the horrific killing of Vietnamese civilians. Deemed a success by senior Army leaders at the time, those members of Calley's platoon who came forward were ridiculed, ostracized, and called traitors by the U.S Government--but several years later they were hailed as heros once the truth of that day was brought to light. Again, moral courage prevailed!

The fiscal year 2013 Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military estimated that 8,435 cases of sexual assault and 26,000 unwanted sexual contact events occurred in the military between 2011 and 2013. I wonder how many of these cases could have been prevented if we showed a little more moral courage? Medals for moral courage will most likely never happen, but knowing that you saved a fellow service member from harm, mental anguish, humiliation, and potentially life long suffering should be reward enough, really, no medal needed here!