The Eglin AFB in Fort Walton Beach, FL, doesn’t look like a hotbed of sexual activity. It’s the largest Air Force Base in the U.S., but it looks more akin to a retired community than a warriors’ township, or an Officer and Gentleman compound. It’s a one-story, geometrically laid-out suburb. The sky is vast, the land dull and cheap. The lawns are neat, the houses modest, ecru, identical, and simulate trailer homes. The Officers Club advertises Mongolian BBQ or French Buffet nights; the Enlisted Club offers Karaoke, Oldies, Blues, Rock & Top & Disco. Conspicuous posters announce Bingo doubles, bowling, dart and horseshoe contests, casino trips, talent shows, doll-crafting and framing classes. Big cars cruise idly and drivers wave gallantly. People move and talk at snail pace, don’t loiter, and discuss food, movies, getting laid, washing the car. They’re unemotional men of action trapped in a static warp, denied action; they seem to suffer their isolation and obsolescence as an interior putrefaction. Today two out of three military men are married. The U.S. military is the largest day-care provider in the world. It runs schools, movie-theatres, department stores, banks, gas stations, and vast bases like Eglin that, amazingly, seem to duplicate makeshift shopping malls.
Master Sgt. Sam Lizt is a Logistics Support Squadron first sergeant, a ‘shirt’. A 6 foot, hard-muscled, heavy-boned woman with cropped dark hair, freckled skin and thick manly eyebrows, she is humorless, practical, and short-tempered. She struts and talks like the prototypical Rambo commando. Her fatigues, strained around her body bulk, make her look internally constricted.
“My job is to resolve personal problems for my people,” she barks with the explosive authority of a cult leader. She doesn’t strike me as a likely person to go to with an intimate problem. “I counsel on post-military options, clarify policies and rumors, act as a sounding board for families and airmen in trouble. I get middle-of-the-night distress calls from the emergency room or the security police. I do all I can to not have to take one of my people to court-martial. Now with the sex blowout, it’s harder to take care of my problems; it has become one thankless job.”
In July 1997, for example, the Air Force decided to court-martial 2nd Lt. William Kite, a supervisor of police for the 509th bomb wing in Whiteman, MO, for dating a female Airman on base. The potential prison term is 14 years. Kite, who was decorated in the Gulf War, fell in love with an Airman not in his chain of command who subsequently left the Air Force so they could marry. The base chaplain saw her visit Kite in the hospital when she was enlisted and, in an eerie iteration of medieval prosecutions, called for an investigation. Kite denied having a relationship with his wife while she was in the service but, confronted with records documenting their phone calls, he confessed. He was charged with making false official statements. At that same time, the chief of military justice at Fairchild, WA, was merely reassigned to another base when he married an enlisted airman on his base. Also at that time, sailors aboard the aircraft carrier Nimitz were disciplined for holding hands with the same severity as other sailors who were found fornicating in air-intake ducts of an F-4’s engine. Because of these inconsistencies, in July 1997 Defense Secretary Cohen created a task force to clarify military rules on consensual sex. The results are still pending.
“Now the rules are up to the whim of the officer in your chain of command,” Sam confirms. “Before this shakeup, you had to be real stupid or evil and screw up repeatedly to get kicked out for sex. Adultery that got detected was handled with dignity--counseling, a warning, threat of transfer, and finally transfer. At worst, there was a fine or a reprimand. Now it can lead to trial or discharge.”
The new military’s muscular Christian ethos sees all adultery as deceit, and espouses a monastic, anti-militaristic cure: if the flesh is weak, the answer is stiffer discipline. In this climate, people like Kite lose everything: their punishment is banishment--a secular damnation. For people who have been in the military since their teens, to be cast out means to live in perpetual moral shame.
Sam’s job was to hear confession and give absolution. Until recently, she could send the sinners away with wise words and military-type hail-Mary’s. “I see people have affairs every day,” she says. “Work is our social center, so sexual attraction is inevitable on base. It doesn’t affect their performance. Their squadron mates don’t know. They only tell me when they try to get out of it and can’t, or realize they made a mistake. So to me the idea that Kelly Flinn’s behavior was a threat to national security is preposterous. The President is an adulterer and it didn’t stop him from being re-elected.” Sam is referring to Lt. Kelly Flinn, the first female B-52 pilot, whose fall from grace in May 1997 astounded the nation. The Air Force forced Flinn to accept a discharge to avoid being court-martialed for adultery and lying to investigators. Flinn had an affair with a civilian married to an airman that came out when she was a witness against a lieutenant charged with sexual assault. What the public saw as an everyday failing, the Air Force saw as an officer using the power of her office to take advantage of an enlisted person (the wife); it reasoned that an officer who breaks a rule on ground may be tempted to disobey while aloft, which in Flinn’s case meant while flying a B-52 capable of carrying a nuclear payload equal to all the bombs dropped by all sides in modern wars.
