Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Men of the Law, above the Law

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Men of the Law, above the Law

Article excerpt

THE recent scandals among the institutions on which Americans depend for their security raise painful questions of responsibility, accountability, and ultimately of morality itself. Have decades of cold war abroad and rising tensions in the inner city created a destructive mystique in the military, the CIA, and the police that makes their members feel above the law, responsible only to their own?

Let's call the roll. There were the sexual assaults by naval aviators at their Tailhook convention in 1991, and the Navy's stubborn resistance to investigating itself. There was the recent drunken rampage by New York policemen in the hotels of Washington, and the difficulties that inquiry is facing. There was the CIA's outrageously slow response to clues that it harbored a Soviet mole; Aldrich Ames flaunted his Soviet millions and got away with it for nearly nine years. There was the Air Force's strange leniency in punishing those responsible for the friendly fire incident over northern Iraq that killed 27. And there is last week's accusation by a senior official - unproven, to be sure - that the Air Force had covered up misconduct in accidental plane crashes.

Certain phrases appear and reappear: "boys will be boys," "band of brothers," "us vs. them," "the thin blue line," and the tacit hint that "risk has its privileges." The "boys will be boys" syndrome contends that sexual or alcoholic outbursts are a more or less acceptable male response to high stress, tight discipline, and rigid authority. Shipboard life in particular is cramped, claustrophobic, closely regulated, without privacy or diversity, trees or grass. Saturday night on the town is the traditional way out, with officers turning a blind eye. But what was tolerated at Subic Bay or the Naples waterfront was rejected by women in Las Vegas, where new attitudes about relations between the sexes had taken hold. …

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