Military Integrity: When Dishonesty is Accepted and Expected

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Mon, Sep 15 - 9:00 am EST | 4 years ago by
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“Personal integrity also means moral integrity. Regardless of what appears to be some superficial ideas of present day conduct, fundamentally, today as always, the [individual] who is genuinely respected is the [one] who keeps [his or her] integrity sound and is trustworthy in every respect.”

~ General of the Air Force H.H. “Hap” Arnold, quoted in The Armed Forces Officer.

Lines of Departure - Integrity Lost

Do I have to say it again? Oh, all right: “Now this is no shit.” Remember, you guys asked for it.

Once upon a time, when I was a lieutenant in Panama, the Chief of Staff of the Army, General John A. Wickham visited us and gave a – if I recall correctly – pretty fair talk to the officers of my battalion. I didn’t know Wickham well or anything; he’d been the commander of the 101st during my time as a (very) lowly Spec-4 there. And, as far as that went, he was okay or rather better than okay, those years being a bad time for the Army across the board.

I remember the first thing he said to us; indeed, I can still hear him say it: “The United States Army is the only institution in the world that can overthrow the United States Government.”

Don’t get the wrong idea, Wickham wasn’t telling us to do it; he was telling us, “Don’t even think about it.” I don’t think any of us ever did, at least then; our oaths and integrity would have prevented it, at least up until the point where that “all enemies foreign and domestic” clause kicked in, at which point all bets are off. Integrity can be a funny thing, that way.

In that battalion1 there was an officer – we can call him, “Reilly” – who was, it must be said, something of a self-righteous prig. He was, however, not without his virtues. For example, I read an Officer Evaluation Report, OER, on him once where his then commander wrote, “I would take this officer’s word under any circumstances.” I asked that commander what he meant and he answered, “If Reilly told me it was going to rain soup, I’d be sure to have my bowl and spoon handy.”

That might have been something of an exaggeration, but it was fair to say that Reilly would never hesitate so much as a millisecond in speaking the exact truth, as best he understood it, about anyone or anything, of any rank, to any rank, no matter how unpleasant. There were those who thought that, from Reilly’s point of view, the more unpleasant that truth was, the better. Those people, however, may have been prejudiced. Reilly especially enjoyed lecturing general officers, which is not something lieutenants are generally encouraged to do. He had been known to throw screaming shit fits at field grade officers. Somehow, he got away with it without being court-martialed. No one was quite sure how. Maybe he just picked his fights carefully. Or maybe not.

In any case, if Reilly had any innate respect for rank, qua rank, military or civilian, it was tolerably difficult to see. He did seem to respect ability, integrity, and courage. He would also obey legitimate orders, even if he didn’t like them.

In that context, let me paint a situation for you. The battalion is at the Jungle School2, at Fort Sherman, over on the Atlantic side of the Canal Zone, taking a truncated course. Half the reason the course is truncated is because, for God’s sake, we lived out there in the jungle. Sherman really didn’t have a whole bunch to teach us about the jungle, qua jungle, though it did have a number of useful techniques. The other half is that we were being fit into a gap between units coming in for jungle training, mostly from the States. It was, in general, harder than Hell for one of the three infantry battalions in the Panama Canal Zone to get a rotation at the Jungle School. That was true for both my tours in Panama and, though I have the “Jungle Expert” patch, I sneer at it. If I or anyone was a “Jungle Expert,” the Jungle Operations Training Center had nothing to do with it.

Still, there were useful techniques to be learned even for units which were quite jungle experienced. In the course of taking the truncated course, the battalion had just done what we’ll call, “E, F, G, and H” training events for the four combat and combat support companies, each doing those things in one day, in rotation, a few hours each. It was evening, and the next day the battalion was supposed to do W, X, Y, and Z, still in rotation.

And then word came down that the then Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, was coming for a visit. Caspar Weinberger – “Cap” – was, by the way, a veteran of the Pacific Campaign in the Second World War, a former enlisted man and later graduate of Fort Benning’s Officer Candidate School, who served with the 41st Infantry Division and then on MacArthur’s staff. An obituary for Weinberger reads: “When it came to first principles and speaking the truth, Cap was always straight-forward and direct.”

