24 July 2014

Should PTSD Signify "Plagiarists' Thesis Shucking Disorder" in the District of Calamity?

When President Obama chose six term Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) to be the Administration's new Ambassador to the Peoples's Republic of China in February 2014, there was a short term appointment into what had been the world's greatest deliberative body, as that seat needed to face the voters in November 2014. Montana Governor Steve Bullock (D-MT) appointed his Lieutenant Governor John Walsh (D-MT) to the position, as he was already running for the seat and incumbency might help Walsh's chances in a uphill year for Senate Democrats, especially in "purple" states.  

The people were not able to fully vet now Senator John Walsh (D-MT) until the campaign was in full throes.  Unfortunately for Senator Walsh, this increased scrutiny exposed an embarrassing chink in his political armor.

Part of an elective appeal for John Walsh is that he spent 33 years in the Montana National Guard, rising to the level of Adjunct General.  Walsh led the 1st Battalion 163rd Infantry Regiment into combat in Iraq and is the first Iraq War veteran to serve in the US Senate.. The 53 year old freshman Senator made his military service a major Walsh had made it major selling point of his candidacy. 

But the New York Times recently reported that in 2007 when Walsh wrote his "strategic research project" (akin to a Masters thesis)  at the United States Army War College,  he seemingly plagiarized substantial portions  of the 14 page project on American Mid East Policy.  The New York Times analysis indicates that a quarter of the quotes from “The Case for Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy" were borrowed from other authors without attribution.  The Washington Post points out that Walsh "borrowed" from a paper written by a Harvard scholar in 1998.  

This was more than sloppy scholarship on the part of Walsh.  Walsh concluded his thesis by offering six recommendations that were lifted nearly word-for-word from  2003 Foreign Affairs piece by Thomas Carothers from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  

Some scholarship.  Some honor. At West Point, the cadet honor code is "A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do." Cheating includes plagiarism defined as presenting someone else's ideas, words, data, or work as one's own without documentation.

When this plagiarism problem popped up in the press, Senator Walsh's campaign spokeswoman  Lauren Passalacqua tried to quickly shoot down the scandal by saying:  “This was unintentional and it was a mistake.”  When that quick quip did not fly, Senator John Walsh told AP:  "I don't want to blame my mistake on PTSD, but I do want to say that it may have been a factor.  My head was not in a place very conducive to classwork and an academic environment."  Walsh maintains when he wrote the thesis, he had PTSD, was stressed at a fellow veteran's suicide and was on medication. Anonymous Walsh campaign staffers  pointed to drugs to treat PTSD to give a context for Walsh's circumstances.  

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is a serious consequence of modern warfare, in which may not take as many lives or limbs but leaves mental scars.  PTSD is often manifested by recurring flashbacks, hyperarousal, and avoidance or numbing of memories of the event. Plaigiarizing a master's thesis does not really seem to fit PTSD. 

Other politicians have plagiarized and survived.  Then Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) plagiarized British Labor Leader Neil Kinnock rise from humble roots (and later Robert Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey), which forced him out of the race for the 1988 Democrat Presidential nomination, but he bounced back and is now the Vice President of the United States.  What is more memorable than sloppy scholarship is a propensity to blame others and play for sympathy. 

Citing PTSD as an excuse for academic dishonesty demeans PTSD, dishonors Walsh's military valor, and smacks as a play for sympathy votes.  The Walsh Senate campaign's tactic of employing underhanded excuses to invoke pathos makes one wonder if PTSD should signify "Plagiarist Thesis Shucking Disorder" in the District of Calamity. 

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