Special Commentary: COVID-19 and the Ethics of Military Readiness

C. Anthony Pfaff
Content Type
Commentary and Analysis
The Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College
As is well known, then acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly fired Captain Brett Crozier, captain of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, after he wrote a letter arguing that all but ten percent of the crew should disembark the ship to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Doing so, he acknowledged, would diminish the carrier’s readiness and slow its response time in a crisis. Justifying that decision, however, he argued, “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors.”1 The problem for the captain, of course, was not the content of the letter as much as it was the subsequent leak to the San Francisco Chronicle. Setting aside the fiasco that resulted in his firing, and led to Modly’s sudden resignation, 2 the captain raises some important concerns regarding what the risks sailors, soldiers, airmen, and marines3 should be required to take in peacetime. Because it is peacetime, he argues, “[W]e … cannot allow a single Sailor to perish as a result of this pandemic unnecessarily.”4 Of course, even in war no one should die unnecessarily; however, the captain raises a good question: “what risks are necessary in peacetime?” To answer that question it is first important to understand what risks are necessary in wartime
War, Armed Forces, Military Affairs, Risk, COVID-19
Political Geography
United States of America