- Camp All-American, Hanoi Jane, and the High-and-Tight: Gender, Folklore, and Changing Military Culture
Carol Burke spent several years as a civilian faculty member of the Naval Academy and begins her book by relating her experience as a member of a group of academics who were invited to experience cadet training at "Camp All-American" at Fort Bragg. Her years of observation together with her training as a folklorist lead her to the conclusion that the military's rigid construction and policing of gender roles is not only anachronistic, it is also dangerous to national security. As more doors are opened for women in the military, Burke concedes that some effort is being made to curb the aggressive and intimidating masculinist bent to basic training. She offers the example of how the chain of command has outlawed misogynistic songs and chants that the cadets use during training drills. Nonetheless, these songs continue to be used out of earshot of commanding officers. Songs and chants that make light of extremely graphic violence against women illustrate Burke's point that the modern military academy is turning out officers who are dedicated to maintaining traditional gender segregation and are thus ill-equipped to lead in the changing face of modern warfare.
Military culture, Burke argues, is predicated on the creation of "men." Raw recruits are taken in to basic training where they are infantilized and feminized. The humiliations cadets experience are intended to create warriors who conform to rigidly proscribed masculine codes. The problem is that biological males do not make up the entire corps of cadets in military academies. Despite their growing numbers, women and all things feminine are marginalized as polluting influences in the manly art of war. In the chapter "A Few Good Men," Burke notes that sexual assaults of women in military academies are a rampant problem, but the solution posed by many conservatives is to bar women instead of effecting a reorganization of a clearly dysfunctional system. In the [End Page 167] chapter "Sex, GIs, and Videotape" Burke discusses hazing ceremonies "that mix the homoerotic and the humiliating" and which persist "long past the official integration of women into the military . . . because much of the point is to cast out the female or to recast it in male terms" (68). The sexually humiliating, frequently disgusting, and often dangerous rituals, although not officially sanctioned, continue to play an important part in building homosocial cohesion among male cadets to the deliberate exclusion of women.
With her case made that the military is indeed a place that does not reflect progressive gender politics of the civilian world, Burke proceeds in the second half of the book to demonstrate the intractable conservative attitudes that maintain an untenable culture. Beginning with the chapter "Culture and Controversy," Burke takes the reader through the events leading up to the tragic 1996 suicide of Admiral Jeremy Michael Boorda, one of the few members of the brass who advocated for changes in the gendered operations of the military. Boorda faced harsh critics, including former secretary of the Navy James Webb, who argued for the "hallowed" traditions of the military, including the notorious "gauntlet" at the Tailhook convention where women officers were subjected to sexual assault and humiliation. Webb galvanized opposition to Boorda, and Burke makes a persuasive argument for how Webb's ad hominem attacks on Boorda contributed to the latter's suicide. The chapter emphasizes the uphill battle facing those who desire to restructure the military in order to make it a more effective fighting force in the twenty-first century.
In the chapter "Jane Fonda, the Woman the Military Loves to Hate," Burke discusses the still-rampant hatred of the actress, although today's cadets were not even born when Fonda made her notorious trip to North Vietnam. Burke points out that no other anti-war activist has inspired this level of antipathy nor the legacy of legends as has Fonda, and she argues that this is because "Fonda is not...