January 2007 Ethics Dunces

Julie Enslow

Ethics Dunces don't always have to do something unethical. They can also win the distinction by displaying total ignorance of ethical principles in their public statements.

Julie Enslow, an outspoken peace activist with Peace Action in Milwaukee, is a prime example.

Ms. Enslow weighed in recently on the well-publicize incident in which an employee of Bargain Suppliers of West Allis, Wisconsin sent an absurdly inappropriate response to an inquiry from an American GI stationed in Iraq. Sgt. Jason Hess e-mailed the company to ask if it could ship to his military address. "Do you ship to APO addresses?" he asked politely. "I'm in the 1st Cavalry Division stationed in Iraq and we are trying to order some mats..." The Bargain Supplier employee sent a return message stating that the company did not ship to military addresses, "And even if we did," it continued, "we would NEVER ship to Iraq. If you were sensible, you and your troops would pull out of Iraq." The e-mail message was signed "Bargain Suppliers."

Sgt. Hess was understandably annoyed at the implied sentiment that an American company would intentionally withhold supplies from combat troops, not to mention the abject stupidity of a U.S.-based civilian lecturing a sergeant about U.S. foreign policy as if he had some control over troop deployment. Pretty soon the infamous e-mail was spreading through the blogosphere and meeting almost unanimous condemnation. Some tried to organize a boycott of the store. The employee who sent the e-mail was fired.

Of course he was fired! Any employee anywhere would be fired for verbally attacking a potential customer, and doing so to a U.S. soldier in a combat zone in a manner that allowed the insult to become a world-wide public relations disaster for the company only made the offense more serious. Add to that the fact that the employee presumed to attribute his offensive sentiment to the company itself, and you have a situation where the employee should not only have been fired for cause, but ought to be regarded as a bad risk for any potential employer in the future. Next to burning down your boss' establishment, it is hard to do much more damage to an employer.

And yet there are Ethics Dunces roaming the streets, plenty of them. One on-line poll found that 13% of those polled felt that the employee shouldn't have been fired, a result that should give nightmares to every employer in the nation with the horrible thought, "Do some of these irresponsible and ethically warped people work for me?" Then there is Julie Enslow, who also thought the e-mailing employee had been mistreated. "This is a matter of free speech," she told reporters. "It is totally irresponsible for radio stations and bloggers to attack a person for his personal political views."

Perhaps Ms. Enslow was intentionally competing for the Ethics Dunce title , because in just 25 words or less she managed to prove that she was not only a bona fide Ethics Dunce, but a Constitutional law and workplace rights dunce as well. The employee's conduct was wrong by any rational measure…inappropriate, irresponsible, disrespectful, unfair and unkind. It was also an example of terrible citizenship. No employee has any right to abuse customers in the workplace, and especially not to do so using the company name. And though Ms. Enslow may not have learned this in school, the First Amendment does not insulate anyone from criticism in the media or elsewhere for their personal beliefs. It does, however, contrary to Enslow's flawed concept of it, guarantee media and bloggers the right to criticize anyone's political statements. Not only is it not irresponsible for the media to do this, it is its function in a democracy to do this.

As inept as the decision-makers in the war have been, if Julie Enslow is representative of the quality of knowledge, reason and analysis in the peace community, we should thank our lucky stars for Rummy and the rest. Things clearly could have been a lot worse. Enslow is active in the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, which claims to be "working toward the creation of a world free from violence and injustice." Based on Enslow's comments, it would seem it is also working toward a world free from civility, freedom of the press, accountability and common sense.

You won the contest, Julie: "Why I am an Ethics Dunce," in 25 words or less.




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