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Nobody Asked Me But…Professionalism Vs. Sexuality

By Lieutenant Commander Patrick Vincent, U.S. Naval Reserve

Next before the panel, General William Hartzog, head of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, announced that "gender-integrated training is necessary." He advised that conclusions drawn from the earlier Army experiment with boot camp gender integration (1977-1982), which indicated that men's performance slipped to accommodate women and that sexual liaisons were lowering unit morale, had since been refuted. The new Army now had surveys which showed that men's physical fitness scores rose when they trained with women, even though women meet gender-normed (i.e., lower) physical standards. (One waits to see if athletic directors for the mens' Olympic training teams will follow the Army's prescription for improving male performance.) Although he discussed the mechanics of the Army's basic training in protracted, often tedious detail, no account was given of the natural attractions between young men and women, and, consequently, the attendant questions concerning distraction, competition, favoritism, and disorder were ignored.

General Lloyd Newton, the U.S. Air Force Air Education and Training Commander, said that segregating basic training "would be a serious step backwards." Once again, no sexual issues were alluded to, quite a logic-defying achievement given that if sexual attraction did not exist, most of the military's scandals would have remained unborn (along with, one imagines, most of the people present in the committee chamber).

Unfortunately for the subcommittee participants, the Marine Corps representative present refused to dance around the unmentionable. On behalf of the only service which maintains gender-segregated basic training, Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper said: "In gender-segregated recruit training, the strong positive role of the drill instructor provides impressionable young men and women appropriate role models without the distracting undercurrent of sexual attraction. In short, gender-segregated training provides an environment free from latent or overt sexual pressures." No other service representative responded to General Van Riper's comment, and Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R, ME) asked him no questions.

Excepting the Marine Corps, the military brass and most professional politicians labor under what many in the junior ranks refer to as a "Star Trek" understanding of the lines along which cohabitation should be conducted; that a mixed-gender crew can suppress human urges—and still remain human—despite the isolation of being in deep space for years on end.

Why are the top ranks so squeamish about discussing normal human desires and instincts? Why the institutionalized denial? How can a hearing convened to study and sift through "Gender Integration in Basic Training" fail to take note of the root cause of the gender integration mess? Because acknowledging innate drives and beneath-the-surface attractions could potentially stall a number of gender equity initiatives—labeled "social engineering" by the unenlightened. If one must concede that sexual instincts cannot be anesthetized by appeals to "professionalism," or be invalidated by legislative fiat, then a host of unattractive questions become unavoidable. How does the undercurrent of irrepressible sexual desire affect the warfighting readiness of a deployed warship? Will the inevitable male competition for the women influence unit cohesion? What impact will these unpreventable distractions have on force preparedness? What consequences will ensuing fraternization and favoritism have on morale in peacetime, and on combat performance during wartime? These are all questions that the military brass, and their political masters, would much rather avoid. When a social vision collides with reality, sometimes it is easier to deny reality. And if today's fashionable causes run counter to everything that history teaches us about warfare and human nature—well then, history must be wrong.

If one can deny that human passion is a positive social factor, and even refuse it the status of "necessary evil," then one may conveniently dodge an open discussion of normal sexuality versus good order and discipline. Therefore, any treatment of human attraction and desire can be relegated to sexual harassment sensitivity training. Rampant sex in the barracks, 10% pregnancy rates on deployed warships, and consensual relations between seniors and juniors are not to be viewed as natural outcomes when boys and girls are packed off together; they are instead to be judged as "isolated failures," "breakdowns of leadership," and "failures to get the message out." The symptoms are acknowledged, but mention of the root cause is verboten.

There seems to be a pathologically uniform, puritanical denial of human sexuality among senior military leaders. Of course, this homogeneity is attained by design, not accident—one must hold certain viewpoints to be admitted into the senior leadership. The price to pay for this glowing harmony is a forfeited ability to deliberate the issues and weigh the merits. Indeed, the Senate subcommittee hearing had the hallmark of a Brezhnev-era Politburo session: a group of bureaucrats who had to support position X to reach their elevated stations were brought before Congress and asked if they supported position X.

