The official Sebastian Junger community
Thanks to you both for wading in...Sebastian, you've been there with these rock & roll dudes, so you know the lay of the land. I tend to agree with your overall assessment, with a few minor reservations, but hey, I'm no social, military, or clinical psychologist, although I did do part of a tour as Medical Ops & Planning in AFGN in '04, and retired in '07.
Given the relatively recent repeal of "Don't Ask-Don't Tell" as the military services work to integrate openly gay soldiers into the ranks, and the continuing Congressional Combat Exclusion of Women (whatever the hell that means), what is your view of how current frontline combat soldiers (such as those in the 173rd during your time with them) would react to and accept a known gay soldier of either gender, or a straight woman within their ranks. Assumption that they are fully technically and tactically competent, carry their weight in every respect, and are unequivocally an asset to the unit under all circumstances. My concern stems primarily from your description of the interpersonal relationships ("sexual tension"), and the beatings administered to the Cherries as they join the unit. My fear is that things and these rites-of-passage could get out-of-hand. "We didn't intend for it to end this way." This could in the eyes of some be viewed as sexual harrassment, intimidation, or bullying in the eyes of Army authorities and the media. I wonder if the US Military and the Nation is really ready for the untimate integration of openly gay and female soldiers into all MOS categories and combat scenarios. I guess we won't know until we try it and see if it adversely impacts unit cohension, fighting spirit, and combat effectiveness, as has been the long standing view of oponents.
Finally, I have to freely admit that the world, its youth (...and My Army) has changed dramatically since Vietnam and in the last 30 years. Attitudes toward oppressed minorities and those who are different is skewed dramatically toward inclusion. Women and closeted gays have made their contributions in relative obscurity, and have demonstrated valor and competent leadership without question. Young people today are so much more open to all such matters. What can we do but provide the doctrinal guidance and training, give it a chance and hope for the best. All Americans regardless of sexual orientation or gender deserve the opportunity to serve this great nation and its legitimate political and military interests.
Hi there - thank you for your thoughts and questions. The beatings were a form of initiation that the "victim" could have called off at any moment; he would just have then not been considered part of the group (an important distinction in combat.) That is how all initiations work, and I think up at Restrepo it was no exception. The sexually-charged clowning around was a different matter, but it should be pointed out it wasnt SEX. It really was just clowning around. I never saw it come close to crossing that line, but then, i wasnt privy to everything.
The key to this is "openly" gay. Anyone who flaunts a civilian identity in combat is going to take heat for it. A guy who acts just like all the other guys but, back home, prefers to sleep with men...I really doubt it would be a huge problem. A woman in combat who acted exactly like all the other guys around her, likewise...i think she'd fit in fine. There would, however, be privacy issues (there was none) and also this: A army wife was asked about the possibility of female soldiers at places like Restrepo and she said, "No way! The wives would NEVER allow that." If you can get it past the wives, them maybe you'd have a chance...
Sebastian...Thanks as before...you have great credibility with me and I totally relate to what you say....perhaps it has already happen somewhere in AFGH and other active combat location and we just don't know about it. The changes that are coming are going to 'rock" our military with social change as never before...we just have to be smart enough to anticipate it and manage it as best we can. As I freely admitted before, I don't understand today's youth, their values, reasoning, and culture....I'm just a "64 year old dude stuck back in the 60s" as my wife so frequently reminds me.
I was Medical Service Corps in the Army and within AMEDD we are at least 50/50 male/female, and probably with a higher than average percentage of closeted gays, so I have worked around and with female and gay soldiers my whole career. Great respect for their professionalism and "can do" attitude...never in doubt...would go to war with them again in a heartbeat.
My personal view is "forget the Army wives"...no disrespect intended...but it's going to happen no matter what they think or say...the feminists and uber liberals in this world will continue to demand it until they are successful....To whit, the movie, "GI Jane" in her struggle to become a respected Navy Seal....little or not-so-little girls watch this and they will not be denied. They want a crack at taking out the next leader of Al Qaeda or the Talliban.
I am currently reading "Four Hours in My Lai" by Michael Bilton and Kevin Sim...and I am again reminded of how events and circumstances can spiral out of control when those in leadership are not clear in their instructions, guidance, and provide no oversight. The conduct of our troops on the ground with regard to sexual abuse, rape, violation , and ultimately cold blooded murder of unarmed innocent civilians is a stain that is still with us....it is a testimony of how easily "things can get out-of-hand" and nobody has an answer as to why and how it happened. As a military leader and commander you can not delegate or conveniently vacate accountablity and responsibility for what goes on in your command.
Women and gays have already achieved some levels of parity and distinction in police, law enforcement, and other risky public safety work and proven their abilities to "hack it." Maybe there are lessons there that we can apply to our "hard shelled" military to make the transition go more smoothly.
Hi, thank you for your comments...and for your service. I think the military has changed enormously since the 1960s and will continue to. I think, in terms of women in combat, the question isnt so much "can they?" (clearly they can) but "would it help?" If having female quarterbacks in the NFL helped teams win, I'm sure there would be lots of female quarterbacks. BUt it wouldnt, and so there aren't. Certainly having a woman in the platoon wouldnt necessarily decrease combat-effectiveness, but i'm not sure it would INCREASE it, either. The combat load for a three-day operation was around 160 pounds. Very few men can carry that kind of weight at altitude, and far fewer women. The question commanders would have to ask, before seeking out the few who can, is "why?" I'm not saying there isnt a compelling reason - I'm just guess that's the question that would have to be answered before it happened.
