The lesson of Eric Greitens, and the SEALs who tried to warn us

seals have traditionally embraced a culture of quiet professionalism. Part of the seal credo reads “I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions.” In the last two weeks, I spoke to more than half a dozen current and former seals about the spectacular implosion of Greitens’s public image. Most chose not go on the record, but all expressed frustration that a peripheral and contentious figure in their community, one who served overseas but never served with seals in combat, became a public face of the seal community. Many complained to me that it tends to be those who are least representative of seal core values, such as Greitens, who end up trading on the group’s reputation and representing them in public, earning respect from American citizens but contempt from other seals.

In 2015, Lieutenant Forrest S. Crowell, a Navy seal, wrote a thesis for Naval Postgraduate School titled “seals Gone Wild.” In it, he argued that the seals’ celebrity status had corrupted their culture “away from the traditional seal Ethos of quiet professionalism to a Market Ethos of commercialization and self-promotion.” Crowell warned that the new approach incentivized “narcissistic and profit-oriented behavior” and undermined healthy civil-military relations by using “the credibility of special operations to push partisan politics.”