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Tuesday, March 17, 1998

Follow the Leader

by Clinton Fein

The court-martial of Sgt. Major Gene McKinney is the most recent of embarrassing incidents to expose the glaring hypocrisies inherent in the military's policies governing sex and behavior. The military, in all its shining glory, is the ultimate microcosm of American society. Military culture is one of honor and integrity intertwined with duplicity and deceit. We need look no further than four individuals to gain insight into the current state of the military, and indeed, the current state of America.

Lieutenant Kelly Flinn

You remember her don't you? Perhaps the image of her sitting next to former Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall in a B2 bomber rings a bell. Kelly Flinn was the first female to fly one of these admirable killing machines, and the Air Force publicity machine created a gender equality poster girl that was used as forcefully as a Tailhook cover up. Until she behaved a little too equal. A little too much like a man. A little too much like a leader. She had sex. No just sex, adulterous sex. And then she lied about it.

What is most fascinating about the Kelly Flinn story is how clearly and glaringly it depicts the chasm that exists between military policy and military culture. Since 1778, when General Baron Frederich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben, wrote his "Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States," enacted by Congress a year later (his propensity for young male soldiers notwithstanding), the military has served as a bastion of masculinity. For millions of parents unable to control their rebellious, testosterone-secreting teens, the military's promise of discipline alone has enabled the military to maintain a volunteer based recruitment program.

From the second servicemembers enter the military, they are presented with the ultimate military paradox. In keeping with the military's commitment to make a man out of a boy, the presence of women and closeted homosexuals as equals is contradictory and confusing. The very training that breaks down and rebuilds the soldier into a well-disciplined military product is constructed and applied within a culture that disparages both gays and women. Notions of real men, not sissies or fags, and certainly not women, are actively advocated as superior and established as the standards to which a servicemember must aspire.

Of course, this environment is far more difficult for women. Gay men are usually much better at hiding - indeed it is policy to lie in this circumstance - and the hyper-masculine nature of contemporary gay culture makes it easier. Women, gay or straight have it much tougher. The whore-dyke syndrome allows men to use women sexually by a practice known as lesbian-baiting. The threat to out as a lesbian a woman who rebuffs sexual advances is as frequent and pervasive as a Marine buzzcut. Regardless of the sexual orientation of the woman being threatened. Even rumored lesbians are fair game for men anxious to demonstrate to them what they have been missing all along.

The ultimate in the string of confusing messages for women entering the military are the definitions of what constitutes a good soldier or military product worthy of value and esteem. Rough, tough, ready and able, strong-willed, able to focus on the enemy, strategy, and task at hand. Cruelly similar to stereotypical attributes of a dyke. The closer a woman is able to meet the requirements of what constitutes an able servicemember, the more likely it is she will be suspected of being a lesbian.

Enter Gene McKinney and Bill Clinton. When Kelly Flinn faced the hypocrisy of former Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall, Secretary of Defense, William Cohen and other military brass after the allegations of her adultery surfaced, there was an almost across-the-board willingness to dismiss the adultery charges. Especially once adultery claimed the career of General Longhauser, and thwarted General Ralston's ambitions to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Shortly thereafter Representative Barney Frank introduced the Anti-Hypocrisy Act, which was aimed at modifying the infamous Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which criminalizes sodomy, including oral sex between consenting, married heterosexuals. Article 133 and 134, the "General Articles,", according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, regulate a variety of consensual sexual behaviors that commanders determine "bring discredit to the armed services". Acts prosecuted under these Articles include adultery and the ever-vaguely defined "indecent acts."

But Kelly Flinn was a woman. So while the question of adultery was relegated to indignant admonishments by a vocal theocratic minority, the media and military scrutiny instead focussed on the lie. How, asked the misogynists, homophobes and hypocrites, could she get away with lying? After all, the military demands that orders are followed and that the truth is told. Integrity and honesty are indeed, the very hallmarks of unit cohesion and military preparedness - the essence of what it's all about. Ask the unfortunately named, Timothy R. McVeigh.

Timothy R. McVeigh

One of the most critical elements in combat capability is unit cohesion, that is, the bonds of trust among individual service members that make the combat effectiveness of a military unit greater than the sum of the combat effectiveness of the individual unit members.

Sec. 546.
Policy Concerning Homosexuality in the Armed Forces.

Under the previously mentioned Article 125, adultery and sodomy are prohibited conduct. Sodomy has unique definitions in the military however. For instance, while faithful married heterosexuals may not , at least in theory, engage in anal sex (and who, aside from sexually dysfunctional politicans, is really inspecting what happens between their sheets anyway?), unmarried homosexuals may not even utter they are gay. No, this is not an error. The simple statement of one's homosexuality or bisexuality creates a "rebuttable presumption" that the servicemember engages in homosexual acts, or has the "propensity or intent to do so." In other words, having sex and saying you're gay is considered identical conduct and results in identical consequences.

Timothy McVeigh did not commit adultery. In fact, as far as we know, Timothy McVeigh did not have sex. What he did not do, what he was supposed to have done, was lie. All he did was type in an America Online profile that he was gay. And when this fact was revealed, through a slew of privacy violations, a Lt. Morean, on behalf of the Navy, accused him of committing sodomy and indecent acts. And so a highly decorated Senior Chief Petty Officer, on active duty in the United States Navy with seventeen years of distinguished service under his belt, faced a discharge. Based upon an investigation conducted in violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act ("ECPA"), the Department of Defense's own policy, and the rights guaranteed to him by the United States Constitution. The Navy wants him out. All because he didn't lie.