I confess, I find remarkable irony in that last line. Why? Why because my battalion, instead of actually training in this rare day of opportunity at Fort Sherman, decided that we would repeat – uselessly repeat – what we had done the previous day, to make a favorable impression on the Secretary of Defense. Worse, we wouldn’t even rotate as we had the day prior, but each company would stay at one station, A or B or C or D, to help ensure that most favorable impression. W-X-Y-Z? Forget it; those mattered little when matched against putting on a show. Learning? Training? What are those?

This goes way past making a favorable impression, however. What that battalion was doing was presenting an entirely false front to the Secretary of Defense. The battalion was lying. It was engaged in fraud. The officers and men were having their integrity prostituted in the interests of somebody or other’s next OER.

And then there was Reilly, who, as soon as he heard the news, began busily and publicly throwing one of the ranting, raving shit fits for which he was justifiably famous – or infamous – concerning the whole deal. He never said so, at least that I heard, but I am fairly sure everyone from the battalion XO on down realized that, given half a chance – given any chance at all – Reilly was going to maneuver himself next to Weinberger and inform him of the fraud being perpetrated.

“What to do, what to do?” Reilly’s commander was clearly in a quandary. He wasn’t personally a bad sort,3 that commander, but really didn’t see the problem with pulling the wool over some political eyes. He did see the problem of what was going to happen to his career if this out of control lieutenant couldn’t be stopped. I don’t know what that commander was thinking, but I surmise it went something like this:

“If I order him not to talk to the SecDef he will simply disobey me, as having given an unethical and immoral order. And he’ll get away with it, too, on those grounds. No, no; that will never do. I need to get him off of Fort Sherman entirely, for an entire day.”

And that’s what he did; he gave Reilly an order to do something that actually mattered and needed doing, fifty miles away as the crow flies, on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal Zone, where there was essentially no chance that Reilly would be able to corner the SecDef and tell him what was going on. By such a mechanism the careers were saved of a number of officers and maybe even a few senior non-coms, all of whom should probably have been relieved.

That said, I cannot pin the blame on a person. The battalion commander had, along with one or two members of the staff, survived an officially non-survivable helicopter crash, when the OH-58 helicopter carrying them spontaneously decided to create its own landing zone in virgin jungle. When the rescue party got to him, he was leaking spinal fluid from his nose and had the tip of a tree branch in his mouth, said tip having entered from under his jaw.

It reminds me of the line from the Watergate Scandal: “No one ever considered that there would not be a cover-up.” No one in that unit, barring Reilly and maybe a couple of others, and no one in the higher unit, ever considered that there would not be an effort to fool the Secretary of Defense. It was automatic, mechanical. However, by such mechanisms does an armed force inculcate in its leadership an ethos of dishonesty, of fraud, and of integrity taking a back seat to career advancement. By such mechanisms does shit float to the top. By such mechanisms does gold sink. By such mechanisms are wars lost and nations destroyed.

And this sort of thing is not only still going on, if anything it has gotten worse.


1 Third Battalion, Fifth Infantry, 44 medals of honor, 42 winners, two members of the regiment having gotten the award twice. Most of that was for killing Indians, Moros, and Filipinos, with a later helping of Chinese.

2 The real Jungle School, in the real jungle, not that travesty in Hawaii.

3 Though there was a day when Reilly threw his helmet at said commander, and I believe hit him with it, in front of their battalion commander, then proceeded to chew said commander out, publicly, viciously, beginning with the phrase, “You f**king incompetent moron!” It was something about a range Reilly was running, where he had ordered some machine guns to cease fire on safety grounds, and the commander then ordered them to open up again, right where Reilly was walking. He spent a half an hour or so pinned by some pretty heavy machine gun fire in a muddy scraping that was not really deep enough for the purpose. Reilly got away with that, too.

Don’t miss last week’s column: The Samson Option: Would Israel Really Use Their Nukes?.

Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through

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  • KenWats

    The military institutionalizes lying to a degree. Why were two guys on my platoon’s USR (unit status report) actually doing things like driving the Battalion CSM and XO around? I don’t begrudge either of them needing a vehicle or a driver, but if they do need them, shouldn’t they get one officially on the TO&E and the platoon gets two more guys to breach minefields with.