Would Sam go out with a subordinate? I ask. “No. I’m thick-skinned, I think like a guy, but I know I’d lose the respect of my people, and I can’t risk that. I’m not in this for the sex. I’m 28 years old and have 165 people working for me. Only 31 are women. I need to be off-limits. Sex doesn’t interest me.” For Sam, gender equality has come at the cost of any sexual life. It’s a familiar bargain: the new gender freedoms are bridling the sexual freedoms of military men and women alike.
“You put young men and women together in tight quarters for long hours and nothing can bar them from having sex,” asserts Chief Master Sgt. Terry Peters, a 20-year Air Force veteran in charge of an Operations Support Squadron. We’re sitting in his windowless office in a dusty corner of a hangar on Hulburt Field, a base formally off limits to prying civilians like me. “Tightening the rules won’t help. It wasn’t discrimination that kept women out, it was respect. Amazons had no breasts, no husbands, no Dads. If the public didn’t want sex among soldiers, it should not have sent us women. When gals first enlisted, we went mad. There’s nothing like not having to leave the barracks for sex. That was the military’s 60s--the golden days before the feminization of our defenses.” Was all that sex consensual? “I never heard that word before Witchhook. But nobody was crying rape. In my experience, the woman doesn’t exist who doesn’t want it.” Were the women equally eager? “They weren’t prissy about sex. It’s the media that turned them into hopeless crybabies.”
‘Witchhook’ refers to the 1991 Tailhook convention scandal, during which six drunk Navy aviators pushed female colleagues through a clothes-tearing flesh-grabbing gauntlet. In the tradition of sailors bingeing on shore, the annual Tailhook symposium was an occasion for junior officers and admirals to mingle and party. Most female aviators embraced the swaggering culture of men whose death-defying daily routine earned them such perks, and partook in ‘belly shot’ and ‘leg shave’ rituals, where alcohol was lapped up from their navels and their legs were given a high shave. But Lt. Paula Coughlin, a helicopter pilot, felt ‘practically gangraped’ by the gauntlet. Her official complaints were ignored, so she went to the press. The exposure of its winking cavalier attitude toward its raunchy rites disgraced the Navy. The guilty men’s superiors resigned. The suicide of Navy Chief Michael Boorda in 1996 was seen as a result of the Navy’s hounding by Congress. What the military learned from that lingering infamy was to respond to sexual scandals by quick and thorough manhunts meant to show the public its unwavering commitment to civilian moral standards.
The modern military suffers from the ‘Vietnam syndrome’: the fear of losing an ideological battle against civilians who affect its policy and budgets. This is why a culture that long prepared men for battle by inconsolable means has agreed to condemn any ‘toleration of Stone Age attitudes about warriors returning from sea,’ in the words of Navy Secretary J. D. Howard. Because the Tailhook scandal broke out right after Anita Hill’s televised Congressional testimony, which put sexual harassment on the map, it was seen as a chance to right Hill’s wrong. In response to Tailhook, Rep. Pat Schroeder of the House Armed Services Committee pushed to repeal the law excluding women from combat, arguing that equality was the only way to ensure that military women received respect, and a provision repealing the gender combat ban was added to a military-budget authorization bill.
What Schroeder and Congress failed to recognize was that the main reason for the growing sexual turmoil in the military has been the very induction of women into the warriors’ ranks. Typically, a society’s ethics are chiefly devised to ‘protect’ its women from the potentially violent, territorial instincts of its men. Or inversely, its ethics serve to prevent women from unleashing their potentially illimitable, insurgent sexuality, which is at radical odds with the social injunction to monogamy and rearing young. In any case, the old rule of thumb--that restless, young men could play around so long as daughters of good families stayed unharmed--cannot apply in a coed military. A new code of sexual honor has had to be devised, so the sex embargo emerged as a response to integration. Only sex between single consenting adults of the same rank is grudgingly permitted now.
