Pitfalls of gentler military

April 11, 2000|By Mona Charen

SHE WAS A feminist pin-up girl, a woman who rose through the Army's ranks to attain the title of three-star general. Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy was awarded the 1998 "Living Patriot Award" by the Women's International Center and listed among America's top 10 female role models by Ms. magazine. She was well-respected among her Army colleagues and just preparing for retirement.

No one can figure out why she would now come forward with a 4-year-old sexual harassment accusation against another three-star general, but many of those who have worked with her and even boosted her career are dismayed and disappointed. [A retired Army officer has since notified the Office of Inspector General that "he was aware of personal misconduct on the part of General Kennedy."]

According to the Washington Times, General Kennedy alleged that Gen. Larry G. Smith, who held the same rank as she at the time of the incident, once made an inappropriate approach to her in her Pentagon office. General Kennedy did not file an official complaint at the time, preferring to handle the matter herself.

Why then come forward now? Here is one version fed to the Washington Times by a friendly source: General Kennedy was merely mentioning her concern that General Smith's promotion to deputy Army Inspector General might not be wise, since in his new post, he would be responsible for investigating allegations of sexual harassment. "Gen. Kennedy ... never wanted the full-blown investigation now under way by the Army inspector general. ... She told the wrong person ... the system ran away with it, and it was not what she intended." Well, perhaps. But she did file a formal complaint.

Now consider this: In an interview three years ago, General Kennedy described sexual harassment in these terms: "His hand lingers on your back. He touches you on your upper arm, and you can't tell if he's a touchy-feely person. All you know is that he gives you the creeps."

Is that what qualifies as sexual harassment in today's Army?

It may be. General Kennedy introduced an innovation in the military, "Consideration for Others" training. Soldiers are taught that their actions must "indicate a sensitivity to and regard for the feelings and needs of others." Heck, why not just close down the Army and replace it with a sewing circle?

Lt. Col. Ralph Zimmerman, a Desert Storm combat veteran, has left the Army. As a parting shot, he released a letter to the press detailing some of the reasons for his disenchantment. The letter read in part: "The Army has become a `social experiment' geared toward promoting diversity and celebrating individual successes vs. instilling the sense of unity behind the values of our Constitution, the flag and our distinguished unit colors. The end result we see today is clearly diminished combat readiness and a lower willingness by our young people to serve a higher cause."

Among the reforms Lieutenant Colonel Zimmerman suggested were dropping the "Consideration for Others" program, reducing the emphasis on force protection ("unfortunately, even life in the civilian world bears some risks") and eliminating the emphasis on ethnic diversity ("Asian week, African-American week, Hispanic week, etc. We fail to stress unity. ... We are all AMERICANS who should be committed to a common purpose -- the defense of our nation.").

It is no surprise that General Kennedy's accusation has halted General Smith's promotion. That's all it takes in today's Army -- just an allegation. Since the Tailhook imbroglio, the armed services have leaned so far backward to accommodate women that they are scarcely recognizable as fighting forces.

In her new book "A Kinder, Gentler Military," Stephanie Guttman relates tale after tale of women being indulged and their failures overlooked. At the Great Lakes Naval Training Base, drill sergeants look the other way as male trainees double back to help women through pull-ups and pole climbing. The Navy calls this "teamwork." Women aviators have been given second, third and fourth chances to prove themselves, endangering the lives of their comrades and in some cases leading to their own deaths.

Bill Clinton is said to be seeking a legacy. His legacy is one of corruption, cynicism and mendacity. And he can also point with pride to a feminized, hollow, demoralized, politically correct military.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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