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Drunken sailors and the concept of honor

These are the words of an old sea chanty from the age of sail. But
I’m always one to learn from the past whenever possible. And it just so
happens that a comparable incident of naval drunkenness occurred
recently in the state of Maryland. There were differences, of course. In
the recent case the drunken sailor was a 20-year-old woman. She was a
midshipman in good standing at the U.S. Naval Academy, in fact, and she
was dead drunk. She was so drunk that she passed out, unconscious, at a
party in Anne Arundel County in Maryland.

Now the question was: what to do with her? It was a mixed (boy/girl)
party. And it so happened that two male midshipmen were also attending:
Arion Keith Williams of Detroit, Mich., and Cordrea Brittingham of
Berlin, Md. Brittingham is a Naval Academy running back who gained 350
yards on 53 carries for Navy last season, and rushed for a career high
of 124 yards in a 31-28 victory over West Virginia. Williams started in
11 out 12 games last season, recording 60 tackles and two interceptions.
It is not known if the woman plaintiff was an admirer of either or both
of the football players. In any case, the two male midshipmen had what
they claimed was consensual sex with this female midshipman. The female
claimed, to the contrary, that the sex was not consensual. Brittingham
told the judge their female shipmate was “too drunk to consent.”

The men, who are both 21, were indicted last Friday. Brittingham
faces up to 30 years in prison. Williams could receive a maximum of 50
years. So far no charges have been brought against the female of the
group. Apparently getting drunk in public to the point of losing
consciousness is not “conduct unbecoming an officer.”

I could quote at length from a document in my possession entitled
“Honor Concept of the Brigade of Midshipmen.”

This is new stuff. In my time, with no drunken parties in Anne
Arundel County, we were expected to lead honorable lives, but no one
explained just what honor was. There were strict rules, of course.
Lying, cheating, and stealing were declared “intolerable,” but there
were no such statements about fornication with female midshipmen who
were unconscious due to excessive consumption of alcohol. There were, I
note, no female midshipmen at all in my time, but a considerable number
of women have been admitted to the Academy in recent years, and there is
now a four-year program in “Honor Education,” under control of the
“Character Development Officer.” In a midshipman’s first summer, he (or
she) must endure no fewer than 15 honor education and character
development lessons.

Whether there is an honor education program for female midshipmen I
have been unable to discover, as the Navy is very secretive about that
sort of thing. Everybody knows that Stephen Decatur, a U.S. Naval hero,
was killed by James Barron in a duel, but you have to do a fair amount
of research to discover that a son of Francis Scott Key, author of the
“Star Spangled Banner,” was killed in a duel while a midshipman at the
Naval Academy. And you won’t find anywhere any reference to that young
but valiant WAC (Women’s Army Corps), who guided by a willing midshipman
late on a Sunday afternoon, stealthily climbed a Youngster ladder (no
Plebes) in the Second Battalion of Bancroft Hall (a strictly male
precinct) and had sexual intercourse with three or four midshipmen on
the top deck. Now there’s valor. They never caught her.

Valor: as opposed to the girl who passed out drunk in the company of
two midshipmen the other day, but whose name has not been released by
Academy authorities. The present Superintendent of the Academy, Vice
Admiral John Ryan, has declared his eagerness to eliminate the
“uncivility” that has crept into the Brigade of Midshipmen from an
increasingly “coarse” society. “We can improve our culture!” he declared
emphatically, which surprised me a bit as I didn’t think the Academy had
any culture, at least not in that fancy-pants sense. He called the
incident with the female midshipman drunk and passing out cold a “tragic
human error,” but would not reveal the woman’s name. Whereas the names
of the men — guilty perhaps of an inhuman error — were rushed into

The Academy will soon be involved in a major work of self-assessment
— under the command of a “high-ranking female naval officer — in line
for promotion to admiral.” The review board will take a “broader” view
of the Academy culture, Adm. Ryan promised. Whereas in my view the
Academy culture is already so broad it’s ludicrous. All they need is to
remodel the place under female control.