I believe that the relief of Capt. Brett Crozier from his command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt is one of the most important sub-stories of the entire coronavirus outbreak. It lifts the lid (again) on profound dysfunction in one of the most important commands in the United States military, it illuminates competing ideas of duty and honor, and it may well sound an ominous warning about our military readiness and strategic deterrence. And it’s all taking place in a fog-of-war environment where the public (and perhaps even the decision-makers) lack knowledge of all the material facts.
Let’s break this down, step-by-step, complete with my preliminary conclusions each step of the way.
Step 1: Capt. Crozier intentionally lights his career on fire.
On March 30, Capt. Crozier drafted a remarkable memorandum detailing the emerging coronavirus crisis on his ship. The memo was remarkable not so much for its substance (candid communications up the chain of command are necessary) but for its distribution. He sent it to “senior military officials” outside his chain of command, and—predictably—the letter was in the hands of the San Francisco Chronicle by April 2, triggering a national controversy.