By Dave Lind
The hot topic of conversation on CNN and across the country has, of late, been the dueling adultery cases of lst Lt. Kelly Flynn and Gen. Joseph Ralston. As reported by the major media outlets, the two cases appear to point up a double standard in place within the military infrastructure.
Lt. Flynn has been accused of, and has admitted to, having an affair, or "fraternizing with", an enlisted man, having an adulterous affair with the civilian husband of an enlisted woman, lying to her commander, and, when ordered to discontinue the affair, disobeying the orders of her commander.
Gen. Ralston, on the other hand, has been accused of having an affair with a civilian woman 13 years ago while he was separated from his wife, with whom he later reconciled. His commander, when made aware of the affair, reprimanded Ralston and the matter was settled.
Now, for those who want to see similarities, both are cases in which military officers engaged in adulterous affairs, but in one case the male general was reprimanded while the female lieutenant was discharged.
Of course, to reach that conclusion you have to overlook one critical fact: Lt. Flynn was not discharged for adultery.
Yes, you heard that correctly. Lt. Flynn was punished not for committing adultery or fraternization, but for disobeying an order and lying to her commander, two far more serious crimes in the military, as anyone who has ever served will attest.
Now, I understand the perception of the majority of Americans who value freedom and independence above all else. The average American tends to have difficulty following orders that don't suit their tastes. The average American, when ordered by their employer to cease an adulterous affair, would most likely have responded much like Lt. Flynn. They would have said, "Yeah, right!" and then went right on doing what they were doing.
But a Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force is not an average American and, like it or not, does not have the same freedom and privilege bestowed upon the average American. That is made clear when you sign up and reinforced regularly throughout your military career. Anyone unable or unwilling to abide by that set of rules is free to leave at the end of their term. I, myself, had that choice and chose to leave. Lt. Flynn was given that choice and chose to stay. She knew the rules, accepted them, and broke them.
The importance of following orders in the military can not be overstated. If my boss orders me to restock the supply cabinet and I do not do it, people have to do without correction tape for a few days. If a pilot's commander orders him to provide air support for ground forces and he refuses, soldiers die. See the difference? Unlike most civilian jobs, military officers must order their subordinates to risk or even sacrifice their lives to provide for the safety and security of others.
Thus, the single most important thread holding together the fabric of the military is the ability of a commander to issue an order and have it obeyed. No questions. Likewise, the worst crime any soldier, sailor, or airman can commit is to disobey an order.
This is what Lt. Flynn did and what Gen. Ralston did not do. An order is an order whether it be to charge a hill., get a haircut, or end an adulterous affair and compliance is non-negotiable.
We can sit here and argue the severity of Gen. Ralston's adultery versus Lt. Flynn's all day long and it simply does not matter. General Ralston did not lie to cover up his affair, and he did not disobey a direct order and continue to have the affair. This is the point which continues to evade all those who wish to make this into a sexual-misconduct scandal. If Lt. Flynn were guilty ONLY of having an affair, she would still be flying B-52's and we would not be talking about this. If Gen. Ralston had disobeyed his commander's order to cease his affair 13 years ago he would have most likely met the same fate as Lt. Flynn and again, we would not be having this discussion.
Does this mean that there is no "Double Standard" in the military? Of course not. To be honest, there probably is a double standard and always has been. Is this an example of such? Absolutely not. The only way anyone could possibly derive such a conclusion from the facts of this case would be to do what the media has done, which is to confuse and distort what this case is really about.
Bottom line, this is not about adultery, much as the media would like it to be. There were four separate charges leveled against Lt. Flynn, with adultery being among the lesser of the charges. To say she was punished for adultery would be akin to saying Timothy McVeigh was punished for illegal parking. Lt. Flynn's punishment fit her crimes and Gen. Ralston's fit his, no more and no less.
Why can't we just leave it at that?