Against a backdrop of cancel culture, what is the statute of limitations on being canceled for having once held opinions shared by a large majority of Americans? Boeing's top communications officer has resigned over an article he wrote for a military publication over 30 years ago. The piece argued against women fighting in combat, a position shared by 56 percent of Americans as recently as 1991.
In 1987, Niel Golightly was a 29-year-old Navy pilot. In an article for the U.S. Naval Institute's publication Proceedings, he took pains to come out in favor of workplace equality in civilian life. "A woman may have as much or more to offer in mental and manual skills as her male competitor; her uniquely feminine emotional qualities are largely irrelevent [sic], if not assets," he wrote. "Legislating equal access to those roles is imperative in a society dedicated to the free pursuit of happiness." But after running through a series of cultural and biological arguments against women serving in combat, Golightly concluded:
On a 5,000-man aircraft carrier where 19-year-old sailors are working 12, 15, sometimes even 20 hours a day on a blistering, howling flight deck where a simple mistake can kill even during routine peacetime operations, there is simply no room for the problem of sexual harassment, rape, prostitution, pregnancy, love triangles, and adolescent emotional crises that have plagued most Navy supply ships and tenders since the Navy began its experiment in coeducation in the 1970s.
Golightly had been at Boeing for six months when he tendered his resignation. He told The New York Times that he no longer opposed women serving in combat, a position reached by a majority of Americans in 1992, according to Gallup. A colleague of Golightly at his previous company, Royal Dutch Shell, told the Times that he "promoted female talent within the team and was an exemplary employee. … 'This is just astounding that something someone wrote 33 years ago should lead to termination like this.'"
The Times notes that Boeing has been rocked by "fallout" from crashes of two of its 737 Max jets in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people, as well as the downturn in air travel. Additionally, the company has recently dismissed "several employees" for making racist comments. David Calhoun, the CEO of Boeing, told the Times that he valued Golightly's contributions but also readily accepted his resignation. "I want to emphasize our company's unrelenting commitment to diversity and inclusion in all its dimensions, and to ensuring that all of our employees have an equal opportunity to contribute and excel," Calhoun said.
Even in a world where art curators are forced out for saying they would continue to collect work by "white men," opinion writers leave plum posts complaining of hostile workplaces borne out of ideological zealotry, and leading liberal academics are attacked for being insufficiently woke, Golightly's case staggers the imagination. He no longer holds the views that led to his resignation, which can only be seen as forced. His expression of those views back during the second Reagan administration are starkly out of step with contemporary sensibilities but betray none of the rhetorical excesses one might associate with irredeemable misogyny. He has, apparently, a track record of promoting women under his supervision. Yet out of the C-suite he must go.
"Cancel culture" doesn't exist, we're told, yet we see its manifestations everywhere around us. If every thought and word ever uttered is open for reinvestigation, the present will be unlivable. Last fall, in discussing "wokeness" and politics, former President Barack Obama cautioned against creating impossible purity tests. "People who do really good stuff have flaws," he noted. Such basic wisdom has sadly gone missing, it seems.