It is rare that U.S. Department of Defense officials, blinded by their zealous pursuit of the latest variant of U.S. military diversity policy, reveal that policy’s intellectual vacuousness. Recent comments by the Navy’s top, uniformed personnel officer, however, did just that, exposing the Pentagon diversity policy’s intellectual bankruptcy and providing a focus for those who, following their commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law, genuinely believe America’s sons and daughters in uniform deserve the best leadership available.
On August 3, 2021, VADM John Nowell, Jr., Chief of Naval Personnel, made public comments arguing for reinstating the use of photographs in selection boards, justifying that position by saying that not using photographs is hurting “diversity.” He lamented that the Navy’s recent “data” (accumulated after the policy had been changed so it no longer included official photographs in personnel files the promotion boards used) show the new practice has hurt “diversity.” Rather than acknowledging that such evidence proves “diversity” policies undermine meritocracy in the military, Admiral Nowell’s further comments revealed the dishonest disregard for objective evidence and truth that pervades the pursuit of anti-white, racial discrimination in the name of “diversity” in our military.
He said, “It’s a meritocracy. We’re only going to pick the best of the best, but we’re very clear with our language … that we want them to consider diversity across all areas. Right?” “And therefore … I think having a clear picture on this just makes it easier. So, actually, our data show that it would support adding photos back in.”
Admiral Nowell also said, “I think we should consider reinstating photos in selection boards.” “We look at, for instance, the one-star board over the last five years, and we can show you where, as you look at diversity, it went down with photos removed.” (Emphasis added)
So, the Navy’s data show that when “color-blind” promotion boards do not use photos, they select the “best” – but that these results differ (fewer minority selectees, i.e., “diversity … went down”) compared to the selections (more minorities) when promotion boards do use photos that show candidates’ skin color (facilitating the use of racial preferences).
The Navy’s data are strong evidence of the negative effect that using racial preferences has on meritocracy and therefore the quality of the selection board outcome. Shockingly, that conclusion apparently escaped this 3-star flag officer whose job is to oversee Navy personnel policy. Ever true to the mantra that diversity policies never lower quality or involve lowering standards to make minorities “more successful,” he predictably claims the process, when influenced by photo-enabled racial preferences, is still a meritocracy.
Admiral Nowell’s explanation of the Navy’s data proves that “diversity” (when considered by a promotion board) means “racial preferences.” Would he admit that considering “diversity” (race) in a promotion board is, in practice, the extension of racial preferences? Not likely. Just call it “diversity.” That places the topic beyond the reach of critical thinking (and legal) analysis and discussion.
If only the “best of the best” will be chosen, why does a board need to know each candidate’s skin color? There is no evidence showing that skin color correlates positively with demonstrated performance and/or performance potential at a higher rank. Nor is there evidence to show that skin color correlates with the various traits and characteristics that make one an effective leader, such as integrity, judgment, professional competence, empathy, loyalty, et al.
Instead, these comments reveal the intellectually bankrupt attempt by those in power to deny that “diversity” inspired, race-based affirmative action in military promotions involves both anti-white discrimination and lowering standards. Admiral Nowell gives no substantive rationale for how and why skin color must be considered to identify the “best of the best.” He gives no explanation for how what is called “diversity” makes one candidate better than other candidates (the “best”). All that is said is the word “diversity,” and we are then expected to accept that as justifying ending the discussion and warranting a change in policy.
No, Admiral, the use of racial preferences in promotion boards is not a meritocracy. Racial preferences are, instead, antithetical to meritocracy. To claim that their use is (or is even consistent with) a meritocracy is a lie. Racial preferences use skin color where there is no evidence that race has anything to do with one candidate’s merit versus that of another. Injecting race is nothing more than a substitute for merit, using subjective, dubious (and clearly unproven, as to merit) notions that are based on skin color.
Defense Secretary Austin’s recent guidance that senior military leaders, and officers in general, will “look like” the rest of the force (i.e., racial demographic parity — apparently wearing the same uniform is no longer enough) is apparently the driving force. It, too, is intellectually vacuous and an undeniable admission that quality is being sacrificed for the sake of racial demographic parity.
Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen want competence in their leaders’ ability to get them on and off the battlefield, accomplishing the mission with minimal loss of life. They care little for “diversity-hired” substitutes for the leadership they need and deserve. Hal Moore’s men, and those who have studied the battle at LZ X-Ray, would attest to the fact that his battalion’s soldiers cared not at all what his (or his subordinate leaders’) skin color was. Those who survived did so because of Colonel Moore’s superior leadership and the bravery of Soldiers and Airmen of all colors and ethnicities.
The Chief of Naval Personnel’s “meritocracy” claim is dishonest doublespeak. It is untrue on its face. Its context — race-based preferences in military promotions — is extremely bad policy for a long list of reasons. His words also reflect a betrayal of our Constitution and DOD’s systemic violation of Section 601 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Until our courts intervene, for so long as the U.S. military continues down its current path, its ability to defend the Nation will “progressively” weaken.
Equally troubling is the Pentagon’s implicit moral failure. One of America’s legendary combat leaders, Medal of Honor recipient Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston, USMC (ret.), has observed: “America’s Moms and Dads gift their children for the purpose of defending the country. Our moral responsibility is to provide them the best possible leadership and, to the extent possible, return them safely to the gifting family.” Substituting the best possible leadership with diversity promotions to satisfy a political agenda would be an egregious moral failure, worsened only by DOD’s facially dishonest claims of meritocracy.
Mr. McQuarrie is a former U.S. Army officer, having served first in the Infantry and then in the Judge Advocate Generals Corps. He is a retired litigation partner from the international law firm Norton Rose Fulbright. The opinions expressed are his alone and are not those of the Department of Defense or of Norton Rose Fulbright.
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