    • Tom Kratman

      You know, it’s funny; if you take a principled stand on the USR there’s a good chance you’ll get away with it. I had a set of criteria for a combat capable squad for my rifle company that, in effect, said, “No, I will not ‘combat roster’ people who are not in the squad.” There was more to it than that, though, notably that every man had to have served in the same squad 6 continuous weeks, had to have done at least two live fire exercises, had to had spent at least 16 days and nights, IIRC, with the same squad doing rigorous field training. This was minimal stuff, of course, BARE minimal. I don’t think I ever reported more than 7 or maybe 8 of the nine as comnbat capable. But my then battalion and brigade commanders bought it and, once I got away with it, most of the other company commanders started doing it too.

    • Harry_the_Horrible

      Nice to know that good habits can be contagious, too!

    • Harry_the_Horrible

      Why wasn’t re-opening a range while soldiers were still downrange not a career-ending decision for the commander?
      I am pretty sure it would have been for my officers in the 11 ACR.

    • maryrichardss

      as Virginia responded I’m taken by surprise that anyone can get paid $9320 in 4 weeks on the computer . view>

    • Tom Kratman

      Panama was an odd place, in the first place, where LFXs were run without parallel safety chains of command (because they’re inherently unsafe) and where if someone got shot on a range, you called in a dustoff in the course of doing it and drove on. Basically, there were no concessions to safety other than what you would use in real war. The particular peculiarity of this instance was that there was a bunker on a small hill called “Hill 22″ from which a couple of troops would pull targets for the unit doing the LFX. Well, the troops in the bunker claimed they were taking fire _inside_ the bunker. So Reilly ordered a cease fire for that portion only, while the rest of the attack continuied, and while he walked to the bunker and got in it. Then he said, using the bunker’s radio, “Okay, open fire.” Yep, no shit, rounds were coming into the bunker. So he gave the platoon firing (with all six of the company machine guns, IIRC) credit for permanent suppression of the hill and ordered them to cease fire. When they’d ceased, he left and started to walk back to the CP for the range.

      He didn’t get far; the company commander then ordered the platoon leader to open fire again, and wouldn’t listen to anything contrary. Reilly, himself, was out of commo. As I understand it, Reilly saw about six little geysers erupt in the mud right in front of him – crackcrackcrackcrackcrackcrack – said, “Oh, f**k!” and dove into the only cover available, a muddy rut from a deuce anf a half, and then spent the next half hour under quite sustained fire, all the while wondering if he could get away with shooting his company commander.

    • Harry_the_Horrible

      Wow. Break out the brown pants!

    • Tom Kratman

      Brown pants? Run live fires for the 75th sometime. I spent maybe 60 days, maybe even ninety, doing that from Jan 81 to Dec 83. (We used to sell them training.) I can’t recall a single day I didn’t come under fire, sometimes quite heavy fire, and I wasn’t remotely unique in that.

      That said, the time that really caught my attention was running platoon attacks for B-3/5, moving foward to a bunker, being maybe 6-10 feet from it, and having a 90 shell sail past me a few feet to my right, then explode on it. The gunner was looking through his site; he saw the bunker but I was just out of view. There’s quite a lot of boomenmachenstoff in a 90 RCLR. Blew me back 4-5 feet on my ass and knocked me silly.

    • Harry_the_Horrible

      You are braver than I am.
      If the stuff started flying down range, I’d be digging for China.
      Unless it is air bursts. Holes don’t help with air bursts unless they have overhead cover. Might as well keep on moving…

    • Tom Kratman

      Not brave, necessarily, just too busy to be scared.

    • akulkis

      As I told my brother once… “The scary stuff happens so fast, that by the time you are scared, it’s already over, so you pick yourself up and finsh up what you were doing”

    • Jack Withrow

      I have been in Infantry Companies where entire squads were ghosts: Drivers, admin clerks, Personal Protection Details, etc. One Company in my Bn in Afghanistan only had two platoons, even though they were supposedly assigned enough personnel to fully man all three plts. Two squads pulled for Protection Details, and another squad pulled for ash and trash like drivers, etc. Yet the company had an extra Plt Ldr and Plt Sgt that did not have any troops assigned. That one company had already lost 1/3 of its combat power well before it ever got into any contact.