Even this means that 8% of America’s new coed force is at any time pregnant, therefore nondeployable. In the Gulf war 39 of the 400 women aboard the U.S.S. Eisenhower and 36 of 360 women on the U.S.S. Arcadia were evacuated for pregnancy. In Bosnia, in 1995-96, a woman was evacuated every 3 days for pregnancy; many reportedly conceived to avoid ‘hell tours’. Women make up 14% of today’s military, and 20-25% of new recruits. Since 1994, when basic training merged, 80,000 jobs opened to women in positions formerly off-limits, like flying combat planes, launching missiles, commanding troops, serving on combat ships. Recruiters lower the official standards in order to fill their female quotas, and lax evaluation leads to the very problems with sexual harassment the military wants to stop. Insecure or unstable recruits fail to fend off advances or know the difference between what is consensual and what coerced in a world where superiors are trained to give person-ally invasive orders and subordinates to blindly obey them. In this vicious cycle, the battle of the sexes has become the military’s most urgent and costly current peacetime conflict.
“That’s why we need strong-minded, street-tough women,” Terry fires back, “if we must have women at all. It’s a recruitment flaw. Sgt. Simpson’s accusers were scared naive little sluts.”
Staff Sgt. Delmar Simpson, a 12-year Army veteran and reported ‘stickler for the rules’, was convicted in April 1997 for raping and sodomizing six female recruits under his command at the Aberdeen MD Proving Ground. He was sentenced to 25 years in jail. His Deputy Commander, Capt. Derrick Robertson, was charged with rape, forcible sodomy and obstruction of justice. The Army Commander in charge of the six drill sergeants, along with Simpson, accused of sexual misconduct and awaiting trials, was suspended for failing to ensure a sex-abuse-free climate, and 15 noncoms were suspended. Some trainees went AWOL to escape the sergeants, and one tried to commit suicide.
Yet the victims’ courtroom testimonies were fraught with ambiguities: one said she had encouraged Simpson’s attention; another said she found him attractive; a 21-year-old, whom Simpson was convicted of raping five times, said he didn’t force her to have sex: she thought it might lead to a promotion; a 23-year-old whom he was convicted of raping eight times, testified that he asked if he could touch her and she said ‘I guess’. One private testified that, when Simpson shoved his hand in her sweat pants, she grabbed his hand and told him to stop it. “It wasn’t sexual harassment,” she said; she didn’t report the incident and he never bothered her again. Another private told Simpson she wasn’t interested because he was her drill sergeant; he left her alone. The court documents revealed a training ground of multiple partners, sexual score cards, STDs, public sex in the game or TV room or at field maneuvers, and trainees seducing superiors to get respect. Offenders came from every rank. In addition, in Aberdeen 80% of the victims were white, and 80% of the accused black. The most subliminal subtext was that America shuddered with an old pre-civil-rights terror.
Then in June 1997, Army Sergeant Major Gene McKinney, the most senior of the army’s 410,000 enlisted men, was accused of sexual harassment. McKinney, a decorated Vietnam vet and African-American role model in the Pentagon, was appointed to a commission reviewing the army’s sexual harassment policies; this outraged his former public-affairs secretary, Sgt. Maj. Brenda Hoster, who charged him in the media of sexual harassment. He was asked to retire. When five more women brought up similar charges, the Army held court-martial hearings. Hoster testified McKinney made a fumbling pass at her in an Oahu hotel, telling her she aroused him. A Navy Chief Petty Officer testified he offered to show her ‘passion like she’d never known’. An Army recruiter said he asked if she wanted to kiss him (“Hell, no, that’s the last thing I want,” she’d replied.) A sergeant recalled him saying, “Men, women, we have needs.” For these laughable comments, which in the right romantic circumstances might even be charming, McKinney faced 56 years in prison. Even after a military jury cleared McKinney of all sex-related charges in April 1998 (except for a count of suborning perjury for witness tampering), his career ended, his pension was withheld, and the point was made that standard tacky flirting or hitting on uninterested women were military crimes.
