The race hoax at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs has unraveled. The hoaxer, a black football player and prospective cadet at its prep school, is exposed and gone. Racial slurs scrawled across dorm whiteboards were fakes, the student’s own.
But Air Force Academy superintendent, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, demonstrates no chagrin for the spectacle he created, when he dressed down 4,000 standing cadets and the faculty on account of phantom white racial bigotry.
Silveria remains nonchalant and remorseless. “Regardless of the circumstances under which those words were written, they were written, and that deserved to be addressed,” Silveria emailed the Colorado Springs Gazette, when asked for comment. “You can never over-emphasize the need for a culture of dignity and respect — and those who don’t understand those concepts aren’t welcome here.”
This is actually an astonishing response under the circumstances. Silveria’s Sept. 28 speech was a carefully staged, almost cinematic tour de force. Invoking events at “Charlottesville and Ferguson, the protests in the NFL,” Silveria said, “I have a better idea… and it’s the power of diversity.” He declared:
If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you can’t teach someone from another gender, whether that’s a man or a woman, with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you demean someone in any way, then you need to get out. And if you can’t treat someone from another race or a different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.
Silveria finished, repeating his command: “If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then get out.”
Silveria drew immense applause and adulation for his speech. The YouTube clip got over a million hits. The Washington Post editorial board praised his “moral guidance,” comparing him favorably to the president, and Forbes lauded his “commitment to upholding military values” that “remind us of the higher calling of national service.”
Was Gen. Silveria credulous or calculating? In either case, how he dealt with a reported hate crime — one that never really passed the smell test — reflects badly on the man. His rashness and histrionics deserve censure, not ovation.
Maybe it was the camera lights, but the righteous glint in Silveria’s eye as he spoke to thousands below was not reassuring. Standing behind him, motionless, was stern Academy commandant, Brig. Gen. Kristin Goodwin, bomber pilot and very out lesbian. Goodwin was obviously in on this political theater, helping to script the show.
Six weeks later, the hoax now exposed, Silveria stands his ground. Such diversity hauteur is the rule among college officials. When asked to verify suspicious racial incidents, they often grow indignant. Trustees and faculties need gruesome stories to prove there’s more anti-racism work to be done. Even hoaxes, some say, provide teachable moments and a time for reflection. Yes, academics really think this way.
Silveria of course is not an ordinary college president, so his reaction is doubly bad news for Americans who want U.S. military leaders able to assess dicey situations coolly and correctly, in the interests of those they command. His response reveals the degree to which diversity issues drive the nation’s top officers and service academies.
Remember when Maj. Hasan opened fire at Ft. Hood in 2009, killing 13 and wounding 32 others, shouting Allahu Akbar? Gen. George Casey, U.S. Army chief of staff, stated on NBC’s Meet the Press: “Our diversity, not only in our Army, but in our country, is a strength. And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse.”
The U.S. military has since come a long way, diversity moving from strength to foundational belief. To meet diversity’s imperatives, priorities inevitably shift from technical excellence, combat readiness, general morale, and the projection of force. What will be the long-run impact on national security, we can only guess.