Thursday, March 22, 2001

Cmdr. Waddle did
the right thing

The Greeneville captain chose the path
of courage and testified about his role in
the tragic sinking of Ehime Maru.
The question now:
Should he be court-martialed?

THE former captain of the submarine Greeneville, Commander Scott D. Waddle, conducted himself with honor, courage and in the best traditions of the naval service Tuesday when he testified before the panel inquiring into his boat's disastrous collision with a Japanese training ship in which nine Japanese died.

The question before the Navy now is whether Waddle should be tried on criminal charges by a court-martial. From everything that has been learned so far, it's hard to see that any constructive purpose would be served.

Cautioned that anything he said before the Board of Inquiry could be used against him in a court-martial, Waddle said he would testify "because it is the right thing to do." He said: "I accept full responsibility" for what Greeneville did as she sliced through the hull of Ehime Maru Feb. 9. "As commanding officer," he said, "I am solely responsible for this tragic accident."

How refreshing in a day when our political, business, labor, civic, academic, military, and, yes, journalistic leaders so often shift and squirm to evade blame like so many automobile drivers caught speeding on the highway.

Some events in life are win/win. In others, some win while others lose. In the Greeneville-Ehime Maru accident, it is lose/lose; everyone has lost. Most obvious are the nine Japanese who drowned and their families who have suffered wounds that will never heal.

Waddle has also lost. As he testified: "For the rest of my life, I will live with the horrible consequences of my decisions and actions that resulted in the loss of the Ehime Maru." Like the Japanese families, his wounds will never heal and he will take the stigma of his mistakes to the grave.

There is more:

>> American taxpayers have lost the services of a good officer in whom they have invested untold millions of dollars educating him at the Naval Academy, at submarine school, at nuclear propulsion school and in submarines. It will take 20 years to bring along another officer of comparable training and experience.

>> A valuable Japanese vessel lies on the floor of the ocean.

>> Greeneville is laid up in drydock and will be out of action for several months. In addition to the cost of repairing her is lost time on patrol for which another submarine and crew, in a service already stretched thin, must take up slack.

>> The damage to American relations with Japan, which successive presidents have called the linchpin of the United States' security posture in East Asia, has been acute, especially as it has followed other episodes that have strained relations.

>> Japanese who seek a dissolution of the alliance between the two nations or who want U.S. military forces to withdraw from Japan have been given an effective piece of ammunition. Over time, that damage can be repaired but it will take thought, effort, and probably money paid in indemnity.

THAT BRINGS ON, then, the question of what purpose would be served by a court-martial or what the Navy calls non-judicial punishment. Waddle could face disciplinary measures ranging from prison to a forfeiture of pay.

A court-martial, besides consuming the time and attention of naval officers who would have more important operational duties, would rake over the entire episode and pour salt into raw wounds both in Japan and America. An outcome would be uncertain as the rules of evidence would be more strict than in the Board of Inquiry.

Whatever lessons there are to be learned from this tragedy are known or will be known shortly and dispensed across the silent service. The former captain already has been held up as an example for every other submarine skipper and, indeed, for every other submariner and naval officer.

High on that list would be perhaps the hardest lesson for military officers to learn, one that needs to be relearned periodically, which is: Listen to your subordinates because they will tell you things you need to hear.

Nay, not just listen but demand that subordinates speak up. Waddle was apparently let down by officers and sailors who did not speak up. As a former submarine captain told every member of his crew: "I never want to hear anyone on this ship say: 'I could have told you that would go wrong.' " Leaders in every other walk of life could benefit from the same lesson.

THE NAVY HAS about two months to review of the findings of the Board of Inquiry and to deliberate Waddle's fate. Maybe something new will come up but right now, it would seem that an Admiral's Mast would be appropriate. The commander would be given a severe reprimand, perhaps fined, and dismissed from the Navy.

In light of 24 years of dedicated service before the catastrophe, he would be allowed to keep his modest retirement pay. Prison would serve no end for the commander, the U.S. Navy, or the Japanese families and survivors.

After that, as he has suggested himself, Waddle should go to the home port of Ehime Maru in Japan, there to bow his head once more before the families of the dead and the survivors of the stricken ship. That could be cathartic in bringing closure, at least as much as humanly possible, to this terrible tragedy.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
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