12 January 2005

Tailhook & Ethics--A Blind Eye for the Straight Guy

I was a student in the senior class (College of Naval Warfare) of the United States Naval War College (NWC) the autumn after the Tailhhook scandal broke. There were at least three of my fellow students who were identified as having attended the Tailhook convention in question and who were somewhat under a shadow while their specific activities were being 'investigated'. Ultimately, no action, that I knew of, was taken against anyone in my year .

During this year at the NWC the entire Navy "stood down" for a day in order to conduct sexual harassment training. The training turned out to be the best sexual harassment training that I ever encountered in my 30+ years of military and civilian government service. One reason for that was an excellent sexual harassment video produced by the U.S. Coast Guard. It gave very clear guidelines about what could constitute sexual harassment and clearly delineated what the person or persons who perceived that they were being harassed should do and how supervisors were required to handle any incident.

In addition to the sexual harassment one-day stand-down, we also had a two-day ethics mini-course during the year. It consisted of a series of presentations and panels that were conducted in our auditorium in front of the entire student body. The event was organized by a Navy Jewish chaplain who also had served as a Naval line officer in and during the Vietnam conflict in river warfare in regular combat. Who, consequently, had excellent "street creds" with the O-6's & O-5's in my class.

One of the panelists was a legislative assistant to the late Indiana Congressman Frank McCloskey from Bloomington. She had been an Army captain and was openly lesbian. She was also both articulate and intelligent. I was surprised at the vitriolic reception which she received from many of my classmates. What most surprised me most, however, in my naivete, was how so many of my male, minority classmates appeared to be the least tolerant of this panelist. I would have thought, as a son a Jewish father and Catholic mother who had seen a modicum of prejudice in my day, that those who had experienced discrimination would be more sensitive to prejudice and resist it in ourselves and others. The opposite appeared, in general, to be the case.

Homophobia is a very powerful force especially, it would seem, in those not completely comfortable in their own sexual orientation. Similarly, there were many of my male classmates who showed little concern for the types of behaviors that came to the public's attention as a result of the Tailhook scandal and often showed a lesser respect for or tolerance of their female confreres. These old attitudes are slow to die out.

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