Saturday, May 11, 2013

SEX AND THE SERVICES


Remember when the argument against letting gays and lesbians serve in the Military Services was that their presence—and knowledge of their presence—would disrupt “good order and discipline”?  Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham were vociferous in supporting the “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” policy and seeking the discharge of homosexuals if they were outed.  They lied: the problem is not homosexuals.

The problem is heterosexuals.  The overwhelming and widespread evidence of their sexual misconduct in the Military Services demonstrates that letting them into the Army, Navy, and Air Force has been a big mistake; heterosexuals, not homosexuals, are directly responsible for this breakdown in good order and discipline.  An estimated 26,000 sexual assaults occurred in the Military Services in 2012—a 34.5-percent increase over such assaults in 2011—with the estimated numbers of unreported attacks spiking to 92 percent.  These sexual assaults—physical acts, not offensive language or suggestive leers—are crimes occurring despite what Department of Defense (DOD) claims are its efforts to prevent them.

It is embarrassing that the DOD claims that it is trying, because it is failing so badly.  It must know that it is failing, and failing thanks to poor leadership, poor strategies, poor tactics, and, probably what matters most, a lack of commitment to this mission.  From their highest commanding officers down to their lowliest sergeants and petty officers, the Military Services have proven themselves incapable of command and control of their troops.  DOD’s “chain of command” is a wet noodle.

  Recent revelations indicate this larger truth.  First was the case of the Air Force commander of its sexual assault prevention unit.  Police arrested Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski for groping a woman in a parking lot.  The obvious disparity between Krusinski’s duty and deportment embarrassed the Air Force.  Of course, it protested that Krusinski did not represent the Service or reflect the seriousness with which it takes the problem.  Really?  If Krusinski did not represent the Service and did not reflect its seriousness, then why was this expendable go-fer instead of an experienced general officer in charge?  In the military, you take a problem seriously, you put stars or stripes on it.

Others were less concerned with this case than with the attitudes evident in the conduct of, not one, but two, Air Force lieutenant generals who dismissed court-martial convictions for various sex-related crimes.  First, Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, commander of the 3rd Air Force at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, overturned the multiple convictions of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson for “abusive sexual conduct, aggravated sexual assault and three instances of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.”  Then Lt. Gen. Susan Helms overturned a conviction of Capt. Matthew Herrera for “aggravated sexual assault.”  Neither has offered any explanation then or since.  What is with this?

The answer is Chaperone in Chief, that is, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Mark A. Welsh III.  In Congressional testimony, Welsh declared the problem of the estimated 26,000-some-odd cases of sexual assault reflects American’s “hook-up” culture among young people.  Welsh’s assessment deserves recognition and response because it represents the pervasive thinking among senior military officers of all three Military Services.  One, like the others, the Air Force recruits and accepts such people, apparently without trying to screen out the hookers and the hookees.  Two, the General accepts no responsibility for the failure of his program to prevent sexual assaults, even to slow down the rate at which they occur, and shifts the blame to society.  Three, Welsh presumes to know the intentions of those involved by implying that the estimated 26,000 cases are consensual.  Four, Welsh justifies the dismissal of convictions—and, by extension, complaints—because nothing criminal in these sexual encounters occurs.  He implies that there are no sexual assaults and, therefore, no crimes, just some unfortunate miscommunications or misunderstandings.  The military justice system works just fine.

Welsh’s sworn testimony shows him unfit for command.  On a matter which the Pentagon professes to take seriously and to work diligently, Welsh does not believe in the existence or the seriousness of the problem.  Such beliefs set the example and suggest that the unit which Krusinski headed was ineffective because it was window-dressing, a public-relations stunt.  Of course, given such a belief, he could not consider, much less propose, what some senators are now considering proposing: a change in the Military Code to prevent commanders from dismissing court-martial convictions unconditionally in cases of sexual assault.  The idea is a good one, for it would affirm that sexual assaults do occur and are crimes, and that laws, not people, govern the Military Services as they presumably govern the nation.  Such a provision would support the possibility of military justice to redress grievances in the Military Services.

