The U.S. mil­i­tary — most pow­er­ful, least sex­ual?

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - BY GREG JAFFE jaf­feg@wash­post.com Greg Jaffe cov­ers mil­i­tary af­fairs for The Washington Post and is a co-author of “The Fourth Star: Four Gen­er­als and the Epic Strug­gle for the Fu­ture of the United States Army.”

Never in its his­tory has the mil­i­tary been quite so squea­mish about sex. Amer­i­can so­ci­ety is, of course, openly ob­sessed with sex. But the mil­i­tary— long a bas­tion of randy sol­diers and rag­ing hor­mones — is mov­ing swiftly in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. Its dis­com­fort with cop­u­la­tion ex­ploded into pub­lic view with the re­cent fir­ing of the cap­tain of the USS En­ter­prise air­craft car­rier on the eve of its de­ploy­ment to sup­port the war in Afghanistan.

In2006 and 2007, Capt. OwenHonors starred in a se­ries of ship­board videos in which he pan­tomimed mas­tur­ba­tion and­peered into show­ers at pairs of semi­clothed men and women. Within 48 hours of the bawdy videos sur­fac­ing on the In­ter­net, Hon­ors was sent pack­ing.

He left in­good­com­pany. Abouthalf of the 17 Navy skip­pers who lost their com­mands last year were fired for sex­ual dal­liances. The Army and theMarine Corp­shave sim­i­larly adopted zero-tol­er­ance poli­cies for any kind of sex­ual in­dis­cre­tion. These days, bat­tle­field com­man­ders are far more likely to lose their jobs for mar­i­tal in­fi­delity than for mar­tial fail­ings.

“With the Amer­i­cans, it was quite ex­tra­or­di­nary,” saidEm­maSky, a Bri­tish civil­ian­whos­pent­sev­eral year­swork­ing as an ad­viser to top Amer­i­can com­man­ders in Iraq. “As a woman, I found the U.S. mil­i­tary to be one of the best places to work be­cause they had com­pletely re­moved sex from the equa­tion. It is the most un-sex­ist en­vi­ron­ment I have ever worked in.”

Still, the mil­i­tary’s ex­treme sex­less­ness in the midst of so much killing left Sky a bit un­com­fort­able. “It is not quite nat­u­ral,” she said. “It re­ally is a bizarre moral code. I would joke with them that they were a bunch of Chris­tian ji­hadis.”

The sex habits of sol­diers, sailors and Marines may seem like a tri­fling mat­ter amid the tra­vails of bat­tle. But the sex­ual mores are em­blem­atic of a grow­ing gulf be­tweenamil­i­tary­fo­cuse­don­fight­ing in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a so­ci­ety that is in­creas­ingly los­ing in­ter­est in the dis­tant con­flicts. No other ma­jor wars in U.S. his­tory have been fought with a smaller per­cent­age of Amer­ica’s cit­i­zens in uni­form — there are roughly 2.4 mil­lion ac­tive and re­serve troops in a coun­try of more than 300 mil­lion, mak­ing up less than 1 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

The mil­i­tary’s iso­la­tion in ru­ralmegabases and the in­creas­ingly hered­i­tary na­ture of ser­vice have fur­ther com­pounded the dis­tance be­tween sol­diers and so­ci­ety. “My big fear is that we’ll have a mil­i­tary that is es­sen­tially a speck of Sparta in the midst of Baby­lon,” said re­tired ArmyMaj. Gen. Robert Scales. “I worry the mil­i­tary will be­come an in­sti­tu­tion that has es­sen­tially ex­cepted it­self out of so­ci­ety.”

Sky cites a sim­i­lar con­cern. “Amer­i­cans have placed their Army on a pedestal,” she said. “You want your mil­i­tary to be ofand­from the peo­ple, and­not above them.”

The mil­i­tary’s lead­er­ship wasn’t al­ways ex­pected to be quite so monas­tic. In the early 1930s, Gen. Dou­glasMacArthur re­turned to Washington from the Philip­pines with a 16-year-old girl whom he in­stalled in a ho­tel on 16th St. NW, ac­cord­ing to a bi­og­ra­phyby his­to­ri­anGe­of­frey Per­ret.

When a syndi­cated colum­nist started to ask ques­tions about his un­der­age lover, MacArthur re­port­edly told his aide, then-Maj. Dwight D. Eisen­hower, to get her out of town. “I like to tell my stu­dents that onthe plains ofWest­Point we have a statue hon­or­ing a statu­tory rapist and an­other statue to some­one whoaidedand­abet­ted him,” said Lt. Col. Robert Bate­man, a mil­i­tary his­to­rian.

