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Captain America’s whistle-blowing: heroic undertaking or desperate last resort?

(People's Daily Online)    20:15, April 08, 2020

USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier. (Credit: Wikipedia)

Following the Pentagon’s scattershot decision to remove Navy Capt. Brett E Crozier, hailed by his soldiers as the “first whistleblower in the U.S. Army,” from command of the coronavirus-stricken aircraft carrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, confusion and mistrust have been sown among the American public, with many criticizing the government’s incapability of protecting its own people from the lethal virus, as well as its unfair treatment towards whistleblowers.

“Right or wrong, [Crozier] wasn’t relieved for trying to save lives… He’s never going to see a good duty station again – he’s just screwed,”quoted by Quartz, military law expert Gary Solid further noted that the captain broke no law in the code of military justice.

Inscribed over the chapel doors at the United States Naval Academy, the US Navy’s unofficial motto, ‘Non sibi sed patriae’ (not for self, but for country) is dutifully fulfilled by Crozier, though ironically his removal sets yets another example of US missteps in curbing the lethal virus.

Whistleblowers like Crozier have also paid a high price for telling the truth, while caring for the lives of others. According to the Seattle Times, on March 27, an emergency room doctor in Washington state was fired after posting complaints about his hospital’s lack of protective gear, despite the public health crisis and 17 years of service.

“The real hero who has been helping the people is gone, and the government who has approved his removal has yet to save its people from the horrible pandemic,” said a Twitter user.

Helpless outcry

Potrait of Brett Crozier, former commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier. (Credit: U.S. Navy)

Though Crozier’s whistleblowing has been praised by the public as a heroic undertaking, many believed such exposure is a helpless self-rescue attempt, as the US Navy’s limited testing capabilities and slow response to the virus could have led to even more severe consequences had Crozier taken the initiative.

The captain, who had pleaded for help against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping his crew, was fired by Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, who short-circuited a preliminary military investigation days after the leakage of the captain’s letter.

According to Politico’s report on March 31, Modly noted that the Roosevelt can test about 200 sailors per day, meaning it would take more than three weeks to test everyone aboard. The military’s limited ability to test the patients might be a trigger for Crozier’s action, as most of the sailors at that time were ordered to stay onboard, despite evidence showing the virus had already spread among the crew.

According to the National Post, the Army briefly stopped most training exercises only to restart them days later, while the service waited days to raise its health protection status to “D”, the highest level, for critical rapid-response force that would be deployed in a national security crisis, in order to keep those troops isolated and ready to fight.

Limited testing capabilities and slow response have endangered the USS Theodore Roosevelt, a 5,000-person aircraft carrier, as infections had already started cropping up after an early Mach port call in Vietnam, which Pentagon leaders say had about 16 known virus cases at the time.

Crozier’s action then proved to be necessary. As of March 7, 61 percent of the crew have been tested, though 173 members, including Crozier himself, were diagnosed with the lethal virus.

Whistleblower at bay

New York Times tweets Tweed Roosevelt's opinion on the sacking of Crozier on April 4, 2020.

Whistleblowers in American history have proved their attribution in correcting wrongdoings or even to save countless lives. Daniel Ellsberg, famous US military analyst, who blew the whistle on US government misconduct in the Vietnam War by leaking the “Pentagon Papers,” was credited as a major factor in ending the war, while Samuel Provance, a former US Army military intelligence sergeant, for disobeying an order from his commanders in the 302nd Military Intelligence Battalion by discussing with the media his experiences at the Abu Ghraib Prison, has contributed to the cease in abuse of detainees.

Facing a global pandemic like COVID-19, a whistleblower’s information and exposure of wrongdoings are necessary to protect the public, yet Crozier’s actions have been criticized by both the army and the government for his “extremely poor judgement.”

During a speech with the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Modly said their former commander was either "too naive or too stupid" to be in command or that he intentionally leaked to the media a memo in which he warned about the coronavirus spreading aboard the aircraft carrier and urged action to save his sailors.

Such announcement was also shared by US President Trump, who noted, “He shouldn’t be talking that way in a letter…I thought it was terrible what he did.”

But the official criticism towards the captain doesn’t sit well with civilians. Videos circulated showing hundreds of sailors aboard the Roosevelt, cheering for Crozier as he disembarked the ship. Memes depicting the Navy captain rescuing his sailors from a burning building over saving his own career sprouted up across social media. Media outlets have also blasted the government’s incapability in tackling the virus, with the Washington Post publishing a piece entitled, “The only official fired over the virus? A captain who tried to protect his crew.”

The resignation of Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly on Tuesday, who called the ousted captain “stupid” for speaking out about the COVID-19 outbreak on the ship, has yet pacified the wrath of the public, while the news of Crozier’s diagnosis has fueled further skepticism of the US government and Army’s handling of the outbreak aboard the aircraft carrier, receiving notable criticism from the rank and file. 

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(Web editor: Kou Jie, Bianji)

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