Officers, yes gentlemen, no

April 27, 1993

The Navy's investigative report on the Tailhook scandal is shocking account of sexual misconduct and subsequent lying on the part of officers trying to cover up "Animal House" behavior at a 1991 Las Vegas convention of naval aviators. It is a tawdry tale, not least because indecent assault and indecent exposure during the raucous three-day affair and a "wall of silence" as ranks closed afterward were described as in keeping with "tradition" -- the kind of tradition that no longer can be tolerated in any of the armed services.

This is not the end of it. The Navy's inspector general has forwarded files on 140 Navy and Marine officers for personal adjudication that could lead to courts martials, reprimands and the ruining of many careers.

On the list were 51 officers accused of lying to investigators, 46 charged with sexual offenses and the rest implicated in general wrongdoing in which 83 persons were victimized. Thirty-three Navy admirals and two Marine generals who attended the convention have been scored for possible "leadership failure" in allowing or failing to take notice of what was going on. Months of tribulation still lie ahead for the service.

Out of this ordeal must come new respect for females in uniform and an end to the macho culture that produced T-shirts at the Tailhook convention proclaiming that "Women are Property." The Navy, to its credit, has set up a hot-line for victims of sexual harassment, launched a campaign of training and indoctrination on proper conduct and relaxed rules against women in combat.

It is lamentable that thousands of naval aviators who were not at Las Vegas or who were innocent of wrongdoing have been tainted by the outrageous and in some cases criminal actions of those who flew out of control during what had become an annual "free fire" zone of debauchery.

But their anger should not be aimed at tough investigators or at a political situation in which there must be zero tolerance for sexual harassment. It should be directed at those whose licentiousness is proven and, even more, at the high-level mentality that looked the other way when "boys will be boys."

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