With all due respect to Sebastian Junger, I don't think that Anton misunderstands human sexuality at all. Instead, he grasps the darker side of it all too well. The DADT policy sanctioned homophobia. It said, in effect, that homosexuality was a social sin within the insular and notoriously rigid hierarchy of the military culture. It allowed, in effect, homophobic acts of aggression, such as rape or more subtle forms of harassment, to flourish with no penalties, no consequences. Victims could never talk about it because that would only betray their orientation. it DID go on. It DOES go on. It's just that most of the victims have been bound to a code of silence and usually suffer incredible depths of shame...in silence. It is a legitimate concern for a gay man to voice concerns about the potent combination of learned homophobia and homo erotic tendencies that are naturally going to play out with a bunch of young guys living in tight quarters isolated from civilian life for a period of time. That's not a misunderstanding of human sexuality.
And if women were there would the culture be different? Contrary to what Junger suggests, it's not up for army wives to decide, and their insecurities have no place in determining the fates of skilled, trained female service members who want to be in combat. (Yet we've heard this argument before: women shouldn't be in the workforce because it would only 'distract' the men from working...women shouldn't be in the boardroom because it might make the CEO's wife nervous...women shouldn't be in the math and science labs because they're not good with numbers or spatial relationships. ......those chauvinistic arguments were being parroted about four decades ago....and used to justify the kinds of sexual discrimination that is now considered laughable. Pathetic. And illegal.
Furthermore, Anton raises the question that if women were in combat units (regardless of the how the army wives felt) would the group as a whole act differently, perform differently. We'll never know until we try it. For the last two hundred years of wars combat troops, regardless of nationality, have been documented to have raped civilians and pillaged villages. This is fact. The unique physiological and psychosocial reasons for this are another story, but it is well documented, as unpalatable as it may be. If there were more women in active combat would this be less likely to occur? Probably, if only because the testosterone and adrenalin power surges might be mitigated a bit. So from a humanitarian perspective, mixing women with men in combat might be a good idea. But as Junger suggests, that's besides the point the point. Would having more women in combat units increase their effectiveness, aside from the smaller details of coed lodgings in tight quarters, etc? The answer is quite possibly, yes. Science, especially in evolutionary biology and anthropology, is just beginning to prove what many have known for a long time: women make excellent fighters. What they might lack in physical power they've developed, through the evolutionary cycle, even sharper strategic thinking and defensive tactics. Even their 'fight or flight' reflexes - so critical in combat situations - manifest differently than males,' and are often more effective, not less.
It is EXACTLY those kinds of skills that are needed on the battlefields of terrorism. it is not brute force that will 'win' the war on terrorism. There is no winning of it. Terrorism is like a cancer. it can metastisize; it can go into remission; it can ebb and flow, depending on provocations and even economics. Brute strength alone can't destroy it. Under Bush's 7 years of "strategery" in Afghanistan, he waged, as commander in chief, a 20th century war sending ground troops on essentially a suicide mission...there was no strategy. and there was no deep understanding of even who the enemy was and how he behaved. it's only in the last three years under Obama that any real strides have been made -- and that's because the military turned itself around and stopped relying on brute displays of ground troop force and started getting smart. it is quite possible that had there been more input from women in 2001 -- women who know their stuff militarily (and there are plenty of them) -- the US wouldn't have floundered so spectacularly and tragically for so many years in the fight against the Taliban.
Junger uses the analogy of football and the quarterback to justify why it's probably a good idea to keep women out of combat. Until we actually see the day when a woman is quarterback in an NFL team, we'll never know one way or the other. But it's not the quarterback who wins the game for the team, and it's not even even his brute physical power that makes him a good quarterback. Quarterbacks are trained in ballet. It may be ironic to some, but they're often forced to take hours and hours of lessons as part of their training. it keeps them nimble and graceful on their feet. And it's teamwork and strategy that wins games. Women have proven over and over again in countless arenas that they excel in both of those areas.
I don't mean to go on and on with this response. but the reality is that America cannot afford a military that remains an old boy's club. It cannot afford to discriminate against talented and able women who want to serve, and it cannot continue to discriminate against gay people. As a reporter for both CBS News Radio and Asia's Kyodo news, I've talked to too many actively serving women or veterans, too many closeted gay veterans, about some of their more horrible, chilling experiences, ones they usually keep silent out of fear of reprisals or worse yet, the shaming and humiliation that will go among their peers.
To pretend that none of that kind of sexual harassment exists is just disingenuous. It's more than that. it's becoming an apologist for it. America can't really afford the chest thumping right now, and the military really does need to look at its own internal culture and ask itself...how can we do better? How can we fight smarter? How can we bring ourselves into the 21st century from the top down and the bottom up.....NOT, how can we preserve this small sacred space that should be reserved strictly for men.....
so no, I don't think Anton misunderstands human sexuality at all.
Certainly, the soldiers likely have other things on their minds than just sex. Staying alive could be one.But there is always a chance of a few who do not play nice and do not think ahead of the reprocussions of their choices of actions.
sexual assault is an issue on the large bases - as is pregnancy - but i've never heard of it at a small outpost. its 15 soldiers with zero privacy...its hard to imagine how the mechanics of sexual assault would work in that context. the larger bases are dangerous for the same reason that cities are - anonymity.