McKinney’s lawyer threatened that, if convicted, his client would expose ‘the Army’s dirty laundry’ by showing that white officers who faced similar charges had not been prosecuted. McKinney, the first black to serve as Sgt. Maj., considered the allegations racially motivated and filed a motion claiming discriminatory prosecution. This clash between two long-excluded groups--blacks and women--anxious to protect their equal rights within the military, has created an unexpected political ticking bomb. Navy Commander Robert Davis--who was accused of making sexually suggestive comments at a dance, put in a psychiatric ward, eventually cleared of all charges by a court-martial, and forced to retire--sued the Navy for discrimination, blaming his white commanding officer, Katharine Laughton, of racism. Capt. Everett Greene, slated to be the first black head of the SEALs, was also accused of making improper overtures to two white female subordinates while he was in charge of the Navy’s office on sexual harassment, was also acquitted by court-martial, and lost his career. These racial tensions have further complicated the issues of sexual harassment.
Yet the fact remains that thousands of military women are sexually assaulted every year--10 times more often than women outside the ranks. In Sep. 1997, the Army released its largest study of sexual harassment; the 10-month review concluded that ‘sexual harassment is commonplace... Soldiers seem to accept such behaviors as a normal part of Army life.’ The survey revealed that 78% of women and 76% of men reviewed had experienced ‘crude or offensive behavior’ in 1997, the year of the military’s crackdown on sexual misbehavior; 72% of women and 63% of men had known ‘sexist’ behavior; 47% of women and 30% of men had received ‘unwanted sexual attention’; 15% of women and 8% of men had experienced ‘sexual coercion’, and 7% of women and 6% of men ‘sexual assault’. The two-volume study noted that the Army’s attempts to educate its ranks are a failure; the ranks still have little understanding of sexual harassment and how to combat it, and as a result they ‘uniformly do not have trust and confidence in their leaders’. To alleviate ‘breakdowns in human relationships’, the Army pledged to add more chaplains and 100 new lieutenants to training units to give company commanders time to deal with ethical issues, and put a three-star general in charge of overseeing moral training--to intensify all the usual ‘cures’ that haven’t worked up to now.
In November 1996 the Army set up a sexual harassment hot-line in the wake of Aberdeen; it received 3,930 calls in the first week, for grievances dating back to WWII; 506 of the accused were turned to the Army Criminal Investigation Command, including 10 chaplains, 13 drill sergeants at Fort Leonard Wood, 5 sergeants at Fort Sam Houston medic school. A concurrent Veterans Administration study found that one in four female veterans had been raped or sexually assaulted on duty. The VA opened 69 centers to treat these victims--some 5,000 women--for post traumatic stress syndrome, as psychologists liken sexual abuse symptoms to battle trauma. And during the Gulf war, sexual assaults ranged from an overnight guard who awoke to find her mate fondling her to a 21-year-old private raped at knife-point by a sergeant. No doubt, wartime rape is a grave matter. These violations of fellow soldiers in ways reserved for the enemy could ostensibly qualify as treason.
This is why an institution dedicated to physical fitness and aggressive readiness, which uses humanity’s animal elements as its raw material, has come to suppress its members’ sex instincts as doggedly as religion once did. “We relaxed the rules too much,” announced Gen. Dennis Reimer, the Army chief of staff, post Aberdeen. “The goal is to desexualize the environment as much as we can.” But can the Pentagon suppress the instinct for rough sex without suppressing the instinct to kill?
In June 1995 two SEAL buddies, Billy Joe Brown and Dusty Turner, were sentenced to life in prison for kidnapping, molesting and killing 18-year-old Jennifer Evans in Virginia Beach near the Little Creek Amphibious Naval Base. They’d rendered Evans unconscious in 30 seconds with a SEAL maneuver.1 Before Evans, with whom they’d wanted a three-way, they had shared various women they brought to the barracks and gangbanged in front of their teammates. “It’s a camaraderie thing,” Turner told Details magazine. “You do everything else together. You sleep, eat, shit together.” “You’ve so much frustration, you need to release it,” Brown added. “Half the guys are into group sex,” a teammate said; “if they decided to relieve of duty all SEALs who lived as Billy and Dusty, there would be no SEAL teams. SEALs are people who must do extraordinary things, and unfortunately that means knocking a few bolts loose.” Brown’s BUD/S class had chanted rhymes about sliding curling irons into vaginas. Young men assiduously trained to be killers cannot be lambs. Soon after, in Sep. 1995, three American sailors again revealed to their nation the limitations of enforcing political correctness on its fighters, when they raped a 12-year-old Japanese girl in Oki-nawa. Richard Macke, the Navy CNO, joked that they should have hired a prostitute. By the end of the day, the comment had cost him his job. “We bring young men and women into the armed forces to be warriors, in a warrior culture,” Gen. Colin Powell later told the New Yorker, trying to explain the schism between pressure groups in modern politics and old military habits, “not social workers.”
