Rest In Pieces: WashPost Obit Rips Gen. Carl Mundy for Offensive Statements on Gays, Women, and Minorities

April 12th, 2014 3:53 PM

Several letters to the editor published in The Washington Post on Saturday strongly criticized the Matt Schudel obituary of Marine Gen. Carl Mundy from April 6. Favorable obituaries are more likely for left-wing radicals like "visionary scientist" Barry Commoner, to recall Schudel's recent work.

It began by noting the general offended liberals (without using the L-word): “Carl E. Mundy Jr., a retired four-star general who, as commandant of the Marine Corps in the early 1990s, oversaw troop reductions in the wake of the Cold War and whose statements on race, women and gays in the military provoked widespread criticism, died April 2 at his home in Alexandria, Va.” What followed was a long list of offenses against liberal political correctness with no debate allowed from Mundy’s point of view:

When he was named commandant, Gen. Mundy was described in the Los Angeles Times as “one of the most articulate, intelligent and polished Marines in the corps.” But he soon found himself in hot water for his comments about women, race and homosexuality in the military.

In his first speaking engagement as commandant, Gen. Mundy told an association of female military officers that he opposed putting women in direct combat, calling it “a very dirty, distasteful and physical business,” he said.

Afterward, in an interview with The Washington Post, he expanded on the theme of women in combat.

“Do we want to have women, who are after all the mothers of civilization, do that?” he said. “I don’t.”

Some female officers attending the speech said they gave Gen. Mundy credit for honesty but found his views insulting.

In August 1993, Gen. Mundy signed an order that prohibited married recruits from joining the Marine Corps, beginning in 1995. At the time, as many as 40 percent of recently enlisted Marines were married. Gen. Mundy also called for an “awareness program on the advantages of delaying marriage.”

President Bill Clinton, according to White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers, “was astounded when he heard about the general’s order.”

The policy was quickly reversed by Defense Secretary Les Aspin.

Although Gen. Mundy had his defenders among veterans, his decision underscored what many saw as a clash of values, with the general seen as an aging leatherneck out of touch with changing times.

“Do we need to get this man leave until he regains his senses?” asked Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Two months later, in October 1993, the CBS program “60 Minutes” aired a segment about the Marine Corps’s difficulty in promoting and retaining black officers.

“There is not racism in the Marine Corps,” Gen. Mundy said, attributing the low number of minority officers to “performance.”

“In the military skills, we find that the minority officers do not shoot as well as the non-minorities,” he said. “I can’t explain that to you, but we’re going to find out. They don’t swim as well. And when you give them a compass and send them across the terrain at night in a land navigation exercise, they don’t do as well at that sort of thing.”

His remarks were criticized by civil rights leaders and others as insensitive, and Gen. Mundy apologized.

“We don’t need to have slaps in the face that keep us from moving forward,” an African American Army general told the Milwaukee Journal. “I just don’t know how he can go before a large Marine audience and say he’s committed to equal opportunity and affirmative action in the Marine Corps.”

In 1999, four years after Gen. Mundy’s retirement, “60 Minutes” ran a new segment highlighting how the Marine Corps had instituted programs to identify and promote minorities in its officer ranks.

In Saturday's Post were these two letters that correctly identified the obituary as harsh and unbalanced:

An obituary should report the death of a person with an account of the person’s life. While items of controversy are normally included if the deceased is notable, fairness demands that the obituary be balanced. The reporting of the general’s passing, however, placed undue emphasis on controversy and, as a result, implicitly criticized the former Marine commandant. While this may satisfy those who disagreed with the general, the views he held were always honest and in the best interest of the country and never self-serving. The Post failed its readers by allowing what belongs on the editorial page to leak into the obituary page.

-- Marine Gen. Bernard Trainor

Very few people become public figures without making at least one comment that can be easily misconstrued, but this does not justify a stone-throwing obituary that misrepresented a distinguished life of public service. The obituary for Gen. Carl E. Mundy Jr. was even more unfair because the target of the piece is no longer here to respond.

Having been a friend of the general and his family, I know that he probably would wave it off, confident that his life and character speak for themselves, but The Post’s report is a matter of record. The Post should have quoted people who admired and appreciated the general, of whom I am just one of many. 

-- Elaine Donnelly, Center for Military Readiness