So in adherence with military policy (and signed, sealed and delivered orders of Congress and the President), unit cohesion justifications demanding integrity and honesty can only be achieved through lying. Except of course that the military uses what is known as a "Stop-Loss" policy during wartime. Indeed, when the "bonds of trust" that are imperative for unit cohesion and combat effectiveness are the most crucial, the military employs a policy that suspends any discharge proceedings against gay servicemembers until the mission is accomplished or war is over. The threat, it appears, only applies during peacetime.

Lying is not an easy thing for some military members. In fact, Admiral Borda, who lied about his valor pins but remained faithful to his wife as far as we know, killed himself because he was about to be shafted by journalist with an axe to grind, and a somewhat narrow understanding of the significance of what he was threatening to expose.

With McVeigh now stripped of the responsibilities on which the military spent so much money, the big question is whether the billions spent on maintaining these, and past policies, are a valuable investment of taxpayer money. The enormous amount of hours spent training servicemembers, and the costs of that training, only to spend more investigating them, and discharging them is a travesty of enormous proportions.

Sergeant Major Gene McKinny

Race considerations aside, McKinney is by no means a scapegoat. As sure as a Clarence Thomas pubic hair on a Diet-Coke can, McKinney abused his position as a leader to have sex. And face it, who wouldn't? That he was thrown out to the wolves certainly would be consistent with racism in the ranks - the occasional Colin Powell notwithstanding - but that he was acquitted on 18 of 19 charges against him, and not for sexual misconduct, but for "obstruction of justice" is testament to the fact that Gene McKinney is a heterosexual male in the U.S. military. This sacrificial lamb is armor-plated. In spite of the fact that the Uniform Code of Military Justice does not afford servicemembers the same rights the constitution provides civilians, it is hardly surprising that a jury of his peers found him innocent of the charges. If the jury had have included peers higher in rank, he likely would have been acquitted of the "obstruction" charge as well.

Instead, McKinney's court-martial and the events leading up to it, had him accusing Sergeant Major, Brenda Hoster, the first of his accusers, of being a lesbian. As if his violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice was nothing more than a sexual impropriety if the woman accusing him was a lesbian. True to form, immediately following his acquittal, McKinney's attorneys slapped her with a 1.5 million dollar libel lawsuit, eloquently phrased as McKinney no doubt is used to, "we intend to give it to her." The accusers were branded "liars and cheats." Proven.

The language is important. From the outset, the military has sought to articulate McKinney's behavior and the associated scandals at Aberdeen and Tailhook as sexual misconduct, rather than the more ominous sounding sexual harassment. Lost in the confusion of whether or not the women involved were lesbians, or whether he harassed them or was simply guilty of misconduct, was the quintessential violation of the UCMJ. Adultery. Gene Kinney, according a jury of his peers, was not guilty of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct. Or adultery. A military jury ordered that McKinney, be downgraded one level to master sergeant and rejected the prosecution's request that he be sentenced to at least six months in prison. Yet what about adultery? If Staff Sergeant Gene McKinney can do it, why not Lieutenant Kelly Flinn? And if adultery and Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice are not really that important, why is the Navy attempting to discharge Timothy McVeigh?

William Jefferson Clinton

The top man in the military is the Commander in Chief. The man at whom the proverbial "buck" stops. It is unnecessary to rehash the Paula Jones/Monica Lewinsky media circus other than to point out the single most important and relevant factor. In his sworn deposition, President Clinton admitted he had sexual relations with Gennifer Flowers. Adultery. The reason Kelly Flinn is no longer in the Airforce. The reason General Longhauser is no longer a general and General Ralston is not the Joint Chief of Staffs. If the top man is not bound by the codes of military justice from a legal standpoint, at the very least, as a figurehead, he should be accountable for his actions, and display toward the men and women under his command the same honor and integrity demanded of them. If adultery is not that big a deal, it should be removed from the Uniform Code of Military Justice .

Unfortunately, most of this is all media hype? As was Tailhook and the Annapolis cheating scandal. Important issues to be sure, but hyped and packaged like anything else. The bursting of bubbles that are boiling and festering on a daily basis. The media coverage of this issue will continue to be as narrow and superficial as their coverage of Monica Lewinsky, Andrew Cunanan, JonBenet Ramsey, and OJ Simpson. Don't expect more. They very clearly do not understand it.

When Strom Thurmond served in the military, homosexuality was regarded as a crime. Married men and women remained faithful to one another. When President Clinton originally agreed to lift the ban on gay and lesbian servicemembers, it was politicians, not servicemembers, who were the first to shriek in horror at the thought that men might be objectified and treated in the same manner that disgraced former Senator Bob Packwood and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas were treating women.

On the same day as McKinney was downgraded in rank - or "slapped on the wrist," Defense Secretary William Cohen told the military to use more female recruiters and trainers, better police separate housing of men and women recruits and to curb harassment of women in uniform. Curb harassment? A band aid solution perhaps as effective as instructing a bunch of Ku Klux Klanners to exercise a little more consideration when burning crosses. This masterpiece in enlightenment followed the recommendation of a civilian panel, which called for separate housing for men and women trainees in order to end sexual harassment of women.

The writing is on the wall. The Uniform Code of Military Justice has got to be changed. The policy governing sexual behavior in the military has got to be rewritten. We can no longer allow policies dictating the behavior of millions of men and women to be made by men and women who either haven't ever worn a uniform, or if they have, wore it so long ago that their understanding of the reality of modern life is as astute as the legislation they are introducing and implementing, and, at our considerable expense, enforcing.

The loss of careers, the suicides and the suffering servicemembers are forced to endure at the hands of the military's policies governing sexual behavior is inexcusable. It is unacceptable for a civilized nation claiming to demonstrate leadership to the free world. It is our responsibility, whether or we are pacifists, patriots, soldiers or actors, straight or gay, parents or children, presidents or pimps, to put a stop to it. Right Now.

 
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