“Whoever heard of an army afraid of sex?” Terry asks me. “Being a member of the military is losing its meaning, its valor. The ideal of manhood is shot. The best guys are leaving because our Defense Dept. is run by civilians in the Armed Forces Committee sitting in a boardroom worrying over hanky-panky. The sex crackdown is self-defeat--self-assault, not sexual assault. We’ve become a guilty, condemned, defeated army.” The graffiti in the dingy bathroom behind Terry’s sunless office reads, ‘Die or Kill.’ Men aching for battle may unreasonably see rape as practice. And military rape has been around so long it is a deeply entrenched cliché: worldwide, soft-core pornography regularly disseminates images of ‘forced’ sex and weaponry--such as naked women giving fellatio while lying on tanks or at gunpoint or straddling guns, popular images that are as old as the French Revolution. It’s no wonder that, in times of peace, men see rape as a substitute for war.
Arlene and I are huddled over a shiny tin table in the large protected space of the faux-ornate Enlisted Club, within the larger confinement of the base. Two miniature Filipino wives giggle with an officer at the next table, carpeted yards away. No one else talks much. Most patrons watch the surround-sound TV, deeply and mindlessly involved in its illusion of drama and fast pace. They are peacetime military people: indifferent to autonomy, happy to have the necessities taken care of, used to ACs, microwaves, packaged foods, sweats, speakers, waiting lists, signing up and getting authori-zed. The military shelters them from the dark world out there. Their lives, like their homes and uniforms, are prefabricated, automatonic; their aesthetic is camouflage: hiding everything individual.
Arlene is a Senior Airman who joined with the dream of being ‘a Kelly Flinn’, but failed the flying tests. She is consoled by her new Purple Heart, which she got for laceration wounds suffered during a terrorist bombing in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in June 1996. She lives in the dorm, sleeps 12 hours a day, makes $20,000 a year, and manages to save money. She is 22, blonde, pony-tailed, prone to teenisms, bubbly and good-natured. Her tall angular body gives off a stout sexual odor.
“We’ve become segregated,” she eagerly complains in a girlish voice. “This harassment thing pits us against the guys. The guys think the scandals are our fault and look down on us. They blame us, even though we suffer from it the same. My mother had me when she was 14; I have four Dads. The military gave me purpose and independence. Now sexual harassment is ruining it for me. I think harassment is too general. It includes looks, gestures, letters, calls, teasing, whistling. Words aren’t rape. I’ve had gropes and derogatory words. I get them from construction guys on the street too. Men get their equal share of come-ons from us. I’ve told a guy I wanted to goose him, point blank. I’ve grabbed guys’ balls. And if someone bothers me, I tell him off. I don’t need help.”
“40,000 women served in the Gulf,” she goes on. “People had sex in tents, latrines, Humvees, everywhere we could; but we were a team first, and we just had sex when we had nothing else to do. We were not that watched then.” I ask if there was any S/M, golden showers, or other kink. “No. I saw a lesbian fling and maybe there was anal sex. But we had danger outside. Sex was the safe part. I don’t think there’s any kink in the military. We’re real straight and disciplined.”
During sex, Arlene often visualizes herself flying a B-52 across enemy fire. She thinks war is an aphrodisiac. “Falling bombs are kind of orgasmic,” she describes. As she speaks, Arlene arches her back and stretches her legs in what look to me like reflexive mating signals. “Once you hear an explosion and feel the ground shake and watch the blast, you never forget it. I’ve had sex during bombings and it’s the best.” I say it strikes me as perverse that the ethics of bombing children are discussed less in our society than the ethics of making out in an underground shelter while bombs fall all around. I think sex in the circumstances Arlene describes is a resistance to destruction, an act of life amidst slaughter--the opposite instinct than the one spurring warriors to disseminate missiles.
“I think this isn’t really about sex,” Arlene argues. “We’re nonessential because of budget cuts, and sex is the excuse. If they can’t get you on anything else, they know they can get you on sex because everyone has sex in the military. They want us out. They let us off with voluntary separation incentive pay. And they keep recruiting. We’re like temps in a corporation. The army has no honor any more; it’s like false advertising.” Realistically, the military requires a slave class for its continued existence; but American optimism denies the existence of such a class, so the military courts disaster once its slogans concerning the dignity of man wear thin. This is the impasse the modern military is groping uneasily to escape, with remedies such as gender integration and forced chastity.
