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The Transformation of Ethics and Diversity in the United States’ Navy Research Paper

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Updated: Jul 5th, 2021

The security of any nation depends on the strength of its military. In the United States, the military is divided into the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. The US military has evolved in different ways over the years. Specifically, the US Navy has undergone numerous operational and organizational changes since it was formed during the Revolutionary War in 1775. The US Navy was founded with the sole objective of intercepting shipments of British equipage as a way of disrupting any operations involving British maritime activities.

Therefore, given the urgent nature with which the US Navy was formed, it has evolved by addressing the challenges that have arisen along the way. As such, in the light of circumstances under which the Navy was founded, several issues were encountered. For instance, when the American Revolutionary War started, which necessitated the existence of the US Navy, slavery was widely practiced, and thus recruiting slaves into the Navy was a contentious issue.

This paper discusses differences in diversity and ethics in the US Navy during the American Revolutionary War and the Global War on Terrorism, which started after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the United States. Additionally, lessons learned in the course of this research will be highlighted together with the significant challenges that the US Navy is likely to encounter in the future. Finally, recommendations on ways to address such challenges will be discussed.

Differences in Diversity

As mentioned earlier, the US Navy was formed in 1775 to help in the fight against the British troops during the American Revolutionary War. However, the initial composition of the US Navy, which was at the time known as the Continental Navy, lacked diversity. The term diversity in this context is taken to mean people of different genders, races, religions, and sexual orientations. General George Washington became the commander of the Continental Navy in July 1775 with Horatio Gates as the Adjutant General. Gates reminded recruiters “not to accept any deserter from the Ministerial army, nor any stroller, negro, or vagabond” (Neimeyer, 2007, p. 63).

As such, people of color were excluded from the Navy following General Gates’ decree. However, as the war progressed, the Continental Navy was falling short of manpower, and thus by the end of 1775, General Washington reversed Gates’ earlier order concerning recruitment. As the war intensified, enslaved Blacks were enlisted to replace their White masters who preferred not to fight (Neimeyer, 2007). When the treaties of neutrality were broken, General Washington expanded his recruitment purview and courted the Indians to join his war efforts. Consequently, Delaware Indians joined the Navy where they served as light Calvary troops and scouts. Ultimately, over 300,000 men were involved in the Revolutionary War, but the Blacks, Mulattos, and Indians formed only 5 percent of this number (Kamarck, 2017).

Women were involved in different ways in the Revolutionary War, but they were not recognized in official capacities. However, religious diversity was observed during this time. According to Kamarck (2017), people from different religious backgrounds have been allowed to function in the military since the foundation of the United States. On the other hand, homosexuality was not allowed in the Navy during the Revolutionary War. For instance, Lieutenant Frederick Gotthold Enslin was kicked out of the Continental Army after he was convicted of sodomy and perjury (Shilts, 2005). Therefore, it suffices to conclude that the US Navy was not extensively diverse during the Revolutionary War.

The US Navy has undergone recommendable changes since the Revolutionary War to ensure diversity in terms of race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. The naval officers that have been engaged in the ongoing global war on terrorism do not face the discrimination that their counterparts experienced during the Revolutionary War. For instance, in 1908, Congress established the Navy Nurse Corps, thus allowing women to be nurses in the Navy. On July 30, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Public Law 689, which paved way for the creation of the Navy’s women reserve program after which enlisted women were allowed to join the Navy (Kamarck, 2017).

Currently, women can serve in all ranks in the Navy from admiral to the mariner. Similarly, people from different racial backgrounds are allowed to join the Navy. The change to allow people of different races occurred immediately after the Civil War. In the Army Reorganization Act of 1866, Congress authorized the formation of permanent colored units in the military (Kamarck, 2017). Unfortunately, institutionalized racial segregation emerged, thus affecting the diversity factor in the military.

