It's not just the recent cases of widespread rape and sexual harassment at Army training centers. The Navy is still recovering from the 1991 Tailhook debacle where officers assaulted women at a convention, and the embarrassment of having 36 women on a repair ship come home pregnant from the Persian Gulf war. Pentagon lawyers are fighting challenges to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy agamst homosexuals.
America's military has been dealing with the consequences of sex since George Washington worried about treating his troops for venereal disease. Today it is forced to address the issue not as a medical nuisance but as a threat to discipline ant order. Sexual issues affect deci. signs ranging from pregnancy policies to redesigning aircraft: carriers (special berths and bathrooms for women) to read) ness for war.
The nub of the military's difficulties is its youth - nearly 60 percent of the 1.6 million troops are 30 years old or younger. Now, increasing numbers of robust young women are joining robust young men in notoriously close quarters. Though women make up only 13 percent of the nation's troops, it is a fourfold increase since the military ended its separate branches for the sexes in 1973. As opportunities for sexual contact increase, so do opportunities for sexual harassment and abuse.
"There's a natural attraction between men and women, and if you don't believe it happens in the military, you've got to have rocks in your head," said Frederick Pang, the assistant secretary of defense for force management policy. But when the relationships are inappropriate, we need to take action."
SINCE DISCIPLINE is essential and sex is seen as a threat to it, the military finds itself in the strange position of having to either ban sex or to regulate it with complex, sometimes contradictory rules and regulations. Its rules prohibit fraternization, meaning superiors and subordinates may not have romantic or sexual relationships. Sex is allowed among unmarried troops of equal rank, except when it isn't. It is banned aboard ship and on overseas missions, but these rules are not really observed. A 1992 survey of 272 male and female veterans from the Gulf War found that more than half the men and three-quarters of the women said that troops in their unit had sex in Saudi Arabia as much or more than at home.
In a climate in which some rules are more equal than others, it is sometimes hard for young soldiers of either sex to tell which they must take seriously. The rules expressly forbid drill sergeants to have intimate relationships with their recruits, yet two weeks ago young female Army recruits said they feared for their careers and their safety if they rejected their instructors' advances. Drill instructors, as any recruit knows, are the masters of the universe, however finite and insular that universe is.
Sparks fly when the military tries to graft modern standards of sexual behavior to the age-old values of its warrior culture. "The military is training young men to be aggressive in combat and face life-threatening situations, yet they also have to realize that in dealings with female counterparts they have to switch gears," said Gilbert F. Casellaa, chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Air Force's former general counsel.
PENTAGON reformers are fighting an entrenched male culture that has historically devalued, if not degraded women. Less than 10 years ago, Marine Corps drill instructors still led training runs with chants like this: "One, two, three, four. Every night we pray for war. Five, six, seven, eight. Rape. Kill. Mutilate." Today, the old chants are banned, but instructors still convey a kill-or-be-killed message through intimidation and the threat of violence.
Brothels still sprout around American bases overseas, particularly in Asia. And senior officers responsible for setting a new, enlightened example often fall short of the mark. The commander of American forces in the Pacific, Admiral Richard C. Macke, was forced to step down a year ago after he told reporters that three American servicemen accused and later convicted of raping a 12 year-old girl in Okinawa should have hired a prostitute.
The armed forces have adopted strict policies against sexual harassment, forced generals on down to privates to attend sensitivity classes and stiffened penalties for violators. The Army's official term is "zero tolerance," much like its earlier "zero defects," thought up to banish -carelessness. Zero tolerance seems a hollow phrase at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, where Capt. Derrick Robertson and four drill instructors are accused of violations from rape to improper behavior toward female trainees. The base command has launched a buddy system, telling its soldiers not to go anywhere alone.
The best policies will work only when the troops embrace them. "This only works if enlightened males police their peers," said Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University.
No doubt the services need more women throughout the chain of command, commissioned and non-commissioned officers who are a presence in the field, examples to subordinates and checks to meri who might abuse their positions of authority and trust. About 10 percent of the 2,100 drill instructors are women, as are 6 of the 37 at Aberdeen. As far as the service academies go, the first female officers graduated less than 20 years ago. Most of the high-ranking women are still in traditional areas like logistics, personnel, medical and support positions.
IN A go-along, get-along male-dominated culture, women may have to change their tactics, some experts suggest. In fact, they say, the military might not be teaching the right lessons to the right people. "In trying to do this right, the military has not taught women how to retaliate," said Judith H. Stiehm, a political science professor at Florida International University and author of It's Our Military Too! (Temple University Press, 1996).
Stiehm told the story of a young Marine sergea hose commanding officer repeatedly pressured her to sleep with him. The woman finally went to a hotel with him. After he undressed and went into the bathroom, she took his clothes and left, handing them to the military police when she returned to her base. "That took care of it," said Stiehm. The job of regulating sex among the troops is considered a deeply unpleasant business by commanders, who would rather be firing off artillery guns.
"They'd rather not have it come up," said Maj. Gen. David C. Meade, a retired Army officer who commanded 20,000 United States troops in Haiti. "Commanders would like to focus on the business of getting ready for~ war. But if touchy issues come up, they're not squeamish about dealing with them."
The recent Army cases have energized critics of co-ed basic training courses and more combat roles for women. ~he purpose of the military is to kill and break things," said Congressman Steven E. Buyer, an Indiana Republican who is a major in the Army Reserve. "If you integrate the sexes at basic training, itll depreciate the military preparedness. I don't think trainers will be as difficult or as rough on traini~g with women there."
Other government officials disagree but concede sex will continue to trouble the military. "It's a work-in-progress," Casellas said of the military's efforts to combat sexual abuses. "Clearly, the progress hasn't been fast enough."
New York Times