Chief Master Sgt. Terry Peters has thinning gray hair, a sharp nose, choleric eyes, a sloppy uniform--his jacket is too tight, his trousers not long enough. He’s given himself a coffee break and is sipping his beer at the Aero Club in a methodical rationing way, making it last. “Sex is the concession the brass is making to politicians who control our purse strings,” he grumbles; “they’re bartering our sexualities for weapons. The scheme backfired, but no one knows how to stop it without losing face, so they up the pressure and hope it will die out. Sex won’t die out. The army will. We’ll end up with pussy-whipped sissies, because what makes sense in the field doesn’t fly in DC.”
After the gender wall came down, military men accustomed to relieving stress by flirting with women who are fetishistically drawn to men in dress uniforms, found the women were now in uniform too. This changed the power dynamics of casual machismo: sex threatened to unsettle the sacred order of power in the military. As the outsiders became insiders, the culture toughened its mores to protect its old structures. And a charge of sexual impropriety became an effective weapon to kill off a rival. Anyone can call 1-800-903-4241 and ruin the career of a venerated General. All this is transforming the proud warrior culture into a ‘he said, he tried, he gestured’ public sideshow. Promising officers with sexually colorful histories leave the military to avoid risking defacement; those who stay out of loyalty or necessity, worry over who in their past will retroactively do them in.
In June 1997 Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston was disqualified from candidacy for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when it was revealed that he had had an adulterous affair 13 years earlier, when he was separated from his wife, with a woman who was not in the military. The offense seemed so harmless that Defense Secretary William Cohen tried to ‘draw a line’ against ‘the frenzy of sexual allegations’; he was accused of double standards in view of Flinn’s case. Ralston’s career effectively ended. Ironically, in 1995, Ralston had signed an order to strip Lt. Gen. Thomas Griffith of his command of the 12th Air Force because of an adulterous affair Griffith had had with a civilian at a conference. These persecutions are no longer unusual, nor are they mere media blips; they are individual tragedies that also implicitly serve a pseudo-orgiastic social purpose: they warn the public away from the thirst for sexual satisfaction and initiative. They are moral lessons meant to evoke pity and fear in the populace and to place its sturdiest and most precarious impulses under submission. A traditionally female disorder, hysteria, which consumed the Puritans in 1692, is sweeping across the ‘feminized’ military, and, through the media, it is contaminating the nation.
“It’s a Faustian trade-off,” Terry gripes; “the brass gives in on sex to get more money. But we spend the money to automate and make it easy for women, and cling to enormous weapons made for a war that never came, and don’t train our forces for small wars. Gender-merging has our priorities screwed up. If we’re called to fight, we’ll be the laughing stock of the planet. As it is, we’ll need our nuclear force to avoid defeat. We’re flirting with a nuclear apocalypse just to keep our soldiers from fucking hard.” Terry is saying this: if the military is weakened, it may have to resort to nuclear power to win a conflict. The military refuses to let go of the warheads it maintains on hair-trigger or of its right to respond to a non-nuclear attack with nuclear power, despite the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences and the Secretary of Defense; instead, the leadership will accomodate other civilian demands, such as that for sexual equality, in order to appease its critics.
Yet, in the unremittingly physical world of the military, sex differences are undeniable. The average woman has less height, upper body strength, muscle mass, skeleton weight, aerobic capacity and endurance stamina than the average man. Women don’t meet the standards for 70% of the Army specialties. Female recruits are injured at twice the rate of male grunts. Drill sergeants find it hard to humiliate women--in a rite meant to break down the sanctity of one’s person, eliminate the fear of shedding one’s blood, and instill the sense that a soldier is the chattel of those s/he serves. In today’s Navy, the women’s obstacle courses take place indoors, runs and pushups are not obligatory, where-as ‘integrity development seminars’ are. In the Marines, fitness for women is tested by a flexed arm hang instead of pull-ups and half the number of sit ups. And the Army has devised a costly ‘Freshet-te Complete System,’ a portable contraption that enables women to pee standing up on the field.
