Official disclaimer: nothing in this post reflects the views of the Department of Defense, the Army, the Marines, etc. This is only the unofficially terrible, wrong and poorly written opinion of one person who happened to have served at some point since 9/11. You have been warned.
Many times over the past decade the military has come out on top in polls asking Americans what professions they most admire (http://www.gallup.com/poll/1654/honesty-ethics-professions.aspx). Servicemen are seen as more honorable, honest and respectable than doctors, lawyers, etc. The public appears to have bought the military’s sales pitch, which is that it is a singularly honorable organization dedicated to higher values. I disagree. Again, I will narrow this discussion down to the Army as that is where I have experience.
I bought this sales pitch as well. The Army claims to uphold values I believe in, values that I was sold on when it was recruiting me, but in reality is no different than any other large bureaucracy that has no values other than self-perpetuation. I cannot shake the feeling that I have aligned myself with an organization that I truly have nothing in common with, regardless of what its professed values are.
The problem is, to truly be an honorable and ethical organization, one must react quickly to situations that violate what you claim are your core values and guiding principles. You must be dedicated to progress regardless of how difficult that progress might be. An organization like this could almost be defined as progressive, even. However, the Army is an inherently conservative organization, not only in the politics of the majority of its members, which we have already hit on, but in the way it reacts to controversy and obviously necessary changes.
Why do I find this so noxious? What is it about the organization and the way it conducts business and reacts to controversy that is so painful to sane people who actually place great importance on what the Army claims are its values? What is so frustrating is the dichotomy between what the Army professes to be, and what it fights tooth-and-nail to remain.
The obvious (to me) place to start is with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. This horrible policy was passed by congress and signed by President Clinton in 1993. Though DADT was not an Army-specific policy, at the time the Army supported it as a compromise between its preferred policy of a continued ban on gays serving openly and the compassionate human beings who were agitating for the ban to be lifted. It took President Clinton to force the Army to admit that gays could serve honorably, even if the requirement that they had to hide who they were violated many Army values: Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage come to mind. How the Army brass could support this policy and continue to say that these values were important is a question whose answer lies in the nature of the Army itself.
The Army is a reactionary conservative organization dedicated to a traditional, patriarchal view of human behavior as it relates to war fighting. The myth that it takes “real men,” as defined in the Judeo-Christian context, to fight a war has defined the Army since its founding. One may be tempted to forgive a giant, plodding bureaucracy for failing to react quickly to changing social mores, but this is in direct conflict with the Army’s definition of itself and how it reacts to changing circumstances. The Army fashions itself as an organization solely beholden to ground truth in a war zone. Commanders are told time and again to “fight the enemy, not the plan,” that “the enemy has a vote in the fight too,” or, “the plan goes out the window when the first shots are fired.“ There are countless platitudes of this sort that attest to the belief that the Army must be, and is, flexible on the battlefield. But what about at home?
Another area where the Army has been criminally slow to react to changing social mores and truly disgusting behavior by soldiers is in the epidemic of sexual assault (see here for a good, unemotional report on this: http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/pentagon/2014/12/04 /pentagon-rand-sexual-assault–reports/19883155/). Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, commanders at all levels have the responsibility to ensure crimes are addressed and punishment is appropriately meted out. This has its origins in the necessity for the Army to ensure that its soldiers adhere to lawful orders and do what they’re told, especially in circumstances that could result in their death or injury in combat. Army commanders must have the appropriate bark behind their bite, so to say, to ensure that they can compel their soldiers to accomplish the mission. In most non-combat cases, this is entirely appropriate. The unit leadership can factor in mitigating circumstances and information to control their own organization, because no one should know the unit better, ensuring good order and discipline.
But what happens when the crime committed is not being absent without leave, insubordination, disrespect, or the failure to follow a lawful order? What if the crime is more heinous than a violation of the command structure or military norms? And what happens if the victim of this crime is of a minority in the Army, a minority whose basic genetic differences (and perceived inferiority) from the majority are the basis for the culture of the organization? What happens is that commanders will overlook the seriousness of the crime in favor of maintaining a culture of manliness where the victim is treated as just as culpable as the perpetrator, for putting herself in a situation where she could be taken advantage of by a male colleague, because doesn’t she know boys will be boys? Doesn’t she know that the same qualities that make a male an excellent warrior are the same ones that lead him to commit sexual assault? So what happens is that commanders placed the good of the unit (the men) and its ability to be a “team” ahead of the safety and well-being of a few female soldiers, because they all know that women don’t really belong in the military anyways. See here for a better explanation of this mindset: https://roughtradeblog.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/let-women-into-combat-units/.
So there is an epidemic of male soldiers sexually assaulting female soldiers which has not been addressed by the chain of command in any real manner. Not to mention the insane number of sexual assaults that go unreported every year because women know that it wouldn’t be addressed anyways, so it is not worth the effort and inevitable victim-shaming that would result. Since the Army would not address this crime spree themselves, congress tried to step in. The Army’s solution to agitation from congresswomen to remove sexual assault cases from the chain of command, which ultimately failed to pass congress, was to institute new service-wide training programs, like a revamped Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention, or SHARP. This program already existed in some form before the sexual assault epidemic became a topic of congressional debate, but it was spruced up and made a priority for every single commander in the entire Army to brief their troops on it. One lesson the Army has learned well over the years is that any problem can be solved with another PowerPoint brief, not because it is an effective method for disseminating information, but because it gives the organization an opportunity to cover its ass with minimal effort. It can’t be a widespread cultural problem, because all the commanders gave the same brief, right?
At this point, it is only to fair to mention that sexual assaults against male soldiers actually outnumber those against females. A larger percentage of females are assaulted every year as there are less of them in the total force, but the overall number of males assaulted is actually greater. Think about that – not only are males soldiers sexually assaulting their female comrades in criminally high numbers, they are also sexually assaulting each other. I am blaming males on this as I find it hard to believe that female troops are sexually assaulting their male comrades in any significant number. So these real men of action, dedicated to fighting and dying for each other, committed to these exalted values that no civilian organization can even come close to, are not only raping their female comrades who aren’t real soldiers and shouldn’t be in the Army anyways, but they’re also raping each other.
We have heard that rape is not really about sex, but about the power associated with forcing someone to bend to your will. Given this theory, that rape would become an epidemic in an organization structured upon a hierarchical structure beholden to rank and the absolute inability to refuse an order unless it is “illegal,” should surprise exactly no one.
I know sexual assault is only one example of how the Army fails to live up to its own professed values, but if I turn this blog post into a master’s thesis-sized polemic, you won’t fucking stick around and read it all, will you? Sexual assault is the perfect example of how the Army is in reality no different than any other large organization where the goal becomes perpetuation of the institution, not whatever mission it was formed to execute. Can you think of a more vile betrayal of your comrades-in-arms than to sexually assault one of them? Especially while soldiers go around with a chip on their shoulders about how they have “served,” and they have more honor, yadda-yadda-yadda, and civilians do not. You cannot profess to be on morally higher ground than the society you exist to serve and address a sexual assault epidemic with a fucking PowerPoint.
If you want some further reading about how the Army is full of shit when it comes to values, honor and morals, check these out:
Just a couple of senior generals doing shit that would get a private sent to Leavenworth and then dishonorably discharged, while they get to retire with their multiple hundreds-of-thousands-of -dollars a year taxpayer-provided pensions, and take plea bargains that have no jail time.
(Politics and Military)