Morale: If They Can't Fornicate They Can't Fight


June 5, 2013: More and more American military personnel are wondering why all the fun things in life are, especially for them, illegal, immoral, or fattening? Since the 1990s politicians have been determined to impose virtuous and politically correct habits on all the troops. First it was a ban on sex with foreigners and each other (women are now 15 percent of military personnel). Then diets were scrutinized to keep everyone lean, mean, and unhappy. Smoking was increasingly discouraged (or made illegal in most places on bases). Now there’s a crackdown on alcohol and most forms of flirting (which can be rather more blunt in the military).

As the number of rules has increased the tolerance for any violations has shrunk. The military is losing a lot more people for what was once normal behavior. Accomplishing the mission is increasingly being subordinated to compliance with a lot of new lifestyle rules. All this may just fade away, as it has done in the past, but some fear that the latest outbreak or puritanical righteousness may persist and do lasting damage to military capabilities.

Restrictive lifestyle rules for American troops have been imposed from time to time for over two centuries. These efforts at imposing good behavior usually fail or simply fade away after a while. The latest wave of such restrictions began in the 1990s, when American peacekeepers were sent to the Balkans. There the troops were subjected to General Order Number 1 (first issued in 1945 for American occupation troops in Japan and Germany and very quickly ignored by all). This regulation means imposing a "no booze, no sex" rule on troops in an area, even in a combat zone. The alcohol prohibitions apply on or off base, as do the prohibitions on sex, marrying locals, or even gambling. In the 1990s troops were encouraged to spend more time in the gym, or with their video games, or praying. Troops having sex with each other is generally tolerated, although that can cause trouble as well. Same with booze made on base, as long as the operation was discreet and no one screwed up at work. Only about ten percent of the troops in combat zones are female and not all are single or in the mood. But most of the troops wanted a drink from time to time.

While the troops are not happy with General Order Number 1, they adapt, or at least try to. Meanwhile, in non-combat zones, where there is no General Order Number 1, the troops continue to get in trouble with booze and sex (especially when the two go together, which often results in rape or worse). The difference is more stark these days because so many American troop commanders are, or have been, in combat zones and are not enthusiastic about witch hunts and crackdowns to appease righteous politicians.

This is not to say that the military has not tried to modify troop behavior in the past. It has. Anti-smoking campaigns have been a big success, and drug testing has, for all practical purposes, eliminated drug addiction from a commanders list of "things to fret about." For over a century the military has tried to convince the troops to give up drinking. The most ambitious of these efforts occurred in 1914 (six years before Prohibition) when the U.S. Navy outlawed alcohol aboard ships. Despite much grumbling, this worked, and has worked ever since, at least afloat. But once the sailors hit land, demon rum takes over. However, it was the navy experience with shipboard prohibition that led army generals to believe it could work in combat zones. It has, but imposing a no-alcohol rule at home is seen as not practical.

Attempts to outlaw extramarital sex, combined with the growing number of women in uniform, have created a lot of unanticipated (but not unexpected) problems. The entire social engineering effort has had a deleterious impact on leadership and lot of good people are simply leaving because of the “nanny state” attitudes. Many commanders believe the ancient saying “if they can’t fornicate they can’t fight.” But modern sensibilities believe men can be better than that. Actually, that is not a new attitude, but in the past no one has made it work when it comes to soldiers and sex. This is becoming one of those, “be careful what you ask for, you might get it” situations.




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