However, in 1948, President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981 to initiate desegregation in the military. The order stated, “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin” (Kamarck, 2017, p. 14). This Executive Order created an opening through which individuals from different races would join the army without discrimination.

Similarly, US Navy officers involved in the global war on terrorism have different sexual orientations. On February 28, 1994, the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) took effect, thus allowing gays, bisexuals, and lesbians to serve in the military (Kamarck, 2017). Therefore, by the time the global war on terrorism was starting in 2001, sexual orientation was not being used to prevent people from joining the Navy. In the light of this discussion, it is clear that the composition of the US Navy during the global war on terrorism of 2001 was more diverse in terms of gender, race, and sexual orientation as compared to the Revolutionary War.

Differences in Ethics

The US Navy has maintained high-level standards of ethics since its formation in 1775. However, some notable differences in ethics can be noted between the Revolutionary War and the global war on terrorism. One of the contentious ethical elements in 1775 was the issue of privateering. Historians do not agree on whether this practice was ethical or unethical in the face of war. According to Crawford (2011), one of the key issues in the debate about privateering “is understanding how damaging it was to British commerce; the extent to which it strained the Royal Navy’s resources; the difficulties it produced for the Continental and state navies by competing for seamen and naval stores; and the mix of patriotism and venality in its motivation” (p. 219).

Even though privateering was authorized in the Continental Navy, critics argue that such practice was driven by mercantile classes, and it made no huge difference in the outcome of the war (Crawford, 2011). In addition, Crawford (2011) notes that some Continental Navy captains, such as Captain Paul Jones at Newport, complained that privateering enticed away servicemen in the Navy. Similarly, some Navy servicemen engaged in the practice were accused of confiscating British property on neutral vessels. On the other hand, the proponents of privateering argue that this practice affected British commerce to the extent that the government was pressurized to end the war. Apart from the issue of privateering, the Continental Navy was not associated with other profound cases implicating ethics in its operations.

The global war on terrorism, which started in 2001, has been taking place in a more dynamic and globalized environment as compared to the Revolutionary War. While the US Navy continues to operate under the three basic principles of honor, courage, and commitment, cases of unethical behaviors have been reported since the commencement of the global war on terrorism. For instance, one of the most recent ethical issues involves the Marine Corps whereby illicit photos were shared through the Marines United Facebook group (Brown, 2017). In another unethical instance, the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet was involved in a contracting scandal.

In this case, a Malaysian contractor pleaded guilty to bribing different Navy officers with prostitutes, money, and other gifts to access inside information to defraud the US government (Whitlock & Uhrmacher, 2017). Therefore, corruption can be termed as one of the ethical issues that have faced the US Navy in the global fight against terrorism. The ethical challenges faced in contemporary times can be attributed partly to technological advancement and structural changes in the composition of the Navy.

During the Revolutionary War, women were not enlisted in the Navy, and thus the issue of sharing illicit photos could not have emerged at the time. Similarly, in the 1770s, social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter were not available, and thus sharing sensitive information was not possible. Therefore, it suffices to state that each generation of Navy officers faces different ethical challenges. However, while these issues associated with ethics keep on evolving, it is important to note that the majority of naval officers are committed to the ethical code while dispensing their duties.


Moving forward, the US Navy is likely to continue facing different significant challenges caused by diverse aspects. Corruption is a major issue that Navy officers have to deal with along the way. While some individuals may engage in corruption for personal gain, leaders may be forced to violate protocols unwillingly. For example, while testifying before a Senate Armed Service Committee (SASC) on September 19, 2017, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral John M. Richardson stated, “We have a can-do culture, that’s what we do.

Nobody wants to raise their hand and say we can’t do the mission, but it’s absolutely essential that when those are the facts we enable that report” (Eckstein, 2017). This observation substantiates the view that commanders facing training budget cuts may engage in questionable practices with negative repercussions.

