Helwig F. Van Der Grinten

Master Mariner

Navy Can't Bar Cupid from Ships

The Tailhook affair is only one symptom of the U.S.  Navy's failure to come to grips with the modern problems of dealing with love between sailors. The military's posture seems to be based on the old- fashioned idea that while camaraderie between service members is encouraged, love is not supposed to happen.    

That fiction was most easily accepted when the military was all male. A strong societal taboo against homosexuality made such prohibitions easy to maintain. While the Navy continues to enforce that taboo, it now is attempting to extend its meaning to heterosexual love between active-duty sailors.    

Except on the rare occasion of short dependent cruises, there is no officially sanctioned frigging-in-the-rigging. That unusual exception is tolerated because it does not affect the relationship between sailors - the only intimacy allowed is with dependent spouses - and because the ship is not likely to engage in hostile action.    

Thus we have the tradition that treats a fully combat-ready ship as a sort of floating cathedral where intimate behavior is inappropriate. That is why the military brass is so concerned about allowing women to serve aboard combatant ships (even though a presidential commission recently recommended permitting women on some combat vessels).    

A Navy ship in the Persian Gulf war earned the name 'the love boat" because of an exceptionally high pregnancy rate' It was a non-combatant-type ship but was operating in a war zone. Obviously, the cathedral image is rapidly disappearing.    An unrealistically prudish resistance to sexuality pervades even the most progressive branch of our government. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration recently went to great lengths to deny that married astronauts Mark Lee and_Jan Davis would be allowed to be the first humans to engage in extraterrestrial sex. Oh, well, perhaps on the next mission.                                      

It is high time that our government "came to grips with modern lifestyle.  Birth control largely has liberated us from unwanted parenthood. We need to re-examine our attitudes about women's traditional roles as wives and mothers, especially as those attitudes pertain to the military.                                        

My wife and I worked together for nearly five years aboard a small seismic surveying vessel in the treacherous waters of the North Sea. During that extended honeymoon cruise, we deliberately postponed parenthood. Our work was very enjoyable and exceptionally productive.                                        

We both agree that childless married couples working together for long periods in an arduous environment can accomplish more than a similar company of unattached males. So, with that in mind, I offer the following modest proposal for encouraging spouses to serve together aboard ship - while also preventing pandemonium:                                        

The traditional sanctity of marriage should be respected and encouraged by the government. NASA did a courageous service to all married couples by allowing Mark Lee and Jan Davis to work together. The singles-bar atmosphere prevalent in our military must be suppressed.

Couples who desire to serve together in an arduous or dangerous environment must make a commitment to remain childless during that period. That means that young couples must be willing to postpone parenthood and that older couples' children must be grown and independent.

The couple should be treated as a team by the government. The current prohibitions against nepotism, fraternization and favoritism are inappropriate and unnecessary when the couple is evaluated and remunerated jointly rather than as two individuals. In the military, that means that marriage between officers and enlisted personnel no longer should be discouraged.                                       

 Adopting such a plan would go a long way toward solving the dilemma caused by restricting the participation of fully qualified women in armed combat. It also would establish new, high moral standards for our men and women in the Navy and create a higher public regard toward military service by American women.

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