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THE MILITARY

Now We Can All Be the Enemy

June 01, 1997|Stanley Crouch | Stanley Crouch is the author of "The All-American Skin Game" (Pantheon)

NEW YORK — There are many international and domestic reasons why this century is the age of redefinition. At this moment, domestic examples keep rising in the mating game. The Supreme Court decision regarding Paula Corbin Jones and President Bill Clinton puts into peculiar focus both the battle and the prattle of the sexes as they apply to what has been going in the armed forces this year. One facet is that the democratic evolution of our power relationships encourages us to maintain our ideals even as we realize that our human shortcomings, like our best behaviors, are not determined by how we primarily identify each other, such as by race and by gender. Now, we can all be the enemy.

Ours is a time in which we are accustomed to every kind of public vulgarity one can imagine. The media regularly stick their fingers into our collective libido and geyser up every stinking clump and string of our sexual urges. We are now supposed to think that almost anything goes.

But we don't really believe that. What we want to do is get on our peep-show knees and look through every available keyhole while simultaneously pretending that power and sex shouldn't stumble into the workplace in the old-fashioned way. A man should no longer assume that his position of authority gives him access to the bodies of women he finds appealing. He can think whatever he thinks, but those thoughts and those hands have to be kept to himself. If he gets hopped up and out of order, he will have the edifice of his career granulated in public, and the feminist army will take the position that, once again, we have been allowed an opportunity to see just how much women have been made to suffer while doing their jobs.

This vision is far from inaccurate, because one of the prizes that we often assume goes with power is greater access to abundant erotic encounters. In the velvet and cactus catbird seat of sex, who's on top hasn't always been about who's on the bottom agreeing. Our folklore, our fairy tales, our literature, our theater, our film, our music and our radio are filled with images of women doing whatever to avoid unwanted advances or the sexual impositions of assumed male entitlement. This story has been long on force and threat, but short on empathy.

In the military, we have some very odd problems because we have long accepted the idea that the enemy rapes and pillages while our boys enjoy the spoils of victory. One of those spoils is the female body, so often depicted in our popular entertainment as just willing to avail itself when the irresistible hero thrusts himself into view. No matter how hard she might try, that German or Japanese girl or that Confederate belle will happily submit when she frees herself from conventional allegiance and faces sleeping with the irresistible enemy. Victory is assured the American military hero, no matter the war, no matter the time.

All that is now topsy-turvy. The unwritten boudoir rules of the armed forces sticky the public carpet now. We have cases in which boys being boys, the sowing of wild oats while in uniform, the making of the beast with two adulterous backs or the asserting of military rank for sexual pleasures no longer float or travel in the social submarines of unpleasant custom. As with all else in our ever-wilder world, we have to face just how omni-directionally human the tendencies to corruption and abuse actually are. Now the definition of innate victim whirls round and round as military blacks and women find themselves on the receiving ends of charges of sexual impropriety. Uh oh: The white male can't even maintain his position as lone demon in the hanky-panky sexual column of the armed forces. That old, white male devil can solely moon the world no longer; he seems to have been born to lose in this era. Leering up from the bottom, certain so-called minorities and women want a piece of everything, their cut, their pound of flesh.

The swiftness of these changes arrive outside the sniper's scope of our conventional protesters. We have had no serious feminist reading of 1st Lt. Kelly J. Flinn's general discharge from the Air Force, where she had become the female Jackie Robinson of B-52 pilots. Those such as Rep. Patricia Schroeder and born-again feminist Sen. Trent Lott banged away with the usual rhetoric of double standards, snootily charging that Flinn wouldn't have had to bite the bullet if she were a man committing adultery and disobeying orders to end a relationship. That is bunk, since 300 servicemen are either in military prison now, have been discharged or relieved of duty because of sexual charges, the most recent being Brig. Gen. Stephen N. Xenakis for apparently ponying up on a civilian nurse who was treating his critically ill wife.

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