The Military's War Over Marriage
June 18, 1997
The media have been in a feeding frenzy again. It's so much more
exciting to cover the military's sex scandals than tedious news such as
the budget or Clinton's attempt to expand NATO.
Historians may look back and record that Air Force General Joseph
Ralston made the right choice to withdraw his nomination for chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Our nation can now continue to believe
that adultery is shameful and reject the strident voices demanding that
we make it acceptable socially.
Public opinion surveys of the media elite over the past decade
have consistently shown that those top opinion makers do not believe
that adultery is wrong. The New York Times ridiculed the military's
"antiquated adultery rules."
Most, however, are still reluctant to state this view so boldly,
choosing instead to hide behind popular personalities who had
extramarital relationships. Every discussion of the Ralston case
referenced General Dwight Eisenhower and his wartime girl friend.
In fact, that romance was carefully concealed and Ike couldn't
have been elected President if it had been known. Franklin D.
Roosevelt's extra-marital dalliance was one of history's most closely
guarded secrets, and the press was a co-conspirator in covering up John
F. Kennedy's flagrant adultery.
Most of what was said about the Ralston affair missed the point.
For example, Ann Landers' verdict was: "I don't think it should be
branded on your forehead and you suffer all your life with that kind of
Nobody suggested that General Joseph Ralston replace his medals
with a Scarlet Letter, or that he be court-martialed, locked up, or
dishonorably discharged. The issue was whether he should be promoted
to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military post.
There must be a hundred flag officers among the four services who
are qualified and capable of serving with distinction as chairman.
Surely there are some among them who've been faithful to their marriage
That is important. It's more important in a leader than in
subordinates, and it's more important at this particular time than ever
before. The commanding officer sets the standard of behavior.
The Gallup Poll reports that 94 percent of Americans say adultery
is wrong. The advocates of unfettered sexual activity are trying to
paint those who affirm the standard of marital fidelity as hypocrites
because the evidence shows "Americans do it anyway."
But that doesn't mean they are hypocrites; it just means that they
have sinned. Christians believe that man has a fallen nature and is
prone to sin, and forgiveness starts with admitting you've done
Secretary William Cohen apparently had learned nothing from the
feminists' campaign against the military when he decided to defend the
Ralston nomination by distinguishing Ralston's offense from Kelly
Flinn's and by sanctimoniously "drawing a line" against witchhunts.
The feminists wouldn't let him get by with that.
Rep. Nita Lowey's and Rep. Charles Schumer's tantrums on
television were not to end double standards about sexual behavior.
They have their own double standards; i.e., adultery and sexual
harassment by politically correct politicians are OK, but they will
string up to the nearest tree any man who can be used to advance
The feminists were not trying to disqualify Ralston; they were
trying to use Ralston to get Kelly Flinn's discharge upgraded to
honorable. Of course, the cases are very different (Flinn was guilty
of fraternization, disobedience and perjury), but the difference was
lost under the feminists' tirades.
Their goal was significantly helped by the case of Major General
John Longhauser, who sought early retirement after it was revealed that
he, too, had committed adultery. The important fact about Longhauser
is not that his adultery was years ago, or that his paramour was a
civilian, or that he was separated from his wife, but that he was the
commanding officer at Aberdeen where so many sex scandals have taken
Longhauser didn't seduce a subordinate. But it's not hard to see
why those under his command thought that sexual misbehavior was no big
The sexual revolution that started in the sixties hasn't lived up
to its promise of freedom and fun forever. It has produced record
rates of divorce, illegitimacy, social diseases, and messed-up lives.
Taking a position of leadership means that your private morals are
open to public scrutiny. A man who will lie to his wife cannot be
trusted to be honorable and honest with others.
The mission of the military is to win our nation's wars. Happily,
there isn't a bloody war to fight right now.
But there is a culture war going on inside America. It has caused
a great many casualties and will cause many more. Setting up a
commission to write new rules will only prolong the agony; the old
rules are still valid. In the long run, there will be fewer casualties
if the military leads the way to a restoration of duty, honor, and the
sanctity of marriage.