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Friday, 14 June 2013 07:13

Sex, the Military, Hypocrisy and Combat Readiness

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STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ArmyFINALWhen the issue of homosexuality in the US military was front and center, or rather when the issue of the open recognition without penalty (which in virtually all cases meant discharge), was front and center, the public concerns raised by both military and even more so by political opponents of gay equality in the military always was presented in the context of the issue of "combat readiness." Ohmygosh, those "authorities" on the subject told us over and over again, why if gays were permitted, or rather were openly permitted, in the ranks, combat readiness was sure to suffer. Thus until very recently open homosexual behavior paved the path to discharge, lickety-split. So let's deal with the "combat readiness" issue on which the policy was presumably based.

There have presumably been homosexuals in at least some military organizations going back to Biblical times. The Bible famously has its apparent proscriptions on homosexual behaviors. They would presumably have not been included had there not been A) homosexuals and B) homophobes to have been concerned with it. (Not all churchmen, by the way, interpret the Biblical mentions of homosexuality in the same way. The Baptist Minister P.J. Gomes, one-time head of the Harvard Divinity School, and gay himself saw the matter quite differently. But that is another matter.) The peoples described throughout the Old Testament in which the vast majority of the mentions of homosexuality appear, appear to have been quite war-like. But none of the supposed Biblical proscriptions on homosexual behavior appear to have had anything to do with any supposed interference with "combat readiness."

(Interestingly enough there is a Biblical concern with homosexuality and marijuana use. It has been pointed out that: "Leviticus 20:13 – "if a man lays with another man, as with a woman, he should be stoned." But that too is another matter.)

In the U.S. military, there have been homosexuals in the ranks at least since Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben came to Valley Forge with two young French aides de camp to train Gen. George Washington's troops during the bitter winter of 1778. Certainly the good Baron markedly improved the combat readiness of Washington's troops rather than diminishing it. In more recent times, in his testimony to Congress supporting the repeal of DADT, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mullen told of serving on a destroyer during the Viet Nam war with known homosexuals, who worked and worked out just fine. In fact, there has never been any testimony, citing real cases, about having homosexuals serving in the U.S. military (of whom there have apparently been quite a few over time) interfering with combat readiness. (And it is a fact that the militaries of all the other major non-Muslim armed forces dropped any concern with the matter some time ago. They didn't seem to be worried about the problem.) But boy, Admiral Mullen to the contrary notwithstanding, has there been resistance to the open recognition of homosexuality in the U.S. military, particularly among the officer class and certainly among right-wing politicians.

But then we come to rape (mainly of men on women but sometimes men on men as well). The recent demonstration of the resistance to change in how the military handles charges of rape and other sexual assaults was quite remarkable. Enforcement is so lax that the vast majority of military rapes do not even get reported. Rape is a crime which, in some states until very recently was punishable by death. But in the military, in the end, even after a criminal procedure within the military itself is undertaken, it is often treated administratively. Commanding officers can reverse convictions by military courts and can reduce punishments determined by them.

The recent campaign by Senator Kirsten Gilibrand and others to change this system met with uniform resistance from a panel of top and highly be-medaled commanders from the four service branches. (All male, of course, except for one female Admiral. I do not know whether she spoke at all, but if she did her remarks did not make it into any of the sound-bites that I heard.) And then there was Sen. Saxby Chambliss. He's a Senator from Georgia who got a "medical" deferment for a football-related knee injury during the Vietnam War. He first won his Senate seat by ripping apart former Sen. Max Cleland, a Vietnam vet, who lost three of his four limbs fighting over there, for being "weak on national defense" (and Cleland made the mistake of not in turn ripping him into little pieces, which he could have). Chambliss wrote the rape issue in the armed services all off to "hormones." The Republicans (except for John McCain, one has to say) and the Brass all said that nothing had to be done, except perhaps to beef up a totally non-functional system a little bit.

Not a word was heard about the effect of rampant rape on "combat readiness." Except that now that women are going to be going into combat even more than they already have, one would think that there would be a concern about the potential problem, would one not? You're in a foxhole (or its modern equivalent) with one of those habitual sexual predators with which apparently the military is rife and perhaps your concern is more about being raped than about taking a hit from the enemy? You would think that that might affect combat readiness, wouldn't you? Or at least you would think that the brass might be concerned with the possibility to want to clamp down on the crime, wouldn't you?

Well apparently not. Fascinating contradiction, no? Concern about combat readiness where there is no indication that there needs to be. No concern about combat readiness where one would think that it surely should be a concern. Jeez. I wonder if in the military academies and the officer candidate schools two of the first courses, for the males at least, should be in sex education, and the socio-psychology, psychopathology, and the law of sex crimes.

(Photo: Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

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References available upon request to the author

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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for BuzzFlash@Truthout he is the Editorial Director of and a Contributing Author to The Political Junkies for Progressive Democracy (http://thepoliticaljunkies.org/). Dr. Jonas' latest book is The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A futuristic Novel, Brewster, NY, Trepper & Katz Impact Books, Punto Press Publishing, 2013