November 18, 2012

Sex and the Modern Soldier

The scandal unfolding at the top of America's most trusted institution sparks suspicion of problems beyond overactive libido.

By ROSA BROOKS Foreign Policy

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Paula Broadwell and Gen. David Petraeus.

Staff Photo Illustration/Michael Fisher

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Gen. John Allen and Jill Kelley.

Staff Photo Illustration/Michael Fisher

That kicks in only if there's evidence that the adulterous conduct was "to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces or was of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces."

In other words, if no one's making much of a fuss about it and adultery is the only form of misconduct alleged, no one's likely to be punished. But the risk is always there.

Of course, a wide range of other conduct can also be prejudicial to good order and discipline or likely to "bring discredit" upon the armed forces, and the justice code offers fairly wide latitude to commanders who believe that their subordinates have been up to no good, regardless of the form taken by the no-goodness.

For officers, "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman" remains punishable under the UCMJ ("gentleman" has been generously defined to include ladies too). How often these UCMJ provisions are used to go after sexual indiscretions is unknown, as the military does not keep easily accessible records of such allegations or case dispositions.

Even retired military personnel are subject to the UCMJ, though the military rarely takes the trouble to go after retired service members.

Will retired Gen. Petraeus find himself in legal trouble? Probably not, unless a hue and cry over double standards forces the military to take action. Why should a retired four-star get away with conduct that could lead to a demotion, separation or reduction in pay for a junior officer or enlisted soldier?

THE WOMAN PROBLEM

It would be fair to say that the military still has something of a woman problem. Although most military jobs are now open to women -- the exception being certain combat jobs -- women still make up only a small minority of all military personnel (about 15 percent) and a still-smaller minority of senior officers (no surprise, given that today's senior women officers joined the military, by definition, in an era in which even fewer jobs were open to women).

The military remains plagued by allegations of sexual harassment and assault, and a number of studies by the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs have concluded that women in the military face higher rates of sexual assault than do civilian women.

Here again, no big surprise: The military remains an overwhelmingly male -- and overwhelmingly macho -- institution. Women are outnumbered and often rendered nearly invisible in a culture in which nearly all senior officers are male.

This extends to the home front, as well. In certain ways, the informal culture of military officers resembles the 1950s more than the 21st century. Military life isn't just hard on marriage -- it's also hard on the careers of the (mostly female) civilian spouses of military personnel.

Rising up the career ladder isn't easy when you move from one military base to another every few years.

One military friend of mine recalls a general telling junior officers -- in a recent lecture at an official Army command training event -- that they should actively discourage their wives from pursuing careers, because career women would be less supportive and flexible military wives. And though official publications now speak of officers' "spouses" rather than "wives," the military still produces etiquette guides for spouses, with a rather gendered focus on appropriate forms of address at social functions and the proper pouring of tea and coffee.

Here's something I worry about: Will the fallout from the Petraeus scandal make it even tougher for military women to rise to senior rank? In the military as in the civilian world, career advancement often has as much to do with informal mentoring relationships as with formal education or qualifications.

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