Remember Gwen Dreyer? No, of course not. She was the poor, unfortunate midshipman who was “chained to a urinal” at the United States Naval Academy in the winter of 1990. The incident came at the end of a long day of snowball fights and practical jokes, in which Ms. Dreyer had willingly taken part. Sometime later, Dreyer left the academy and used her humiliation in the men’s room to explain to her father why she had left. Her father complained to the academy, which investigated and reprimanded the midshipmen involved.
It did not end there, of course. The local papers heard about the urinal, and what began with a snowball fight quickly snowballed into a national scandal. Before long the academy was facing two internal and two congressional investigations into the incident. Nine months later, l’affaire Dreyer culminated with a press conference on Capitol Hill, at which the academy’s board of visitors, led by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) and Representative Helen Bentley (R-Maryland), certified the academy’s conversion from callous disregard for feminine sensitivities to fervent champion of the rights of military women.
All of this happened before Tailhook, and before the humiliating aftermath of Tailhook (which forced a Secretary of the Navy and a Chief of Naval Operations out of office), and before the Navy’s abandonment of Admiral Stanley Arthur for his alleged insensitivity to alleged sex discrimination, and, of course, before Admiral Mike Boorda’s shocking suicide, interpreted by some as an act of atonement for the Navy’s many sins and by others as a cowardly exit to avoid having to endure his own personal disgrace.
Now it is the Army’s turn. After initial attempts to downplay reports of sexual abuse at Maryland’s Aberdeen Proving Grounds, the Army has shifted into high gear to show that it has learned from the Navy’s experience not to take such things lightly. Soldiers worldwide have been encouraged to call the Army’s new 24-hour harassment hotline, which in its first 12 weeks logged nearly 7,000 calls and 1,074 allegations of sexual abuse. The old threat to “drop a dime” on someone has taken on a new meaning.
Military justice is swift. Already there have been convictions, but there have also been acquittals—of a staff sergeant at Fort Leonard Wood charged with alleged sexual misconduct, and of a West Point cadet accused of raping another West Point cadet after a drunken beach party. In the latter case, Army investigators had recommended against a court martial (both male and female witnesses supported the defense), but the Army chose to try a man for rape rather than appear insufficiently sensitive to women.
Young and not guilty (if not entirely innocent), the accused cadet may soon recover from his ordeal, but the Army’s senior enlisted man. Sergeant Major of the Army Gene C. McKinney, will have no such chance. McKinney has been suspended from duty following public accusations from a female sergeant major that he came on to her in a hotel room in Hawaii last year. No evidence and no witnesses, but a career ruined and a man disgraced.
To top things off, five women now claim Army investigators coerced them into making false accusations of rape, threatening them with prosecution for having consensual sex if they did not cooperate. The words “witch hunt” and “inquisition” have not appeared in the many press reports on the growing scandal (such words now being reserved for the military’s prosecution of homosexuals), but what terms can better describe Army-wide efforts to ferret out the perpetrators of politically heinous crimes and to intimidate everyone else into cooperating with the official policy of “zero tolerance”?
The poster child for this year’s inquisition is a cute young recruit with baby blue eyes who, by her own admission, acquiesced to having sex not once but twice with a male sergeant because she “thought she had to,” according to the New York Times. The Times quoted the young woman saying, “When he got through [the second time], he was like: ‘Get out. Don’t get in my face.'” One could view this woman as an innocent young soldier (“solidly built . . . with a firm jaw”) victimized by a predatory superior and the Army’s sexist culture, but one could also see her as a young woman of low morals whose light regard for her own virtue naturally invited others to treat her as trash.
There is plenty of trash in the military. There always has been and probably always will be. Volunteer militaries in particular tend to fill their ranks from the lowest levels of society, “the very scum of the earth,” in the Duke of Wellington’s words. The only difference today is that the United States military enlists not only male scum but female scum as well. and when you put the two together things happen. Sex happens. Pregnancy happens. Jealousy happens. Cruelty happens. Rape happens. And it all happens not just in the trailer parks off post but in the barracks, in the field, aboard ship, stateside and overseas, in wartime as in peacetime.
It has been ten years since the Army published a pamphlet on feminine hygiene in the field, advising soldiers at Fort Meade, Maryland:
Sex does not just happen in a garrison setting. If you are on birth control pills, make sure that you bring enough packs along to last you for the exercise, and an extra pack in case something happens to the one you’re currently on.
Now, finally, some guardians of the nation’s conscience are edging closer to admitting that sexual integration may just be beyond the military’s professional competence. A recent cover article of the New Republic all but endorses an all-male military. Other left-of-center opinion-leaders like Richard Cohen at the Washington Post have confessed their waning confidence in the feminist dream of military glory.
The Army itself is now reconsidering its second attempt at gender-integrated basic training (the first attempt was declared a failure in 1982), but resegregating basic training would not have spared the women at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, nor will it alone solve the many problems that women cause the services, all now well known in Washington if not openly admitted. Only a complete reversal of current policy, with an unprecedented admission that sexual equality, however desirable, just does not work in the military, would wake the military from this nightmare of embarrassment and deceit.
Anything less and the assaults, accusations, and inquisitions will continue, like periodic outbreaks of a deadly disease slowly corrupting and destroying the spirit, soul, and body of a once-great institution. What did not begin with Tailhook will not end with Aberdeen.