Depending on your point of view, the end of Gen. Joseph Ralston's bid for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thanks to an adulterous affair 13 years ago, represents either sexual justice or a waste of much-needed talent.
The same might be said of Lt. Kelly Flinn, whose own discharge from the Air Force for sleeping with a married man doomed the general's candidacy. It seems that ever since peace broke out, the only news that comes out of the military is about sex: gays, randy parties, rapes, assaults, harassment, affairs. It's almost enough to make one nostalgic for war.
Not that war would in any way resolve the conflicts and problems that plague a coed army. On the contrary, it probably would make all of them worse. If boy and girl soldiers are doing the nasty in the air-intake tube of an F-14 engine during peacetime, imagine what they'd be up to in a combat situation, when any moment might be their last.
Yet even if combat wouldn't improve anybody's sexual behavior, at least we wouldn't have to hear about it all the time. We would be preoccupied by the life-and-death battles, instead of wading around in the murky muck of gender warfare.
With no war on the horizon, however, we'll have to rely on a set of task forces created by Secretary of Defense William Cohen, the now off-the-hook promoter of Ralston's failed candidacy, to decide where, in Cohen's now famous words, to 'draw the line.' Good luck.
The American people can't figure out where to draw the line regarding adultery. We seem to condemn it and practice it in equal measure--and there's no reason to believe some government panel will do any better.
The one thing we do know is that the whole issue makes us queasy--and we wish it would go away. 'Don't ask, don't tell' is the cry of a public weary of sex scandals and harassment charges. When first applied to gays in the military, the policy was dismissed as a sniveling compromise, a form of institutionalized hypocrisy. Now it seems like a stroke of genius.
In the absence of such a policy, scandal-fatigued Americans have their own way of coping. Consider the fate of our alleged harasser-in-chief Bill Clinton.
We didn't punish him for his reputation as a womanizing sleaze by rejecting him at the voting booth or in the opinion polls. No, we re-elected him--and now we just ignore him as much as we can. If you read the newspapers, you can't help but notice that Clinton is MIA; the only way he can get on the front page, it seems, is by pulling his pants down. And the more we're confronted with the fact that our president is someone we can neither approve of nor bring ourselves to reject, the more we direct our attention elsewhere.
The military today has the same ghostly nonpresence as the Clinton administration. Even when our forces are on the front lines, our attention wanders. Remember back to December 1995 when, after contentious debate and much calculation over political risks, Clinton sent American troops to Bosnia? Perhaps not. Within a month of their arrival, Bosnia dropped off the nation's radar like a bomber blown out of the sky.
A real war would no doubt grab our attention. But real war, quite frankly, seems a little outmoded, what with Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Nike fighting for American interests around the globe. And without war, what's the military for?
Indeed, if it weren't for the news of unsolicited gropings, illegal consensual relations and extramarital cheating in the ranks, we probably wouldn't think about the military at all.
Copyright ASM Communications, Inc. (1997) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED