Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Friday, March 23, 2001

Waddle sunk himself
on the stand

Navy submarine Cmdr. Scott Waddle clearly saw the dangerous object looming in front of him and crashed headlong into it anyway.

The dangerous object was the witness stand in the recently completed court of inquiry looking into the collision between Waddle's sub, the USS Greeneville, and the Japanese fishing training vessel Ehime Maru. Waddle ignored the advice of his legal crew to give wide berth to the witness stand or risk a further devastating collision with the legal system. But Waddle displayed his daring-do and a certain amount of arrogance by insisting on testifying at the inquiry. That loud splash you just heard was Waddle's career being sunk.

There are few certain things in life. But one of those is that when a judge says his mind is made up, his mind IS made up. Three admirals sitting in judgment over Waddle's culpability basically told Waddle that their minds were made up and they didn't need his testimony. At that point, Waddle's attorneys should have wrestled him to the ground and gagged him, and maybe they tried. But Waddle was going to take that stand and tell his side of the story if it meant getting through a detachment of Marines to do it. And he did. First he told the admirals why they were wrong in not needing his testimony, which is always a point-winner, then he set about proving they were exactly right. He said everything they wanted to hear. And every defense attorney within 2,500 miles of Pearl Harbor cringed. Waddle succeed in loading up the torpedo tubes that the Navy now will fire against him in the inevitable court martial.

To sum up Waddle's points briefly: I am extremely, immensely and excessively sorry for crashing my submarine into the fishing boat and I take full, utter and complete responsibility for what happened except that my crew didn't really obey my orders, I didn't notice that all the watch positions were not staffed the way they were supposed to be, I left a third of my crew on shore because a few of my subordinates thought it was a good plan, I'm as surprised as you are to find out that one of the sonar guys didn't know broadband from Broadway and I thought that conducting a radical emergency surfacing maneuver with only two-thirds of a crew and a bunch of civilians on board seemed like a cool idea at the time.

This may seem a brutal assault on a guy who now could face criminal charges involving the death of nine people aboard the fishing vessel. But come on, the man was warned. This isn't a case about grabbing a female officer's behind at a Tail Hook convention. There are screwups and then there are SCREWUPS. This accident was a SCREWUP. People died. A boat was sunk. Careers were ruined. And the Navy looked stupid.

I do feel sorry for Cmdr. Waddle and his family. He accurately stated in his address to the court that there is strong national and international political and diplomatic pressure to deliver someone's head on a platter. By surrendering his legal rights, he put his head on the platter himself.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to

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