An officer needs to be a gentleman

Published: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 at 05:41 PM.

The latest of the military’s sordid history in dealing with sex and the unnatural crimes and bad behavior that come with this most natural of human activities was reported last week.

The former commanding officer of the Blue Angels was relieved of his current duties because, according to several news sources, authorities received a complaint that he had “tolerated sexual harassment, hazing, and lewd behavior” while serving with the premier U.S. military flight demonstration team. The complaint described an atmosphere at the Blue Angels as “rife with sexually explicit speech, the open display of pornography and jokes about sexual orientation.”

In today’s charged environment, even allegations of “tolerating” sexual impropriety in a previous duty assignment can mean being relieved of one’s current duties and the end of what otherwise would have been a bright and successful career.

For those not in or associated with the military, one needs to know that military officers have a commission not for their own benefit, but to serve “at the pleasure of the president.” So even allegations of lack of leadership in the military — whether or not they are ever proven in a military court — are enough to “displeasure the president” and cause punitive relief of duty assignments and the end of careers.

Being found guilty before being proven innocent is backwards from the civilian legal understanding of “innocent until proved guilty.” But there is no “right” to serve in the military in a leadership position. In matters of military honor and leadership, being guilty before being proven innocent is an understood part of military culture, especially today. None of this is or should be a surprise to military officers.

Nonetheless, there are those who will lament today’s environment in the military as overreach, demasculinizing, and unnecessarily disruptive. There is some truth to this lament. Yesterday’s Playboy calendar or aircraft nose art are today’s lewd behavior — even sexual harassment.

And, too, there are a few on the other end of the spectrum who would question the need for a vetting process to weed out only but the highest performers in organizations like the Blue Angels, the Marines and Special Forces. These “rites of passage” tend to, these folks might argue, lead to hazing. And they hold women back who are not and cannot be as physically strong or who are not as overtly aggressive as men. Zero tolerance for machismo. Machismo is on a progressive scale of bad and even criminal behavior, these extremists might say, that starts with an attitude of male superiority, passes through sexual harassment, and can end in sexual assault. There is likely some truth in this belief as well.

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