Friday, May 6, 2005

Discomfort in the Shower

Professor Volokh argues that the problem of segregating soldiers by sexual orientation, as well as by sex, is not a sufficient argument for excluding homosexuals from the military:
These are soldiers -- people who might have to get shot at by others, and who will otherwise be put in many very psychologically difficult positions. Even those who aren't in combat positions may have to deal with considerable difficulties and traumas. They're supposed to be, and I wager are, pretty tough.

It somehow doesn't seem to me too much of a burden to deal with the possibility (a possibility that is surely always present, even if the military tries very hard to find and kick out every homosexuality) that someone is lusting after them in the shower. These are not fragile flowers we're talking about here; if they can handle drill sergeants, I'd hope they can handle this. And I don't quite see why we should organize our military policy -- including by kicking out lesbian soldiers who, as I mentioned below, may on average contribute more to military effectiveness than straight women soldiers -- around some soldiers' feeling bothered by the risk of getting checked out in the shower or the barracks.
I think this shows that Professor Volokh doesn't understand the level of discomfort that most Americans have about the same sex lusting after them in the shower. I find it distasteful to have another guy trying to pick up on me in the frozen foods section. (This was in the San Francisco Bay Area--it made me a lot more understanding of how uncomfortable women get when a strange guy tries to pick up on them in an inappropriate place.) I suspect had I been in a locker room, I would have found it even more disturbing. And guess what? Compared to a lot of guys, I'm pretty calm about this sort of thing. I've talked to women who had similar discomfort with using locker rooms in the Bay Area, because of excessive staring by lesbians.

So what happens if the military allows homosexuals to join up? I don't expect every straight person to refuse to join--but I would expect that at least some significant fraction will decide that along with all the other hardships of military life, they aren't interested in being in a situation like that. Remember that much of our military is very, very traditional in their moral values. I don't know exactly what the percentage would be refusing to join or stay, but considering that homosexuals are perhaps 4% of men, and less than 2% of women, I do not find it at all hard to believe that the net result would be a reduction in total force.

A few years back, the Wall Street Journal carried a very powerful essay by a guy who had been in the Navy just after World War II--at a time when there was not yet any legal prohibition on homosexuality in the military. He described a ship that he was on where by either coincidence or by connivance, all the chief petty officers were homosexual--and sexual harassment of straight sailors was constant. The CPOs had successfully short-circuited all attempts to go over their heads to the captain, and it required a near riot to bring the matter to the captain's attention. We already have a bit of a problem with sexual harassment and fraternization violations involving women in the military, and it is hard to believe that this problem would not be substantially worse with homosexual men in the service.

UPDATE: Stupid me! I don't how I overlooked this! The primary function of the U.S. military is to promote equal rights and help homosexuals feel good about themselves! The defense of the nation is a secondary mission.

UPDATE 2: To Professor Volokh's credit, he points out that Montgomery County Schools are engaged in an unconstitutional and factually inaccurate propaganda campaign in favor of homosexuality.

UPDATE 3: A reader sent me the full text of the Wall Street Journal article in question. I didn't have all the details quite right, but close enough:
Gays in the Military? A Cautionary Tale

By Kevin M. McCrane, Wall Street Journal, Dec 2, 1992. Page A10

Bill Clinton's desire to lift the ban on homosexuals in the military brings to mind a troubling incident from my own military experience more than a generation ago.

When I turned 18 late in 1945 I discovered that I had missed the war but not the draft. After five weeks of boot camp, I was shipped to San Francisco's Treasure Island, the Navy base where new recruits waited to receive their orders.

It was dark and raw as only San Francisco can be in January when five of us
mustered on a pier to await a ship's boat from the USS Warrick. The new recruits were told the Warrick was an Attack Cargo Auxiliary, which sounded promising. We soon discovered this was a fancy name for a cargo carrier. Even so, we were excited at the prospect of shipping out. Lugging our bags, we arrived on board late at night. We unhooked our berths from their vertical positions and settled down to sleep.

The awakening was sudden, panic-filled. A hand was caressing my leg, running up the inside of my thigh. A dim figure ducked away as I lashed out, kicking, swinging a fist and striking air. There was no more sleep that night.

Our voyage began the next day, our destination Honolulu. But the excitement was gone, at least for me. At the end of a long day riding the sea's rolling swells, I took a 12-inch box-end wrench from the engine room and retreated to my berth. Hanging on to the wrench under my pillow, I slept.

My sense of unease did not go away even when the seasickness passed. On the fourth day at sea I visited the ship's post office. The second-class petty officer manning the tiny cubicle greeted me warmly. Grinning broadly, he stepped back from the counter, dropped his dungarees, fondled himself and made an obscene invitation. I walked away.

Whom do you tell? I chose a third-class petty officer on my watch. He laughed at what I told him. "You're on a French cruiser, kid." He told me to watch out.

It was in the open now, a subject for discussion among the new recruits. Each of us had been accosted, patted, propositioned. Though we were in different divisions, we flocked together for meals, averting our eyes when one of "them" leered in our direction.

There were five such aggressive homosexuals that we knew of on board this ship with almost 250 men. They were all petty officers. Their actions were enough to poison the atmosphere on the Warrick. Meals, showers, attendance at the movies, decisions about where you went on the ship alone—all became part of a worried calculation of risk.

After two weeks at sea, I received the whispered news that the smallest and most vulnerable of our "team" had been sodomized in the paint locker. When I looked at the bearer of this news, I saw that there were tears in his eyes. "Why are they doing this to us?" he asked.

It was a good question. The comments of some petty officers suggested that the rapid discharge of so many veterans at the end of the war had brought with it a slackening of discipline. On board the Warrick this disciplinary neglect had loosened the restraints on homosexual behavior—the threat of discharge was the surest of these—and created an atmosphere where exhibitionism and lewd action were commonplace.

All homosexuals aren't rapists. But in this closed male society, with its enforced communal living, unchecked homosexual appetites wrought havoc. The atmosphere on the USS Warrick in January of 1946 does have a present-day parallel—the atmosphere of fear that rules in today's prisons.

Is there a lesson here for Mr. Clinton? I think so. The U.S. Navy certainly won't turn into a collection of horror ships like the Warrick if he succeeds in ending the ban on homosexuals in the military. But my experience does suggest that military officials are right to worry that "good order and discipline of the services will be impaired" if the ban is lifted.

A postscript: When the Warrick reached Pearl Harbor in that long-ago winter, a new executive officer reported aboard. On the sixth day in port the PA system blared a summons "for all those personnel being transferred to assemble at the quarterdeck."

I joined the rush topside to see who was going ashore. The ship's rail was lined with crewmen cheering as five petty officers debarked into a P-boat.

I went below decks and ran back up. When the P-boat cleared the side, I dropped my box-end wrench into the blue waters of Pearl Harbor.

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