Too Many Rushed Judgments on Navy Leader's Suicide

Article excerpt

Three weeks before he committed suicide, Adm. Jeremy Boorda talked of suicide.

On April 24, at the annual meeting of the Naval Institute in Annapolis, of which he was president, he talked of a "laundry list"of problems that the Navy was rooting out and trying to solve.

A questioner from the floor raised the issue of the need for a moral compass, not only for sailors, but also for society. In a rambling reply, Admiral Boorda agreed, saying every person in the Navy should be accountable to someone higher.

He then said: "Under those conditions, can a sailor be a member of the Ku Klux Klan and not have the leader know it? No. Can the sailor be committing sexual harassment and not have the leader know it? No. Can the sailor commit suicide and not have the leader know that he or she was in distress? No."

The next day, the featured speaker was former Navy Secretary James Webb, who delivered what was taken by those present as a veiled attack on Boorda. Mr. Webb denounced those who, after the Tailhook sexual-harassment scandal, let distinguished officers be hounded out of the Navy. He spoke of some as "guilty of the ultimate disloyalty" of advancing their careers by currying favor with politicians.

Webb condemned Navy leaders who let politicians interfere with the "sacred promotional process." He continued: "What admiral has had the courage to risk his own career by putting his stars on the table and defending the integrity of the process and of his people?"

Now, I don't know what Boorda's mention of suicide and Webb's scorching denunciation of disloyalty to the old boys' club had to do with Boorda's suicide on May 16. My point is that nobody can know beyond the indication in his suicide note that a Newsweek inquiry about a decoration may have been the last straw. …