    • Tom Kratman

      More than 1/3 lost; 1/3 of personnel, yes, but they also lost abilities – think: fix, maneuver, exploit; one of those had to go – and inflicted excess physical and mental wear on the troops they did have.

    • Jack Withrow

      You are absolutely correct when I think about it. That company had morale problems the entire tour and could not seem to do anything right. A lot of good people got tarred with a bad reputation because of higher’s screwing of that company.

    • Tom Kratman

      I’ve been hoping for some time now that van Creveld would write “Organization and Task Organization for War.” If he doesn’t, I suppose I need to myself. The US Army can tell you how many truck companies and engineer battalion, of what type, are needed to support a corps in the desert at X distance from a port. It can’t give a principled explanation of how to organize a company and battalion. That’s one reason why we end up with silly shit like flat organizations (to include the current GO directed idiocy, Son of Pentomic Division).

    • Jack Withrow

      Please do. I have seen so many stupid task org’s at company and battalion level I have lost count.

    • Tom Kratman

      Pretty big project, though.

    • akulkis

      Pentomic… I first came across that term from reading Hackworth.

    • Tom Kratman

      Yeah? Well just to show the Army never learns its lessons, compare some of the nuances of Pentomic to the current brain dead brigade structure. In the military, like zombies, bad ideas never die as long as there’s an idiot general around.

    • akulkis

      Hmmm… Yeah, the destruction of so many divisions to make these brigades has bothered me in ways beyond just “why are we REDUCING our force structure in the midst of a conflict” but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I think you’re right about it being a revival of the “Pentomic Army.”

    • Tom Kratman

      That, too, but contemplate this:
      1. Senior rater profiles and ratings are the ones that count
      2. We have Infantry, Armor, Artillery, MI, a plethra of different branches, almost all being rated by people outside their branch, who neither understand nor, in many cases, respect those other branches. This means that:
      2.a) Great infantry guys are being shafted by Armor officers (or vice versa), or
      2.b) the senior rater is actually trying to be fair, in which case,
      3. Ratings will depend on DUIs, AWOLs, AER capmaign, CFC Campaign, Police Call, Haircuts…you get the idea. And that has to be that way, because there is no other way to match A supply officer and a tanker. This means
      4. Advancement of the least principled, most careerist, getting rid of the best, corrupting the neutrals, and in general elevating form over substance.

      Those, among other things, are what Pentomic did, and we never fully recovered. CLEARLY, we needed to have another dose, lest we might someday recover.

  • Harry_the_Horrible

    So, what rank did Reilly separate as? Captain?

    • Tom Kratman

      As long as it wasn’t “prisoner,” it was to the good.

    • Justin Watson

      I suspect Reilly separated as a LTC. Just guessing.

    • eternalgreenknight

      I’m not Reilly, but that’s where I got the axe. Between getting a hole in the lung and calling out the senior rating official for corruption and calling him a dirtbag… I wasn’t long for the uniform. Well, I got the satisfaction of seeing they replaced me with a Lt Col Buddy of his… After I successfully saw us through a major inspection I had to help write up the position description for my billet so they had to bring him on.
      Before that I had a boss who publicly bragged she worked for white men her whole life, but now she had one working for her. She was 60lbs overweight at least, fraternized and went shopping all day while I did everything. She made major…

    • Tom Kratman


    • Harry_the_Horrible

      Figures. Captain is probably the top of the ladder for anyone who doesn’t keep his mouth closed and let the this crap slide.
      At least their efforts keep the service on a somewhat even keel.

    • Tom Kratman

      Not necessarily, but going higher may require some ability to, shall we say, maneuver.

    • 97E

      And this is why I am glad that I wasn’t able to complete ROTC. I don’t think I would have lasted long in Clinton’s officer corps.

      Naw, getting shipped off to Benning for Basic was a MUCH better option.

      I only managed 7 years before a ricochet made friends with my leg, almost immediately followed by my forehead making friends with a rock.

