From Pillar to Pillory U.S. Navy Crimes of Command 1945-2015

Michael Junge, Salve Regina University


Since the beginning of the 21st century, the Navy has announced almost every removal of an officer from command. Before 2000, some removals were announced, most were not. Quite often official command histories don’t address when a commanding officer is removed. Sometimes discussion of a removal is suppressed. Some commanding officers are ordered to never discuss their removal. Some will not discuss the removal out of personal shame. For those not involved, spectators, there is a combination of schadenfreude and learning. And even, for some, a level of glee when karma catches up with someone in a particularly expected or deserved manner. In 2011 the senior Navy officer issued a letter to all prospective commanding officers. In it he wrote that command is based on three principles: authority, responsibility, and accountability. He calls the relationship between authority, responsibility, and accountability an “immutable truth [that] has been the foundation of our Navy since 1775.” This paper shows that accountability, at least in that context, is a modern creation. Looking at writings through the 20 th and into the 21st-century one can trace the creation of this “immutable truth” through two major events of the 20 th century—the U.S. Navy’s worst peacetime disaster and a national sex scandal. ^ This dissertation explores post-World War II United States Navy culture and how this culture addresses officers who have excelled sufficiently enough to rise to the pinnacle of professional assignment, the pillar of command of a U.S. Navy warship but also committed a ‘crime of command.’ A crime of command is an idea unique and special to military command, and even more unique to naval command. Crime of command is a specific term of art, a combination of words with meaning distinct and separate from individual value and presentation. However, to understand the concept of ‘crime of command’ we must first understand the individual meaning of the words. ^ Once the words are understood they must be studied within the context of naval operations, commanders identified, and the Navy’s actions towards them determined. Since behavior is learned, understanding not only the ethical dilemmas of command but also the process by which commanders learn to decide is important. Not just for the commander who erred, but also for the commander who must decide how to adjudicate the crime of command as the officers travel from pillar to pillory. ^ Over the last seventy years Navy leaders first learned and now teach a concept of accountability that has not only deviated from its original meaning, but has morphed into something else; something corrupted in its understanding. The Navy must relearn the ideas of responsibility, culpability, accounting, and forgiveness if it is to prevail in the future.^

Subject Area

Ethics|Organizational behavior|Military history

Recommended Citation

Junge, Michael, "From Pillar to Pillory U.S. Navy Crimes of Command 1945-2015" (2018). Doctoral Dissertations. AAI10785212.