Magazine article Insight on the News

Marine Commandant Is Left at the Altar on Marriage Policy

Magazine article Insight on the News

Marine Commandant Is Left at the Altar on Marriage Policy

Article excerpt

Here's a tart Washington vintage. Though consumed regularly along the Potomac, it doesn't travel well beyond -- where it would be considered unpotably sour and summarily rejected.

You may remember last summer when the commandant of the Marine Corps boldly (not to say recklessly, given the way the grapes are trod at each end of Pennsylvania Avenue) ordered that fewer married recruits were to be signed up, eliminating that category of enlistment by mid-1995.

Gen. Carl E. Mundy Jr.'s reasoning was sensible: With deployments of Marines increasing steadily and lasting longer, a divorce rate that has doubled since 1983 among young troopers, the strain on families and the inevitable distraction in a calling where distraction can be fatal, the commandant's directive seemed to have a self-evident sense to it--to anyone, that is, who's spent any time in barracks. This of course excludes the current occupant of the White House and most of his pals.

Predictably, the Shinola hit the fan, and now-departed Secretary Les stepped hard on the commandant's spit-shined shoes. Huff-huff went the pundits and the pressies. There were murmurings that Mundy's initiative was, whatever else, impolitic in an administration feverishly presenting itself as champs in the family values sweepstakes.

Mundy should have been more attuned to Washington folkways; you don't usually become a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff without having done graduate work in political bobbing and weaving. The commandant did not clear the order with Secretary Les or President Bill on the correct premise that he had the authority to do what he did. Big mistake in this odd day and place.

Still, order rescinded or not, the Clinton administration had to do something after the 24-hour hoo-ha. That's when the Washington vintners snapped to attention. A comprehensive study was ordered in the Pentagon: Two assistant defense secretaries and reportedly about 100 civilian and military bureaucrats got busy doing what such functionaries do best -- shuffling data to document what a priori they want to be documented.

With greater alacrity than Seven Maids with Seven Mops, the Pentagon functionaries turned out 600 pages of this and that and the other, which -- surprise! -- showed that the commandant's order was mistaken and needless and probably high in cholesterol.

Well, sort of What the Himalayan heap of government paper said was that the study found "no direct, clear, meaningful and statistically valid relationship (positive or negative) between marital status and readiness' " In the modern alchemy of management, of course, statistical links are what the Ten Commandments are to Judeo-Christian doctrine. …

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