Commentary: The kickback couple

Scenario: The kickback couple

It’s always somewhat shocking when someone you consider close admits to doing something wrong that you wouldn’t dream him or her capable of – and feels sure you won’t have a problem with it. O/S Chaffey admits he has gamed the system by conspiring with his ex, just as he tells O/S Labrosse in hushed tones, knowing that only ‘trusted’ people can be told.  What he’s done is commit grand theft for personal gain (not even under the influence of financial hardship!). By lying about his circumstances he has taken unfair advantage of rules and money designed to ensure that those who are more deserving than he have access to additional financial support. This is not a “victimless crime.” Money unfairly spent in one way is not available to be used in the way intended. All three Defence principles are being violated by Chaffey here.

The scenario leaves us at the point where Labrosse has already taken the plunge and told Chaffey exactly how he feels. We don’t know exactly how Chaffey defended his actions, but his colleague is now trapped with a dilemma. There is no way Labrosse can deny being aware of what Chaffey did if Labrosse is ever cross examined on this – without conspiring with Chaffey, the very thing Labrosse could not countenance in the first place.

Almost all replying readers agreed that Chaffey needs to stop, or be stopped by his peer.  The most common suggestion was for Labrosse to provide a diplomatically worded ultimatum something along these lines: It’s regrettable for our valued friendship, but you need to own up to your “oversight” by a certain date, or I will have to do it for you. If Chaffey accepts and follows through, several noted, Labrosse could also advo ate for Chaffey to try to lessen the severity of any discipline applied. Since the money has been put aside, it shouldn’t be a financial strain to return it quickly.

Somewhat fewer readers suggested Labrosse should go straight to someone else (a superior or the course director) and let them deal with it. However, the clandestine approach may have its own risks. Chaffey might decide that this underhanded behavior merited more of the same towards his peer. Maybe he can conspire with his ex to cast suspicion on Labrosse himself, as someone simply out to get Chaffey for his own reasons. 

A couple of readers suggested complete inaction might be best, based on less obvious considerations. Chaffey might actually be lying to his friend simply in order to spread the rumour on the course that he is “available” to other women on the course; in other words, he is open to having an affair on the side while concealing it from his (in fact current) common law spouse back home. If so, the above ultimatum would likely have the additional advantage of exposing the lie, since Chaffey would realise the negative implications of his lie for his friend, unless Chaffey comes clean with him right away. It is very often a wise move to give someone the chance to fix their own mess first, rather than trying to do it behind their back.

This scenario reminds us of the bystander problem. What’s the difference between doing something bad on the one hand, and watching someone else do it but not intervening, on the other? Yes, there is a military legal requirement to report this crime. The choice not to intervene results in the same harmful consequences (and these may include the risk of punishment for those who knew but did nothing).  The rationale for letting it go may be that the observer had no intent to do wrong and was unwillingly dragged into a lie, and these mitigate the culpability of inaction. There really is a moral difference between agency and apathy, but the integrity of the institution depends on its members doing their bit.

Thank you to those who responded to this dilemma. Suggestions for future scenarios are always welcome.

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