Gen. Jim Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, is speaking with top officers about ethical standards in the wake of recent scandals. (Rob Curtis / Staff)
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The Marine Corps' top officer is meeting with all the service's generals to talk ethics in the wake of recent scandals that have taken a toll on the reputation of the nation's military leaders.
Gen. Jim Amos, the commandant, said he doesn't believe standards among the Marine Corps' top officers are slipping, but that the recent publicity has presented an opportunity to discuss standards and the public perceptions recent scandals have generated.
In the first such meeting, held near the Pentagon, Amos cautioned against a complacency that could lead to ethical lapses. "You reach a point where you become insensitive," Amos said. "It's not so much a sense of entitlement I think as much as you just forget."
Amos allowed a reporter access to most of the meeting, which was attended by general officers and some spouses. He plans to travel to other bases in the United States and overseas to meet directly with the corps' generals.
In attempting to illustrate the issue, Amos drew on an example from ancient history when Roman commanders would return from successful foreign battles and citizens would line the streets to honor them.
A slave would always accompany the commander in the chariot. His job was to whisper in his ear: "Memento mori," a Latin phrase meaning, "Remember you are mortal," Amos said.
The resignation of David Petraeus as CIA director after admitting to an extramarital affair generated world headlines and brought renewed attention to the actions of military leaders. Petraeus, who had retired from the Army as a four-star general, was the most prominent commander to emerge from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Shortly after Petraeus resigned, the nomination of Marine Gen. John Allen to be the top commander in Europe was placed on hold while the inspector general reviewed e-mails between him and a Tampa socialite. The investigation is still underway.
The publicity has created a perception that the nation's general officers are ethically challenged or live a pampered life complete with private jets and other perks.
"My concern is I don't want to be lumped into either one of those two categories," Amos said in an interview after he met with the generals.
It is not the first time that the private conduct of military leaders has been scrutinized. For example, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower was dogged by allegations he had an affair during World War II.
But today's media environment has brought new scrutiny to the lives of public officials.
"They needed to understand the atmospherics," Amos said in the interview.
The generals also sat through a lengthy briefing by Marine attorneys, who explained how to comply with a web of laws and regulations governing accepting gifts, giving speeches and associating with organizations.
Amos said he wanted the generals to be conscious of the ethical guidelines without it hampering their ability to make decisions.
"We don't need to be looking over our shoulders all the time," Amos said. "We don't need to be afraid to make a decision."