  • Jonathan LaForce

    This was a hard lesson to learn. Sergeant got on my ass and gave me grief about something on an occasion, demanding I always be honest with him about everything. And then I was honest, and I became a social pariah for the better part of two years. Miserable mother-fracking experience.

    • Tom Kratman

      What’s hard, Johnny, is convincing subordinates to be honest and then NOT punishing them for it. A lot of people _say_ they want honesty, but they either don’t mean it or don’t even know what honesty is.

    • akulkis

      Ain’t that the truth.

  • Tom Kratman

    Ummm…you guys _do_ know that I change the names for these things, right?

  • Duffy L. Sauers

    From the bottom and the middle that kind of thing will either Break your Heart or make you so mad that you literally get sick to your stomach when you wake up at 0430 to go to work in the morning. And yeah, the Nail that sticks out the farthest, will be the one that gets hammered hardest. But I would not trade one moment of the pain for the satisfaction of telling the Battalion Commander and CSM “Army Values, they are not just a set of posters in the Hallway.” BOHICA baby. No shit, there I was….

  • Justin Watson

    Let those who have eyes read and know the truth. As a first lieutenant I threw a shit fit at my BN Commander because he insisted that each and every soldier on a squad bounding live fire range have a lane safety who would literally stop each individual soldier as they got up to bound and verify that, not only was the weapon on safe, the chamber had been emptied. and the magazine reinserted with the bolt forward. “If I can’t trust them to do it here, why in God’s name would I trust them to do it when someone, even shitty shots per capita that Iraqis are, is shooting back?”

    Small wonder I didn’t go very far.

    • Tom Kratman

      Likely no one ever showed the dipshit how to do it and how NOT to do it. There is nothing _less_ safe on a live fire than having the troops confused about who to listen to and having the chain of command – the real chain of command – in doubt about their authority. And that’s not even accounting for the worse than bad training, worse than bad because it undermines _everything_ you’re trying to do in training, technical, tactical, and moral.

    • akulkis

      “Train how you won’t fight.”

      One reason I stayed with an infantry battalion (I never planned on getting involved with an infantry organization) in the Michigan Guard for 18 years was because there was very very little of this kind of nonsense.
      And it payedd off well in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    • Tom Kratman

      The guard usually doesn’t get the time, the ammunition budget, or (with a few exceptions) the experienced leadership to live fire much, but it’s better _never_ to do it than to do it the way Justin’s described.

    • akulkis

      We did 3 live-fire lanes that I recall. 6-month train-up cycle each time, culminating in the live-fire lane being conducted during Annual Training. The first time, back in the 90′s, only the 11B’s actually did the lane with live ammo — everyone else just went through the motions. The last two times, everyone down to the cooks and clerks did the last iteration with live ammo.

      What I really don’t get about the above is this — I did my Basic Training at Fort Jackson…which as long been notorious for being “soft” because so many CSS-type MOS’s go through there…

      And even at Fort Jackson, Basic Trainees did a live-fire lane with no safeties at the bounding points. All we did is reset the M16 selector to safe and close our dustcover, while calling out “Safety! Dustcover!”

      It’s the “Helicopter-Mom”-ism of the armed forces.

      On the other hand.. I’m now in the Reserves in an IPDS (Inland Petroleum Distribution System; essentially shore-to-brigade-rear pipeline) company… and our Group Commander has said that helmets are no longer mandatory when riding around in military vehicles. Considering that I’ve never seen an army truck (or any other army vehicle that travels faster than a forklist) that would pass even the most cursory of NHTSA tests…. this just seems really stupid.

    • Tom Kratman

      Yeah….well…the way to do them is no crawl-walk-run; no on site rehearsals, no separate safety officers and non-coms, no plan given to the leader, except for his higher’s order, which leaves him to make and execute his own plan, all arms and branches, available, rolling 105 and 4.2″ barrage 75 meters in front of the assault line. I’ve run 4 or 500 (maybe more) of them and never once given something the safety pukes would have recognized as a safety briefing. Above all, not “lanes,” which are just about invariably performance measure oriented, with an emphasis on fairness, but problems in the exercise of using force to overcome force, which problems must be solved, and where you go out of you way to make first platoon’s problem different from seconds, and screw fairness.

