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An Officer and a Plagiarist

Aug 4, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 44 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The sad thing about plagiarism, aside from the act itself, is that examples are always plentiful. Just a few weeks ago The Scrapbook took note of the serial larceny of antiwar polemicist Chris Hedges (“War Is a Force That Makes Us Plagiarize,” June 23). Now, courtesy of the New York Times’s Jonathan Martin, we are apprised of shameless theft by a United States senator. The senator in question is Democrat John Walsh of Montana, who was appointed in February to succeed Max Baucus, now ambassador to China. 

Sen. John Walsh

Sen. John Walsh

AP

As Martin’s Times story points out, “Democrats were thrilled” when the onetime adjutant general of the Montana National Guard, and Iraq war veteran, was named as Baucus’s replacement, since Walsh “offered the Democratic Party something it frequently lacks: a seasoned military man.” Seasoned or not, however, the thrill of Senator Walsh must be diminishing for Democrats. 

Since his appointment, it has been learned that, as adjutant general, Walsh had been denied a routine promotion to brigadier general because (in the Times’s words) he had “[used] his role .  .  . to urge other guardsmen to join a private advocacy group .  .  . in which he was seeking a leadership role.” Then it was discovered that he had lied, in his official congressional biography, about where he had gone to college. 

And now this. In 2007, Walsh earned a master’s degree at the Army War College, and, as the Times demonstrates in scrupulous detail, a large portion of his 14-page “final paper”—roughly the equivalent of a thesis—is almost entirely lifted from the text of a 1998 essay by a Harvard political scientist and a 2002 paper produced by four -scholars at the Carnegie Endowment for Inter-national Peace. 

As is almost invariably the case with plagiarism, Walsh is not disputing the evidence—or put another way, he admits his guilt—but is also offering an incredible excuse. A staffer was dispatched to tell the Times that the senator’s thievery of others’ words should “be viewed in the context of [his] long career,” and that there were extenuating circumstances:

Mr. Walsh had been going through a difficult period at the time he wrote the paper, noting that one of the members of his unit from Iraq had committed suicide in 2007, weeks before the assignment was due. .  .  . The aide said Mr. Walsh, who served in Iraq from November 2004 to November 2005, had “dealt with the experience of post-deployment,” but said he had not sought treatment.

Readers will, perhaps, excuse The Scrapbook’s revulsion at the invocation of a soldier’s suicide to rationalize deliberately dishonest behavior. Readers may also be surprised to learn that production of a modest research paper in pursuit of professional advancement should have so easily stymied “a seasoned military man,” driving him to deception. If Senator Walsh wants us to understand his actions in the context of his career, The Scrapbook would remind him that the words of a commissioned officer’s oath should stop any plagiarist dead in his tracks.

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