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Posted on May 18, 2004 Print this Article


Members of Congress are demanding answers to their questions about scandalous behavior photographed at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. “How could this happen?” they ask. But this is not the first time that they have been warned about personal indiscipline and inferior training in the military.

Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba observed in his scathing report that military police soldiers at Abu Ghraib were weak in basic military occupational skills. How could this happen? Consider the effect of co-ed basic training, imposed on the Army in 1994. Two years later, sex scandals erupted at Aberdeen Proving Groundand basic training facilities.

An independent advisory committee headed by former Kansas Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker studied the issue in 1997, and declared unanimously that “[Co-ed basic training] is resulting in less discipline, less unit cohesion, and more distraction from training programs.”In 1998 the House passed legislation to end co-ed basic training, but the Senate called for a congressional commission instead. Key findings of that 1999 commission escaped notice, but in 2002 an Army briefing conceded that gender-integrated basic training was “not efficient,” and “effective” only in sociological terms.

Nevertheless, the controversial program continues. The irreplaceable process of “soldierization”--which transforms immature young people into disciplined soldiers--must compete with hours of “sensitivity training.” Drill sergeants have to spend time keeping the boys and girls apart, and distracted trainees fail to learn essential lessons about respect for legitimate authority and restraints on military power.

The diversion of time leaves some basic trainees deficient in critical building block skills necessary for advanced instruction. In surveys taken during the 1999 study, 78% of Army leaders said that discipline had declined in gender-integrated basic training.

Social experiments--particularly the unrealistic theory that men and women are interchangeable in all roles and military missions--have failed the test of Abu Ghraib. “Equal opportunity abusers” are not typical, but the debased activities of a few Americans reveal what can happen when unformed soldiers--lacking a firm grounding in legal, moral, and ethical values--wield unsupervised power over other human beings.

Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski claims she did not know about the abusive behavior and sexual misconduct among her MP’s. How could this happen?Failure to ask the right questions can create explosive conditions.

In 1999, following a drunken brawl, soldiers who thought that Army Pfc. Barry Winchellwas homosexual clubbed him to death in the barracks of Fort Campbell. Some experts speculate that the crime might have been averted if commanders had freely questioned everything going on in that sexually tense environment.

We don’t know why higher-level commanders averted their eyes from homosexual and heterosexual misconduct in the cellblocks of Abu Ghraib. Their failure to ask questions, however, is consistent with former President Clinton’s convoluted “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy—a set of expendable enforcement regulations designed to circumvent the 1993 law affirming that homosexuality is incompatible with military service.

Some commanders have interpreted “don’t ask, don’t tell” to mean that they should avoid asking questions about any kind of inappropriate sexual behavior. The concept undermines sound principles of leadership, and encourages sexual misconduct of all varieties. The Bush Administration should enforce the homosexual exclusion law, but eliminate Clinton’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy/regulations.

There are other flawed military practices that require candid review and revision. In 1994 then-Secretary of Defense Les Aspinissued directives that deliberately removed “risk of capture” as a factor in the assignment of female soldiers. A few exemptions remain, but Aspin’s rules have imposed unprecedented burdens on our female soldiers.

On March 23, 2003, three servicewomen were captured during the ambush of the 507th Maintenance Unit in Iraq. Nine months later, NBC and ABC News fleetingly aired excerpts of a disturbing Iraqi video showing the battered faces of the unconscious, sexually assaulted Pfc. Jessica Lynch and her dying friend, single mother Pfc. Lori Piestewa. Immediate release of that graphic video might have changed the course of the war.

In 1992, experts proposed a solution for that possibility. Specialists who train potential prisoners of war in Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) techniques testified before the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces. They said it was necessary to use special exercises to “densensitize” the men so that the enemy would not exploit the captives’ heightened concern about female colleagues being physically and sexually abused. The SERE trainers added that the entire nation would have to be conditioned to accept combat violence against women.

The Commission rejected that idea as a step backward for civilization. Female soldiers and mothers nevertheless are being deployed in or near previously all-male land combat units. Officials responsible for Abu Ghraib pretended that gender differences and human failings would not matter. The resulting photos suggest otherwise, and inscribe yet another black mark on a continuum curving downward toward incivility and a cultural breakdown. So much for the idealistic “ungendered military” theory pursued during the Clinton years.

Soldiers are recruited from the civilian world, where “male bashing” has become commonplace. According to the Associated Press, violence among girls, including vicious fights at birthday parties and dances, has increased dramatically. Popular films celebrate “mean girls,” and some lines of greeting cards promote man-hating as a joke.

Now we see a wickedly demeaning, poster-perfect photo of a female soldier looking down on a naked Iraqi man tethered on a leash. The war between the sexes, provoked by mutual resentments, has just gone nuclear.

How could this happen?There are many causes, but nothing will change until Pentagon officials eliminate problematic social policies that undermine sound principles of leadership, military discipline, and American cultural values. The social engineers have had their chance. For the sake of servicemen and women, and a strong national defense, superior basic training in the Army and high standards of leadership must be restored.

Posted on May 18, 2004 Print this Article