    • Rick Randall

      Lanes have *one* useful purpose, and one only. Evaluation of individualindividual (or, arguably, single team skills, say a buddy team or maybe a single fire team, *if* the lane is wide enough) common skills. But the lane must be constructed so the nature of the skills being tested (beyond “individual” or really small unit combat skills) is unknownunknown until each scenario is encountered. And they have to be rather simple skills being tested, like basic drills. Anything much more complex than “Cover me while I move” or “React to NBC” is out of scope.

      Problem is, that means you have to have someone who knows what he’s doing carefully construct each lane from scratch each time – preset ranges will almost immediately invalidate the surprise factor.

  • eternalgreenknight

    This is still the way of things. An senior person can break the law and do any number of things- and the IG, his college buddy will sweep it all under a rug, while you fell on your sword for nothing. The folks with integrity get pushed out. It’s like that way in gov’t agencies too- leadership demands twisting the truth, hiding corruption- even to the point of endangering people. You do the right thing, your job (which if you didn’t do, you could be held responsible for) and you face reprisals, including getting a big target painted on you so you have to spend your life looking over your shoulder.

    Then, there’s the Constitution and the oath demanding support and defense thereof. I don’t know why people bother seearing the oath if they don’t know what is in what they swear to support and defend. For instance, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment basically states anyone who took the oath then aided an enemy cannot hold any office unless 2/3 of the House and Senate vote otherwise. Not 2/3 to impeach. Not 2/3 to remove. 2/3 for those who funded or aided our enemies to stay. It is a known fact (even CNN covered it a few months back) the jihadists became more successful (birthing ISIS) after Obama’s administration gave them (known Al Qaeda “rebels” in Libya and Syria) billions of dollars. Just illegally releasing terrorists is aiding them. Yet nobody who took the oath has been citing that part of the Constitution. I have had Congressman and Senator alike (both arguably among the most conservative) duck the issue.

    • Tom Kratman

      There’sa always been some of that; just part of the human condition. But I think we’ve gotten worse and worse, just in my not quite six decades of life.

    • Pugmak

      This is aimed at all of us, not at you, sir.

      We all run our cake holes on the lack of morale courage, but then we all refuse to honor our oath.

      The wholesale success of the destructionist Long March through all of our institutions and society/culture, and the near complete collapse of both honor and integrity in our military commands are no ones’ fault but our own.

      - Pugmak

  • Cincinnatus

    It was my experience as a SSG that I could get away with telling the truth to the USAREUR commander about why my guard detail was piled into one tent at Graf only because said commander made his dog-robber stay and make sure I would not get in trouble. I got the utmost respect for GEN Meigs that day although my SQN CO would have gladly tied me to the barrel of a Bradley going downrange. I did get that extra tent too.
    The lick-spittles and boot-lickers are still around in the army aplenty and the true warriors are leaving in droves now that there is hardly any fighting to be done anymore. Welcome back the peacetime mentality.

  • Kevin Crowley

    I want Reilly as a friend.

    • 97E

      I wish I had Reilly as my PC! That would have been an awesome officer to deploy to the Stan with. He’d be the kind of officer to keep his grunts alive, as opposed to a lot of officers looking to look like we just went through hell (to impress staff officers) by getting a bunch of his platoon killed.

      Saw a few of those in my time.

  • Steve M

    So as a young LT at the time Col, what were *your* thoughts on the situation from a moral and integrity standpoint? Did you feel like if Reilly wasn’t going to be able to do it, you should? Someone should?

    How did you reconcile your conscience and actions on the subject, with the situation?

    Do you feel that in the case in point; saving the careers of those involved was the greater good, given the unlikelihood (ref your earlier article on bureaucracy and why it never changes) of standing up for the truth in this case actually doing any good beyond the micro?

    And i think I’m brain-farting on what the Battalion CO being in a helo crash has to do with anything, especially with Reilly being shipped off to gods know where to do something important. Respectfully, I feel like I am missing a few details, thought that could be the aspergers talking.

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