ANNAPOLIS – U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen must hold themselves to a higher standard than the rest of society, former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett said this week.
“Are you sure in your bones — in your heart as well as your head — why honor deserves your allegiance?” Bennett asked the midshipmen and guests who filled Alumni Hall Monday evening.
In a speech entitled “Does Honor Have a Future?”, Bennett alluded to the scandals that have plagued the Naval Academy in recent years.
“You know how it goes — `There are these problems everywhere, why not here?'” Bennett asked. “You are supposed to be different, and in some important ways you are supposed to be better.”
Bennett said that “in the twilight of the 20th century in America, concepts like honor, virtue and manliness not only do not elicit approbation, but are often ridiculed.”
Bennett’s speech was part of the annual Forrestal Lecture series, named for the late Navy Secretary James V. Forrestal.
Asked what the core curriculum of a place like the Academy should be, Bennett said, “I think what you all are getting here is pretty much exactly right.”
When a midshipman asked, “What should our expectations be of our leaders?” Bennett replied, “Higher, much higher.”
He contrasted the politicians of today with the founders who, when they signed the Declaration of Independence, “thought they were signing their death warrants.” Bennett also said that a leader should be a good role model for children, citing Colin Powell as an example.
Asked about “moral relativism” — the belief that standards of right and wrong are not absolute — Bennett jokingly suggested: “Take a moral relativist to dinner, steal his wallet and say, `Don’t impose your values on me. I’m from a small town in Kansas where we steal wallets.'” The audience laughed. Bennett served in the Reagan administration as secretary of Education and chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and in the Bush administration as drug czar. -30-