Disgracing Our Military

Sexual predation is primarily about power, and only secondarily about sex. However heinous and disgusting, it seems ubiquitous in settings of violent collision among members of society.

Much of this activity is simply beyond the practical limits of of our control. But now, a more insidious lethargy toward such acts has entrenched itself. Boys will be boys. Women are always asking for it. We are bombarded almost daily by scandals involving teachers, athletes, bosses, and clergymen, and extending to family members and dates. These situations involve interactions between individuals with disparate prerogatives, where one player may control promotions, grades, or even personal safety for the other player. Often, trust is violated. Is it any wonder that, in the military, where the exercise of such prerogatives is part of the social fabric, we are now confronted with a sexual abuse scandal of explosive dimensions?

It is too late to merely educate service members about the impropriety of acting in so disgusting and (ironically) cowardly a manner. The culture of abuse has become too ingrained. This is obvious when one notes the reluctance to report incidents. Retraining must be accompanied by a method of swift justice with consequences as terrifying as the acts that trigger its implementation.

It is to their everlasting credit that the ladies of the U.S. Senate have brought prominence to this issue. However, in preliminary hearings on this subject, one could not help but sense an aura of condescension exuded by military chiefs of staff confronted by mere women, even if they were senators. But now, with two jury convictions for sex crimes overturned by lieutenant generals and the arrest of the Air Force's chief sex crime policeman on charges of sexual assault, the situation has become so disgusting and embarrassing that even the men of the Senate are becoming vocal.

Who are these officers? One might speculate that such behavior began at home. Did fathers condone disrespect for mothers? Were attitudes of superiority and privilege instilled in these future leaders? Just where did they get their values and sense of honor? Obviously not in the service academies, which are also up to their zippers in charges of unreported sex abuse.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has proposed an important step in what will be a long journey of healing. She has put forth legislation that will help guarantee the punishment of predators, which may, in turn, increase the reporting of these crimes. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has shown reluctance to throw the full weight of his office behind this bill. Is he too enmeshed in the culture he must clean up? Has he become hopelessly compromised so early in his tenure?

I was among those unimpressed by Secretary Hagel's performance during his nomination hearing, and advocated against his confirmation in these pages. I did not see evidence of the type of leadership the Department of Defense demands. This is his chance to begin proving that the doubters were wrong. His support of Senator Gillibrand's bill would show that he has not succumbed to a good ole boys' network that has, as part of its culture, a shocking ease with the sexual debasement of its members. Something must be done now.