Guest Column | Admiral Arun Prakash (retd)

A Matter of Honour
It is ironical that this article, first published in the January-March 1999 issue of the USI Journal, should appear so topical even today. At that time, the author’s stimulus, for penning this introspective piece, perhaps, was the ugly spat between the then chief of naval staff Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat and Vice Admiral Harinder Singh, both of whom took recourse in judicial intervention and the serious discontentment in the IAF due to the 5th Pay Commission’s rulings on pilots’ salaries and allowances. FORCE has chosen to re-print this article, with the author’s permission, because we believe that more than a decade after it was rendered, his advice to the officer corps may still be valid.
Admiral Arun Prakash (retd)

Many of us have probably never heard of Jeremy Boorda. He was an American; citizen of a nation whose ethics we continuously sneer at, from the high moral pedestal of India’s ancient civilisation and culture.

I start this article with a mention of Boorda, because on 23 May 1996 he drove home from his office, drew a loaded pistol and ended his life by shooting himself in the chest.
Admiral Boorda was the four-star head of the US Navy, known as Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). The 56-year old flag officer was the first man in the history of USN to rise from the ranks to the post of CNO. In a hierarchy dominated by US Naval Academy graduates, Boorda’s humble origins meant that he had to prove himself at every rung of the ladder in his long climb to the coveted post of CNO. So what made him take his own life when he had reached the pinnacle of professional achievement? Was it cowardice, or was it a sense of honour?

For a number of years, Admiral Boorda had worn a combat insignia (the small metallic letter ‘V’) affixed to two campaign ribbons earned for shipboard service off Vietnam between 1965 and 1973. As per USN regulations, this insignia was to be worn only by personnel who were deployed in specified combat zones. A routine check by the Bureau of Personnel had revealed in 1987 that Boorda was not entitled to wear it. By the time that he became CNO, Boorda had stopped wearing the Combat ‘V’, but in April 1996, this issue had been raked-up by Newsweek magazine, which had sought an interview with him to discuss it. The interview was scheduled the day Boorda shot himself.

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