On the other hand, the aspect of diversity in the US Navy may be threatened due to policy changes that come with different government administrations. For instance, on June 30, 2016, the Department of Defense (DOD) had declared the end of restrictions affecting transgender troops already in service. However, in August 2017, President Donald J. Trump issued a directive to DOD requiring the reversal of its earlier decision and to continue prohibiting incoming transgender recruits (Kamarck, 2017). Additionally, the DOD was required to review its policies on serving transgender service members.

Another challenge that the US Navy is expected to face in the future is budget cuts. This aspect will lead to insufficient training resources, thus affecting the needed seamanship skills and mechanisms for Navy sailors to remain competitive throughout their careers. Similarly, ethical issues concerning sexual matters are likely to continue surfacing among Navy service members. In any group of individuals, the likelihood of having some people misbehaving is high, and the Navy is not exempted from this problem.


The problem of corruption in the US Navy should be tackled from two fronts. First, leaders should be given enough resources for training and other operational tasks to ensure that they are not forced to violate protocols to keep up with increasing demands and limited resources. To bridge the gap in funding, the US Navy, through the federal government, can partner with other like-minded allies for efficient operations and mission accomplishment. On the other hand, efficient training methods are required to ensure that service members are equipped to avoid corruption and other unethical behaviors like indecency.

One way to accomplish this goal is to adopt best practices from the private sector on ways of educating and training naval officers on ethics. Currently, the Navy offers an annual training package on ethics to its members. However, in the face of the current lapses in ethics, a comprehensive review is needed to come up with in-depth studies addressing this problem by suggesting the best way forward. A new approach to strengthen the current Navy leadership and education strategies is needed to keep pace with a changing work environment caused by an evolving world and arising demands. Finally, the diversity problem on transgender recruits should be addressed with an open mind using evidence-based decision-making to come up with amicable solutions.

Lessons learned

Throughout the research of this paper, I have learned several issues. First, I was not aware that privateering during the Revolutionary War was a contentious ethical issue. I thought that the practice was a military tactic to weaken British commerce and force the government to reconsider its aggression. In addition, I have learned that the issue of sexual orientation in the US Navy goes back to its foundation in 1775. Overall, I have gained invaluable knowledge concerning the transformation that has taken place in the US Navy over the years. Today I am in a position to serve my country as a Navy officer even though I am a woman.


The American Revolutionary War necessitated the formation of the US Navy in 1775. On the other hand, the ongoing global war on terrorism started in 2001 after the September 11 attacks on the United States. The US Navy has evolved from 1775 to contemporary times in different ways. For instance, the composition of the Continental Navy was not as diverse as the current US Navy. While race and gender were major issues then, all Americans are free to join the Navy without discrimination based on color, sex, religion, or sexual orientation. On the other hand, the Navy has maintained high standards in observing the set code of conduct.

However, few cases of unethical practices have been reported during the global war on terrorism. These cases include corruption and indecency, but appropriate actions are being taken to address the arising issues. Moving forward, the Navy is likely to face the challenges of corruption, sexual abuse, and discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation. These problems should be addressed by involving all the stakeholders and using evidence-based decision-making to ensure that an amicable solution is found.


Brown, D. (2017). A Marine was just sentenced for the first time in connection with ‘Marine United’ nude-photo scandal. Web.

Crawford, M. J. (2011). The privateering debate in revolutionary America. The Northern Mariner, 21(3), 219-234.

Eckstein, M. (2017). CNO Richardson: High OPTEMPO and ‘can-do culture’ culminated in ‘pervasive’ expired certifications in forward-deployed surface forces. Web.

Kamarck, K. N. (2017). . Web.

Neimeyer, C. P. (2007). The Revolutionary War. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Shilts, R. (2005). Conduct unbecoming: Gays and lesbians in the U.S. military. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

Whitlock, C., & Uhrmacher, K. (2017). Prostitutes, vacation, and cash: The Navy officials “Fat Leonard” took down. Web.

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