These adjustments strike most men as unfair and have contributed to the decline in enlisting men, who in addition fear purges like Tailhook’s where the flagging continued until every aviator in the convention had passed a ‘clearance scrub’. And it is these changes that have incited the sexual revenge of territorial male warriors, which inevitably has led the women to seek refuge from sex in the law. Yet the very laws that protect women from predatory men also help perpetuate women’s positions as sexual victims. Sexual harassment, designed to prevent gender discrimination in the workplace, preserves both the sexual objectification and the desexualization of women: it objectifies them by emphasizing the sexual aspect of their presence in an integrated environment, and desexualizes them by forcing them to be either frigid or sexual casualties. It is in effect an anti-sex law.
Since the disorder in the military is a result of gender integration, the bigger question remains why women are essential to the nation’s defense. Women don’t need to pee standing up or rape or bomb to be equal. America does not need women’s physical powers, soldiery instincts, or numbers to protect its stability. Yet the military aggressively recruits them for ideological (what Terry dismissively calls ‘feminist’) reasons: to be, or appear to be, sensitive to gender equality.
Throughout history, soldiering has been sexual as much as patriotic: they are both expressions of the young masculine task of confronting fear and expending wayward testosterone. The link between militarism and masculinism is pancultural. And when a nation asks its men to dehumanize fellow humans into enemies, it implicitly permits their incivility to be extended to the savagery of rape, so long as its own women remain out of reach. Until the 70s, U.S. troops marched to the chant, ‘Two, four, six, eight,/ Rape, kill, mutilate.’ The earliest hymn of the Bible, Deborah’s song, is a war song, followed by the savage tale of how the tribe of Benjamin got their wives by rape (Judges 5-21). Deuteronomy gives more direct advice on the subject: “When the Lord (gives you a city).. you shall put all its males to the sword, but the women and the little ones... you shall take as booty for yourselves; and you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the Lord your God has given you” (20:12-15). The Roman Empire was founded on the mass rapes of the Sabines, the Ottoman on the mass abductions of Janissars, the American on the mass mutilations of Indians. To this day, rape is a familiar war tactic, used in Vietnam and most recently in civil wars of Africa and Bosnia to psychologically defeat, dishonor and agitate the enemy. And in times of peace, when action is limited to mock-battle exercises, brutal sexual rites help keep the barbaric instincts kindled, and enhance the unity and collective ideology of a corps, often to the denigration of women..
“We need to be brutes,” Terry harangues, his feet on the metal table. “We didn’t join a convent. The military is bodily work. Remove sex from it and you end up with eunuchs as your army. We need sex to stay fierce. Those who can’t take the sex should quit, they’re not made to be in an army. But if you say this stuff out loud, you’re terminated with a black record. It’s a left-wing conspiracy!” The desexualization of America’s forces in the 90s has fostered anger, disappointment and despair among the enlisted who see their repression as enfeebling the nation’s defense and mocking its warriors. Men who wouldn’t normally engage in sexual harassment do so out of mounting resentment for the women, in a vengeful display of power. As every barracks becomes an ideological battlement and every peer a potential sex-snitch, many find it hard to resist the undertow.
All sexual coercion is repulsive. But we now risk losing a vast dimension of existence, namely the language of our bodies, through which women and men ask and answer questions about each other, suggest and manifest wonder, admiration, tenderness, defiance, arousal, delight. The assumption that every woman is in a position of sexual weakness and needs to be protected discredits equality and threatens our sexuality. And the loss of intimacy in the workplace, where we best know each other, limits the pool of available mates in a workaholic society. We don’t want to live in a desensitized world where life at school, on the job, in the neighborhood, in the cafeteria, on base, on a daily basis, is robbed of spontaneous sensuality, where the human body is an apathetic, feared boundary. Loss and hurt and personal conflict are central parts of life. Sex is about odds, and ambiguity is inherent in human relationships. And this we learn, and improve on, by trial and error.
“This Inquisition will end when we have a war,” Terry is saying, blunt as stone, nuzzling his empty cup, keen to have the last word. “So we will. That’s what we’re paid for.” We all know Helen of Troy’s infidelity was just a ruse for Greek men bent on war. Wars and whores, as Aldous Huxley put it, battles and brothels, break all the rules. War is how rigid cultures regenerate. Periods of crisis, when our myths of self-sufficiency, goodness and safety are shattered, end in unscripted ways. It is a disheartening state of affairs that, in our evolved age, war is seen by our warriors as the only way out of sexual repression. It should be alarming because ‘only the dead have seen the end of war.’2
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