Admiral Tracey told the subcommittee that "Surveys show that our drill instructors think (gender) integrated training works best," omitting the fact that drill instructors who thought otherwise had long ago been dropped from the program. Indeed, the paradigm seems to be: Fire everyone who doesn't agree with viewpoint X; to those remaining, give a survey asking their opinions on viewpoint X; promulgate the survey results to demonstrate the popularity of viewpoint X. And, on cue, a panel of military instructors appeared before the committee to announce their support for gender-integrated training. Instructors who think otherwise are known as "ex-instructors."

Although the senior leadership is ideologically monolithic on gender concerns, additional safety measures are employed to ensure that no independent thought accidentally breaks out. Operational commanders are barred from commenting negatively on a pregnant soldier's deployability in her periodic performance evaluations; if a woman assigned to a warship has a succession of pregnancies, she need not fear being informed that her status is not consonant with warfighting readiness. In addition, failure of officers to follow the party line could threaten a negative performance appraisal, only one of which is needed effectively to end a career. On naval evaluations, for example, "Equal Opportunity" is no longer considered a component of teamwork and leadership, but now comprises its own graded evaluation category (one of only seven), and is given equal weight with such traits as "Mission Accomplishment" and "Tactical Performance." To be graded high in "Equal Opportunity," the naval officer must be a "proactive equal-opportunity leader (who) supports and achieves concrete equal opportunity objectives." Will a warship commanding officer risk his status as a "proactive equal opportunity leader" by expressing vocal alarm over high pregnancy rates, uncontrollable fraternization, and distraction and disorder in his crew?

In the June 1997 Proceedings , a former commanding officer of the L. Y. Spear (AS-36), who lost 17% of his female sailors to pregnancy in a single year, announced that shipboard integration of women was "an unqualified success."

Equally contradictory accounts of gender-integration on warships appeared in the 17 April 1995 Time (Life on the Co-Ed Carrier). During the first gender-integrated deployment of the Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), officers admitted that many crewmembers secretly fraternized, two crew members videotaped themselves having sex on the ship, 10% of the female contingent became heavy with child, and many pairs of warrior-lovebirds announced that they had fallen in love. The ship's executive officer declared that the ship's performance was "as well if not better than before women were aboard (and) if you took women off the ship now, it wouldn't feel right." The commanding officer also noted that, with women aboard, his combat forces cursed less often and "had become a little more civilized."

Senator Snowe remarked to the panel that "there is no statistical data to show that gender integration isn't working." No one present broached the question of just how one might go about generating meaningful statistical data on a subject that cannot be openly and frankly discussed. One cynical junior naval officer joked to me that such a data gathering survey would begin:

Question #1: Do you believe that full gender integration is an all-positive good with no detrimental effects on warfighting and battle readiness? (Check one.)

a) Yes.

b) No. (Do not answer the remaining questions in this survey. Report to personnel for out-processing.)

It is impossible for the military to analyze, much less solve, its gender-integration problems from within. Most would agree that solving vexing social problems requires candid debate, the willingness to question assumptions, and the airing of varying opinions.

As Santayana remarked, "All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible." The military's current ideology has been called a reaction to the mistaken and misguided policies of past generations of leadership. Yet, the very fact that many of the mistakes of yesteryear have been corrected demonstrates that the Ancien Regime had at least one virtue sadly lacking in today's leadership: it did not blind itself to alternatives. Opposing views were tolerated, many gained currency, and some were adopted eventually. While the old military certainly had its faults, at least it did not remove its own capacity to reappraise its actions and reform its dispositions. It did not extinguish its ability to change.

On gender issues, the collective mind of the top brass now resembles a ship with its rudder stuck amidships. Any course corrections will have to be forced on the military from without. The legislative branch of government is assigned the constitutional powers "(T)o raise and support armies . . . (and) make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces." Congress should commission an independent panel composed of a cross-section of Americans to examine the issues surrounding military gender integration. Such an unbiased look is long overdue.

Commander Vincent is a submarine officer earning a Ph.D. in electrical engineering at UCLA. He will be a member of the panel “Integrating Women into the Force: Double Standards and PC” at the AFCEA/USNI West ’98 symposium in San Diego, California, 14-16 January 1998.



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