Navy Launches 'Operation PC.'(political correctness)(Column)

By Donnelly, Elaine | Insight on the News, July 24, 1995 | Go to article overview

Navy Launches 'Operation PC.'(political correctness)(Column)


Donnelly, Elaine, Insight on the News


Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth A. Carkhuff, an exemplary naval officer and helicopter detachment commander, is about to be washed out of the Navy because of a sea change in command policy, reflecting political correctness taken to an extreme.

On May 18,1995, an official Board of Inquiry convened at the Mayport Naval Station voted 3-0 for a recommendation that Carkhuff, 35, be dismissed from the Navy. The board did not hand down that decision because Carkhuff had failed in his duties or disobeyed an order. Rather, they concurred with commanding officers who said that Carkhuff's privately expressed views in opposition to the Navy's newly implemented policy on women in combat, which he said were rooted in his Christian belief that violence against women is wrong, created "a glaring, irreconcilable conflict with Navy policy."

The Navy's latest voyage into troubled waters began in August 1994, when Carkhuff was assigned to lead a helicopter detachment that was to be among the first to include women on a potential combat mission in Haiti. Prior to that mobilization, he felt honor-bound to tell his commanding officer in private that as a Christian he believes it is morally wrong to expose women to the violence of combat. Carkhuff, an Episcopalian, did not say that he would not lead the detachment if ordered to do so. If he had, the Navy would be court martialing him, but they are not.

Carkhuff was willing to accept a less desirable assignment or, as a naval officer sworn to obey orders, he would have led the detachment with women to Haiti. In this case, reasonableness was not an option. "Operation PC" (punish Carkhuff) began almost immediately with official action to dismiss him from naval service. Officers in his chain of command piled on Carkhuff with progressively shrill endorsement letters. Why? By writing harsh but politically correct letters criticizing him, the commanders may have been trying to shield themselves from possible future ordeals like those suffered by Adms. Frank Kelso, Stanley Arthur and Henry Mauz -- all of whom were attacked as they retired in 1994 by a vociferous group of female senators for not being sufficiently supportive of the feminist agenda. The Senate must approve nominations for flag-officer promotions and or retirements with full rank.

It was of no consequence that Carkhuff is a Naval Academy graduate with 13 years of commendable service or that he is only two years short of early retirement with five children to support. A glowing fitness report that had described him as a "community superstar," with "unlimited potential ... destined for command and beyond" was followed by one that asserted flatly that "Lt. Cmdr. Carkhuffs stated beliefs are not compatible with further military service."

The tribunal's decision upholding that view is even more troubling because of the tone and insinuations of questions asked by government attorneys during the daylong proceedings. Despite Carkhuff's frequent assertions that he considers women to be professional equals (his disagreement is with the policy that exposes them to combat violence), the government lawyer argued that his views are similar to that taken by racist officers who, in the 1940s, opposed the integration of minorities into the armed forces. …

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