Thursday, October 03, 2013
The Department of Defense has issued an order preventing the service
academies from participating in intercollegiate athletics due to the
government shutdown. This is despite the fact that the athletic programs of
these academies operate on private funds, and that some of the cancelled games,
such as the upcoming Navy-Air Force football game, will cost these
morale-building programs huge sums of money, in the form of lost television
revenue, for example.
Asked why the Department of Defense was suspending intercollegiate athletic contests if government funds are not required, [Naval Academy Athletic Director Chet] Gladchuk said he was told it was about "optics."It is interesting to consider where this order might have originated. With our Commander-in-Chief? Many in the military are Republicans. Is this a punishment or is he making an example of them? If not, why does the Department of Defense feel the need to cancel something that isn't even funded with "appropriated funding", as Gladchuk puts it.
"It's a perception thing. Apparently it doesn't resonate with all the other government agencies that have been shut down," Gladchuk said.
Either way, this silly episode holds a lesson for us, precisely because it could have come about either way. This is the United States of America, a nation founded on the premise that petty tyrants have no business interfering in our daily affairs. This decision is idotic, but at least the soldier-athletes involved do legitimately fall under the authority of the person who made it. When government isn't limited to its proper scope, ordinary citizens can also get bossed around.
Americans seem to have forgotten the value of personal autonomy lately, being willing to exchange bits and pieces and chunks of it in order to be under the "care" of such officials. The result of this is that the above episode is something that we will become less and less capable of laughing off as just another example of dumb military bureaucracy. That is, we are becoming less like free men and more like conscripted members of a military, in the sense of being subject to the whim or the personal failings of individuals higher up in a chain of command that shouldn't even exist.
That is too bad: If even a small matter like a football game isn't safe from meddling by a human being in power -- be he petty or timid -- why should something important be? Whether a game is played on a weekend isn't the proper concern of the government, at least when it is between private citizens. And neither is, say, whether I take this or that medical advice, or decide to buy medical insurance (or what kind of coverage), or have an operation.
I thank whoever made that decision for giving us all a relatively cheap lesson.
Today: The Navy-Air Force game will now occur. The story also notes that the Air Force Academy was not operating entirely on private funds. That said, and setting aside the question of whether those ought be be private all the time, they are a small expense compared to myriad government extravagances. For that reason, I still maintain that this cancellation (and others that may still hold) was entirely about flexing political muscle.