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Nobody Asked Me But…Don't Trade on the Uniform

By Lieutenant Commander Carl R. Graham, U.S. Navy

So what should the Navy do? It clearly cannot condone posing in partial uniform for national magazines, even though it seems that this is what the Navy tacitly has done. How can we attack the behavior without getting mired in the politics of sex? By removing sex from the issue altogether.

If I posed fully clothed and tastefully in my flight suit, complete with rank, insignia, and unit patches, for a missile manufacturer endorsing its latest product, it would be viewed as improper conduct for a civil servant. If I got paid, I would have used my official position for personal gain. Wearing my Navy insignia would imply official endorsement of a commercial product by my employer. Doing so also would commercialize my vocation and, by association, those who share it. It would declare that naval flight officers are up for sale, and that would be demeaning to our profession.

Even more important, if I posed on a Navy jet wearing only a set of wings I would cheapen my profession by not taking it seriously. Fellow officers would be taken less seriously as well, and would rightly resent me. This is doubly true for women in aviation who have waged an uphill battle for professional acceptance both in and out of the military.

But my posing for a missile ad would not cause a public debate because a man profiteering in a non-sexual way is boring. How is Lieutenant Spilman profiteering? She sold herself and her story. Lieutenant Spilman probably would not have received her 15 minutes of fame had she been slinging hash at some breakfast joint. She got the gig because she was an active-duty naval officer willing to pose nude, using her uniform as a prop. She can prove me wrong by refusing to accept payment for layouts, speeches, book deals, or any other opportunities that associate her with the Navy. This is newsworthy not just for what she did, but also for how the Navy might have responded. Everybody loves a food fight, especially when sex and political correctness are the main ingredients.

The Navy may have sidestepped the latest battle, but more damage is bound to come from its reaction to future layouts than from the layouts themselves. The most lasting and damaging legacy would be a preoccupation with morality in the military rather than the real issues we face for the next century. Familiar scandals would be dredged up and reexamined with the predictable conclusion that we're hopelessly behind the times. Important debates on such issues as force levels, the revolution in military affairs, operations tempo, etc., will be overshadowed by the burlesque sideshow.

Civilians may not be willing to pass judgment on the morality of posing nude, but they understand concepts like using official position and public property for personal gain, encouraging negative gender stereotypes, and actively disenchanting fellow employees. People do not damage others' reputations or pursue personal gain at the expense of coworkers and employers in a civil society—not if they want to keep their jobs. These are issues that everyone can understand. They would not be tolerated in a business, and they should not be tolerated in the military.

I do not think it is wrong to pose nude for Playboy or for adults to look at those photos. But it is morally reprehensible to pose nude as a representative of the Navy. We are not entertainers nor are we in a for-profit business. We deserve to be taken seriously—because war is a serious profession. But pursuing this as a moral issue will make the "victim" a martyr, and more interviews, photo ops, and book offers—and copycats—may follow, even without a controversial court-martial.

Lieutenant Spilman intentionally has caused harm to the service and its members. There are rules and punishments in the military designed to deter that type of offensive behavior, that civil society will understand readily. If presented properly as a professional issue—without moralizing—and in the context of broadly accepted standards of behavior in a civilized society, both military and civilian standards can be upheld.

Lieutenant Commander Graham is an F-14 radar intercept officer assigned to U.S. Strategic Command as air threat analyst.

 

 
 

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