However egregious the reversals of these two court-martial convictions, ex post facto action on them or the generals would be improper, for, at the time, generals Franklin and Helms had the authority to exercise their judgment in all cases.  The issue is not the authority which they possessed, but the judgment which they lacked.  The same issue involves Welsh’s assessment of the generation participating in the “hook-up culture.”  If Welsh does not understand the difference between consensual hooking up and non-consensual sexual assaults, he not only shows a lack of moral nuance, but also shares the “women-want-it, women-ask-for-it” culture of his age and gender.  Air Force Chief of Staff Welsh sends the message that women are sexually promiscuous, men are naturally provoked, thus all—fondling, groping, assaulting, raping—is fair in love and war, in the Military Services.

Gauging others’ intentions is challenging work.  If biased or uninformed views supply his assessment of the intentions of his troops involved in sexual encounters, biased or uninformed views are more equally likely to inform his assessment of the intentions of enemies, with potentially dreadful consequences.  For example, the US justified its long and costly war against Iraq on assessments of Hussein’s intentions.  Most analysts inferred that Hussein’s refusal to give inspectors access to all facilities meant that he had something to hide.  But they were wrong.  Hussein’s refusal was his bluff to create doubt about his possession of WMDs to keep enemies foreign and domestic at bay.  So, when the Air Force Chief of Staff knows either nonsense or nothing about the intentions of his troops, then he is likely to know more nonsense or less than nothing about the intentions of our enemies.  Welsh’s mindset, a mix of prejudices and ignorance, makes him unlikely to make sensible judgments or give sound advice. 

We are way past worrying about a lieutenant colonel who was the commanding officer of a unit responsible for the Air Force’s anti-sexual-assault program and who turned out to be a groper.  It hardly matters whether local police prosecute the hapless Krusinski or turn him over to the Air Force to scapegoat a deserving culprit.  We should not be worrying only about the attitudes and actions of Air Force general officers; their attitudes are not unique to that service.  All the Military Services have contributed to the estimated thousands of cases of sexual assaults and their poor record of reporting them and dealing with them appropriately.  That record makes the stars and the stripes a joke, a bunch of boys (for the most part; “tomboy” Myers is an exception) whom the nation indulges under its “boys-will-be-boys” culture.  So the Military Services turn out to be, not military forces, but frat parties.

So we should be worrying about the dysfunctional social culture tolerated or fostered by the leadership of all the Military Services; they have long faced this large and growing problem in their ranks.  But the record shows that they do not understand it or its importance, do not care about it or its effects on morale and readiness, and dodge responsibility for it and for their failures to address it effectively.  It is long since time for the parties to end and for the civilians to end them, with bold action to punish not only offenders, but also to penalize by demotions or dismissal from the Military Services at least their immediate commanders for failure to ensure “good order and discipline.”

I hear people muttering about my tarring all military personnel for a “few bad apples.”  I know something about bad apples; I know that, left in the barrel, they make all the apples in the barrel go bad.  Ask all the families who have learned that their priests molested their children how they feel about the Roman Catholic Church.  Ask those who wonder which priests they can trust and which they cannot.  My daughter left the faith when she had young boys because she could not trust Boston-area priests, their bishops, and the Church generally not to molest them, not to cover up their abuses, and not to move offenders from one parish to another, perhaps into hers.

The Military Services have been using the same operating manual to deal with sexual assault offenses and offenders, the “bad apples,” by retaliating against complaining victims, resisting or reducing charges, dismissing convictions, and restoring perpetrators to duty.  They do not deal with the other “apples.”  They let them go bad by tolerating or encouraging silent acceptance of such offenses and offenders.  Any member of the military who does not know about the sexual peccadillos of his or her fellow service members is cognitively unfit for duty.  And any member of the military who does know and has done nothing is lacking in moral judgment and moral courage—deficiencies making him or her undeserving of the honor which the public too often unquestioningly bestows upon people in uniform.  If it is hard to ascertain those who deserve a finger and who deserve a salute, then it is hard to trust not only the troops, but also the Military Services to which they belong.

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