Dur­ingWorldWar II, pros­ti­tutes were of­ten forced to un­dergo ex­am­i­na­tions by mil­i­tary doc­tors in an ef­fort to keep sol­diers healthy. Along those lines, Gen. Ge­orge S. Pat­ton fa­mously opined that “a man­whowon’t [ex­ple­tive], won’t fight.”

As late as the 1980s, of­fi­cers’ clubs on mil­i­tary bases in the United States and abroad reg­u­larly fea­tured per­for­mances by strip­pers. “I think we used to call them ex­otic dancers,” Scales re­called. To­day the of­fi­cers’ club at Fort Camp­bell, Ky., home to the le­gendary 101st Air­borne Di­vi­sion, was re­cently re­opened as a Fam­ily Re­source Cen­ter where sol­diers and their spouses can get mar­riage and fi­nan­cial coun­sel­ing. There are full-time babysit­ters on site. What caused the changes? First, there are more women in the mil­i­tary than ever: They make up 20 per­cent of the Air Force, 16 per­cent of the Navy, 14 per­cent of the Army and 7 per­cent of theMarines.

As women in uni­form have taken on po­si­tions of greater author­ity, the mil­i­tary has re­acted by pre­tend­ing that sex in the ranks doesn’t ex­ist, wrote re­tired Capt. Kevin Eyer in this month’s is­sue of theU.S. Naval In­sti­tute’s flag­ship mag­a­zine, Pro­ceed­ings. “You can­not put men and women in a small box, send them away for ex­tended pe­ri­ods of iso­lated time, and ex­pect them not to in­ter­act with one an­other,” he con­cluded. “ They’re like mag­nets . . . they stick. It is what has kept our species go­ing for 250,000 years.”

Even the word “woman” has fallen out of fa­vor on Army andMarine posts. In­stead the mil­i­tary prefers “fe­males,” which refers to non-male troops, and “ ladies,” a term that en­com­passes wives and the women who work in the base’s pro­to­col of­fice or thrift store.

The shift in mil­i­tary sex­ual mores also co­in­cided with an in­creas­ing num­ber of evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians who be­gan mov­ing into the of­fi­cer corps in the 1980s, as well as the 1991 Tail­hook scan­dal, in which hun­dreds of naval and Ma­rine avi­a­tors’ ca­reers were scut­tled by al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and abuse at a Las Ve­gas ho­tel.

Fi­nally, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have fu­eled the mil­i­tary’s turn away from sex. In both coun­tries, al­co­hol and pornog­ra­phy are pro­hib­ited on the grounds that they of­fend Mus­lims. Sol­diers and Marines in Afghanistan are re­peat­edly told not to look at lo­cal­women.

Mean­while, some Western women find them­selves cov­er­ing up even on U.S. bases. “I did not even like go­ing to a gym in a sleeve­less work­out top,” said Erin Simp­son, who re­cently re­turned from a stint as a civil­ian coun­terin­sur­gency ad­viser to the Army and Ma­rine Corps. “A lot of these guys haven’t seen their wives or girl­friends in a year. It makes you a lit­tle mal­ad­justed.”

To be sure, much of the mil­i­tary’s ex­treme sex­less­ness is a fa­cade. Troops still sneak off for in­ti­mate li­aisons on for­ward op­er­at­ing bases or ships. In Iraq and Afghanistan, sol­diers and Marines fre­quent­ly­make ar­range­ments for friends to wipe their com­put­ers clean of pornog­ra­phy if they are killed in bat­tle so that their moth­ers and wives won’t see the of­fend­ing im­ages when their lap­tops are shipped home.

Re­cently, the comic strip “Doc­trine Man,” writ­ten by an anony­mous ac­tive­duty of­fi­cer and dis­trib­uted via Face­book, spoofed the mil­i­tary’s ob­ses­sion with con­fis­cat­ing porn.

“You can’t bring pornog­ra­phy through Navy cus­toms,” a mil­i­tary cus­toms of­fi­cer tells a Ma­rine re­turn­ing from Iraq in a short an­i­ma­tion.

“It is il­le­gal for me to bring pornog­ra­phy back into theU.S.?” theMarine asks. “I thought this was where most of the pornog­ra­phy was made.”

“Do you think you’d catch the Great­est Gen­er­a­tion com­ing through here with porn?” the cus­toms of­fi­cer presses.

“[Ex­ple­tive] yeah,” the Ma­rine replies.

Of course, the mil­i­tary’s al­most cultish em­brace of a war­rior-monk ideal has some plus sides. Most mil­i­tary ex­perts be­lieve that it will make the in­te­gra­tion ofopen­ly­gaytroops into ther­anksmuch eas­ier. “ The mil­i­tary will have no prob­lem with ho­mo­sex­u­als be­cause it is a sex­less en­vi­ron­ment,” Sky said. “It just won’t be an is­sue.”

PHOTO IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY KRISTIN LENZ/THE WASHINGTON POST

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