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Posted on Jan 13, 2006 Print this Article


If the Navy court-martials all sailors who use blue language, will there be any sailors left to sail the ocean blue? Officials at the U.S. Naval Academy ought to think about this as they prepare to court martial Lt. Bryan D. Black.

Lt. Black, an oceanography instructor, got himself in trouble last August by using crude language in the presence of several midshipmen, one of them a woman. Black’s sexual braggadocio, inspired by the sight of the battleship Wisconsinberthed near the patrol boat on which he stood, was clearly profane. The incident went beyond a “guy thing” when he made a clumsy attempt to “share” the fantasy moment with the female midshipman. Black apologized for the vulgarity and she accepted, noting that she had heard worse in the halls of the academy.

The matter escalated, however, when a female lieutenant commander decided to report another off-color comment Black had made when bantering about his ex-wife with a group of men, who were overheard by a woman.  A local Marine investigator recommended a non-punitive letter of caution. That action, which would damage and very likely end Black's career, would have been proportional and appropriate.

An atmosphere of hyper-sensitivity, however, elevated the  matter to Superintendent of the Naval Academy, Vice Adm. Rodney Rempt, who had just declared a “zero tolerance” policy against sexual harassment.

Freeze the frame. At the time Superintendent Rempt was shell-shocked in the aftermath of the August Report of the Defense Task Force on Sexual Harassment & Violence at the Military Service Academies. Many of the panel’s 44 recommendations, largely crafted by civilian “victim advocate” professionals, were problematic, contrary to sound military principles, and potentially harmful to morale at the academy. See CMR analysis here.

Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a feminist termagant and member of the USNA Board of Visitors, scolded Superintendent Rempt, who seized upon the case of the hapless Lt. Black. Lest anyone think he is soft on sailors who swear, Superintendent Rempt overruled the Marine investigator, and signed papers ordering a Special Court Martial charging Black with “conduct unbecoming an officer.”

Fast-forward the tape. The Special Court Martial, now postponed beyond January 31, will skip Article 32 proceedings that provide opportunities to challenge witnesses and test an officer case prior to a jury trial. If charges stick, Lt. Black will be denied two-thirds of his salary for a year, his DNA will be registered with the FBI, and he will have a criminal record for life.

Now split the screen. In the same week that news of Lt Black’s criminal prosecution was reported in the Washington Times, Admiral Rempt issued a personal invitation to all midshipmen and academy staff to attend an adults-only interactive play called “Sex Signals.”Staged three times in Mahan Hall at Annapolis, the two-person play was flagged in advance with warnings of offensive language.

As explained by one of the producers, which performs the play for civilian college audiences nationwide, “We use language that is very frank..these are phrases students use in real life and we see no reason to dumb it down or ‘baby’ the students.”

Admiral Rempt’s zero tolerance policy, it turns out, has an asterisk on it. Four-letter words for intimate body parts and crude slang for sexual activity are perfectly OK, provided that they are recited by civilian actors in an “educational” production that is supposed to teach midshipmen about date rape.

But according to attorney Charles Gittins, who is representing Lt. Black and attended the play, “Sex Signals” goes far beyond irony and offense. Instead of providing sound information to help midshipmen resist temptation and inappropriate behavior, the production conveys a legally and factually inaccurate definition of rape.

In a letter to Superintendent Rempt, Gittins noted that the actors’ risqué skits suggest that a woman can whisper “No” to a man during foreplay suggesting consent to sex, but even in the absence of force the man will be guilty of rape. Academy legal authorities who were present made no effort to correct the misinformation.

This is what passes for “leadership” at the Naval Academy today. Instead of reinforcing personal responsibility in sexual matters, the academy has invited the midshipmen to embrace misleading and inaccurate information about the legal aspects of rape.

Looking at the big picture, it seems that the Naval Academy Superintendent doesn’t have a clue. Gender relations in the Navy are muddled, and mixed signals picked up from “Sex Signals” could encourage more misunderstanding and risky behavior, not less.

Sexual abuse is always wrong and should be punished, but the Pentagon-subsidized campaign of feminists to eradicate “masculinism” in the military is starting to do real harm. The word “accountability” has been redefined, meaning that officials must “account” for the disposition of every case of sexual harassment. The phrase “due process” has a whole new meaning too, because in the confused minds of civilian “victim advocates” nothing short of court martial will do.

Extremism in the prosecution of men is not necessarily helpful to women. In the case of Lt. Black, the female midshipman who initially accepted his apology will be ordered to testify not because she wants to, but because the Navy’s P. C. Police are prosecuting him. The complaint was filed because another woman thought that Black’s apology wasn’t “sincere enough.” The criminal trial must take place in public, and persons other than Black will be discomforted when Defense Counsel Gittins starts to cross-examine the witnesses.

Crude language is rude and unprofessional; it should be discouraged or punished in appropriate ways. But are women truly helpless when they hear cuss words that don’t make sailors blush? In another 2005 survey of sexual harassment at the military academies, released on December 23, 100% of Naval Academy women who did not file official complaints said they thought they could handle such problems themselves.

But a peculiar form of “new chivalry” has emerged. Some male officials say they want to protect women from verbal harassment or harm, while simultaneously promoting the exposure of military women to abuse and violence at the hands of enemies in combat.

Complicating the situation even more, some women try to keep up with men who use profanity as performance art. Witness the book Love My Rifle More Than You, written by former Army sergeant Kayla Williamsabout her experiences in Iraq. The provocative book takes the prize for equal opportunity raunchiness in a gender-mixed environment.

Some men try to avoid trouble by avoiding women, but “shunning” shows up on lists of harassment behaviors drawn up by professionals seeking Defense Department grants and more “feminist pork.” Even if the academies recruited candidates-for-sainthood only, professionals seeking lucrative contracts wouldn’t be happy. Trying to please civilian "victims advocates" should not be the primary goal of Naval Academy leaders.

The most forbidden four-letter word in the military is “lady.” Its notable absence as an ideal makes it harder to understand the meaning of “officer and gentleman.” In the mine-laden world of sexual politics, what’s a midshipman to do? The Naval Academy Honor Code provides a useful guide, and it ought be followed from the Superintendent on down.


Posted on Jan 13, 2006 Print this Article